Committee (4th Day) (Continued)
95: Clause 40, page 23, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) ensure that all sixth form provision offers, as a minimum, A level courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, and at least two modern foreign languages”
Amendment 95 would ensure a bare minimum of standards of education in sixth forms. It would add a paragraph (f) to new Section 15ZA in Clause 40 to impose a duty on local education authorities to ensure that each sixth form must offer A-level courses at least in English, mathematics, the three sciences, history, geography and at least two modern languages. The amendment may appear somewhat prescriptive. Nevertheless, it encapsulates a real concern that many important academic subjects are becoming the exclusive preserve of the independent sector. We think that it is essential that this range of subjects should as a minimum remain open to all those who wish to study them. Surely it is wrong that there should be a disparity in opportunities for choice between the independent and state sectors.
My honourable friend in another place, Nick Gibb, quoted the figures from 2006 and it would be helpful to reiterate them. In 2006-07, 145 schools with a sixth form did not enter any students for A-level history; 96 did not enter any for A-level maths; 115 did not enter any for A-level biology; 187 did not offer A-level chemistry; 247 entered no one for A-level physics; and 264 entered no one for A-level geography. It simply is not feasible that no one living in the catchment areas for these schools wanted to study the subjects. Does the Minister not share our concern that there should not be subjects that are allowed to become dominated by the independent sector? Does she not agree that it should be a top priority to ensure that every student has the practical opportunity to study the A-level course that most suits their needs? Does she accept that this is not what is happening at the moment?
It should be noted that the subjects listed are not exceptional or unusual. The list is not highly specialised or arcane. These are basic subjects that we might reasonably expect would be provided in any sixth form. The Minister will doubtless tell me that partnerships and federations exist that allow a pupil to travel from one school to another in search of their next lesson, but I cannot accept—at least with regard to these subjects, which should be available to all students as a basic minimum—that this is a useful or productive way for them to spend their time. In another place, the Minister replied:
“I understand the calls for an A-level entitlement. That is something we have agreed to review in 2013”.—[Official Report, Commons, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill Committee, 17/3/09; col. 318.]
Another question might be: why wait? If the Government understand these calls, why wait until 2013 to conduct a review? I beg to move.
I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment. While I, too, deplore the discrepancy between the independent sector and state schools—any discrepancy of opportunity is of course to be deplored—I do not think that this amendment is the way to solve the problems that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, has outlined. We must bear in mind the fact that sixth forms these days are about a great deal more than A-levels. Provision for the 16 to 18 age group is much more diverse than just sixth forms. If a young person wanted to study Latin, psychology or philosophy, for example, that would not be provided by the minimum entitlement laid down in the Conservative amendment. There are probably plenty of places where the young person could do that. Many young people of that age now do their spread of subjects in more than one setting. Although we have a problem with discrepancy of opportunity in some areas, this amendment is not the way to tackle the issue. That will be done by making sure that adequate resources are provided and that high-quality teaching is available to all young people, not by providing a minimum entitlement of this prescriptive nature.
I very much support the spirit of my noble friend’s amendment, but not the wording. It is important that young people who want to study these basic subjects are given the opportunity to do so and it is not satisfactory that there are instances at the moment where that is not the case. However, I hope—perhaps the Minister will enlighten me—that the application of subsection (1) will cover this. If a local education authority,
“must secure that enough suitable education and training is provided to meet the reasonable needs of persons in their area”,
and one such need is to study physics at A-level, I presume that we are now placing that duty on local education authorities. If that is the case, I would like to know—I did not get an answer last time I asked—how that duty is to be enforced.
I support the amendment. In recent years, the details of our curriculum have been upside down. Very young children have too much laid down in detail about their education but, as you go further up the ladder, there is too little. It is now widely accepted that dropping the requirement to learn modern languages at the age of 14 or 15 was a mistake. Therefore, I support the amendment, in part because it mentions two modern foreign languages. It would bring back some credibility and rigour to what must be considered for teenagers towards the end of their full-time education.
I am delighted to be able to respond and I hope to offer some reassurance, in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, over her concerns about languages. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that sixth forms are about a lot more than A-levels. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, puts forward the interesting idea of creating this requirement, but the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right in his interpretation of the Bill. We consider that the duty of local authorities to provide suitable education would include access to this list of A-level subjects, which come in the top 10 favourite subjects that young people in this age group opt for.
We agree on the importance of the A-level subjects set out in Amendment 95 being on offer to all young people, but making sure that these subjects are on offer to all young people is not the same as making sure that they are on offer in every single institution, as the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, expected me to say. That has never been the case, even before the increases in collaborative delivery. The more specific nature of the study that takes place post-16 has always led to pupils choosing to move between institutions. There has to be a balance. He makes the good point about not wanting to see young people engaged in excessive travel and, of course, local authorities have to take that into account.
Amendment 95 would require all sixth forms to offer this selection of subjects. While this will be appropriate for many learners, we think that it is right that decisions about what courses are on offer in what institutions should be determined at a local level. The sixth forms that do not offer all these subjects may not be designated or designed to do so. They may play a different role, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed, in providing diversity of what is available locally and they may do it very well.
It is more important to look at whether young people are taking A-levels. The evidence from last summer shows that these subjects are doing very well. The five subjects that saw the biggest increase in entries included maths, English, history and biology. Between them, these four subjects saw increases of more than 11,000 entries—more than half the overall increase in A-level entries last year. Moreover, numbers taking these subjects in maintained schools and colleges continue to rise. I offer that as reassurance to noble Lords.
We are not complacent at all about this. We recognise that there is a great deal of work to do. We started recording the type of exam centre in 2005—a very recent event—so we now have the data that allow us to have this debate. Since then, of the subjects listed in the amendment, only geography has seen a very small reduction in entries from maintained schools and colleges, but I reassure noble Lords that it remains in the list of top 10 subjects studied at A-level.
Following the 2007 review by the late Lord Dearing, we put in place a range of measures to boost language learning in schools because we, like noble Lords, feel that it is an important area in which we need to do better. This included a £6 million communications campaign over three years to promote the importance of language learning to pupils, parents and the school workforce and reforming the secondary curriculum to make it more relevant and engaging for pupils. We expect that these measures will increase the likelihood that pupils will increase their take-up of GCSE languages, which will then lead, we hope, to a better take-up of language A-levels. We can take heart at this approach because it is the one that we have taken in science and mathematics, where we have seen an impact—increasing numbers of children and young people are opting, importantly, for mathematics. I hope that, with the reassurances that I have given, the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment.
Before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether she could elucidate her comments on mathematics. It is my understanding that there is a severe deficiency in the provision of teaching in double-subject maths in our schools at the moment. Many talented young mathematicians are forced to take single-subject mathematics, which compromises their future university careers both in mathematics and in physics. Does her reference to improved access to and take-up in mathematics A-level cover double-subject maths or only single-subject maths?
What I have here is the number of entries in subjects from maintained schools and FE colleges; the number of entries for 2008 in mathematics is 45,084. I am assuming—I am looking behind the noble Lord in the hope that I shall get some indication—that that figure includes all maths A-levels. Perhaps not. I am afraid that I will have to come back to the noble Lord on that figure.
On the wider point about attracting maths specialists into teaching, we are extremely aware of the importance of doing that and we have been investing through our STEM programme in improving the offer to maths graduates to come into teaching and in attracting maths graduates from other professions, such as the finance sector, to consider coming into maths teaching. Having expert teachers who are qualified in the subject is an important factor in exciting and encouraging young people to maintain an interest, particularly in mathematics.
I have some inspiration coming my way. Maths entries have increased from 35,000 to 45,000—I presume that that is pure maths—and entries to further maths have increased from 3,000 to nearly 6,000. That is between 2005 and 2008.
I just intervene to tell the Minister—it is maths and further maths about which I assume the noble Lord is concerned—that there has been a significant increase in the number taking further maths over the last couple of years, partly as a result of the Further Mathematics Network initiative. It puts young people at state schools that have not had the facility to teach further maths in touch with people who have that capability. It is partly online but it also provides young people with face-to-face tuition through extra classes, twilight classes and weekend tuition. It is an example that has been extremely effective and could well be copied in one or two other areas. There is a question as to why, given that we have seen this increase in mathematics at A-level, the Government are now consulting on changing the A-level maths curriculum in 2011. The general feeling—and I was talking only last night to somebody representing the Mathematical Association—is that the formula is now good. People are flocking back to maths after the disaster of Curriculum 2000. If it ain’t broke—and it is working—why fix it?
My noble friend’s amendment does not deal with the general, it deals with the particular. The defects occur when individual areas are not offering the full range of provision, and as I said in my brief comment, I thought that Clause 40(1) was what was going to deal with that. If the noble Baroness can suppose that a local authority determines that in a particular patch of its area there are, say, four students who wish to study further maths at A-level who are unable to do so because their local school does not offer it, what powers are we then giving the local authority? Is the local authority going to have the power to direct the school to start a course in further mathematics? Is the local authority going to have the power to subsidise the transport of these students to somewhere that does further mathematics? Is the local authority going to have the power to subsidise the school to run what, at four pupils, will be a loss-making course?
Once it knows that there is a required provision, a local authority is given an instruction that it must secure it. What powers is the local authority being given to enable it to secure the provision of, say, four places a year to study further mathematics for a particular group of students?
We have had detailed discussions about commissioning in local authorities. We have the 16 to 19 partnerships, which will set out their strategic plans. We have the YPLA and local authorities as part of the sub-regional groups. I believe that there will be a system in place to ensure that where there is demand for certain subjects, the system will be capable of offering them. One of the most important levers is in the provision of funding and ensuring that there is capacity. It is extremely important that local authorities ensure that they can offer what young people are looking for.
I agree with that, but it still does not answer the question. What powers are we giving local authorities to do this? A school may well recognise that there is a demand for four places to study further maths, but it also realises that if it offers such a course, it may well make a loss on it because eight students is about the break-even number for an A-level group. A school might reasonably decide of its own volition that it was not capable of offering the further maths education that the local authority has identified as being needed. Under those circumstances, can the local authority compel the school to offer it? Can it subsidise the school by offering it twice the ordinary rate for students who study further maths? What powers are being given to the local authority to ensure that it is able to perform the duty being put on it in new Section 15ZA(1)?
I am struggling to convince the noble Lord. The way I see this is that the local authority has the power to come to an agreement with an institution to provide the capacity to deliver teaching in subjects it sees as important. I am not sure that I can see the problem, but I am happy to write a note for the noble Lord and copy it to other Members of the Committee if we are not being clear enough. It will explain exactly which powers in the Bill that would rely on. This is about coming to an agreement within a community, and about gathering from providers intelligence about which courses are likely to be needed. There has to be a dialogue and I see this as a process in which local authorities are in pole position. However, it also has to be about agreement between providers and the local authority.
I do not disagree with anything the noble Baroness has said, but I want to take the point a little further. Let us suppose that a school recognises that it ought to be providing four places to study further maths. The local authority and all the other bodies the noble Baroness mentioned recognise that, but if the school was to provide those four places, in terms of what it would have to pay the teacher and what it would bring in as a proportion of those students’ funding, it would cost perhaps £15,000 to £20,000 a year to run the course. The school might not have that sum in its budget, so it says, “How can the local authority help?” What powers are being given to the local authority to, as it were, subsidise courses or assist pupils by providing transport to somewhere where it is economically viable to run the course? Is power being given to local authorities to enable them to do what everyone agrees they want to see being done?
The noble Lord has answered his own question. The powers set out in new Section 15ZA are required in order that local authorities can come to agreements with a group of schools or colleges about how a particular demand might be met and to ensure the capacity is funded. I have a problem in understanding what I am not explaining properly.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I share her concern about foreign languages. My noble friend Lord Lucas said that he supports the spirit of the amendment, and for that at least I am grateful, as well as for his subsequent, more detailed probing. I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, whose question was very important. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, and I am not entirely surprised though a little disappointed. I thank the Minister for her response, and we too are delighted to see her back on her feet. I repeat to her and to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that what we are really concerned about is the idea of bussing people around just to ensure they receive tuition in these basic subjects.
As I said when I moved the amendment, the Minister in another place replied that, unlike the noble Baroness, he understood the calls for an A-level entitlement, and that was why he agreed to a review in 2013, which is four years away. I have asked why it is necessary to wait until 2013 to conduct the review. Would the noble Baroness like to answer that question?
I shall have a go. A lot is happening with the rollout of diplomas as well as with the development of the secondary school curriculum and Ofqual. I think that it would be a mistake to bring forward a review of A-levels sooner than that, but nevertheless it is helpful to have a review and I do not have an issue with that at all. We have made a public commitment to conduct such a review. However, I think it would be helpful if we gave the diploma time to roll out before such a review takes place in order to see the interplay between the various different qualifications in an age group.
I am grateful to the Minister and to all other noble Lords who have participated in the debate. For today, however, perhaps I may say that I shall give the matter further thought before we come to the Report stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 95 withdrawn.
