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Education: Young People in Custody

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to develop the education of young people in custody.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am happy to have secured this debate and such a distinguished array of speakers. I am particularly looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, whose expertise will contribute greatly to this House.

The education of young people in custody is an issue that troubles me, and I want to share some of my concerns and pose some questions to the Minister. A good touchstone for how we deal with young people is the Every Child Matters agenda, with its outcomes of the right of the child to economic well-being, health, safety, enjoyment, achievement and making a positive contribution. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the welfare of the child is paramount. The same conditions set out in Every Child Matters and the UNCRC should apply to children in custody but often do not. I know that those young people have sometimes done terrible things; I am not saying that there should not be punishment. But for many young people, punishment simply does not work; punishment is just more of the same. Some 80 per cent of those leaving custody reoffend. Many of those young people have suffered cruelty, abuse, deprivation, lack of stimulus and rejection, and they are left with no aspirations. They are damaged children, and it does not help society or them to impose further damage. This morning, I spoke with the Children’s Commissioner for England, who expressed his disquiet at the criminalisation of children. He told me that Canada has achieved a reduction of 60 per cent of children in custody since 2003 and a 6 per cent decrease in youth crime. Maybe we should look for examples of good practice further afield.

The education that these children need is not just about literacy and numeracy, important though they are, but about social skills, health education and skills for life, including the ability to get a job or further education. We need to be visionary about this. Of course, custody should be the last resort but, once in custody, gaining education and skills is important. I welcome the first edition of the National Children’s Bureau Healthier Inside magazine, which gives news and examples of good practice taking place across secure settings and themed around Every Child Matters. I highly recommend it to your Lordships.

The Learning and Skills Council, which has responsibility for education provision in young offender institutions, states:

“The majority of 15 year olds in juvenile establishments have had little or no formal education or training. As well as low levels of basic skills, many of them will have particular learning difficulties that need additional support”.

I have a few statistics. The Youth Justice Board reports that around 150,000 children and young people under the age of 18 enter the youth justice system each year, and about 70,000 of those are of compulsory school age. About half are underachievers, a third need help with literacy and numeracy, and 15 per cent have a special educational needs statement, in comparison to 3 per cent of the general population. Some 60 per cent have difficulties with communication, 83 per cent of boys had been excluded from school and 41 per cent were aged 14 or under when they were last in school. That set of facts presents a challenge for any system of education, and I am aware that there are dedicated people who are attempting to better the lot of young people in custody, but those damaged youngsters need intensive efforts and urgent help.

The Youth Justice Board has prioritised the provision of education and training, health and mental healthcare and support in finding accommodation after release from custody. But the way in which the secure regime works makes it difficult to provide consistent and relevant education. Sentences tend to be short—on average four months—and transfers between institutions are frequent. It appears that educational establishments are reluctant to admit young people who have recently served a custodial sentence. Indeed, Section 562 of the Education Act 1996 exempts local education authorities from having to provide education to children who are detained under a court order. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed particular concern about the lack of a statutory right to education for young people in custody.

The DfES has identified many of the problems through responses to its consultation paper Reducing Re-offending through Skills and Employment. Those problems include negative experiences of learning; lack of continuity between school and offender provision; exclusion from school; transfer between agencies, which disrupts learning; the need for records of achievement; and the need for vocational options. What has happened to those recommendations?

A recent Youth Justice Board report published research findings on the barriers faced by young people in the youth justice system when trying to access education, training and employment. The issues identified included low attainment, detachment from school—sometimes due to bullying—pupil/teacher relations, size of class, and disruption of education by being in custody. Youth justice practitioners see complex rules on benefits and allowances, lack of continuity of education between custody and the community, lack of support for special educational needs, and inability to access education because of being in the youth justice system. Strategic barriers included educationalists’ lack of knowledge of the youth justice system, confused responsibilities and lines of accountability—such as whether the YOT worker, the school, college or Connexions adviser is responsible for the young person—and so on.

I am aware that the DfES published a consultation paper on education and training for young people in the youth justice system in April. It looks at four areas: transition from custody to community, the delivery of a personalised curriculum, workforce development, and clarifying accountability for the education of young offenders. What will happen to this consultation and in what timescale? The problem is urgent.

