My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]
Clause 57 [Educational institutions: duty to provide information]:
[Amendments Nos. 177 to 179 not moved.]
Clause 57 agreed to.
Clause 58 agreed to.
Clause 59 [Internet and telephone support services etc]:
180: Clause 59, page 33, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) the provision, in response to requests by young persons and relevant young adults, of access to information and opinions expressed by persons who have pursued or are pursuing education, training or careers which are of interest to the said young persons and relevant young adults.”
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 189 would insert proposed paragraph (c) into Clause 59(2). I applaud the Government for including in the clause the means to provide information electronically. I certainly support moving with the times and the internet is a superb tool, when used correctly. The amendment was inspired by Edge, which made the very good point that if young people are interested in a particular course or career, they should be able to hear directly from people who have pursued or are pursuing that course or career. Being able to find out from someone directly about the path they have chosen, what they set out to achieve and how they have achieved it is very inspiring. It adds life to an idea, allows a young person to see an example of someone, perhaps not much older than they are, and gives them a role model.
Essentially, the spirit of my amendment is that we should use the latest technology, learn lessons, learn about existing best practice and recognise that young people are often most influenced when seeing how something has been done by hearing directly from someone who has done it and to whom they can relate. I beg to move.
I support the amendment. It is sensible that a great deal of information about new careers is available on the internet There is also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned, back-up from people who have worked in specific careers. There is an interesting website called horsesmouth.co.uk where people give information about what it is like to do a particular job. It is an interactive site, which young people are used to because of sites such as Facebook, and they can make comments or ask questions, to which they get replies. It is a very interesting development. For the young people of today, who are so adept at using the internet and their mobile telephones in ways that we oldies do not always appreciate, it is the right way to get the information over to them.
However, one needs to differentiate between information, advice and guidance. While some advice can be given through the internet and over the telephone, face-to-face interviews are extremely important and we should make sure that we do not simply rely on the internet. It is vital that there are trained careers advisers on hand to provide advice and guidance to young—and older—people and that we do not rely entirely on electronic means.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp, for their contributions. I am sure that their arguments are very well made and extremely valuable. I should be delighted, at this point in the proceedings, to take them away and consider them at leisure. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.
I thank the Minister for that. Because I have nothing to consider yet, I eagerly await her response at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 181 and 181A not moved.]
Clause 59 agreed to.
Clause 60 [Inspection]:
182: Clause 60, page 33, line 32, after “State” insert “or by at least 50 pupils, students or parents resident in the local authority area”
The noble Baroness said: Clause 60 places a duty on the chief inspector to inspect and report on Connexions services when requested to do so by the Secretary of State. It used to be the case that Ofsted inspected Connexions, but it has not done so since 2004. Amendment No. 182 would ensure that, if local people are concerned about the quality of the Connexions service in their area, they can trigger an inspection by the chief inspector. That would make the process accountable to local people and responsive to the very people who are affected by its performance. In responding to the amendment, will the Minister explain the process that would currently lead the Secretary of State to insist on an inspection under the Bill as drafted and explain why that is preferable to local accountability?
Amendment No. 183 specifies that inspection of the Connexions service should include the inspection of facilities and services for young people with special educational needs. It is a sad truth that people with SEN figure largely in the group that this Bill is determined to bring back into learning, and thus employment, because people with such needs clearly do not always do best under the system at the moment. I, and others here, have already spoken at length about the failings of the educational system for those who have special needs and the need to improve provision for them. Surely the Minister will agree with me that a big start to making those improvements would be to identify inspections when they could be made.
On the same lines, while Clause 60 allows for an inspection to be made of the provision of services, it says nothing about quality of service or that the inspector should inspect the services in relation to quality. Amendment No. 184 would add the phrase,
“and to the quality of such services”,
to place this straightforward requirement in the Bill. I beg to move.
Am I not right in thinking that Ofsted is the inspection machinery for Connexions? The fact that it has not actually inspected Connexions since 2004 merely reflects the fact that it would probably have a normal roster to do so from time to time. The amendment would mean that, if there was particular concern about failures of the Connexions service, it would be possible to ask Ofsted to look into those failures. In the normal course of events, we would expect to see Ofsted making regular inspections of the Connexions service.