96: Clause 40, page 23, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) respect the independence of any further education or sixth form college;( ) recognise that sixth form, specialist and further education colleges should seek to recruit students from outside the area of the local authority;( ) promote the attendance of students at sixth form, specialist and further education colleges outside its area”
I think I understand why the Government want to bring sixth-form colleges and other colleges back under the wing of their local authorities: in order to integrate the provision for 16 to 19 year-olds, and even beyond for those with special needs. Everything should come under one optic and be dealt with an integrated and sensible way.
For the sake of this amendment, I shall take that as a given and say that what I am after is preserving some of the virtues that have been gained over the past decade and a half as a result of liberating sixth-form and further education colleges from local education authorities. Certainly the best of them have become national enterprises. Prisons in Kent are managed by Manchester City College, for instance, while many FE and sixth-form colleges have gained national reputations for what they do. The virtues of Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge are well known, as is Greenhead College in Huddersfield, which attracts students from the south of Manchester, Hull and right up from the far north of Yorkshire and Lancashire. People travel a long way and make great efforts to attend good sixth-form colleges, particularly where they have developed expertise in certain subjects. Where a subject is not particularly mainstream, it is very much to the advantage of students and the educational system that the expertise becomes concentrated. They can then afford to develop long-lasting links with industry, both to inform what they are teaching and to provide the routes by which their graduates go on to obtain employment.
The better of these courses now have 15 years’ worth of graduates in the industries that they supply and an enormous reputation, as I say, in many cases countrywide. I do not want to see that destroyed or jeopardised as a side effect of the virtues that the Government are trying to achieve by bringing these colleges back under local authority control. It would be a great pity to lose what we have won merely in order to gain something else.
That is the burden of my amendment. I hope the Government will enlarge on the technicalities of it so that I can understand better how colleges can continue to assert their independence, innovate and head in the direction that they want to head while being subject to what I read as, as the noble Lord knows, the quite draconian powers under Clause 40 and elsewhere whereby a local authority will have to decide what provision is to be made in its locality and how. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendment 103. It is a slightly obscure amendment to probe, to some extent, the same issue. We on these Benches endorse Amendment 96 and the promotion of the independence of the sixth-form college and further education college sector. Given that, we would like to know a little more about the kinds of co-operation that are being developed.
We understand that 43 sub-regional groups have now been agreed to. There is a six-stage process of agreement on the funding procedures and the way it moves forward. In the first stage, the YPLA will develop a national framework, working with local authorities. The second stage is that each local authority will assess supply and demand for 16 to 19 provision within its own area. The third stage is that each local authority will then take this assessment to one of the 43 sub-regional groups of local authorities of which it is a member, and the group will agree the commissioning plans within its sub-region. The fourth stage is that these plans will then have to be agreed at a regional planning group, which will scrutinise the local plans and ensure that they are coherent, can be funded within the regional budget and will deliver the 14 to 19 entitlement. The fifth stage is that the plans will go up to the YPLA, which will check them to ensure that they cohere and are affordable and then fund local authorities appropriately; if the YPLA agrees with them, it will send the funding back down to local authorities. The sixth stage is that the local authorities will then pass the funding on to colleges and other post-16 providers. The YPLA also has powers to act as a backstop authority and to intervene if it thinks there is a significant risk that local authorities have not developed robust commissioning plans.
However, let us assume that they have developed what are seen to be robust commissioning plans. Given that this is supposed to be a demand-led system, can the Minister explain what would happen in instances where the predicted demand for learners agreed all the way up and down the regional and sub-regional groups, when aggregated together at the regional level, fails to match or meet the actual number of young people who turn up at a college or a school? With more players involved than in the current process involving only the single learning and skills councils, what would be the process for reassessing the funding allocation? What would be the role of the YPLA at this point?
I have a further query relating to cross-regional issues. Apparently the Learning and Skills Council issued guidance about the recruitment of non-English domiciled students in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as follows:
“The LSC has reciprocal arrangements with the funding councils for Wales and Scotland for colleges and providers close to the borders. However, it is not expected that colleges and providers in England will recruit entire groups of learners from outside their local area. Such learners should be referred to the possibility of distance-learning or a Ufi programme delivered by their local provider or hub in Wales or Scotland. If the learning programme is not available through this route, permission to enrol the learners must be sought from the provider’s LSC partnership team”.
In January, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in the other place reported on a cross-border provision of further and higher education and described this LSC funding guidance as unhelpful and inappropriate and urged authorities to see access across borders as something to be encouraged. The Government, in their formal response to the committee, said:
“The guidance issued by the Learning and Skills Council … to further education colleges should not be seen as restrictive or as a deterrent to English colleges responding to the needs of Welsh or Scottish learners. Rather it supports our expectations that individual colleges will focus primarily on their local communities. Where such communities embrace such cross-border travel-to-learn or travel-to-work areas it is appropriate for those colleges to include these factors within their planning and their marketing strategies”.
We would welcome clarification from the Minister as to whether new guidance from the DCSF will be issued to the sub-regional groups of the local authorities near the Welsh and Scottish borders. Will it make clear that they can recruit across the border, or will it try to deter such colleges from doing so? Perhaps the Minister can provide us with such clarification.
Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the Committee has been reminded of the enormous administrative paraphernalia that is going to be created by the Bill. First local authorities will work out local needs assessments, then they will submit to some regional body a regional needs assessment, then this will all be looked at by the Government for a national needs assessment. There is so much planning; Stalinists would welcome this approach to education provision.
That is not how it is done now. For the past 30 years, as a result of my freeing them from local education authority control, FE colleges have had a glorious golden age—no one can deny that. FE technical and vocational training has never had such a fillip as it has had for the past 30 years, and it has had it because the colleges were freed from the dead hand of the local education authorities. They were allowed to do their own thing, and they decided to provide the courses that local people wanted. They did not go and talk regionally and nationally; they knew what they wanted to do, they knew what the local lads and lasses wanted to do, and they provided the courses for them. They were constantly in touch with the market, always adjusting, introducing new courses for tourism, expanding those for medical services for nurses and cutting back on others that were a lot less popular. That was real freedom.
The ultimate solution should be—I have yet to persuade my Front Bench of the value of this argument, but I am working hard on it—that they should return to being free institutions and students should be given vouchers to decide themselves which courses they want to pay for and go to. Let the students decide; that is what choice is about. We are told that the Prime Minister is all about extending choice to ordinary people, but if he really wanted to do that then he would give all qualified youngsters the chance to buy their own education. Is that not freedom? It is not planning.
My noble friend’s amendment is very interesting. He is saying that, now that FE colleges are going to be under local education authority control for a time, they should be allowed to recruit students from wherever they want. That is what they have now, the complete freedom to recruit whomever they want. I know one FE college in London which is at the junction of three London boroughs. It recruits from those boroughs and from well beyond; it recruits into Kent as well. Will the colleges have that freedom? The Minister is nodding. I would like him to say one sentence: that no FE college or sixth-form college will have a catchment area. I am sure that my noble friend would like the same sentence from him. That is the real gain.
The Minister nodded, so I hope that he will use that sentence, which I will repeat: no FE college or sixth-form college will have a catchment area. The Ministers are looking whether that is in their brief; I am sure it is not, but I hope that it will be by the time they come to reply. I hope that they will say that, because it is the essence of freedom and the colleges should have that freedom. Otherwise, local education authorities will restrict them by saying, “We want you to do these courses for our area”, although they might be right next to the boundary of another area that does not want that sort of thing. We should let choice decide this matter. My noble friend’s amendment is important. It goes to the heart of the arrangements in the future and the relationships of FE colleges to local education authorities. If they do not have that freedom, it will be a grave disappointment.
The difficulty is enormous: in order to deliver education up to 18, the Government have brought in the Bill and put the FE colleges back under local education authorities—but at the same time they are slashing their capital expenditure. The Ministers know, because the Government made a Statement last week, that 92 projects have been submitted for sixth-form colleges and FE colleges, all of which were approved by the former council. Of those 92, only 13 have been approved. That is not the way to improve the public services that the Prime Minister is talking about and to improve the opportunities for young people in technical and vocational education; it is holding them back. There is a great debate about whether cuts are going to happen after the next election but, as far as FE and sixth-form colleges are concerned, the cuts have started already—massively so.
The Government slipped through an Answer last Friday, although they did not make a Statement to either House about it—no verbal Statement was made, I assure the Minister—about a major change in reducing the expectations and abilities of FE and sixth-form colleges to provide the services that the Bill wants them to. That is a separate debate, though; the debate here is about catchment areas. I hope that the Minister will utter the sentence that I have encouraged him to say.
I should declare an interest as a former governor of Hills Road College, which has been mentioned as one of the most excellent sixth-form colleges in the country and is constantly at the top of the league tables. I also declare a very different sort of interest: I made my maiden speech in this House welcoming the reforms that gave the further education colleges their freedom from local authorities. Exactly as both my noble friends have emphasised, that has resulted in an extraordinary explosion in both the status and the effectiveness of the further education sector.
The part of Clause 40 that most concerns me and rather gives the negative answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Baker about catchment areas is subsection (4)(d) of new Section 15ZA, which says that,
“a local education authority must … take account of education and training whose provision the authority think might reasonably be secured by other persons”.
That is, presumably, because some college 50 miles away is providing something that is considered to be useful. That is the negative power that the Bill gives to a local education authority to tell a further education college what it may not do. Not only is there a list of things that it has the power to tell the FE college and the sixth-form that they must do, there is also a negative power to tell them what they cannot do. I find that extremely worrying.
My noble friend referred to one college—which may be the one that sprang to my mind; namely, Lewisham College in south London—which has been working voluntarily and extremely fruitfully with its neighbouring local authorities to provide 14 to 16 education. It is wonderful example of free co-operation between three local authorities and one absolutely free sixth-form college. That is the sort of thing that I fear would be cut. I see the Minister shaking his head, but of course it would be. Once they have the power, local authorities will begin to restrict things to what is in their own interests, particularly if they are footing the bill. I would very much like to see some absolute assurance from the Minister—which I am sure he will get from his briefing—that while the local authority will fund the colleges, it will not necessarily control them. I am afraid that the whole of Clause 40 is about control and I find that absolutely wrong in view of everything that I have seen happen in the past 20 years.
I go a little further than my noble friend who has just spoken because I do not give much weight to assurances given by the Front Bench of any Government. They only last as long as the Government, and not always as long as that. I want to see the assurance in the Bill. To try to stop one hair being split in resistance to this amendment, I think that it would be a little better if the second line of the second paragraph read, “colleges should seek to recruit students from outside as well as inside the area of the local authority”, and likewise in the next paragraph, in case the Minister says that this is trying to diminish the benefits to a local authority of having an FE college in its area. I agree wholly with my noble friends and wish that I had the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Baker.
I very much support the amendment. The case has been argued extremely well by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who brings his past knowledge and continuing study of this area to the debate. We are all concerned about control. Certainly, if you look at the work of the Association of Colleges over the years, its standards have been rising considerably, as we have heard. It is interesting to note that it is particularly helping those from the most deprived backgrounds. Something like 68 per cent of those in receipt of education maintenance allowance study at a college; and 13 per cent of the 16 to 18 year-olds are from deprived backgrounds, compared to 7 per cent in maintained schools. There are a number of such figures which really show that the Association of Colleges has increasingly acted as a facilitator of the talents that we all need to see developed to the full in all our children.
One part of me welcomes the fact that local authorities are taking over education. I will come to that later. In prisons, as we all know, maybe the governors had other ideas about what the priorities for young people—and indeed older prisoners who would clearly benefit from further forms of education or apprenticeships—should be. It is the business of control that we are all concerned about. The point about moving from one local education authority to another is absolutely basic, is it not? You have to be able to cross boundaries. Clearly a lot of this is happening now anyhow—for example, if you are in a prison in one area and your home is in another. I have looked hard at the section that noble Lords want to change. I originally read it in a rather more positive way, but the more I looked at it, the more it worried me. Perhaps the Minister could take a further look at it, to see whether it could be made more reassuring. I just have this instinct that the intention is the opposite of what we have all foreseen.
Amendment 96 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas is welcome and I support it—indeed, I have put my name to it. I hope the Minister will give it a favourable response. I am assured that, on the first point, he will be able to offer some comfort that further education and sixth-form colleges will remain independent. Assuming that this is forthcoming, it will be good news. And yet—here I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Elton—it does not seem to be very clear in the Bill, hence this amendment. I hope at least that it will be clear in the text of Hansard. It is also vital, however, that we are given some reassurance about the second and third subsections of the amendment.
One of the great benefits of sixth-form and, particularly, further education colleges is that they should be encouraged to specialise and so attract large numbers of students from outside their respective immediate areas, and indeed, outside the remit of their local authorities. The very nature of these colleges depends on being able to offer specialised education which is therefore able to be of a much higher standard. Can the Minister reassure your Lordships that local authorities will continue to accept that students should be allowed—indeed, actively encouraged—to travel to different colleges for specialist courses? I think that most noble Lords in the Chamber would agree that the independence of these colleges has secured a virtuous cycle—the more a college has specialised, the more it has attracted students from distant locations, and as it has started to attract students from far and wide to a particularly good course, the more the college is able to specialise. This must, surely, be allowed to continue.