Young offenders should be a priority for LEAs, schools, FE colleges and training providers, otherwise we risk a cycle of deprivation, disengagement with society and ensuing reoffending. Guidance is urgently needed for LEAs, as well as training for staff in how the youth justice system works, designated staff in schools and colleges with responsibility for these young people, appropriate education delivered in a consistent way, local schools admissions policies for young people in the criminal justice system, and access to special educational needs co-ordinators for secure training centres and youth offender institutions. An educational plan should be tailored to individual young offenders and should follow the young person. Resettlement planning should have a specific education and training element, agreed with all partners. What joint work is there on young offenders between the Minister’s department and other relevant government departments, particularly those with some responsibility for offender management and communities? Partnership and collaboration is essential at both government and local level to secure a better future for young offenders and for society. I would not wish to see Every Child Matters become simple rhetoric.

I am delighted that the Minister for Education is responding to this debate, stressing education as opposed to criminality. I know that he has a broad view of the importance of education and is genuinely concerned about this issue. I hope that he will be able to tell us that young people in custody will have a better future than they now do.

My Lords, it is just as well that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is listening to us today. If it was a Minister from the Home Office, it would be on their last day and there would not be much point in talking to them. I hope that he has a slightly longer timescale in mind. We wish him well with the new Prime Minister.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for giving me the chance to talk on this subject, albeit briefly. I will address a couple of points. One is the curriculum in custody. It currently appears to be very much at the LSC’s level of thinking—courses designed basically for people out there in the community. For a lot of these kids, we need to reach much deeper. We must get right back to the level of socialisation—equipping them with the underlying human skills necessary to tackle life and education. We should start by creating a structure where they can develop a trusting relationship with staff. A lot of these children do not have any experience of that kind of relationship or, if they have, it has broken down. Once that is in place, we should work from there to offer a real experience of teamwork, getting on with people, giving and taking orders, and learning how to exist in relationships.

If kids are only in for four months, that sort of thing might be achieved in that timescale. We must focus everything on that set of achievements. We must do away with things like 24-hour in-cell TV, which is immensely disruptive of any attempt to build relationships. Kids just hide themselves away in their cells, and do not need to engage with the outside. We must really concentrate on having a proper PSHE programme. You cannot learn anything unless you know the basics of PSHE; I do not mean the condom-on-a-banana sort of PSHE, but the kind of programme that is really well developed in schools such as Wellington and others which are really taking this forward. We need a big emphasis on the sort of activities where you can really appreciate teamwork, such as team sports and others, which kids can really involve themselves in. Once a kid is becoming socialised, you want to reintroduce them to education. That requires giving them a hook—something that they can hang on to as a real motivation to get involved in education. Whether it be art, music or practical work, that must be the emphasis, and not some precipitate rush back into the academic curriculum which these kids have rejected, or which has rejected them.

We can do a lot more to make these institutions educational institutions. We want to see the teachers in these places having a real career structure, with training at the bottom. I know that the Government want to see proper training, but it must be prison-specific. Teachers need to learn how to deal with extremely manipulative young men. They need to learn prison craft and how to build relationships in a way which is just not necessary for teachers outside; they are required to give that sort of one-on-one support. They need a career structure which leads upwards. It ought to be possible. I cannot see why a teacher should not aspire to become the number one governor of a YOI. That would give education a real status within the Prison Service. These institutions ought to have much better links with pupil referral units and the other educational institutions outside, which these children will be going on to. I see no reason why that should not be possible. Teachers run boarding schools. There is not an awful lot of difference.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has raised an important issue. I will concentrate my remarks on the education of juveniles—offenders aged 18 or under—in young offender institutions.

Education is crucial to the prospects of diverting young people from crime on release. Most young offenders in custody have been permanently excluded or have persistently truanted from school. A third of those entering custody have had no education at all in the previous six months. Youth Justice Board studies have shown that, when they are released, educational underachievement is one of the strongest factors associated with reoffending.

The Government deserve some credit. Provision for the education of juveniles in custody has improved considerably since the establishment of the Youth Justice Board and the resulting injection of greater resources into custodial regimes for this age group, but there are some serious problems. All too often, juveniles in custody do not receive the minimum amount of education prescribed by the Youth Justice Board. The YJB requires a minimum of 25 hours in young offender institutions, and that this should be achieved for 90 per cent of young people. Against that, the reality is that 40 per cent of juveniles in young offender institutions were receiving less than 20 hours of education a week. At two establishments, over half the young people were receiving less than 15 hours. There is a gap between what is required and what really happens.

The Offenders Learning and Skills Service and the Youth Justice Board require one-third of programmes to comprise basic skills education, one-third academic or vocational subjects, and one-third physical education, arts, IT and personal, social and health education. What is the reality? The range of vocational courses in many young offender institutions is far too narrow, restricting young people’s ability to gain skills that will help them to gain employment or enter further training on release.