Amendment No. 184A is in my name. Although it takes a slightly different tack from the other amendments in this group, I should like to speak to it now as it is one of the amendments to Clause 60. Subsection (7) attempts to make it an offence, liable to a fine on summary conviction, for somebody who,
“obstructs a person in carrying out or participating in the inspection”.
My heart sinks when I see this clause in the Bill. There has never to my knowledge been an offence before in refusing to allow inspection. As one who was an HMI for a very large part of my career and was Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, responsible for the training of new inspectors, I say most forcefully that the importance of an inspector going into a school—whether an Ofsted inspector or one of Her Majesty’s inspectors—is that they go there with the authority of the law and with the authority of the Secretary of State behind them. They go there also to contribute to the quality and life of the school. To go there with the force of an offence behind them completely changes the relationship. The relationship ought to be one in which the inspector goes in with courtesy, good will and an intention genuinely to contribute to the life and quality of education in the school. For years, when training a new HMI I used to say, “The fact that you have the authority of the Secretary of State behind you means that you never stamp your foot and assert that authority. There are hundreds of ways in which you can assert that authority without being bullying or bossy”.
In my early days as a local HMI, I remember vividly encountering a lecturer in an FE college who decided that over his dead body would I be allowed into his room to inspect. He stood in the corridor holding out his arms saying, “You shall not come into my room. Under no circumstances are you allowed”. I talked to him for a few minutes and said, “I am very sorry you feel that way and I understand that it is threatening and uncomfortable to have someone sitting in your room”. I assured him that I would not report personally on him but that I was there to observe the learning. I said, “Obviously, at the moment there is no point in disrupting your class by coming in, but I should like very much to come in later this afternoon. Let us talk about that when you have had a chance to think about it”. Indeed, he did. We talked later on and I explained the functions of inspection. I asked whether he had a particular group doing some interesting work that I could learn from by observing. At that point, he invited me in.
I firmly believe that that is the way it should happen. I would hate to see the thing being turned into a criminal offence with a fine attached. That changes the relationship between an inspector and the school into a foot-stamping exercise: “We are government inspectors and we have come to check you out”. I hope very much that in his reply the Minister will agree that this clause can be changed and that we can restore the relationship of fellow professionals working together for the good of the children in the school.
I should have said earlier how much we on these Benches support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. She is absolutely right about the importance of inspectors working with the good will of those whom they inspect rather than putting their backs up by making it a criminal offence to oppose inspection.
My general criticism of current inspection methods is that they are not supportive enough. They do not take the opportunity to spread good practice between one school and another. Surely, that is enormously important in the case of Connexions because there are no obvious ways in which good practice will spread other than by Ofsted. At least a third or even a half of Ofsted’s remit in these cases should be telling schools how they can do better—showing them where things have gone better and introducing them to new ways of thinking and working. Being inspected ought to be a positive experience. In some cases it will be cathartic, but it should always be positive because you will come out of it doing things better. I am as disappointed as my noble friend to see subsection (7) in Clause 60.
I pity the teacher or head teacher who seeks to obstruct the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in going about her public duties. I imagine that they would quite quickly see the error of their ways.
Or indeed a Minister, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, so rightly says. These penalties are in extremis and are certainly not intended for anything other than the most extreme cases. In my experience of the work of Ofsted and Her Majesty's inspectors, they lead by example and get willing consent from those whom they inspect. However, as I shall explain later, these measures are consistent with other provisions in other legislation about the statutory powers of inspectors.
First, I shall deal with the overall framework. There was a programme of inspections of Connexions services between the autumn of 2002 and the autumn of 2004. Ofsted carried out full inspections of 28 Connexions partnerships. Of these, 89 per cent were rated satisfactory or better and 60 per cent were rated as good or better. There have been no further inspections focused solely on Connexions partnerships. Instead, since September 2005, Ofsted, with other inspectorates, has undertaken holistic, joint area reviews of services for children and young people in a local authority area. JARs replaced the previously separate inspections of local education authorities, local authority social services, Connexions services and the provision for students aged 14 to 19. In future, performance management of local education authorities’ delivery of Connexions services will be outcome-based and will be in accordance with the national agreement between central and local government, under which inspection will be proportionate to risk. Under arrangements to be introduced next year for comprehensive area assessment of local authorities, inspection will be triggered when inspectorates assess risks to be high. Where there is clear evidence of inadequate performance, we will continue to consider whether intervention is necessary, including, as a last resort, through the use of statutory intervention powers.