I was very interested to hear about Amendment 103, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, regarding the workings of sub-regional groupings of local authorities. Like my noble friend Lord Baker, I look forward to the Minister’s response as to how these 41 sub-regional groupings are going to work, how far they have progressed and to what extent he accepts that there will be boundaries between the groupings.
Amendment 96 echoes some of the concerns in a recent article in the Guardian, as well as concerns in the sector generally, that the independence of FE colleges will be eroded by these reforms. I reassure the Committee that this is the last thing we want. It is that very freedom of colleges to innovate and improve, through having strong governing bodies and business models that respond to the needs of learners, that has brought much of the growth and improvement in the further education system. The provisions in this Bill do not affect the independent, incorporated status of these colleges, or their business plans. Colleges will still own their own buildings. They will still own their own land. They will still command their own budgets. They will still make their own decisions about what courses they offer. They will still appoint their own staff.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, describing the apparent educational nirvana that exists now; I can reassure him that, in some circumstances, even in the current situation, colleges will continue to be accountable for the substantial sums of public investment we make in them, through the performance-management framework. From next year, local authorities will be commissioning from all providers and will be responsible for performance-managing those that choose to be designated as sixth-form colleges, but this does not amount to control.
Our overriding aim is that all young people participate in some form of education or training and attain the skills, confidence and competence to become economically prosperous citizens. With the raised participation age, we want local authorities to focus on ensuring that every young person has access to a high-quality and engaging learning offer to enable them to participate, irrespective of where the institution they choose to study in is located. In answer to his specific request, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that there will not be such a catchment area defined; the funding will follow the learners. That is the situation that currently exists and we do not want to do anything to undermine it.
Yes. I did say so.
Section 15ZA(4), inserted by Clause 40, already sets out that local authorities must act with a view to encouraging diversity in the education and training available to persons and to take account of education and training whose provision might be secured elsewhere. This is the very essence of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
We will not accept any limitation of learner choice as a result of these changes. It will not be sufficient for a local authority to commission all its provision from one type of institution, even if that were possible. While there are many excellent colleges and school sixth forms in almost every local authority area, it is hard to see that any local authority would be able to meet its duties in new Section 15ZA and fulfil the needs of all its 16-19, or 19-25 year-old, population from commissioning provision just within its boundaries or from one type of provider.
For learners who cross the Scottish or Welsh border, the national commissioning framework, issued by the YPLA, will include guidance in relation to these learners and will be clear that commissioning should focus on the needs of the learner and be based on participation, rather than where learners are resident.
The 43 sub-regional groupings, reflecting young people’s travel-to-learn patterns, will work to ensure local authorities meet the diverse needs of young people in their area and increase opportunities for young people to exercise choice. We believe that the funding should follow the learner. This brings me on to Amendment 103. New Section 15ZB of the Education Act 1996, inserted by Clause 40 of the Bill, requires local authorities to co-operate with each other when securing suitable education and training for young people, and young adults subject to a learning difficulty assessment. This duty underpins the establishment of sub-regional groupings, and beyond. These arrangements will be key to ensuring that commissioning reflects the travel-to-learn patterns of young people. The noble Lords’ amendment would require co-operation arrangements to be agreed with the Secretary of State. The formation of sub-regional groupings is predominantly a local decision, as local authorities are best placed to identify how they can best serve their learners. That said, there has already been a degree of national oversight. The formal governance and operational arrangements of the 43 sub-regional groups were assessed by a national panel drawn from key stakeholders inside and outside government, including the Association of Colleges and the Local Government Association. These sub-regional groupings have come together of their own volition because they see the necessity of so doing. They understand that significant numbers of young people seek their education outside their authorities. Therefore, this process is building on what already happens as it recognises the benefits of that.
We do not anticipate changes in the membership or governance arrangements of the sub-regional groups as it is important to ensure stability in the planning process. However, there may be circumstances when a sub-regional group needs to reassess its membership. The Young People’s Learning Agency, whose primary aim is to support local authorities, will be well placed to assist with any review. This is not to say that the Secretary of State will not have an interest in how local authorities perform their new functions. Where co-operation between local authorities breaks down, to the extent that one or more of the local authorities within a particular sub-regional grouping may not be able to fulfil their duties in new Section 15ZA, we have provided through Clause 65 for the YPLA to intervene to secure the provision of education and training. These are reserve powers which we expect to be used only in extremis, as was the case with the LSC, but before that occurs, Clause 65(4) specifically requires the YPLA to consult the Secretary of State. Any intervention under this provision would have to be in line with its intervention policy statement made under Clause 71, which will have been approved by the Secretary of State.
I shall try to cover the points raised by noble Lords. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that local authorities will not determine what provision colleges will make. As regards 14-19 partnerships, the local authority as strategic leader and the providers as the curriculum and professional experts will come together to determine jointly the offer to young people. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked about the mismatch between plans, funding and actual recruitment. Informed plans will be produced for the commissioning process which takes place by March of each year, although I cannot see the precise date. Recruitment will happen in September. Given that funding follows learner choice, money will flow to the colleges where learners turn up; there might have to be a reconciliation process, but we are clear about that.
I think that I have answered the question about the Scottish and Welsh cross-borders issue. I have found my note on catchment areas; no FE college or sixth form will have a catchment area. I am reliably informed that none will be imposed by the Government, the YPLA or the local authority. It is completely up to the college as an independent institution. I hope that that lays that issue to rest.
The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, felt that new subsection (4)(d) in Clause 40, in relation to other persons, was negative and controlling. We do not see it in that light; it is not a negative power. It is about ensuring that local authorities take account of provisions secured by others—for example, they include: the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency securing apprenticeships for 16 to 19 year-olds; private training providers; and young people travelling across local authority boundaries. Young people need to have choice—an argument which I know the noble Baroness endorses. This is not about control, but accountability and choice.
I believe that I have answered most of the points raised by noble Lords. In conclusion, I reiterate our belief that, first, by ensuring that funding follows the learner and, secondly, by ensuring that there is a collaborative process, the independence of colleges will be sustained. It is not just a local authority which determines of its own volition; it will have to do this in consultation with colleges. It is important to offer young people choice, the ability to cross boundaries—described by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in relation to London—or even to travel more widely to national specialist colleges, if they wish to attend them. We are firmly committed to that choice and to sustaining the independence of colleges in an environment where we have devolved funding to local authorities.
I hope that on the basis of those assurances noble Lords will be prepared to withdraw or not move their amendments.
I am very grateful, as I am sure is the Committee, to the noble Lord for that full reply. However, I became increasingly worried as I listened to it, because all the language being used is about the local authority’s duty and the local authority as a commissioner. The person who commissions provision is in charge of what provision is commissioned. The noble Lord’s answer to my point was that the local authority might decide that because there was a private provider it would not commission that provision from the further education college. Some further education colleges and sixth form colleges have taken on the private sector and have provided brilliantly, at a lower cost and far better, the kind of course or training which a private provider in the locality was already offering. Why are we shifting away from the freedom of those colleges?
We are not taking that away. I merely pointed out other circumstances and that we could not focus on only one area, as though there were no other providers.
Let me try to be clear about the autonomous providers. Schools with sixth forms, FE colleges, academies and so on each determine their capacity. After all, as the noble Baroness pointed out, successful colleges have already attracted their students. The funding will remain with the colleges if they have done that. It will not be taken away; it is quite clear that the colleges have already established their needs and there is no way that those will be overridden.
Similarly, because of their autonomy they will determine their capacity, ethos and curriculum offer. I do not want to reiterate that as the main concern of the noble Baroness was their ability to control and to build on an established success. We are absolutely as one with her. We are not taking away any of that. Their commissioning plans can only be built on what is already happening in any particular local authority.
Can I get clarification from the Minister? He said that the funding will follow the learner, and, equally, we will see commissioning in advance. As he rightly said, every March a certain number of places will be commissioned at a further education or sixth form college for the following September. If the college recruits well above the numbers that are commissioned, how far is there then reassessment? Will the college be penalised if it recruits more than the commissioned numbers?
There is an overall problem. What if a sub-regional grouping is far too optimistic in its planning for the numbers of young people who will come forward for places and they do not come forward? Presumably it will get less money from the YPLA when things are divvied out again and will have to reallocate that among its colleges.
In part, the noble Baroness has answered her own question. If we are talking about building on success—that it is what we want to encourage—then inevitably those that are not so successful are going to have a lesser budget. Any planning process relies on the accuracy of the data collected. The point is that real data are building up, gathered from discussions with learning providers in this area. I am sure the groupings will not get it absolutely right. In an endeavour to be helpful in this area of the process of commissioning and to assure noble Lords that we are in no way attempting to undermine the capabilities of colleges, we shall write to you further on this particular issue. I am happy to do that because I do not want there to be dubiety between us. I genuinely endorse the enthusiasm with which noble Lords have commended what goes on in FE colleges.
I can resist anything but temptation and cannot resist responding to the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on capital expenditure. I would not deny that there was a bit of hiccup in this—he said with commendable understatement. Yet I make no apologies for the huge investment of well over £2 billion we have put into FE colleges. When I visited my former FE college, once known as Willesden Tech and now the College of North West London, I was presiding over the opening of an impressive new annex. There were clearly mistakes in the current round. That was identified in the Foster review. Yet there has been huge investment in further education. That is why we can see the kind of success that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was extolling in his contribution.
I thank the noble Lord for the explanations he has given. They have been quite helpful. Yet I find puzzling this phrase in Clause 40(4)(d) that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned,
“take account of education and training whose provision the authority think might reasonably be secured by other persons”.
If the funding follows the individual and the commissioning has been done independently with the desires of that particular young person, what is paragraph (d) meant to address? Is there any need for it? It would be helpful for that to be considered either now or at a later stage.
I will come back to the noble Baroness on that specific point. In subsection (4)(a), which mentions,
“act with a view to encouraging diversity in the education and training available to persons”,
we are laying down the issue of choice.
I hope that the assurances I have given will enable the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. As I said, we will come back to him on the question of commissioning, to ensure that we establish beyond any doubt the independent nature of colleges and their ability to attract students to their courses.
I thank the Minister for his clear statement that FE and sixth-form colleges will not have a catchment area and will continue to enjoy the freedom that they have. That is most welcome. It will be welcomed by FE and sixth-form colleges across the country. I also fully recognise the amount of money that is spent on FE. It started under the previous Conservative Government and has continued strongly under the present Government. That has resulted in magnificent colleges and national institutions. Matthew Bolton College in Birmingham is a national institution. It is a magnificent, university-standard building. So are the Middlesbrough colleges.
However, I have to point out that the handbrake is on. It is not about a foot off the accelerator or stopping the car, but the amount that will be spent in the next three or four years is a small proportion of what has been spent in the past three years. Many projects will not go ahead. This is not quite the moment to debate this, but it is a grave disappointment, because the main instrument of the Government delivering school leaving up to 18 will be the FE colleges and the school sixth-form colleges, and it is those capital programmes that are being slashed to ribbons.
I was also glad that the Minister and the whole Government are now keen on funding following the learner. That was not always the case with the noble Lord’s party when we introduced it back in the 1980s and when we introduced per capita funding and did away with block grants. Money following the learner is absolutely right. Everyone agrees with it. I see that the noble Baroness is nodding. Nod a bit harder, because the ultimate conclusion of that is to give the learner the funding, so that learners themselves can decide which course they want to go to. Then you do not need sub-regional and regional planning bodies and government planning bodies; you trust the person receiving the public service. I am told that that is the Prime Minister's policy.
Of course funding follows the learner, but there has been a fundamental shift in power, which my noble friend Lady Perry has correctly identified. If we allow local authorities to commission, they will have a power that they have not had for the past 25 years. Local authorities will be under pressure from existing schools, some of which will want sixth forms and some of which will want to extend their sixth forms. They will be under pressure from local councillors who say that they want their school to expand into the sixth form, so that pupils do not go to the sixth-form college.
In the past, that matter was decided centrally by the Government, because they provided the funding. We will go back to lots of local squabbles and fights. I see a Peer who is not actually in the House, but is standing at the Bar, who knows a great deal about education and is nodding. I see lots of nodding opposite. We would like your votes on all this one day. That will be the problem: there will be a lot of local squabbling again, just like pre-1992. That is for another day, but I should like some undertaking from the Minister today.
I am very grateful to everyone who has spoken on the amendment and for the explanation given by the Minister. If I may, I shall walk through my understanding of the process, so that the Minister can interrupt me if I am getting things dreadfully wrong.
Let us suppose that a local authority, as part of whatever grouping—perhaps the Minister could let me know what is the grouping around Greenhead College in Huddersfield, so I can see how that meshes with the actuality of travel to learn in that part of the world—decides that it wants to commission, say, 20 new places in strawberry-growing. I chose that because of the badge that the Minister is wearing. It has two FE colleges that might provide this course. They discuss it, and one of the colleges does not want to do it but the other does, so the grouping commissions the second FE college to put on this course. At that moment, the course is commissioned and no money or obligations have changed hands, except that the second college now has to put in place the facilities and the teaching staff to provide the course.