What are the difficulties? The first is attracting teachers to work in young offender institutions and retaining them. Secondly, because education must be delivered for 50 weeks a year in custody, teachers do not benefit from school holidays in the same way as teachers in the community. Thirdly, the statutory probation year for a newly qualified teacher cannot be completed by working in custody, so staff often leave to complete the year in mainstream education and do not return. Fourthly, many do not feel that they are valued or rewarded for working with particularly difficult young people. Finally, there is no clear career structure comparable to the mainstream education system.

For the short period which most young offenders spend in custody, 92 per cent of juveniles sentenced receive detention and training orders. These range from four months to two years, of which half is spent in custody and the other half under post-release supervision. Many young people are in custody for a few weeks or months, which makes it difficult for them to complete externally organised qualifications.

How do we alleviate the problem? There is a need for streamlined arrangements so that young offenders may continue their education on release. However, we can expect that, even where young people have made educational progress, it will often break down quickly when they leave custody. A recent audit for the Youth Justice Board found that over half of young offenders had no arrangements for education, training or employment a month after being released. Only 6 per cent of youth offending teams said that young people were able to continue the education and training received in custody after release. In 2004-05, under 60 per cent of young people being supervised by youth offending teams following release were in suitable full-time education, training or employment. This compares with 74 per cent of all those supervised by youth offending teams now. There are many important aspects but time is short. I will pass my further notes to the Minister so that he can adequately deal with the questions that I wish to raise.

My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech on such an important topic. I would like to see the DfES consultation lead to a new and explicit commitment to include alcohol education for young people in custody. This aspect of education is often completely overlooked or tacked on as an afterthought to substance misuse programmes which focus on drugs.

I should first declare various interests. Until March this year I was a trustee of the Alcohol Education and Research Council, and until September 2006 was the chief executive of the Portman Group, an industry-funded body encouraging responsible behaviour by consumers and drinks producers. The Portman Group’s then charitable arm, the Drinkaware Trust, funded a project at Winchester prison where alcohol education sessions were run by the charity Alcohol Concern. The Drinkaware Trust is now wholly independent from the Portman Group, and is still funded by the industry but not controlled by it, which is the right arrangement and I was very pleased to have been associated with that development.

Young people in custody need a better understanding of how alcohol affects their behaviour, because it could help to prevent them reoffending. We do not know how many young people are in custody because of alcohol-related offences. It is reasonable to assume that many of them would not be there if they had not committed offences while under the influence. The youth lifestyles survey found a strong relationship between drunkenness and offending, albeit not a causal one. A much higher proportion of offenders aged 12 to 17 were found to be frequent drinkers than non-offenders.

Alcohol-related crime costs this country £7.3 billion a year. If alcohol education could help reduce the level of reoffending, those costs would begin to come down. The second reason why these young people need alcohol education, whatever their offence, is that they are likely to have missed out on it at school. It is part of the national curriculum. However, as we have already heard, one survey found that 83 per cent of boys in youth offender institutions had been excluded from school.

Alcohol education is not by itself a magic solution, but it can play a vital part in helping to inform and motivate personal responsibility. The Drinkaware Trust publishes an excellent resource called Streetwise, and I understand that tentative discussions are under way to adapt it for a youth offender audience. I encourage the Department for Education and Skills to get involved in this project.

My final point is that interventions on alcohol need to be specifically identified, with dedicated resources. A survey in Winchester prison revealed that although 49 per cent said that they would like to make use of an alcohol counselling service, amazingly 37 per cent of that group were not eligible for it because they did not also have a drug problem. Alcohol misuse alone did not qualify for help. Similarly, in the school curriculum there is sometimes a tendency in PSHE lessons to concentrate on illegal drugs and forget about alcohol. “Substance misuse” is often interpreted as meaning drugs not including alcohol.

The pendulum should not swing the other way and give alcohol undue prominence or blame. Alcohol is legal, drinking is normal and in moderation can even be beneficial. But young people in custody are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those with alcohol problems. Like over 90 per cent of adults in this country, they too will drink, so must be given the opportunity to learn how to do so without causing harm to themselves or others.

The average time that a young person remains in custody is four months. That is surely enough time for them to benefit from some alcohol education. I hope that the review by the Department for Education and Skills will take this issue on board.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, in her maiden speech. It was refreshingly direct and well informed. I am sure that it augurs well for her contributions in the future. I am just sorry that she only had four minutes; I would have liked to listen to her for longer. Her wider experience in corporate responsibility and self-regulation are badly needed in much of our deliberations. We look forward to all that she will have to say.

My noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen is also to be warmly thanked for giving us the opportunity for even a brief word on this important subject. She was right to emphasise that many in young offender institutions have been failed by society and we must face that reality. The reasons that they have been failed are complex; there is a matrix. There are many things to be tackled in society itself. The challenge is to have fewer people falling into crime rather than discussing how we help those who have fallen.