That brings me directly to Amendment No. 182, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, which would require the chief inspector to carry out an inspection on request,
“by at least 50 pupils, students or parents resident in the local authority area”.
There may well be a case for an inspection if such a number of parents, students, pupils or other interested parties requested the chief inspector to carry out an inspection, but to put this requirement in primary legislation would be unduly restrictive. Individuals or groups can already freely petition the Secretary of State or Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to undertake an inspection, and these petitions are taken very seriously by both organisations. Speaking as a Minister who sometimes has to deal with these petitions, my first recourse is immediately to refer them to the chief inspector and ask for advice about whether an inspection should take place. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector is also under a general duty to encourage services to be user focused, and must have regard to the views of service users, their parents and employers about services being inspected, and their levels of satisfaction with the services.
Amendment No. 183 seeks to specify that inspections must make judgments on the degree to which Connexions services facilitate the participation of young people with special needs. Amendment No. 184 seeks specifically to include the quality of services in the scope of inspections. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that the existing provisions already meet the purposes of both these amendments. Section 118 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that the chief inspector has the general duty to keep the Secretary of State informed about the quality of services within her remit and about improvements in the quality of such services, thereby firmly placing the focus of inspection on the quality of services, including the quality of services for pupils with special educational needs.
In respect of Amendment No. 183, I assure the noble Baroness that we take very seriously the provision of appropriate Connexions services for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. Clause 54 places a duty on local education authorities to make services available to all young people between 13 and 19, and for young people with special needs up to their 25th birthday. This duty is reinforced by the quality standards for information, advice and guidance published in October 2007, which require in Standard 48 that additional and sustained guidance and support is provided to those young people with special needs or learning difficulties and/or disabilities. The standards will be covered by the central statutory guidance under Clause 54(4). In addition, inspections under this clause will be governed by the statutory framework for inspection of children’s services under Section 21 of the Children Act 2004, which gives prominence to inspecting services for children and young people with special educational needs. Five of the 36 key judgments in the framework relate specifically to outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs.
Finally, Amendment No. 184A would remove the sanction that wilfully obstructing an inspection in any way is an offence that is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale. Similar sanctions with regard to inspections of local authority children’s functions already exist in other legislation. As an example, inspections of local authorities’ children’s functions under Section 136 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, provided for in Section 140(9) of that Act, provide for a similar regime.
Similarly, Section 118 of the Learning and Skills Act, dealing with the inspection of Connexions services, which this clause will replace, also provides for sanctions for wilful obstruction. Inspectors should expect nothing less than full co-operation from those managing services under inspection and others around them. Wilful obstruction of inspections should not be tolerated, not least because to do so is obstructing work that is to be carried out on behalf of Her Majesty. Clause 60(7) is wholly consistent with existing legislation. It safeguards those carrying out inspections and acts as a sanction for those who may obstruct that work. As I said in my opening remarks, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that only in the most exceptional circumstances should it be necessary to use powers of that kind.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his reply and for his understanding of my concern. The legislation that he quoted from comes in much more from children’s services and social services than from the education field. This is a new precedent in terms of inspection of schools. To my knowledge, there has never been any need to pursue any kind of formal action against any teacher or lecturer who may, for a temporary period, have felt any resentment at inspection. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his answer. No doubt we shall return to this discussion.
I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response, and I thank all noble Lords who spoke on the group of amendments. I understand that the Government are moving towards outcome-based services. I shall read carefully what the Minister said. It is, of course, reassuring to know that inspections can be triggered if a need is felt by users. It would be useful to know that a consistent working of inspection was in place. It is quite worrying that no inspections have taken place since 2004, which seems quite a long time.
I echo what my noble friend Lady Perry said on her amendment—that this is a matter best left to discretion and common sense, not to the police and the prosecution service. What benefit would Clause 60(7) bring if a person who wilfully obstructs an inspection resorts to violence or threats? Existing laws are sufficient to deal with the problem. It is more likely that resistance will be in the form of a stubborn refusal to submit to an inspection. That requires tact and persuasion, not an arrest warrant. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 183 to 184A not moved.]
Clause 60 agreed to.