If the thing has been commissioned, it has to set up the course in some way or other. If the local authority has commissioned a course, presumably there is now a provider ready to provide it, which means recruiting someone who knows about strawberry-growing, and giving them an office and the equipment they will need in order to teach the course.
So the course is then commissioned, at which point the first FE college decides that, actually, it will put on one of those courses too, because it does not want to be left out of this wonderful new market. It recruits somebody to teach strawberry-growing—
It will not be an imposed process of the kind the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, described. There would be no point in doing that, because we are talking about responding to already established needs. It would be a process of discussion and consultation, not one of imposition. I repeat that I am conscious of time and, if the noble Lord does not mind me saying so, I do not think that we can take time to go through the minutiae of the commissioning process. I undertook to write further on this matter, because I think it is important that we try to establish clarity. I merely intervened because the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, implied that if I did not intervene, it meant that I agreed with his analysis, and I am afraid that I cannot on that point. We have explored this subject very well and, in the light of the assurances I have given, I hope he will consider withdrawing the amendment.
Yes, but I will continue where I left off because, given that I fail to understand anything the Minister has said, it is important that he and his officials understand what I mean. As I said, by everyone’s agreement, FE college No 2 has installed this course, and FE college No 1 then decides it wants it too. Nobody can stop it: it has total freedom to set up this course itself. It sets up another course offering 20 places in strawberry-growing, but when it comes time for the students to decide, they all flock to college No 1. College No 1 gets the funding, while college No 2, which had been commissioned by the local authority to put on this course, gets no funding. So that is my understanding of total freedom and of what the Government have promised will be the position. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 96 withdrawn.
Amendment 97 not moved.
98: Clause 40, page 23, line 38, at end insert—
“(f) act with a view to satisfying itself that it has taken the necessary steps to screen for, identify and professionally assess any learning difficulties that the person may have;(g) with regards to the professional assessment referred to in paragraph (f), ensure that the person is referred for additional specialist support if it is identified that this is required as part of the assessment”
This is a probing amendment, on a subject that is appearing in a number of other amendments to other clauses. It is by no means the first time that this subject has been raised. It was raised in connection with the Education and Skills Bill only last year. The Minister at that time undertook to take the subject away and bring it back again in the Bill that is now before the Committee. I am very grateful to her for doing that, and for the meetings we have had with her and the Bill team in preparation for Committee on this Bill.
What are we probing? The amendments came from an organisation called the Communication Trust—a coalition of 30-plus organisations that are working in the field of speech, language and communication, such as dyslexia trusts and the Autism Trust. I have also talked to organisations that deal with the deaf. We are dealing with a whole spectrum of people who come to the educational arena with problems that prevent them from engaging immediately in it. The trusts’ concern is that there is significant variation around the country in the provision of assessment and referral to specialist services for those with hidden difficulties. If you are talking about an education system, it is essential to talk about the ability of everyone to engage with it to make certain that the opportunities are there and that any remedial action is laid down and prepared.
I do not want to burden the Committee again with the story of how I came to be involved in all this, but I remind your Lordships that the governor of a young offender prison in Scotland told me that if he had to get rid of all his staff, the last one out of the gate would be his speech and language therapist. I had never come across a speech and language therapist in a prison before, and I asked him why. He said, “These young people cannot communicate, and unless they can communicate both with us and with each other, we do not know what is wrong with them, so we cannot start any process of helping them to live useful and law-abiding lives”.
I discovered that by carrying out a speech and language assessment, the therapist could find out not only about problems of communication, such as the ability to talk to people, but about healthcare problems, memory loss, hearing problems and the inability to see the blackboard, quite apart from all the difficulties that we associate with learning. Because of that, they were unable to conduct relationships with each other. Relationships conducted with the fist are not the same as those conducted by the voice, so by enabling them to conduct normal relationships, the whole atmosphere in that place changed, as did the relationships between the staff and prisoners. The education and healthcare staff were able to take proper remedial action.
Out of that came the clear understanding that because of what is happening around us now, the inability to communicate is the scourge of the 20th century. People do not communicate in families. They do not have meals or discussions together. They do not have the normal life which I am sure noble Lords have had. Then they go to school and cannot communicate with each other, their family or their friends. They cannot communicate with the teacher. If you arrive at school unable to communicate with the teacher, you have a terrible problem to overcome. That is why I said in connection with the statement made by the Education Minister earlier in the week that it is extraordinary that people are allowed to move on from the very basic level in primary school before they have learnt to read and therefore to help communication so they can engage in further education. We therefore damage them even further.
Later amendments aim to make certain that every child receives an assessment, before they begin primary school, that will identify what are described as the hidden problems—dyslexia, autism and other learning difficulties—to enable something to be done to prepare them to communicate to begin the educational process. Were the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, in his place, he would tell us that Northern Ireland, sponsored by the National Health Service, has recently passed legislation to make certain that every child in Northern Ireland is assessed at the age of two. You cannot obviously understand all the nuances of the problem at the age of two, but certainly you can identify that there is something which needs to be looked at to enable that child to make progress.
Frequently people talk about evidence. I declare an interest as an adviser to the Helen Hamlyn Trust. Following what we discovered in prisons, she funded a child for two years with speech and language therapists in young offender establishments to find out the size and shape of the problem. That trial was conducted by Professor Karen Brown from Surrey University, who wrote this up academically over a period of two years. She proved conclusively that if action had been taken at a much earlier stage, the child would not have got to the age of 15 with all the problems still there. Goodness knows what that meant, other than that their education between the ages of seven and 15 had not been properly conducted because they were not able to engage with it.
My reason for deliberately putting down the probing amendment and putting my name to other amendments to other clauses which address this issue, and the issue of young offenders in detention when we come to it, is that, if this education is going to be delegated again to local education authorities, it is essential that spelt out in the Bill is the action that they need to take to make certain that people with these learning difficulties can engage in what local education authorities are now being commissioned to provide. I beg to move.
On behalf of my noble friend Lady Garden, who has added her name to these amendments, I would like to say a few words. From these Benches, we support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and we agree with and support what the noble Lord has said in his introduction.
The earlier the diagnosis of any learning difficulties is made, the more effectively they can be addressed and, hopefully, remedied. Clause 40(3)(b) states that local authorities already must “have regard to” learning difficulties. Amendment 98 would require them to do more than that—to ensure that professional screening had taken place and to follow up with appropriate action. Amendment 101 spells out specific learning difficulties which can, and should, be identified. However, this list must not be regarded as being exclusive.
We have the ability these days to identify and to comprehend a wide range of learning difficulties and signs of these can be detected by experts at earlier ages than ever before. In response, a variety of teaching and training methods have been developed by experts to tackle these difficulties, offer solutions and ensure that the child makes progress. How frustrating for any child where he or she is not making progress.
There is inevitably a cost associated with this, but any cost is as nothing compared with the cost to the individual of a diminished quality of life if their difficulties are not identified, and also the cost to society, which stands to benefit socially and economically from each individual who is able to participate to their fullest potential.
The Youth Justice Board estimates that around 150,000 children and young people under the age of 18 enter the youth justice system each year and that, of those, about 70,000 are of the current compulsory school age of 16 or under. Fifteen per cent of those have statements of special education needs, compared to about 3 per cent of the general population.
The Bercow report found that 60 per cent of the 11,000 people in young offender institutions each year have speech, language and communication difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of tackling those communication difficulties, which are widespread in the community of young people who find themselves in trouble with the criminal justice system. Earlier diagnosis would have a very positive impact on the social inclusion of these young people.
I know that these amendments have the support of the Communication Trust, which has pointed out that there is significant variation across the country for those with hidden difficulties in terms of assessment and referral to specialist services. Putting something like this into this legislation would help to make sure that people benefit from the services that they need in the areas where these things are not being dealt with as well as they are elsewhere.
I shall not detain your Lordships for long. I thought for one awful moment that I was going to have to move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, as it was due to be heard last week. But he has now been able to move it himself and has done it considerably better than I would have been able to. I commend what we have just heard about the figures, which clearly show that testing should start at an earlier age. It is very good news that Northern Ireland has decided that the age of two is when compulsory testing should start.
I very much support these amendments. The Communication Trust has done an excellent job. It has provided these amendments one behalf of some—I think, 30—voluntary organisations. Incidentally, I believe that it gets a grant from a government department, which clearly also approves of its work. I hope that that means that greater notice will be taken of what it says. Above all, I emphasise the point about the importance of communication. If you cannot talk, you are highly unlikely to be able to read and will have all sorts of other problems as time goes on. It is good to know that one of the organisations supporting the trust is I CAN, to one of whose meetings I went the other day. We must never forget that great phrase, “Chatter matters”. It does indeed and it matters very importantly in this area. I support the amendment.
As with Clause 40, we will keep coming back to this issue at unexpected moments during the next day or two. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has started off in such fine fashion. I am optimistic. The other day, the Prime Minister promised that every young child who started falling behind in reading and maths would receive help to catch up. However, it makes little sense to do that without having baseline, diagnostic pre-testing at the beginning or you will not know what falling behind means for any particular child.
I was also encouraged by Michael Gove’s suggestion—I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will amplify it—that there would be a test at the beginning of secondary school. That, too, should be a proper diagnostic test, which should enable teaching at secondary school to be accurate and tailored to the individual and should enable an understanding of the problems that that individual brings with them.
Here we have the Government proposing, I hope, a proper diagnostic test in primary school, my noble friend proposing it at the beginning of secondary school and the Irish doing something about it at the age of two, which is when some of the serious early-showing special needs, such as autism and speech difficulties, can be picked up. The pattern is set for a positive reply from the Minister, to which I look forward.
This is the opening barrage of a campaign to get the idea of more screening into this legislation. As the noble Lord said, screening will help to identify hidden disabilities. He is right to concentrate on language and basic speaking communications problems. To put it bluntly, if that is not right, it is very difficult to even explain what the other problems are, and they feed off each other. Much good computer software is rapidly removing many of the problems around dyslexia but, unless you can speak, you cannot use it, because it is voice operated. These things feed off each other, so they have to be addressed.
One thing that you have to know is what is there. We have moved on so far in the past few years and there is now a much greater recognition that these problems can be dealt with, or at least mitigated in some way, if only they can be identified. There are various fault lines in areas where you have the greatest amount of educational failure. Later, we will debate issues concerning those who go into the prison system. At all points where you have a new type of education, there is a good opportunity to put in a screening process. When the Minister responds, I would welcome an idea of how far the Government are going to take this. It would be interesting to find out what problems they have with the principle of screening.
I hope that we do not hear that we do not have the perfect test. There is no such thing. There will always be people whom you miss. If you have defence in depth, you will be able to pick them up later. If you deal with most people who have a problem, you will probably identify those who stand out as having something that is unidentified in the classroom. When you get large masses of people who are not succeeding and not achieving, it is much easier to hide. From my work with dyslexics, I know that the easy thing is to disrupt the classroom or to be at the back in a large group. You are safe: you will not get identified or placed under pressure. The survival method of people who find themselves in trouble is either to hide, smile sweetly in the middle of a group or disrupt. If the Minister introduces screening that works for the majority, that small group will no longer have this opportunity.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, this is a probing amendment. I would welcome the Minister giving us at least an idea of the Government’s attitude on this question. We should remember that getting 90 per cent identification would still be a massive leap forward. It really would be something good and it would give us a chance to pick up people later. There is no perfect answer here; there is merely a better answer. I look forward to the Minister giving a positive reply.
I am glad to support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in that and to offer my support for the amendment. However, we need to recognise that we are looking at the problem from inside the Bill, as it were, and ought not to blinker ourselves to the fact that this problem goes much wider, and needs wider remedies, than are available in the Bill.
I wonder whether the noble Lord has read the report on this matter by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. It has eight simple recommendations, some of which fall within the Bill and some of which do not. As they are brief, I will repeat them. It says:
“1. Every PCT should have a speech and language therapy specialist lead with a remit to develop speech and language therapy services for vulnerable young people in the community.
2. Every youth offending team must have at least one full time speech and language therapist who would also provide a service to community provision such as units for children excluded from school, probation, mental health and drug misuse services.
3. The ASSET assessment must have a section on communication skills to identify those with speech, language and communication needs”.
Where it says “must”, we would say “should”.
“4. The intermediary schemes should be extended to support defendants.
5. A speech and language therapist should be appointed to work within each of the … secure training centres.
6. There is at least one full time specialist speech and language therapist working in every young offender institution.
7. Each young offender institution should provide a communication support worker to support and carry over the work of the specialist speech and language therapist.