In the midst of all that we must never forget the issue of mental illness which is a highly relevant but very difficult issue. Many people in young offender institutions and prisons should not be there at all because they need more specialist support, analysis and help from professionals than can possibly be provided by dedicated staff in the institutions which basically provide custody.

Rehabilitation, as I never tire of saying in these debates, must be the top priority in our penal system. Not to have rehabilitation as the top priority is madness: it fails the young; it fails the prisoners; it leads to more wasted, and continued wasted, lives; it is economic nonsense because of the cost of reoffending later. If we are to make rehabilitation the key priority and mean it, education is central to that; and if education is to be central, it must be not only formal education, certainly, but also skills education and wider social education, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, sensibly argued.

I was president of the YMCA in England. The YMCA works with young offenders in young offender institutions. I was fascinated by that work. It brought home to me how serious the lack of education is among many of those who end up in this situation. It also brought home how much could be done. With education we have the living evidence—people who have gone on to make a success of their lives. Indeed, they have gone on to become university graduates and postgraduates, having been given the opportunity to release their talent and put it to good use.

I commend the Government for the interdepartmental work that they are undertaking in recognition of the matrix. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Adonis is replying tonight; I just wish that his department had the lead responsibility for ensuring that education happens in all our penal institutions. He will forgive me for making this point, but I never understood why in the last Act we did not endorse that principle. Our approach to young offenders has seen far too much emphasis put on punitive attitudes and policy. The challenge is to rebuild with the young people themselves their lives and to turn those young people into positive citizens. If we want to do that, resources are essential.

My Lords, I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on their significant investment in the education of young people in custody. I regret that there is not time now to acknowledge in detail what has been achieved. Much more needs to be done, of course. Edmund in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” says:

“Now, gods, stand up for bastards!”.

I should like to concentrate on how we educate young people in custody about relationships. Those young people have often never had the experience of being cared for. It is hard to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on this, but I shall try.

Academic and vocational attainments are vital, as we have heard, but the other side of the coin is a young person’s social education, or what the continentals contain in their discipline of pedagogy—education in the widest sense. Custody officers need to model good relationships to their young offenders, as the Carlile report emphasised. While most sentences are brief, many young people will return on several occasions. Each time, their relationship with their personal officer and the wider officer community should be an educative experience. That is one reason why improvements in training and continual professional development for custody officers are so essential, as we have heard. To be consistent models and to effectively engage, officers need a theoretical foundation for their work, appropriate supervision, and consultation with expert practitioners and mental health professionals. The same should go for teachers working in these environments. Officer retention and stability in the workforce must be aimed for.

A separate point is that, with the recognition of the need for the secure estate, probation, social services, the health service and youth offending teams to work together to achieve reductions in reoffending, Her Majesty’s Government should accelerate their programme of workforce development in the secure estate. That young people leaving custody too often walk off the face of a cliff serves no one’s interests. Professional partnership requires parity of professional status.

A documentary recording the life of a young boy growing up in care shows him learning about relationships. Throughout his childhood in care, we hear on several occasions—in the run-ups to Christmas and to his birthdays—how much he is looking forward to seeing his father. On each occasion, the father simply does not turn up.

Many of the young men and women in custody are already parents. I recognise the important achievements of the Government in investment and staff development, but it is vital to go far further in developing officers and residential care workers. The personal officer/worker role must be thoroughly embedded and developed, but too many inspections point to its neglect. If we wish to prevent reoffending and break the cycle of low-achieving families, more attention needs to be paid to the social education of young offenders. Personal officers should be consistent, should take an interest in the welfare and progress of their young offenders and should keep their undertakings. They need to be trained and supported to do so. That is how the young men and women may have their first experience of a positive parental figure and how they may begin to learn how they might be consistent towards, take an interest in and keep their undertakings to their children. We need to stand up for, so to speak, bastards—children in whom parents have not invested themselves. Otherwise we should not say,

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth ... is ... a thankless child”,

but rather,

“As we sow, so shall we reap”.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen for instigating this short but important debate. Education is a vital part of our social and cultural being. If this is denied us, we lose both the cement of valuable relationships and the bricks on which many of us build our future lives.

In my short contribution, I want to pay tribute to the teachers who teach young offenders in custody. It is not easy for any worker to work in a prison and for teachers there is a need for special patience and expertise. The 2004 report by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Rethinking Crime & Punishment, contains a fascinating quotation from the Times of 1867. It asks the question:

“Which is best, to pay for the policeman or the schoolmaster—the prison or the school?”.