Clauses 61 to 64 agreed to.
Clause 65 [Assessments relating to learning difficulties]:
185: Clause 65, page 36, line 16, leave out from “if” to “believes” in line 19 and insert “—
(a) a young person is on the special needs register of his school, and(b) the local authority in England in which the young person lives”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to the other amendments in my name in this group. Our amendments to Clause 65 are intended to make it easier for children who may have learning difficulties to obtain an assessment under the clause. I shall raise again the problems of those children who have special educational needs, and I make no apology for doing so. Far too often, they fall first from the education system, often because their needs have gone unrecognised.
Amendment No. 188 deals with young people who leave school unexpectedly, possibly because of disappointing GCSE results or to pursue an alternative option. Those young people will not have had the assessment in their final year of education that is required by the clause, as it is assumed that they will continue their education. Our amendment would add a new subsection (2)(a) to proposed new Section 139A of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, by providing that an assessment should be arranged for them. The amendment ensures that children who leave unexpectedly do not slip through the net.
Our Amendment No. 189 is inspired by concerns raised by the National Autistic Society, which we share. The amendment would include children who are subject to school action and school action plus programmes and, therefore, fall short of qualifying for a full statement of special educational needs under the clause. I am sure that noble Lords are aware of the terrible difficulty that parents can face in obtaining a statement of special educational needs for their child. The amendment would ensure that children who did not qualify for an SEN assessment would nevertheless be given one. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 186 and 187. Amendment No. 186 mirrors exactly Amendment No. 189, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I seek clarification from the Minister, because I understand that the guidance being drafted by his department incorporates a change from the existing arrangements, which will ensure that young people with or without a statement who the local authority believes have learning difficulties and who choose to pursue learning in a post-16 environment during years 10 and 11 will receive an assessment of their learning needs at this early stage. That explains our amendment, which includes young people who participate in school action or school action plus.
Only 3 per cent of young people have statements of special educational needs, whereas 15 per cent of young people are regarded as having special educational needs. That is a large number, and it is important that those who by the age of 15 remain under school action or school action plus, who do not want to pursue an academic route and who need help as they want to move into the world of work, have an assessment of what they can and cannot achieve and of the sort of guidance that they need. Along with that change, there will need to be a duty on local authorities to have regard to the assessments, since they will be responsible for funding provision for those young people in the post-16 world.
It is important also to separate the duties of the local authority to provide an independent assessment of the young person’s needs from that of providing appropriate learning, once those duties are devolved to local authorities from the LSC. Since local authorities are required to meet these learning provisions from their funds, there is an inherent conflict of interest where an assessment may indicate a level of need which the local authority may consider to be too expensive. One constantly sees similar inherent conflicts of interests as regards statements of special educational needs, which is why many local authorities drag their feet and spin out the period before they have to issue statements.
In addition, staff carrying out the assessment should be competent to carry out the task. They will require a detailed knowledge of local and national opportunities for learning, in addition to the skills appropriate to working with this client group, their families and support networks. Equally, emphasis should be placed on the need to ensure that post-16 providers are aware of assessments and take account of their contents in planning and developing learning programmes for young people with learning difficulties. That explains our Amendment No. 187, which adds at the end of new subsection (2), which specifies that the assessment must be carried out, that the local authority should also,
“have regard to this assessment in the subsequent provision of education and training”.
I support the amendments. I am reminded more than anything else of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, stressed a day or so ago—that the earlier these assessments are done, the better. However, if the Minister is not able to tell us that the points made just now are adequately covered by the Bill or by adequate instructions, I certainly hope that changes will be made.
I shall deal, first, with Amendment No. 185, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I entirely agree with her that everyone who needs an assessment should receive one, and that will include some students who are on school action or school action plus programmes. Clause 65 makes provision for that.
It is very important to read new subsection (2) in conjunction with new subsection (5). New subsection (2) provides that for those who already have a statement a local authority,
“must arrange for an assessment of the person to be conducted at some time during his last year of compulsory schooling”.
However, new subsection (5) gives local authorities a power “at any time” to arrange for an assessment to be conducted in respect of all the categories of young people set out in new subsection (6)—that is, any young person who is,
“in his last year of compulsory schooling, or is over compulsory school age but has not attained the age of 25 … appears to the authority to have a learning difficulty within the meaning of section 13, and … is receiving, or in the opinion of the authority is likely to receive, post-16 education or training or higher education”.