8. Establish a national professional lead to oversee and coordinate this new service”.
We should think of ourselves as trying to provide part of a larger provision that will reach children who are not under the aegis of the education service in its various forms but out in the community and often passing through the hands of the National Health Service. I offer this as a gloss on what has been said before, because I think that we ought to come back to it in this Bill in detail and in other Bills on later occasions, but I support this amendment wholeheartedly.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, painted a depressing picture of young people with special needs who are unable to communicate and engage with the people around them. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I was dyslexic and I hid, but other people who have a problem become disruptive and are then excluded. It should come as no surprise that they then get caught up in the criminal justice system. Whenever I think of this problem, I think of that old nursery rhyme:
“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost”.
Too many young people go undiagnosed until it is too late.
I, too, support these amendments. I suffered from a speech impediment as a child, received assistance, did not have to do very much and was relieved of it. I was teased for that impediment before it was treated. How much worse it might be for some young people with such a problem. I support what my noble friend proposes and I pay tribute to him for his ceaseless, long-term campaigning in this area. I was grateful for the extremely helpful meeting that he organised with many of the so-called stakeholders in this area some time ago. I ask the Minister perhaps to write to us on the situation and give the numbers of speech therapists that we have and are planning to develop. Finally, the more health visitors and social workers we have, the less these sorts of problems are likely to arise, because to some large degree they are a function of poorly functioning families. If we have the right professionals in place to support families, some of these problems will simply either be noted very early or not develop in the first place.
Amendments 98 and 101 are indeed part of wider efforts—as my noble friend Lord Elton said, we will return to them—by your Lordships to secure appropriate provision for those who have learning difficulties by making sure that local education authorities’ duties include testing for and identifying those with learning difficulties and referring them to additional support if needed. As no doubt the Minister will inform us, the Bill already states that the LEA,
“must secure that enough suitable education and training is provided to meet the reasonable needs of persons in their area”.
This includes those who are aged 19 or over but under 25 and are subject to learning difficulty assessment. We would agree that, so far as it goes, this is an important part of the duty of an education provider and we welcome the fact that it is included in the Bill.
However, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would make sure that the LEA takes an active role in seeking to ensure that it has done all that it reasonably can to screen for, identify and then assess any learning difficulty. This, as he said, is considerably more than is specifically provided for in the Bill. A superficial reading of new Section 15ZA(1) might lead one to conclude that the noble Lord’s amendment is already covered. A diligent LEA might not need to have it spelt out in the Bill that securing enough suitable education for all those for whom it is responsible includes screening, assessment and referral for additional support if necessary. Nevertheless, the worry would be that an overstretched, understaffed, inexperienced or underexperienced LEA might take a more passive approach and simply address the needs of those who requested extra assistance rather than imposing a rigorous assessment process to discover all those who might potentially require help.
Without a thorough assessment of the problems, there can be no hope of adequately providing for those who need help. Amendment 101, one hopes, refines the definition of those who should be considered as having learning difficulties by mentioning specific conditions. It would be dangerous if some of the conditions in this list were not to be considered covered by paragraphs (a) or (b) of subsection (7). The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, emphasised the ability to communicate, which encapsulates what most of these specific conditions come down to. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on these matters.
I support this group of amendments and take this opportunity to spell out the importance of the learning disability assessment for young people with learning difficulties. I am president of the organisation Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities. It has expressed concern about the learning difficulty assessment, as that will determine the route that young people take in their post-16 education and training. Whether or not a young person has a learning difficulty assessment will determine the level of support and provision that they receive and their entitlement, as well as whether they are the responsibility of the YPLA or the Skills Funding Agency. There are also concerns about how all disabled learners, particularly those who have not been formally assessed, will be identified as in need of assessment and subsequent support. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that learners without a learning difficulty assessment will not be disadvantaged in post-16 provision and support.
Statutory guidance on Section 139A and 140 assessments has only recently been published and is open to public consultation until July. The draft guidance does not refer to the new agency responsible for funding disabled learners, specifically the YPLA. Instead, it refers to the Learning and Skills Council, which will cease to exist from 2010. This is of concern, as we want to be sure that the guidance is fit for purpose before the Bill receives Royal Assent. I referred to this point at Second Reading. Disabled learners’ experiences of transition in post-16 learning and their ability to make informed choices will depend largely on the final form that the guidance takes, so we want to be sure that there is robust, relevant and coherent guidance in place that delivers appropriate learning choices for all disabled learners aged 16 to 25.
In the case of Alloway against the London Borough of Bromley, the judgment concluded that there needs to be tighter control over the quality and compliance of Section 139A and 140 assessments. Ensuring high-quality assessments is critical, as they determine the provision and support that young people can access and, in turn, their learning outcomes and the possibility of progression. The YPLA, I want to suggest, needs to establish a quality control framework that underpins the Section 139A and 140 assessment process. The quality control framework must include disabled learners, parents and organisations representing disabled learners in framing the provision and support that is to be made for individual disabled learners. A robust quality control framework would ensure a high standard of professional expertise and experience without being prescriptive about the specific qualifications that professionals undertaking these assessments will be required to have. It is important that there is a framework of accountability for the quality of Section 139A and 140 assessments. Senior managers within the local authority or the commissioning agency, such as Connexions, should be responsible for the final sign-off of Section 139A and 140 assessments. This is particularly important in the light of the Alloway case, which concluded that Bromley and Connexions had not met their statutory duty properly to assess the learning and support needs of Stephen Alloway.
A quality control framework would ensure that the assessment process was equitable for all disabled learners in need of it and would ensure consistency across local authority areas. Moreover, without such a framework in place to control assessments of disabled young people, judicial reviews will increasingly be sought by parents and those with responsibility for disabled young people. Implementing a quality control framework is beneficial for disabled young people and their families and for local authorities to ensure that they are meeting their new statutory duties under the Education and Skills Act of last year and under this Bill once it receives Royal Assent.
The duties and powers that LEAs have to arrange and provide an assessment must be highlighted to ensure that learners who need an assessment receive one. Currently, many disabled learners face difficulties receiving an assessment, which poses a barrier to their participation in post-16 education and training. Assessments are intended to be holistic, addressing a range of individual needs from learning support to transport provision. It is important that we get an assurance that statutory guidance on the Section 139A and 140 assessments highlights that, where a local authority believes that an assessment would benefit a learner regardless of whether the learner has been assessed or supported before, it will arrange for an assessment to take place. I am seeking from the Minister an assurance that the assessment will cover the wider transition planning for disabled young people, including the learning and support needs of the given individual, such as their transport needs.
To sum up, we need the following assurances from the Government today. First, we need to know that disabled learners without a learning difficulty assessment will not be disadvantaged in post-16 provision and support. Secondly, we need to know that there will be a robust quality control framework that will underpin the Section 139A and 140 assessment processes. Thirdly, there must be a framework of accountability for the quality of Section 139A and 140 assessments, in which, specifically, senior management within local authorities or the commissioning agency, such as Connexions, will have responsibility for the final sign-off of these assessments. Fourthly, we want to know how local authorities will identify and assess which disabled learners need an assessment and ensure that there are sufficient qualified staff to undertake them. Fifthly, the assessment must cover the wider transition planning for disabled young people, including the learning and support needs of a given individual, such as their transport needs. Sixthly, we need clarification on how local authorities will identify young people who are not in education, employment and/or training as in need of an assessment. Finally, professionals working with disabled children and young people in offender institutions should begin the assessment process of particular individuals who require it and have regard to statutory guidance relating to Section 139A and 140 assessments. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on at least some of these points.
I congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for initiating it. It has been a very wide-ranging and illuminating debate.
On Amendment 98, I share the concern that we should continue improving the identification and assessment of children and young people with learning difficulties. It is right that learners’ needs must be central to the commissioning process and to the functions of local authorities. I reassure the Committee that local authorities, alongside post-16 providers, will continue to play an important role in identifying young people with learning difficulties. Many colleges and other providers have their own assessment tools to identify young people’s needs. They are also able to refer young people to the local authority and other specialist agencies if there is a previously undiagnosed difficulty or concern.
Local authorities have duties under Section 139A of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 to carry out assessments of pupils with statements in their final year of compulsory schooling, or during the sixth form, who are intending to access further education or HE. This is to ensure effective transition and that the special educational needs of these young people will be met. We have strengthened the draft statutory guidance on learning difficulties assessments, which is currently subject to consultation, to make it clear where local authorities should provide an assessment for young people without a statement.
Using the Learning for Living and Work Framework, the local authority, in conducting the assessment, will work closely with a number of practitioners to ensure a truly multi-agency process. The more relevant agencies involved in this process, the greater the opportunity for ensuring that particular issues are picked up. The assessment process should build on the views and expertise of these agencies and of other people who have already supported the young person. This is to ensure that the assessment of their educational and training needs, and the provision needed to meet them, is evidence-based and valid. It will result in a report on a young person’s needs that identifies the provision and support required to meet those needs. Local authorities will be required through the national commissioning framework to have regard to the requirements set out in this report.
Of course, it is critical that these procedures work well in practice. I reassure noble Lords that Ofsted is currently conducting a major review of provision for children with special educational needs. This will include the consideration of issues around young people’s transition from school to further education and the assessment and support that they receive to help with that transition and their continued success in further education. Ofsted will be reporting in the summer of 2010.
While I understand the intention behind Amendment 101, the definition used in this Bill is the established definition, which is more or less the same in both the Education Act 1996 and the Learning and Skills Act 2000, just altered slightly to take account of the different ages of learners and the different types of institution that they attend. It is a broad definition that rightly includes the difficulties listed in the amendment, as well as many others. It is therefore not necessary to list selected ones separately. Indeed, I would be concerned that doing so would risk creating the impression that other types of learning difficulties were less important, or even creating a hierarchy of needs, which I am sure is not the intention of the amendment. We appreciate that there are some serious challenges here, and we are taking steps to improve the identification and assessment of learning difficulties for our young people and young adults, but we acknowledge that a great deal more needs to be done.
I shall address some of the specific points that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about the importance of early screening. On the question of why we do not introduce the screening of all children for a condition such as dyslexia, a review was conducted by Jim Rose that concluded that blanket screening for dyslexia is questionable, not least because screening tests for that purpose are as yet unreliable. His report says that a better way to identify children at risk of literacy difficulties and dyslexia is to closely observe and assess their responses to pre-reading and early reading activities in comparison to their typically developing peers in the reception year of primary school and beyond. The review found that the first step advocated in identifying children who may have learning difficulties including dyslexia is to notice those making poor progress in comparison with their typically developing peers receiving high-quality wave 1 literacy teaching. We have endorsed all the recommendations and have made available £10 million to support their implementation.
I had information which suggested that we might get a comment like that. Does the Minister agree that if the method he described is the best way of catching those with these difficulties, we will still miss many? The current education system misses dozens of people in that spectrum. Most of the suggestions in Amendment 101 relate to spectrums; if you have screening or assessments later, you stand a chance of picking up those on these spectrums who have been missed. That is the suggestion here. There is the question of those who will not be picked up by a test, even if they will not be left unidentified in such great numbers as they are at the moment. It is a bit of a cop-out to say, “It isn’t a perfect answer, so we won’t do it”.
We are not saying that we will not do it, or that we will not do anything. That is the most important thing. We are trying to ensure, first, that teachers are fully trained to spot children with learning difficulties or potential learning difficulties.
I will just finish my point about what we are trying to do. We have made available £10 million to support the implementation of the recommendations that Jim Rose made. Do not forget that these included the point about closely observing and assessing the responses of all pre and early-reading activities. We are not, by any means, advocating doing nothing. We will also fund around 4,000 teachers to train in appropriately accredited specialist dyslexia teaching over the next two years. Surely that is a fundamentally important contribution; it is a huge step forward and, really, it is an acknowledgement of all the pressure to take positive action in this area that has come from this House. It is a huge response. We will be looking with the Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties Trust and other partners at how we and they might best work together to implement Jim Rose’s recommendations and to encourage local authorities and schools to do so. We expect to provide further details about this in the autumn.
In December 2008 the Department for Children, Schools and Families published Better Communication, the speech, language and communication needs action plan, providing the Government’s full response to the Bercow report. The action plan sets out plans for a series of initiatives to improve services for this group of children and young people, culminating in the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication in 2011. We have set aside £12 million over the next three years to support the additional costs of these initiatives. We are not just talking about initiatives; we are also putting funding behind them and that is obviously important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred to the Communication Trust and I CAN. I am sure the noble Baroness will be pleased to hear that the Communication Trust has been commissioned to develop training material on speech, language and communication needs and dyslexia for those working with young people who are in contact with the criminal justice system. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will be pleased to hear about that. It is another example of the action that we are taking. We are also providing funding totalling almost £1 million to Afasic, I CAN and the British Stammering Association through the CYPF grant programme to support parents of children with speech, language and communication needs. That is another positive action.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is correct that we have introduced new measures in the 21st Century Schools White Paper to support all children, particularly those who are falling behind. Every pupil will go to a school where they are taught in a way that meets their needs; their progress is regularly checked; additional needs are spotted early and quickly addressed; and every child will have a personal tutor. Every parent will know how their child is being supported in their areas of weakness and stretched to develop their talents, and receive real-time online reports about progress. There will be one-to-one tuition for any child aged seven to 11 who is falling behind and not catching up, and one-to-one or small-group tuition at the start of secondary school for all those who are behind. That last point addresses a concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, made a very wide-ranging contribution and I could not attempt to answer every point that he raised, so I hope he will understand that, where I cannot, I may need to write to him separately. I can reassure him that the 139A assessment guidance or consultation already states that where it is felt that a young person would benefit from an assessment, they should get one. In response to another of the noble Lord’s points on the question of those in further education, further education providers often have their own assessment tools to screen for difficulties and can refer to the local authority and other specialist agencies if there is a previously undiagnosed difficulty or concern. They do not complete a 139A assessment, since the LSC is unable to accept one from this source. They may contribute to one or request one to be completed to include results of tests they carry out. Routinely providers may screen all applicants for foundation level courses for potential learning difficulties.