Although I value our police force tremendously, in the context of this debate I would opt for the schoolteacher. As long as young offenders are in custody, we as a society have a major responsibility to provide the right education for them. For this, we need the expertise and specialisms of dedicated teaching staff. There can surely be no better dedication than to want to help children who are, for whatever reason, serving a custodial sentence.

I first became interested in this specialist teaching when a relative of mine left teaching in a school in Essex to teach young offenders in a nearby young persons unit. It was a bold step and she had to learn quickly about what often already damaged children were capable of and what their complex requirements were. Despite some traumas in the beginning, she ultimately found her experience both satisfying and rewarding. Some of her pupils on leaving the establishment in which she taught kept in touch with her. Some reoffended, but others did not. She took a certain satisfaction in hoping that she had helped them when they most needed it.

To find out the situation facing teachers working in custodial establishments today, I spoke to members of the National Union of Teachers who work in this area. They made two key points. First, the main aim of teachers working in secure education establishments is to ensure that they play a major role in the pupil’s overall progress. They want to be a key part of the throughcare that is provided by all the professionals working together. They want to ensure that they have a place in the investment and commitment that enable the young people to become stronger and less insecure, to function socially and to catch up academically. I know that your Lordships will agree that this is a worthy aim and I know that the Minister will do all that he can to help them to achieve it.

The second issue is the age of teachers working in custodial care. At present, 70 per cent of the NUT teachers working in this area are between 40 and 60 and a further 11 per cent are over 60. Younger teachers are not considering working in the secure units or the local authority children’s homes. Those already teaching there are rightly worried that their younger counterparts are not joining them. One of the main reasons appears to be that there is no career structure for those who choose to educate young people in custody, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, outlined. My noble friend the Minister may wish to consider this problem.

Providing sound education must be one of the better ways in which we as a society can help in preventing reoffending. To teach young offenders takes special, caring, talented and motivated individuals, and we should pay tribute to them.

My Lords, I join those who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing the debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Coussins on her stimulating maiden speech. In that spirit, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for sending those taking part in this debate a copy of the consultation document, which I had not seen before. I read it with a sense of déjà-vu, because, 10 years ago, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, I started taking Ofsted with me into young offender establishments, writing reports giving all the details that I recognise here and making a whole stream of recommendations about what should happen. I find it rather galling that, 10 years later, we are saying exactly the same thing again.

The advantage of these short debates is that people have to concentrate on one subject. I hope that the aggregation of the separate subjects will add up to fuel and ammunition for the Minister to cope with and take forward. I shall concentrate on one specific issue. While this report rightly concentrates on the delivery of education and what should be there, it has to be based on assessment. As the report itself says, assessment is one of the weakest aspects in what has happened so far because it is patchy. There is not enough information about a young person’s learning progress and personal educational needs.

As I have said in the House before, the only time that I discovered in any prison someone who was able to reach 100 per cent of all young offenders was when I was introduced in a young offender establishment, in Polmont, to a speech and language therapist. The governor said to me that if he had to get rid of all his staff, the last one out of the gate would be that therapist. When I asked why, he explained that she was able to unlock all the needs of all the young offenders—in education, healthcare, behaviour and discipline—because she enabled them to communicate. Only through that communication could they tell the people what was actually required. Importantly, this communication helped them to build the relationships that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lord Listowel have mentioned as being so critical here.

I have mentioned this many times before in this House and in reports as Chief Inspector of Prisons from 2000 onwards. Lady Helen Hamlyn funded speech and language therapists in two young offender establishments for two years and it was academically evaluated by a professor from the University of Surrey. The evaluation proved conclusively that these therapists were essential to the proper understanding of what these young people needed so that resources could be deployed to best effect. Still nothing has happened. Why? Apparently primary care trusts are responsible for speech and language therapists and they have to come in health plans. The Department for Education and Skills says that it is not up to it even though communication skills are essential. The Home Office consistently refuses to fund assessment. The Minister for Social Exclusion, to whom I have spoken about this, says that nothing is more socially exclusive than the failure to communicate and that communication is the scourge of the 21st century.