As ever, my department stands willing to assist authorities in interpreting their duties. New subsection (7) provides:
“In exercising its functions under this section an authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
The noble Baroness can be assured that not only are we intending to issue guidance but we already have guidance in draft on how local authorities should interpret their responsibilities in this area. This draft guidance has already gone to a number of organisations with expertise in the area and I am told that we are taking on board a range of useful comments. We will consult much more widely on the guidance once the Bill has received Royal Assent.
Furthermore, the published quality standards for information, advice and guidance, which I am circulating to Members of the Committee and to which local authorities are obliged to have regard, require that additional and sustained guidance is provided to young people who have specific needs—that is, standard 4.8. Another standard, 5.5, requires that,
“stereotypes and limited career aspirations are challenged, for example through the use of positive actions activities, taster sessions, the use of appropriate role models and work placements”.
Therefore, we believe that the Bill, with the back-up of the guidance to which I have referred, is very robust in the area of concern to the noble Baroness.
I understand what the Minister says, but I notice that new subsection (5) has “may” as distinct from “must”. New subsection (2) states that, where a young person has a statement of special educational needs, the authority “must” arrange for an assessment to be made, whereas, where they are believed to have special educational needs under the school action and school action plus programmes, the word used is “may”, and therefore that is at the discretion of the local authority.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is at the discretion of the local authority. However, new subsection (5) will need to be interpreted by local authorities in conjunction with new subsection (7), which states:
“In exercising its functions under this section an authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
As I said a moment ago, our guidance to local authorities will state that every young person with learning difficulties who is likely to benefit from an assessment should receive one.
There may be a dispute about young people who are likely to benefit; that, I fear, is the state of affairs in the pre-16 statementing process. One of the grounds for appeal to SENDIST is refusal to carry out an assessment. As always in this area, there will inevitably be room for argument over how a local authority should exercise its discretion. The guidance from the Secretary of State, however, will be clear that authorities will be expected to carry out an assessment in respect of every young person with difficulties who is likely to benefit from one.
The Minister rightly says that there can be disputes with local authorities over what is and is not needed, and how far they should go. In speaking to Amendment No. 187, I made the distinction that there must be Chinese walls: a clear separation in local authorities between those who make the assessment of special educational needs and the carrying out of this assessment. There is an inherent conflict within an authority, and is important that local authorities should make that separation of function clear.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Yet again we are asked to take what is going to be in guidance on trust, although I was pleased to hear that draft guidance is now available. It would be interesting to know when the Minister thinks that they may have consulted on that, and whether we might—
I am sure that we all look forward to receiving it. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I circled the word “may” in proposed new subsection (5). I admit to being still somewhat at a loss as to why it is a duty to assess a young person with a statement, but only an expectation, however strongly it may be worded in guidance, if a young person is on a school action or school action plus programme. Again like the noble Baroness, I worry that any financial constraints faced by a local authority could make all the difference as to whether a young person can expect an assessment or not, especially as the LGA, in its briefing to the other place, said:
“It is conceivable comments may be passed on the adequacy or otherwise of local authority SEN provision/ assessments under existing regulations”.
When we have read the draft guidance, we will see. For now, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 186 to 189 not moved.]
Clause 65 agreed to.
Clause 66 [Careers education: information and advice]:
190: Clause 66, page 38, line 18, leave out from “manner” to end of line 25
The noble Baroness said: I also speak to the other amendments in my name in this group. Clause 66 amends Part 7 of the Education Act 1997, which requires state schools to provide all pupils with a programme of careers education, appropriate information and up-to-date reference materials related to career options. I have spoken of my belief that good careers advice is a must if we are to help all young people realise their potential. Our aim with these amendments is to provide impartial, professional advice which will be tailored to suit the needs of the young person.
Amendment No. 190 would leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) of proposed new subsection (2B) to Section 43 of the 1997 Act. This would leave the clause more succinct, and still say everything that it needs to say; that is:
“Any such information must be presented in an impartial manner”.