Screening can include literacy and numeracy testing, speech, language and communication difficulties assessment and dyslexia. If a more complex difficulty is uncovered, providers can refer to specialist health professionals, such as clinical psychologists, or fund support strategies, such as the use of a learning assistant. Time does not permit me to describe fully all that process. We are also trying to ensure that the quality of training for those who are involved in the Connexions service is improved. We will write in more detail to the noble Lord, Lord Low.
In conclusion, as a number of noble Lords noticed, this issue does go wider than the Bill, but I hope that, taken together with the other measures that I have described, as well as those we are taking through the Bill, that noble Lords will appreciate that there is a huge amount of work going on in this area. With those assurances, I trust that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
First, I thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The fact that so many different aspects came up shows that there is a general perception of the very serious nature of this. I was very grateful, in particular, to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for bringing out the figures, and to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for mentioning tests. I am very glad that we had this discussion because, far be it for a layman like me to tilt with someone like Sir Jim Rose, but I have to say that there are, as I understand it, tests which can, at least, identify that the problem is there, without going further. This seems to be a case of the danger of the best being the enemy of the good.
The tests being developed by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, which cover the whole raft of difficulties, not just dyslexia, seem to me to give us a very valuable tool. In that connection, I was intrigued to see another report by Professor Karen Brown of work she had done in Leeds with young people on special supervision orders, which shows that there are tools available, of which better use can be made.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for mentioning the wider aspects of this. I should mention that the aim of the Helen Hamlyn trial was to get speech and language therapists in every young offender institution and special training centre. The cost at that time was assessed at £30,000 per year per therapist. At that time, the Prison Service and the Youth Justice Board were prepared to look at that funding provision. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s respect agenda came along with a £90 million bill, £30 million of which came from the Home Office, which effectively took all the money out of the Prison Service and the Youth Justice Board’s ability to fund them. I remember questioning whether there was anything more respectable than being able to communicate—surely the provision should have come out of the respect agenda, not the other way round.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for mentioning the problem of consistency between local area authorities, which, of course, is precisely where this amendment came from; concern about consistent delivery around the country. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his coverage of the problems of the disabled, which again shows that this is something that is universally covered.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. As many noble Lords have said, this subject will come back in connection with other clauses. Therefore, rather than merely drop the matter, it might be sensible to wait and see what comes out of the various other discussions on the Bill and conversations with the Minister and the Bill team. At that point those of us who have raised questions can consider what further action needs to be taken on Report and possibly at later stages. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 98 withdrawn.
Amendments 99 to 101 not moved.
102: Clause 40, page 24, line 35, at end insert—
“( ) In this section “reasonable needs” includes the need to communicate effectively in English.”
I wish to speak also to Amendment 123. The Committee knows that my eye is apt to be caught by small words. I read through Clause 40 with some reservations and agreeable sensations. New Section 15ZA(1) states:
“A local education authority … must secure that enough suitable education and training is provided to meet the reasonable needs of persons in their area”.
I eventually came to new subsection (8), which states:
“But a person is not to be taken to have a learning difficulty solely because the language (or form of language) in which the person is or will be taught is different from a language (or form of language) which has at any time been spoken in the person’s home”.
In other words, we are looking at somebody for whom English is a second language. I wondered what “solely” was intended to mean. It seems reasonable that somebody having English as a second language should never of itself be considered a form of learning difficulty. Then I considered where this might bite. It seems to me there is a grey and worrying area if somebody who has English as a second language and speaks some other language at home—his parents speak only that language—also has a communication difficulty such as we discussed on the previous amendment. There is a great danger that the existence of this subsection will blind those looking after him to his actual and real needs. I can see that the noble Lord is looking at me with some reservations. I am used to that but I hope I can reassure him that this is a reasonable request. If somebody is having difficulty with a language which is his own, it is immediately apparent. If he is having difficulty with a language which is not his own, it is not apparent that that difficulty springs from anything except the fact that it is not his own language. I am anxious that people in danger of being caught in that situation should be protected, which is why I have asked that at the end of new Section 15ZA we should point out in an additional subsection:
“In this section “reasonable needs”—
That is where the new section started—
“includes the need to communicate effectively in English”.
That is where we finished the debate on the previous amendment. I think we are agreed that that is a necessity for somebody. I think we are already apprised of the fact that an inability to communicate effectively leads to great frustration and can lead to criminality. Seeing something, wanting it badly and not being able to explain what you want or why you want it so badly leads people eventually to take it and not obtain it in the proper way.
There is a related consideration in Amendment 123.
Before my noble friend continues his argument, would he consider asking the Government to adjourn the Committee, because there is no Member from the government party on their Back Benches? For a party which thought that “Education, education, education” was so important, I should have thought that someone might be present to support this Bill; but there is no one. The massed ranks of the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Cross Benches may able to win a Division or two. That is a real danger to the Government. Perhaps my noble friend could elicit from them whether they are likely to adjourn the Committee.
Perhaps if I concluded my introductory speech, it would give the Government time, if I extended it a little, to send out harbingers to the Bishops’ Bar and the Lords Tea Room. That would be the sporting thing to do.
I return to my Amendment 123, in which, in Clause 47, page 30, line 13, I insert similar words to those in Amendment 102. The clause relates to people in detention. For reasons that have just been stated, we are not in a hurry to get to the end of this. On page 29, Clause 47 inserts new Section 18A into the 1996 Act. In subsection (1)(a) there is a requirement on the local education authority to ensure that,
“enough suitable education is provided to meet the reasonable needs of children subject to youth detention in their area”.
There is no reservation about second languages there—which may be a little odd, because they are fairly well represented in prisons. For the reasons that I have just given, inability to communicate effectively in English is a great contributor to criminality in this country and to failure in education. That, in turn, is a contributor to criminality. Therefore, it is as well to emphasise to the authorities that when they are dealing with people in detention it is even more necessary than elsewhere that “reasonable needs” shall be seen to include the need to communicate effectively in English.
I am not sure how this will play, but perhaps the noble Baroness or the noble Lord when he replies can tell us. Will this part of the Bill apply to Wales? If it will, has the Welsh Assembly agreed to it? Although Welsh is an official language in Wales, I think that we agreed that you cannot have an effective life in a community in Wales without also speaking fluently in English. With those observations, and wondering what will happen to attendance on the other side of the House, I beg to move.
Welcome back. We would be very interested to know the result of the noble Baroness’s mission. Would it be appropriate for the Minister to interpret what the result of the exit of this dove from the ark has been? Perhaps it was an exit of a more formidable type of bird.
Perhaps I might pursue the matter under discussion. Inability to communicate effectively in English is not the exclusive domain of people whose first language is not English. Many young people have grown up speaking English right from the start, but their vernacular is so dense that many of us cannot understand a word they say.
I recently had the experience of reading—not just listening to—a transcript of a conversation between two or three young people. I do not think they knew at the time they were being recorded, but that is by the by. I could not understand a single word they said. The words they used for commonly understood objects and actions were so different from the ones with which I am familiar that it made their conversation totally dense to me. I could not understand a word of it. We need to consider those young people as well.
About a year ago I came across an initiative that took place in prisons. Actors went in to work with young people on a Shakespeare play. To many people the language of Shakespeare is also rather dense. That exercise got the young people to consider the language and its richness. They began to use language which the majority of the population would understand. They became more confident in themselves in so doing, particularly because they could communicate their feelings to not just each other but also other people who had some power over them. I submit that this is an important factor to bear in mind, too.
I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for raising this issue, which he has pursued assiduously throughout many Bills and debates in your Lordships’ House. As he says, there is a link between the decline of key interpersonal skills and the increase in criminality. The issue was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in the previous group of amendments. It is also important—my noble friend mentioned this—that Amendment 123 refers to that part of the Bill dealing with persons detained in youth accommodation.
There are well proven connections between low academic achievement and a propensity towards criminality, which my noble friend made clear. The Minister will agree with much that has been said. He will say that the Bill is the cure, at least partly, for these ills. That may be the case. We all hope that this Bill, once improved, could play such a part.
One of the primary concerns that the Opposition has been raising for a long time is that equipping young people with the skills they need not just to stay in education or training but to embrace them and prosper from them is key to keeping them on the straight and narrow later in life. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Government’s aim to reach the same goals but once again raise our concern that they are dealing with a problem simply by throwing more legislation at it. Has the Minister had a chance to read his Daily Telegraph lately? Has he reflected on the extraordinary broadside upon this Government’s education policies delivered only the other day by the DCSF’s own former director-general of schools? Ralph Tabberer said that under this Government, teaching children the difference between right and wrong had been neglected. That is pretty strong stuff from someone who has seen the education system from close up.
This goes right to the heart of the point my noble friend has raised with these amendments. It is not just bald examination results that matter but educating young people in the round. The “disconnect”—if I can used a buzzword—that some young people feel between them and the rest of society is at the root of many anti-social problems. It is a reason for great concern if, as Mr Tabberer suggests, that problem is being exacerbated rather than healed by our education system. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s opinion as it seems pertinent to the debate.
I welcome my noble friend’s amendment as a timely opportunity to debate this issue. He may wish to revisit the topic at a later stage, perhaps when, as my noble friend Lord Baker suggested, the Government are rather better represented on their Back Benches. To help him to decide that and noble Lords to consider the matter further, can the Minister furnish the Committee with some statistics? For instance, what are the Government's most up-to-date figures for the number of people who are not in employment, education or training? What proportion of those have a criminal record? How many have a persistent criminal record? What is the proportion of people aged under 25 currently serving a custodial or community sentence who have below average results in their GCSEs? How does that compare with the general population?
I realise that the Minister may not have those statistics at his fingertips, but this is an area that deserves close attention. I would be content if he were to write to noble Lords with those figures before Report.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this interesting debate. During his initial contribution, I was ruminating on whether to declare an interest. I am a school governor at my local primary school, where we are addressing the very problem that he talked about, where English is the second language. We have 29 languages spoken at our school, which, compared to some inner London schools, is not many. We take a number of special steps, including bringing parents in with the children to help the parent—it is usually mothers who attend the classes, not men. We also have our specifically trained SEN teacher. From my experience, one impressive thing is how quickly many of those young people pick up a basic command of English. Some of the nuances take time, but they are assessed not just for their ability to speak the language but for any underlying problems. That does not mean that I do not recognise the importance of the issue.
We fully recognise the importance of good communication skills for all young people and adults so that they are better placed to succeed in learning, work and life. That is why in England we are developing functional skills in English which, along with functional skills in mathematics and information and communication technology, form the core of all learning routes for 14 to 19 year-olds. Pilots on that include young people in custody. Functional skills in English contain a range of communication skills and have been developed in consultation with employers and other stakeholders to ensure that they meet the skill needs of our modern world, to ensure that everyone in England who needs them has access to those functional skills qualifications.
Through Clause 44, we are legislating to place responsibility on local authorities in England to secure the core entitlement for 16 to 19 year-olds. The core entitlement is to a course of study in English, mathematics and information and communication technology. It is intended to ensure that no young person misses out on the opportunity to develop vital functional skills to level 2 in English, mathematics and ICT. Employers and higher education institutions have told us that young people need those skills to succeed in the workplace and in further learning. I am sure that we all concur with that.
Clause 47 places new duties on local education authorities in England and Wales to ensure that enough suitable education and training is provided to meet the reasonable needs of persons subject to detention in relevant youth accommodation. In doing so, the Bill provides that local authorities must have regard to any special educational needs or learning difficulties that those persons may have. It also provides that local authorities in England must have regard to the desirability of the core entitlement being satisfied for those subject to youth detention. We will make it clear in statutory guidance that we expect the core entitlement to be delivered in juvenile custody. We will also be clear in the guidance on the need for support to meet young people's needs where they speak English as an additional language.
To address some of the specific points made, I was asked: why not cover English as a second language under Clause 40? Because we believe that all 16 to 18 year-olds will be developing functional skills in English to level 2 anyway. That is their core entitlement, as I have already explained. We have a new approach to teaching English for speakers of other languages. I am happy to send the noble Lord, Lord Elton, a copy of that document. Does the core entitlement apply in Wales? No. The additional entitlement duties for 14 to 19 year-olds apply only to local education authorities in England. Will the offender clauses apply in Wales? Yes, they will.