Tomorrow sees the launch of a new Ministry which did not appear in the list talked about in the House: the Ministry of Justice. Could I hope that, on day one, the Ministry of Justice will realise that for several years what everyone knows is essential for so many of our young people has been denied, and get these therapists in to assess what can be done to make certain that young people who end up in custody get the education and the other things that they so badly need?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for introducing this important debate and in particular for her unequivocal statements about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I think that all noble Lords who have spoken are agreed that one of the major factors that can be used to keep young people out of trouble is a good education. As we have heard, another major factor that young offenders have in common is their poor level of educational attainment. Many noble Lords have given us the horrifying statistics about attainment, and my noble friend Lord Dholakia has given us the horrible reality of education in prison. These are not the easiest of pupils to educate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, emphasised. Many of them are in poor health due to a bad diet, smoking, drug and/or alcohol abuse. In her notable maiden speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, emphasised the point about alcohol. I believe that one of the prerequisites for addressing their education is addressing their health first, with nutritious foods, sensible exercise, drug or alcohol rehab and speech therapy where necessary. If the diet and health of ordinary children in school is the concern of educationalists, which it is, how much more attention needs to be paid to those matters when dealing with young offenders?

Another problem facing those who try to raise the educational and skills level of young offenders is their inability to concentrate for long. These are young people who have not been used to working hard at intellectual tasks; they need to learn to listen, speak and express their feelings just like a young child does. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, speech therapy is one of the things that these young people desperately need. The inability to express oneself leads to frustration and anger which often manifests itself in antisocial behaviour or criminality.

I have read the Next Steps document that follows on from Reducing Reoffending Through Skills and Employment. It contains much that is good and desirable. However, I detect a failing which I find rather concerning. Naturally, there is an emphasis on basic skills, which is right and understandable because no one can progress to other qualifications without basic literacy and numeracy. However, beyond that, I detect an emphasis entirely on skills which I believe is wrong. Of course the country needs a skilled workforce, and we have heard about the high percentage of jobs in the future that need skills. However, there is a tendency to assume that young offenders are fit for nothing but skilled labour. In fact, many young offenders are very bright with high IQs. They have been bored at school because the curriculum did not challenge or inspire them; so being bright and curious, they got into trouble. If only these young people could be inspired and challenged by a curriculum that met their needs in a learning environment that took account of their disadvantaged backgrounds, what might they achieve, not just in the direction of skills but, for some, academically?

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, many of these young people lack the social skills needed to work in groups. Many of them are emotionally very immature and have no idea how to resolve conflict by discussion and persuasion. In fact, many have been “persuaded” to do what their parents wanted through violent beatings, so they see violence as normal. Their backgrounds were not as enriched as those lucky cared-for children who were surrounded by books and toys from which they could learn, taken on trips to places of interest and had sports coaching and music lessons—the sorts of things that enrich all of our lives. In the short time allowed by the majority of sentences served by young offenders, it is impossible to address these problems. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, rapid diagnosis of need is essential, as is an action plan which can be commenced in custody and followed through in the community, at college and other places, after release.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this important topic. I also thank the Minister for sending copies of the Green Paper.

The debate has been marked by expert contributions and graced by the impressive maiden speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. There is no doubt that reoffending rates are increased by the insufficient provision of education and skills training for young people in custody. Although 46 per cent of the 150,000 children and young people under the age of 18 who enter the youth justice system each year are of compulsory school age, the average number of hours of education undertaken by prisoners held in young offender institutions is only 7.6 hours per prisoner per week.

We are not talking about well adjusted children in classes with other well adjusted children, who would probably make the most of a meagre 7.6 hours per week of teaching. When we talk about young people and children in custody, we are talking about some of the most disadvantaged in the country—the damaged children of whom the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, spoke so powerfully. Eighty-five per cent of them have mental health problems. More than half of them are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Half have spent time in care or under the supervision of social services and many have special educational needs. That is a bleak scene and I ask the Minister whether he considers that an acceptable level of educational provision for those children.

It is devastating that nine out of 10 juvenile offenders on the intensive supervision and surveillance programme are re-offenders. That can be due in no small part to the disruption caused to education in custody by custodial transfers. I was struck by the words of Ann Creighton of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, who said:

“what’s really needed is a scheme where prisoners are not transferred at all while they are on courses. This is critical but no one is grasping that nettle”.

It is surprising that the Government have so far failed to implement their recommendation that there should be an electronic transfer of individual learning records. That would at least ensure continuity. In the interests of future planning, can the Minister inform us how many young offenders of compulsory school age are transferred each year?

One of the pleasures of my enforced rest during the past three weeks has been watching daytime television. Last week, I was moved by an interview with Mark Johnson. Mark is a drug addict who has been in prison and lived rough on the streets. His history is heart-rending and heart-warming. With the help of the Prince’s Trust and great inner strength, he has turned his life around and is now helping others. He has written a book. But for every Mark Johnson, there are countless others who slip through the system.