That would allow the young person to weigh up in his or her own mind which option may suit him best. Similarly, Amendment No. 191, which should be viewed as an alternative, would merely remove paragraph (b) because, if careers advice is both impartial and promotes the best interest of the pupil, it must logically not be promoting the interests of a particular school or institution. I hope that I have demonstrated our commitment on these Benches towards ensuring that straightforward, impartial advice is given to young people.
Amendments Nos. 192 and 193 suggest that the advice that is given to young people in respect of their educational options should include encouragement to consider academic options, when appropriate, to study one or more A-level courses, provided that such courses would be in the best interests of the pupil. Amendment No. 193 deals with Oxbridge. As I said, advice should be impartial, but it must also contain information about different routes that a young person can take so that the pupil is fully informed.
I mentioned Oxford and Cambridge by name because they are widely regarded as being the best universities in the world. Yet there appear to be alarming misconceptions in state schools about the opportunities for pupils to go to Oxbridge. Much more must be done to dispel the myth that is prevalent among many young people, and those who advise them, that Oxbridge is not for them. It becomes something of a vicious circle. We are all aware that there is an imbalance in terms of the socio-economic background of students at those institutions, but those from disadvantaged backgrounds seem to be reluctant even to consider applying. I have suggested this amendment in an attempt to stimulate equality of aspiration.
Amendment No. 196 is straightforward. Clause 66(4) is about discharging a relevant duty. The school,
“must … have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State”.
There is a difference between “must” and “may”. “Must” implies that the Government tell schools exactly what they should do and how, while “may” represents the Government encouraging good practice instead of interfering. I beg to move.
I should point out that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 191.
In general, we on these Benches disagree with the thrust of most of these Conservative amendments. It is clear that at present many young people are not getting good or appropriate careers advice. That stems partly from the breakdown, which we have already discussed, in the careers service since Connexions was established in the early part of 2000 and the deliberate decision at that time to concentrate on the group of pupils who were dropping out of school or college at the expense of the general run of young people who stayed in education and training. I am aware, as the Minister has stressed, that funds going to Connexions have been doubled in the past couple of years and that there has been a substantial improvement in the general service provided to the pupils who stay in school as distinct from the NEET group who were concentrated on earlier. As evidenced by the clause, the Government are anxious to ensure that young people get better careers advice.
Partly because of the lack of advice available, many young people rely disproportionately on two sources of advice that are most readily available to them. First, there are the parents, immediate family and friends whose experience often triggers a career decision. That may be appropriate but by its very nature it is limited and encompasses only what this particular group knows about. Secondly, young people are very influenced by their own teachers, but many of them know nothing of the world of work outside school and teaching because they have gone straight from school into teacher training and back into school again. For many teachers, the right career path, which they have followed and therefore know about, is the path of GCSE, A-level and on to university, and they tend to advise their pupils accordingly. In particular, they are ignorant about the plethora of vocational courses available at further education colleges. Because young people do not know about such courses, they do not consider that alternative, which might be an appropriate route to gaining qualifications at level 2 or level 3.
We support the Government in seeking to ensure that careers advice is impartial—under proposed new subsection (2B). That is an important part of the Bill that we do not wish to be cut out. Indeed, we go further in our Amendment No. 194. We think it is important not only that advice is impartial but also that teachers and tutors who have responsibility for giving careers advice should be properly trained for the job. The old jibe about PE teachers taking careers on on a part-time basis is unfair. Most schools and colleges take careers advice seriously, and those teachers who take on responsibility for careers education put in many hours getting themselves up to speed. However, it is not an easy function to take on part time, and it is important that those teachers have support from properly trained careers advisers who are not just available on the end of a telephone line, but are an active presence in the school and are available to offer specialist advice when required.
Clause 66 essentially inserts a series of amendments into the Education Act 1997. Section 43 of that Act requires that all publicly funded schools provide programmes of careers education to 14 to 16 year-olds. Section 46 empowers the Secretary of State to extend the requirement below 14 and above 16. That power has recently been extended downwards to cover school years 7 to 11—11 to 16 year-olds—but, in England, it has not yet been extended forward to cover the post-16 years, years 12 and 13, although it has been so extended in Wales. Given the raising of the statutory leaving age from 16 to 18, it is surely necessary to do that. Amendment No. 197 was supposed to do that, but we regret to say that we misunderstood the briefing and found that we had merely repeated the existing clause rather than amended it. I apologise to the Committee for this mistake. We will bring forward an appropriate amendment on Report, unless the Minister is proposing to do so.