I hope the noble Lord will agree that legislating for the core entitlement for post-16s through Clause 44, along with the general duties in Clauses 40 and 47, will mean that this amendment, while well intentioned, is unnecessary, and that he feels able to withdraw it.
I was interested in what the noble Lord said. I must admit I do not always rely on the Telegraph as my source of statistical information or educational analysis, but I would not discount it totally. In my experience in teaching right and wrong at my primary school, I believe it is encompassed in the syllabus. We have a clear set of procedures for dealing with disciplinary problems. Also, interestingly, I believe that the latest Ofsted reports have shown a general improvement in behaviour, so I can counter with that information. We will, however, supply the noble Lord with the statistics he asked for on NEETs.
I take the Minister’s point about my second amendment, because the clause does not have the reservation about second language, which slightly obscures the issue in the clause to which my first amendment relates. Therefore, I will not move Amendment 123 when we get to it.
I should thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate: my noble friend Lord Baker, who was in a rather teasing mood, which we shall put behind us in order to get on with work, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who made an extremely important point.
I am hesitant about what the Minister said about Amendment 102. I was surprised that he found it necessary to say that the professional organisations had confirmed that it was necessary for people coming to employment to have fluent English or a means of communicating effectively. The point I was trying to make in the previous debate was that one actually needs it for life: in order to be effective, not to be a criminal, to enjoy oneself and raise a happy family. So it goes outside this Bill, and we do not need professionals to tell us that.
I say to the Minister that I still think there is a danger of confusion or possible mistakes arising out of the passage which says that if one has English as a second language, this should not, on its own, mean that one has specific learning difficulties. That could lead to confusion in the future, so I would like to think about what the Minister sends me between now and the autumn, and look forward to seeing him then. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 102 withdrawn.
102A: Clause 40, page 24, line 35, at end insert—
“( ) In performing the duty imposed by subsection (4)(a), a local authority is required to fund sixth form provision of—
(a) an existing academy without a sixth form which intends to establish a sixth form; or(b) a new academy with a sixth form.”
Amendment 102A is a probing amendment, which is merely designed to draw attention to the fact that devolution of the funding of academies raises real questions about the future of sixth forms in those schools. This is a concern felt by many groups. Dr. Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Foundation Academy Group, said:
“In one local authority we were told by a different body from the Learning and Schools Council that we could not open sixth forms in two of our academies”.
The reason given was that it did not fit with the plan.
In another place, the Minister attempted to reassure the House by stating that all that the Bill really allowed was the Secretary of State to ask the YPLA to undertake some largely administrative functions in relation to academies and that it would not affect the nature of the funding of academies. He added that if agreement could not be reached about adding a new sixth form to an existing academy, the views of the academy, the 14-to-19 partnership and the local authority would be taken into account, while the Secretary of State, not the local authority, would be responsible for the decision. This is, to some extent, reassuring. I do not want the Minister to think that I have come at this amendment with all guns blazing. We merely seek assurances about the role of the provider in assessing the need for a sixth form in an existing academy. It should be enough for the academy to state that there is a need for further provision or that it is unnecessary.
How will the assessment for an additional academy sixth form work? What role will be allocated to the academy in the decision-making process? Will it be one of consultation, or one of decision-making? The concern, as the Minister is aware, is that in a scenario in which the independence of academies has already been reduced, is it really right that the need for a new academy sixth form should be addressed by a process that risks damaging their independence still further? I remain concerned and seek further reassurances from her. I beg to move.
Briefly, I offer my strongest support for the amendment. This policy for academies is clearly shared by both parties and by both Conservative and Labour supporters. Academies have already begun to prove their worth, and it is very important for any school to be able to develop a sixth form if it so wishes. It is very difficult to recruit the best subject teachers unless you can offer them sixth-form teaching as well. Many 11-to-16 schools and their pupils found life extremely difficult, because they were devoid of good strong subject staff.
I hope that the Minister supports the need for every academy to be able to develop a sixth form if it so wishes without any intervention from the local education authority that may prevent it from developing it in a way in which it logically needs to develop if it is to fulfil its academic purpose.
I very much hope that I will be able to offer the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, the reassurance that she is looking for. It might be helpful to say for the record that we expect to open more than 60 academies in September. Only four of those will not have sixth forms, so I would like to quash in one move the impression that academies do not have sixth forms as a norm. The coming year will see the opening of our 200th academy, and we can join in celebrating that when it comes around. It is a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is not in his place to hear that comment. Work undertaken by noble Lords in this House has contributed greatly to that achievement, and we are very grateful to them for that. We are particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who is in his place.
Just to be clear, the Secretary of State, as noble Lords are aware, funds academies directly, including their sixth-form places. In future, the Young People’s Learning Agency will act on behalf of the Secretary of State in carrying out academy functions, including funding academy sixth-form provision. When the YPLA acts on academies, it is acting as the agent of the Secretary of State. So the Secretary of State still holds the powers, but through an annual remit letter, the Secretary of State will be delegating to the YPLA the work of funding academies.
Local authorities do not, and will not, provide funding to academies and there is no need for them to do so. The local authority’s role will be to secure provision that meets the needs of learners. In doing so, they must, among other things, act with a view to encouraging diversity in both provider type and curriculum, and so increase opportunities for young people to exercise choice. This is a new process and I understand academies’ nervousness about how it will work and how it might impact on their sixth forms, in particular. However, there are a number of safeguards built in for academies which carefully balance those concerns alongside what must be the overall aim, which is to ensure that the commissioning of post-16 places puts pupils first.
I would like to emphasise that local authorities will not be responsible for approving or funding post-16 provision in academies. For a new academy, the Secretary of State will continue to decide whether it will open a sixth form, having consulted the local authority. This is what happens now. Academies are understandably curious as to what influence a local authority might have at that stage. In establishing a new academy, the Secretary of State must make a sensible decision about what is in the best interests of learners. He cannot do that unless he has some understanding of the academy’s impact on other local providers. That point needs to be taken into account if he is to make a sensible decision. He must, therefore, consult local authorities. In fact, nothing is changing in that respect from what happens now. The Secretary of State currently consults on these matters with local authorities before opening academies. That obligation has existed since the academies’ programme began and is written into primary legislation. I do not actually have the reference here and I apologise for that. That consultation has not led to a high proportion of academies without sixth forms and that will not change. As I have said, of the 60-plus academies opening at the beginning of the next academic year, the vast majority will have sixth forms.
An existing academy wishing to establish a sixth form, or increase the number of post-16 places, would naturally engage with the local authority, as you would expect, and other local partners through the local 14-to-19 partnership and look at feeding into the local authority’s commissioning plans through that partnership. However, if there is a disagreement locally about the number of academy places to be funded, the matter would be referred to the Young People’s Learning Agency, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State under the proposed agency arrangements, for consideration.
Any decisions on academy sixth form places must have regard to the views of local providers, the local authority and the policy guidance provided by the Secretary of State. Again, I understand academies’ concerns because I am very careful to listen to them, but again, there are safeguards. First, the Secretary of State will make the final decision on any change of age range in an academy, including where this involves a new sixth form. In doing so, he will take into account the views of all stakeholders as he does now. The obligation on academies to consult before they open is in Section 482(3)(a) of the Education Act 1996. I am having difficulty reading the note. I will therefore write to noble Lords to clarify that because I am not sure that that is right.
In relation to the funding of additional sixth form places, if an academy felt that the YPLA had acted unreasonably in reaching its decision, it could complain directly to the Secretary of State, who would investigate. In order to make things as transparent as possible, I can today commit to ensuring that whenever the YPLA makes a decision which prevents an open academy from increasing the size of its sixth form it must publish its reasons for that decision and why it was in the best interests of pupils. Obviously, in terms of the academy’s ability to challenge any decision, that transparency is very important.
Secondly, we must remember that the Young People’s Learning Agency will be acting under a remit letter, as I stressed at the start of my remarks, from the Secretary of State in respect of academies. Each year we will issue a new remit letter, which may contain guidance as to how the YPLA should act in relation to sixth forms. So, again, I can commit that before we issue a remit letter we will consult academy sponsors so that their views on how the Young People’s Learning Agency is operating can be taken into account. This is a very important part of the process between the Secretary of State issuing the remit letter to the YPLA and, in the lead up to the issuing of that letter, the Secretary of State will consult academy sponsors.
We want to work with all stakeholders, including academies. In response to earlier stakeholder events, we will set up a new academies’ reference group to work with the Secretary of State on the detail of the YPLA academy arrangements. The group will meet termly and the first meeting will take place before the end of September. Noble Lords may have seen the announcement on 30 June of the appointments of Les Walton as chair of the Young People's Learning Agency and Peter Lauener who will be its first chief executive officer, subject to parliamentary process and Royal Assent. Les and Peter are extremely keen to work with stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangements.
To conclude this slightly longer contribution than I had planned, these new arrangements for academies and local authorities must ultimately put the needs of learners first, as I am sure noble Lords will agree. However, we have put in place sufficient protections to ensure that academies can be assured that decisions will be taken fairly and in a transparent manner. On the basis of these reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for her response and my noble friend Lady Perry for supporting the amendment. The Minister has offered reassurance that, on the face of it, allays my fears. But I should like to read carefully what she has said and if need be return to the subject. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 102A withdrawn.
Amendments 102B and 103 not moved.
Clause 40 agreed.
Clause 41 : Encouragement of education and training for persons over compulsory
Amendments 104 and 105 not moved.
Clause 41 agreed.
Clause 42 agreed.
Clause 43 : Power to require provision of education by institution within further education sector
106: Clause 43, page 25, line 40, at end insert—
“( ) A local education authority may serve a notice on an institution under subsection (2) only if that institution is located in that authority’s area.”
This is a probing amendment that stands on its own. I want to use it to clarify two things. One is the way that the machinery described in the clause works. The other picks up on the question raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas about funding, to see how the money and responsibility chains work in this context, as well as in the context referred to by my noble friend.
The clause header is:
“Power to require provision of education by institution within further education sector”.
In subsection (1) of proposed new Section 51A to the 1992 Act, we find that the institution is,
“an institution in England within the further education sector which provides education suitable to the requirements of persons over compulsory school age but under the age of 19”.
That is perfectly clear. It appears that this power can be exercised throughout England, but not throughout Wales. That is my first question. Can a local authority in Cornwall require a local authority in Hampshire or Northumberland to provide education? The power is rightly restricted to use in connection with young people in their own authority, but is not restricted to applications to institutions within their own authority.
That brings us to the question of how it will be paid for. Are we again to have a separation between the power of commissioning and the power of payment? I will leave the question short and simple at this stage. It may be that the Minister can deal with it quickly, and content me in the process. I beg to move.
My noble friend Lord Elton has raised another well considered probing point, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. Clause 43, through its insertion of new Section 51A into the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, creates the power for a local education authority to require an institution to provide an education for a named individual. I expect that such a power will be used as a last resort—I cannot imagine that any of us want to see the power being used. Far better to reach a situation where all parties—institution, individual and LEA—are content with the position. However, I accept the argument that from time to time this power might be needed.
The attraction of my noble friend’s amendment, were it to be adopted, would be to make sure that an LEA looked after its own. It could not despatch a problem individual across an authority boundary and wash its hands of him. We do not want to see a scenario where the individual is shunted from pillar to post as LEAs squabble over who should do what. However, it would be useful to have flexibility in this matter, because it may be that the most suitable institution to provide the education is across an LEA boundary. In that case, it would be petty bureaucracy of the worst kind to deny the person a fresh start because the money and the order-making power cannot cross the invisible line that exists only on departmental maps.
My noble friend is right to ask how the matter of money will be settled. Who will pay—and who ought to pay? If a cash-strapped LEA sends an individual to another area that has both places and resources, should the latter not make a contribution? Or could the second area, with some justification, argue that the problem was none of its concern, thank you very much? This is a question about bureaucracy: the principles are not being questioned, but rather how it will work in practice. If the Minister were able to give some examples of problems that he and his officials have foreseen, and the solutions that they have devised, we might be much happier to accept the clause.
Is the clause aimed at people who have found themselves without the educational opportunity that they want, but are otherwise perfectly equable individuals; or is it aimed at finding a home for those who are difficult and disruptive, to whom schools have tried not to offer a place? To my mind, the wording of subsection (2)(a) makes rather a difference. If a person is willing to be taught, to require an institution to provide them with education is a reasonable thing to do. If what a person wants to be doing is spending the night DJ-ing and the day sleeping, then how can you require an institution to provide them with an education? You can require it to try, but you cannot require it to do it.
Clause 43 gives local authorities powers that the Learning and Skills Council currently has to require an institution within the further education sector to provide education to a named individual aged 16 or over but under 19. Amendment 106 seeks to limit the use of that power to those institutions within the local authorities’ own boundaries as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made clear.
I understand the intention behind the noble Lord’s amendment is to seek clarification on how funding across a local authority boundary will operate. The duties rest on every local authority to secure sufficient provision for the young people in their area. Young people move around, and local authorities must work together to ensure that they still have a choice, which seems to have been the theme of a number of the debates that we have had today. To facilitate that co-operation, as I have previously said, local authorities have voluntarily come together into 43 sub-regional groupings to act as planning bodies. Over the next few months the lead commissioning authority for every provider will be identified. For many, this will be the authority in which they are physically located. The Young People’s Learning Agency will be established to ensure that the plans brought forward are coherent and affordable.