The education of young people in custody is an essential component of their rehabilitation. It is vital to the prevention of re-offending. The provision of education and skills, the equipping with underlying social and communication skills so rightly identified by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and mentoring on leaving prison, will help to enable young offenders to rely on their achievements and not a culture of crime. That can only be good for them and for the whole of society.

My Lords, I think that I speak on behalf of the House when I say how delighted we are that the noble Baroness is back in her place this evening. I also say how grateful we are to my noble friend Lady Massey for securing the debate on education for young people in custody and for introducing it with her customary insight and legitimate concern. We were especially glad to hear the impressive maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. She brings to the House great expertise—in particular, on alcohol abuse and education—and we look forward to her future participation in our debates.

I begin by stating unequivocally that custody should always be a last resort for children and young people. The criminal justice system is intended to do all that it can to keep young people from custody whenever there is a viable alternative.

The best antidote to youth crime is, of course, a caring family home and a good education. Better family support and better schools are at the heart of government policy. Sure Start children’s centres have steadily increased the support available for disadvantaged families, assisting parents with children in their early education, and we have recently announced a £30 million grant to create a new National Academy for Parenting Practitioners.

Extended schools are offering a broader range of services, including after-school provision for older children. A new and better relationship is being built up between crime prevention agencies and schools. Safer Schools Partnerships, for example, place specially trained police officers in schools in areas of high crime to promote respect, responsibility and a safer learning environment. I have visited many such schools and have been very impressed with the work and the warm welcome that the schools give to those specially trained police officers. Evaluations show that those partnerships have had a beneficial impact, improving behaviour and attendance and building a better understanding about the role of the police and better links between the police and community. Since January, local authorities have been required to provide positive activities for young people, including those at risk of social exclusion, throughout the school year.

In terms of criminal justice, the police and the courts deal with approximately 150,000 young people each year, of which only 3 to 4 per cent receive a custodial sentence lasting an average of four months. It is the Government’s duty to ensure that young offender institutions provide appropriate support to meet these young people’s needs, which are often complex, as my noble friend Lord Judd rightly emphasised. Up to 40 per cent of young people entering custody have mental health problems; more than 80 per cent have tried drugs and are likely to bear the effects of substance misuse; alcohol misuse is common and a high proportion have special educational needs, which are often unidentified.

Education plays a critical role in both rehabilitation and reducing re-offending, not least by making young offenders employable after release. Our aim is to give young people the practical and social skills to pursue crime-free lives at the end of their sentences. Yet, unsurprisingly, many in custody have had poor experiences of school. Young offenders are 20 times more likely to be regular truants than the general school-age population—hence often the failure to diagnose and address special educational needs. Forty-two per cent of young offenders underachieve in school; most lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills.

When we created the Youth Justice Board in 1998, one of its main aims was to ensure that young offenders receive a good education in custody. The same aim underpinned our decision to transfer responsibility for offender education from the Home Office to the DfES in 2001 and our subsequent decisions dramatically to increase both spending and minimum standards. I am glad to tell the House that the current chairman of the Youth Justice Board, Graham Robb, is a former head teacher and passionately committed to improving education for young offenders.

I was glad to hear the positive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the YJB’s work. Although I fully accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said, much remains to be done. However, I think that he would accept that the position is better than when he was writing his powerful reports a decade ago.

Since the creation of the Youth Justice Board, we have seen significant improvements in educational provision. During 2005-06, the 17 young offender institutions delivered an average of 28.2 hours of education, training and personal development activity per individual per week. That is a fourfold increase compared to 2002. In the 15 secure children’s homes and the four secure training centres, the percentage of young people receiving 30 hours or more education and training was 79.9 per cent and 99.4 per cent respectively.

Government spending on young offender custodial education—in my experience, spending is always the prime indicator of whether a Government are committed to something or not—rose from £5 million to £20 million, a fourfold increase between 2002 and 2005, which has meant that more institutions can employ far more teachers. I echo the tribute that my noble friend Lady Gibson paid to the work of teachers in young offender institutions. That also means that they can employ more learning support assistants and arrange additional specialist services for young people under their care.

From 31 July last year, all young offender institutions became part of the new Offender Learning and Skills Service, whereby their education and training programmes are planned and funded by the Learning and Skills Council. This is creating a more co-ordinated and consistent service and represents an important first step towards integrating offender learning with mainstream education and skills training, which—and I say this in reply to my noble friend Lord Judd—is my department’s guiding principle for action in this area. Although I accept that he wishes that we had been able to go further in the recent Learning and Skills Act.