Choices to participate in post-16 education will be about learning and future work. Young people must be supported in making those choices, whether at school, college or in workplace learning. The principles that we believe are essential if the proposed raising of the statutory leaving age is to be a success are that every young person must be assured of high quality careers education programmes delivered by teachers and tutors with appropriate training; comprehensive and impartial careers advice and information, including on opportunities for progressive post-18 education; and independent careers advice and guidance provided by appropriately trained careers guidance specialists working within the local authority’s support services team.
I offer my warmest support to Amendment No. 194, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I have seen some pretty awful careers advice, at least 30 years out of date, given by teachers who have not been given any specialist training. This training needs to be updated as employment opportunities develop so rapidly now. Hundreds of new employment opportunities are created every year as technology develops. Some of the most powerful careers advice is given by subject teachers to young people who are particularly excited by the subject they are being taught and who are looking for a career related to their interest in that subject. Those people have a key role to play. It is important that the advice which they give is up to date, professional and accurate.
I offer particular support to Amendment No. 193, tabled by my noble friend. I know that the Sutton Trust has created a very healthy climate. It is generally accepted now that it is not enough just to get more young people from socially deprived areas to aspire to go on to higher education, but that we must incite those who are so qualified to go on to the Russell group universities and perhaps to Oxford or Cambridge if that is appropriate. I support and have worked with the work of the Sutton Trust in that aim.
To give a vivid illustration of that, I remember a student who came to my college in Cambridge in 2001. She was a most remarkable young woman who had been living on the street. She had run away from unhappy home circumstances when she was 17. She dropped out of school, of course, and had lived for two and a half years on the street, which many experts say is beyond repair—that if you have lived that long on the streets, you will never be recoverable. Her formidable personality and, as it later proved, formidable intellect, caused her, as she put it, to wake up one morning and say to herself, “There has got to be more to life than this”. She got herself together, she got a job in a bar serving as a barmaid and registered at her local sixth-form college, where she was immediately identified as an extraordinarily bright young person. Despite having missed two and a half years of schooling, she picked up an A-level course and was working for three A-levels, no less, in what she hoped would be a year and a half. She discovered, of course, that her two and a half years out made it very difficult for her to catch up with the other young people in the group, so she took even more hours working to pay for some private tuition for herself.
As it happened, her tutor was a Cambridge PhD. After a few months of working with her, he said to her, “Do you know that you are bright enough to get into Cambridge if you want to?”. She was terribly excited by that and went back to her sixth-form tutor and said, “My tutor says that I could try for Cambridge. What do you think about that?”. To my horror, she told us that the reply from her sixth-form college tutor was, “Cambridge? Give me a match and I’d burn the place down. Nothing but snobs. You’d never fit in there with your background. Don’t even think of it”. At which point, in great distress, she went back to her private tutor and said, “My tutor at sixth-form college says that I could not possibly try for it”. Fortunately, he encouraged her to go on trying. She came to us with three As at A-level that she got in 18 months after two and a half years on the street and was a star pupil.
A story such as that convinces me that there are still teachers out in the system who are prepared actively to discourage people from Russell group applications. It is terribly important that they are encouraged—indeed, directed—to give appropriate advice to young people as to what kind of university they are suited to go to.
Briefly, I support all the amendments. With the raising of the school leaving age, adequate—more than adequate—advice will play even more of a key role, as we have heard so graphically described, particularly in the story told to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry.
We must not forget that quite a lot of work is already going on. Students at some universities are already going out to talk to schools where there are some able pupils coming from families where university, particularly the top universities, has not been thought of. That is excellent, because some role models are doing that here and now.
I support all that has been said. We need proper training in independence, as well as in subjects, in life and in employment—employers should play a much greater role in coming to talk to colleges and universities than they do now, although even that is improving a great deal. I support the amendments.
I support the amendments in spirit, but I have certain reservations about naming any universities or groups of universities in the Bill. That would be a disservice to those universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, which have been working incredibly hard, not only recently but, to my certain knowledge, since the 1980s, to stretch out influence and persuade people from the maintained sector to apply to them. It may be counterproductive that any group of universities should be named. Nevertheless, the importance of giving appropriate and imaginative advice to young people is obvious. It is beyond value. It is enormously important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, speaks with great authority in this area. In my time at Oxford, Hertford College, with which she was associated, was exemplary in the way in which it sought to encourage students from less advantaged backgrounds and from state schools in general to apply. In my experience, colleges in Oxford and Cambridge and other leading universities are doing an increasing amount to encourage students to participate. Their scale of outreach activities is wholly more ambitious than it was a generation ago, which is to be applauded.