One of the Learning and Skills Council’s duties is to monitor the qualifications achieved by all young offenders. In 2005-06, 42.5 per cent of those in young offender institutions improved by one skill level in literacy and numeracy. The fact that we now have this kind of data responds to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. There is far better tracking of individual offenders than used to be the case. Given the Learning and Skills Council’s more recent involvement in this area, we would hope to see this figure rise in the next set of results and to see much better and consistent tracking of individual young people.

From 2007-08, we have also improved access to education maintenance allowances for young people in custody. With immediate effect, young people can apply for EMAs while in custody, without the need to submit evidence of financial income. That means that they will receive the EMA when they enrol on a valid learning programme. Such measures are simplifying the application process for offenders and are a vital incentive to engage in education or training immediately upon release. Another step we are taking is to review the local authority funding formula for Connexions services aimed at young people in custody, to help ease their transition back into community life. So we are making progress.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked if we are satisfied with the status quo. I can tell her absolutely straightforwardly that we are not. We believe that much more needs to be done, while accepting that transforming the prospects of young offenders is extremely difficult, not least when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, so rightly noted, some have serious behavioural problems, refuse to attend classes, or are distracted by other worries. Our concern is systematically to raise the availability and quality of provision, to reduce variations in the quality of teaching and support between institutions, and to gain a more accurate picture of performance in each as a spur to further improvements.

My noble friend Lady Massey asked about intergovernmental working. I am glad to be able to tell her that to bring about further improvements following the Green Paper in 2005, we created a new policy team in my department to work closely with the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Youth Justice Board and the Learning and Skills Council on reviewing provision. There is now an inter-ministerial group on reducing reoffending, including representation from the Department for Communities and Local Government. In our recent Next Steps document, which was published last December and which I circulated to noble Lords before the debate, we have encouraged children’s trusts, local authorities and the new local partnerships to develop vocational education for 14 to 19 year-olds and to pay greater attention to education services for young offenders. Many local authorities had, in fact, already set their own targets. Kensington and Chelsea, for example, is focusing on the percentage of 16 to 18 year-olds leaving custody who then participate in full-time education, training or employment. We would like more local authorities to follow that lead.

We are now in the middle of a public consultation on the Next Steps document, which runs until 4 July. It covers all young people in England aged between 10 and 17 who are supervised by the youth justice system, both in custody and in the community, with a particular focus on offenders of compulsory school age. It includes consideration of all three types of secure establishment: young offender institutions, secure training centres, and secure children’s homes. Responses to our consultation will play a key role in how we prioritise the issues and develop policy, and the Government are encouraged by the input from many working in the youth justice and voluntary sectors. In reply to the direct question asked by my noble friend Lady Massey, I can tell her that we are committed to publishing further plans by the end of this year in response to that consultation.

I shall briefly highlight four key areas covered by the Next Steps document, which are of direct relevance to today’s debate. First, we are exploring ways of ensuring that custodial regimes are organised to best promote participation in education. For some young people, the structured environment of a custodial institution is conducive to education. For others with poor memories of school, however, other incentives are needed to engage them in learning. In particular, we recognise the high incidence of special educational needs among young offenders. Issues under consideration include the prompt sharing of information from existing SEN statements, and ensuring that the additional support identified in those statements is provided in youth custody.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, rightly highlighted, we need a curriculum that is well suited to the needs of young offenders. Programmes should make teaching basic literacy and numeracy a priority, but they must also go on to equip young people with wider skills—including PSHE, social skills, and relationship skills, which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned—which young people need both to apply for jobs and to become better citizens when they leave their custodial settings. This means identifying the means to provide consistent learning programmes across the secure estate, as transfers between establishments are sometimes unavoidable, and spanning the period before and after custody. It also requires the recognition that many young offenders in custody do not respond well to a traditional classroom environment. We are therefore considering how the current reforms to the 14-to-19 curriculum, including the introduction of new vocational diplomas, can be applied to young offenders. The transition from custody back to community is an especially critical point for young people. The supervision and support provided in custody must continue on release. This requires planning for education, training or employment early in a young person’s sentence.

The third area to highlight is workforce development, rightly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and my noble friend Lady Gibson. A set of questions and points were raised in the contributions and I will respond to them in writing. Suffice it to say that we recognise the need for considerably greater attention to workforce development in this area.

The fourth area that we are examining is the accountability framework for custodial education. During the Committee stage of the Education and Inspections Bill, some noble Lords argued that local authorities should have greater responsibility in this area; we are looking at this issue.

I hope I have been able to demonstrate the extreme seriousness with which we and the Youth Justice Board take this issue. When we say “every child matters”, that includes every child in custody. We will continue to improve the educational welfare of young offenders. We are very grateful for all the comments made in today’s debate; I hope that they will help us to forge better policy in this area.