The example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is reprehensible but, I believe, very rare now. On my frequent visits to schools and colleges, I find that they go out of their way to highlight their highest attaining students who are going on to leading universities. They in no way hold back the progress of their students in the way that she suggested has occasionally happened.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, seeks to remove the part of Clause 66 that makes it explicit that schools, in giving advice, must not seek to promote their own interests over those of their pupils. However, her concerns are fully met by the clause, which explicitly addresses the issue by making it clear that the interests of young people must be paramount in all advice that is given. It emphatically does not mean, as the noble Baroness fears, that teachers and careers advisers cannot advise a young person that a particular option is best for them where they believe that it is. On the contrary, once a young person has been provided with information about all the options available, this is precisely what we would want, whether it would be for them to do three A-levels on their way to Oxbridge, as in the noble Baroness’s example, to undertake a diploma or to consider undertaking an apprenticeship or other work-based options. That is why the clause explicitly says that the advice,
“must be advice which the person giving it considers will promote the best interests of the pupils concerned”.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 192 seeks to ensure that schools should specifically promote the take-up of A-levels where they are in the best interests of the pupil. As I said, if a teacher feels that A-levels were in the best interests of a young person, they would already be required by the clause to advise them of this. With this clause, we are not attempting to cut across teachers using their experience and understanding of a young person’s abilities and interests to give them the best possible advice on the options available to them. On the contrary, they are required to give such advice.
On Amendment No. 194 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I assure her that we will publish guidance to support the strengthened duty in the clause. Schools will be required to have regard to that duty, which will include a set of core principles to underpin their delivery of impartial and high-quality careers advice. As part of this, we will develop appropriate in-service training to ensure that all teachers, including the subject teachers mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, have a good understanding of 14-to-19 options and of progression pathways and career opportunities linked to their subject.
Separate to these measures to improve the careers advice delivered by school staff, schools are already required to provide access to careers specialists under Section 44 of the Education Act 1997. In practice, these careers services are delivered by Connexions personal advisers. We expect that this will continue as local authorities assume control of Connexions. In addition, the power to direct under Clause 55 will enable us to set minimum standards of qualifications for the Connexions personal advisers who provide this guidance and support.
The draft directions that we propose to issue state that,
“as a minimum each personal adviser must have or be actively working towards an NVQ level 4 (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline and have undertaken relevant appropriate assessment training”.
Following Royal Assent, we will consult widely on the content of these directions, including on the minimum qualifications. I believe that this will meet the concerns of the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness is right that we do not propose to legislate to require the provision of information beyond the age of 16, although we considered doing so in the context of the 14-to-19 reforms. We decided not to legislate because, in practice, schools and colleges are already providing careers education post-16 and we have no evidence of a problem of impartiality in this area. We are also implementing substantial measures alongside this Bill to strengthen careers education, including for post-16, and information, advice and guidance more generally. The measures include work to embed the information, advice and guidance quality standards; publication of the guidance mentioned in this clause; and linking success in the 14-to-19 gateway process to evidence of the availability of robust information, advice and guidance.
Notwithstanding all that, we have commissioned Ofsted to undertake a thematic review of information, advice and guidance provision, which will commence shortly and report specifically on the quality of the careers support provided to post-16 learners. We will review the need for further legislation in the light of Ofsted’s findings.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. This has been a short but worthwhile debate in which many of us have aired our concerns and disagreements. I am sorry that I forgot to say when I spoke initially that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about proper training for those who give careers advice in our schools. As for encouraging young people to apply to our best universities, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that this is a probing amendment. As she says, it would be wrong to name certain universities in the Bill. The ambitious outreach of universities must be matched by ambitions within our schools. I was therefore pleased to hear the Minister say that the graphic example given by my noble friend Lady Perry would be extremely rare in the present day. I have been encouraged by the Minister’s reply to my concerns and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 191 to 194 not moved.]