The noble Lord seeks to know what happens to the funding when there is a cross-border flow of young people. The aim is to use that planning system and the information schools and colleges already have to better predict where young people will choose to study before any money flows at all. We do not want to return to the bureaucratic days of recoupment. Instead local authorities will be given indicative budgets based on the information from the current and next year’s 16 to 19 allocation processes that will enable them to plan more effectively.
The YPLA will support that planning with high-quality, real-time analysis drawing on information from its own systems as well as from Connexions services, schools and colleges. As a plan is developed and signed off, it will be clear to where the vast majority of the money must flow, and the YPLA will then issue final budgets to ensure providers are paid.
Where a local authority has directed a college to take a young person on, we would expect that the directing local authority would have discussed the issue with the “host” local authority and the college first, and that all parties have reached an agreement on how that place will be funded. The YPLA will have to be notified, so it continues to monitor and adjust its records of places and budgets. We do not expect, nor want, an authority to create a financial cost in another authority and we will look to the conditions of grant that the YPLA will establish under Clause 60 as the mechanism for ensuring the system operates smoothly when a local authority feels the need to use Clause 43.
I would also like to address the practical implications of the amendment. There are two reasons why we should avoid putting in the Bill a limitation only to use the powers for colleges in their area.
If the noble Lord and the Committee would allow me a little time, this is a strictly probing amendment. I have no intention of making that restriction, but only gesturing as a means of extracting the information he is giving me about the circumstances when it would not be permitted if I put that restriction there, so he can leave that bit out. I am not sure if that is welcome to those who want to go home late, but it is certainly welcome to those who want to go home early.
If I was just addressing the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, maybe I could do that, but as there have been other points made during the contribution I cannot, but I will try to be brief. I was asked to give an example, and a good one is this. At least one local authority in the Isles of Scilly does not have a college in its boundary. It is obvious that this amendment would make it impossible for it to direct an institution in order to secure provision for its young people.
This power is intended to ensure that we can help our most vulnerable young people who might have problems securing a place. Young offenders, once they leave detention to begin along the road to recovery, must be supported to participate and thus make a more positive contribution to society. Here I hope that I am addressing the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. By accepting the amendment we would limit both the choice of a young person and the ability of a local authority to secure the best quality provision for the most vulnerable among our young people. A power to direct should be used when there is no other choice. It is a tool of last resort, and that is why the LSC has never had to use it. It is possible that the knowledge that the power exists means that the commissioner and the commission need to focus on the needs of the learner.
I think that I have covered the question of whether an authority in Cornwall might require a provider in Northumbria or Hampshire. Yes, and as we have said previously, the funding will follow the learner. So I hope that, with my explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Perhaps I may put one further question to the Minister. What about sixth form colleges? Would a local authority be able to request a sixth form college to reserve a place for a particular individual? I believe that under other legislation, authorities have the right to ask a school to provide a place in the sixth form.
The noble Lord said that the funding follows the learner, but what he said previously amounted to saying that the funding does not follow the learner because he was talking about no recruitment and the difficulty of having to arrange the finance where an unexpected cross-border transaction such as the one envisaged in this clause takes place. It seems that the funding follows the commissioned learner, but that if learners choose to do something different, there is no mechanism for transferring that funding. That is what I understood the noble Lord to say.
Briefly, I am absolutely emphatic that the funding follows the learner. The difficulty lies in trying to put across the question of the commissioning process. We have said that we will write with a further explanation and I will honour that commitment. But I am clear that the funding will follow the learner. When we talked about the bad old days, there was a question of recoupment with much exchanging of invoices between local authorities. We certainly do not want to return to that, and we will not.
That makes it much more difficult to imagine what will happen if the young person in question decides that he does not like Hampshire but there is a good course in Devon and he goes to take it up. Is the place cancelled at some cost to Hampshire and is his place in Devon paid for by Cornwall? I realise that all this is to be set out in a letter, but I am trying to tell the noble Lord what we would like his letter to contain. The noble Lord might also take a look at Hansard because he started by saying of Clause 43 that it is about the exercise of a power which the local authority already has. I thought that that is what I heard him say, and it does require some elucidation. If the authority already has the power, it does not seem necessary to confer it again.
I am much obliged. How useful it is to speak from a script. I have one further question, but I shall have to ask it in a debate on clause stand part. I say that now so that the Deputy Chairman of Committees knows that I intend to raise a brief question at that point. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 106 withdrawn.
Debate on whether Clause 43 should stand part of the Bill.
Unfortunately I have not brought with me the Act which is to be amended by this Bill so as to ask about the effect of the insertions into Section 52(2) of that Act relating to Wales. I am perfectly happy to have the answer to that question as a postscript to the letter the noble Lord has already contracted to write.
Clause 43 agreed.
107: After Clause 43, insert the following new Clause—
“Free meals for 16 to 18 year olds in colleges
(1) A local education authority may provide registered students at—
(a) a sixth form college; or (b) a further education college,who are over compulsory school age, but under 19, with meals.
(2) Where provision is made under subsection (1) it shall be made in a case within paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection, either on the college premises or at any other place where education is being provided.
(3) A local education authority shall exercise their power under subsection (1) to provide college lunches for any person if—
(a) any prescribed requirements are met;(b) a request for the provision of college lunches has been made by or on behalf of that person to the authority; and(c) either—(i) that person is eligible for free lunches (within the meaning of section 512ZB(4) of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56)); or(ii) in the case of a person within subsection (1)(a), it would not be unreasonable for the authority to provide the lunches.(4) Where the local education authority provide a lunch in accordance with subsection (3) to a person who is eligible for free lunches, the authority shall provide the meal free of charge.”
The amendment concerns a question of equity. Under Section 512 of the Education Act 1996, local authorities have the power to provide free meals for registered pupils at a school. If a pupil is eligible for free school meals, the local authority or the school governors have a duty to provide the lunch free of charge. Every registered pupil at a school is entitled to free school meals if they or their parents qualify under Section 512. This includes sixth-formers in a school but does not apply to pupils at a sixth-form college or in a further education college, as these establishments are not classified as schools.
The 363 colleges in England have a central role in educating disadvantaged young people. Indeed, 69 per cent of 16 to 18 year-olds receiving the highest rate of educational maintenance allowances study at colleges. There is an issue of equity because, although young people in colleges take similar courses to their counterparts in schools, Ministers at the DCSF confirmed in a Parliamentary Answer last year that the Government have no plans to provide free meals for college students, even though the learning participation age is being raised. The abolition of the Learning and Skills Council and the return of funding for 16 to 18 year-olds to local authorities make this anomaly even more unsupportable. We—I am arguing on the behalf of the Association of Colleges—consider that the proposed new clause would ensure that all 16 to 18 year-olds are treated equally regardless of where they study. I beg to move.
I know that none of us is anxious at this stage of our country’s history to add to the public costs, but there is an issue of equity here. The previous Bill made education compulsory for 16 to 18 year-olds. They are now in exactly the same legal capacity as five to 16 year-olds—they are required to be in education or training—and it seems only equitable to consider at least some kind of subsidy for their meals. I am sure that in reply the Minister will tell us about the education maintenance grant that is already received by these young people, but the point is that it is already received for other purposes; it is not for the purpose of their meals. There is a real issue. The proposal is perhaps a long-term aspiration of what ought to happen, but it may not be immediately possible given the country’s financial straits.
Having listened to the debate, I think that this is a question of equity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has raised an important point. If young people are required to stay on at school—it may be part work and part study but, nevertheless, they are not going to have much money to see to their basic needs—it is absolutely right and proper that this should be looked at. One recognises that this is not a good economic stage and that it may have to be looked at in that capacity, but it is to be hoped that, when and if we recover from the situation we are in, it will be taken more seriously.
While on average most children leave home at the age of 24, we face the problem in this country that many parents separate and there are reformulations of families. Certainly, in my experience, one can come across 16 year-olds who have been edged out of their homes because a new partner has arrived and they are not so welcome. We have to recognise that many of our young people have to manage on their own, without family support, far earlier than we would want. These are the very young people who would be particularly helped by the noble Baroness’s amendment. They are learning how to look after themselves. In the past they might have had a family around to ensure that they had a square meal; I am sure that we would see to it that our teenagers did. They are finding their feet in the world. Given the current financial difficulties, it would be laudable to implement this amendment. It is very much the right direction to move in and I hope that the Minister can give an encouraging response.
The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, mentioned the education maintenance allowance. That is paid to school students as well as to college students so, with regard to equity, it is not a question of students getting the allowance and paying for their meals with it. The amendment would put college students on an equal footing with school students.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp; she has revealed an interesting area, so to speak. With regard to Amendment 107, we are already doing a great deal to support and encourage young people to participate and progress in learning, to increase the post-16 learning options available to them and to support those learning choices. Education maintenance allowances, which provide up to £30 a week for learners from lower-income households, are available for learners aged 16 to 19 in schools, colleges and on certain training courses. That does not discount the noble Baroness’s latter point on the equity question, which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, also addressed.
Eligibility for EMA is based on household income. Nearly half of 16 to 19 year-olds in full-time further education currently qualify for this help on the basis of a household income assessment. Currently, families have to be in receipt of certain benefits and tax credits in order to be eligible for free school meals for their children.
In addition to EMA, discretionary learner support funds are made available via the Learning and Skills Council to colleges and local authorities. This funding is provided to enable schools and colleges, using their discretion, to help individual learners facing hardship and financial barriers to learning that are not addressed through other means. That might take into account the groups of people that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, addressed.
In addition to the support that may be provided directly to young learners, other mechanisms exist to help with the costs of supporting young people aged 16 to 18 in learning, including universal child benefit. Child tax credits may be paid to parents if their child is participating. Recent increases to child benefit will provide additional support for parents regardless of income, and the increase to the child element of the child tax credit, a measure brought forward in the Budget, will provide substantial additional support to families.
Given the generous support that is already made available to students who stay in learning—child benefit and tax credits, as I mentioned—and to families if their child is participating in any of a range of learning options, we do not feel that the case has been sufficiently made to extend the very specific form of support for free school meals for 16 to 18 year-olds to a wider range of premises.
I welcome the return of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to more constructive contributions, such as his point about apprenticeships and work-based learning environments. We are, however, looking carefully at all the arrangements for supporting young people, especially in the context of a raised participation age. We are taking this forward through the review into financial support for 16 to 18 year-olds that we announced in the New Opportunities White Paper. The review will take account of findings from research into the barriers, financial and otherwise, that young people may face in staying on in different learning options.
Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. This is an important issue on the grounds of equity. We also do not want to do anything that deters young people from remaining in education. I hope that the noble Baroness will acknowledge that the range of what we are trying to do for young people extends beyond free school meals to how we support young people. The fact that we have increased the participation age raises once again the importance of ensuring that we do not deter young people from remaining in education. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, reminded us, they need food for thought and we need to ensure that they can obtain it at a reasonable cost. I trust that my explanations will enable the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister. I believe that breakfast is more effective than lunch. I take on board what he says, but it is still true that universal child benefit, child tax credits and so forth are available to those who are in school and the sixth form in exactly the same way that they might be available to college students. Discretionary hardship funds are also available to those in school. At the moment, colleges have to use their discretionary funds occasionally to subsidise food for young people because they know that the young people are not getting fed as they should be. The colleges step in to make sure that they get a decent meal so that they can learn. I take it from what the Minister said that, following the raising of the participation age, a fairly wide-ranging review is now taking place about financial barriers and that this is, so to speak, being put into the pot of that review.
It seems to me that there is a strong case in equity for making sure that young people in a college or sixth-form college environment are on exactly the same level as those in school. Therefore, I hope that this question would be part of that review. I recognise that it imposes a cost, but the equity issue means that the cost has to be faced up to. Alternatively, the Government must think about reducing what is available in the school sector. We look forward to hearing about what happens in the review. Perhaps by the time we assemble in the autumn, we shall know a little more about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 107 withdrawn.
Clause 44: Duties in relation to the core and additional entitlements
107A: Clause 44, page 26, line 18, leave out “and the additional entitlement are” and insert “is”
Clause 44 specifies that those who are over compulsory school age but under 19 are entitled to the core and additional entitlements of education. The core entitlement is clearly laid out in new Section 17C, which states that this,
“is an entitlement to follow a course of study in each of …
(c) information and communication technology”.
That seems very clear. However, the next new section, on the additional entitlement, which is what Amendment 107A addresses, is far vaguer. The Bill says that this is a right,
“to follow a course of study in an additional entitlement area”.
It then goes on to say that the Secretary of State may specify by regulation what areas will be designated in this manner, but it does not explain what kind of courses of study might be included. A quick glance at the Explanatory Notes shows that it refers to diploma lines, which will be specified by the Secretary of State. This, therefore, is simply a probing amendment, designed to ask the Minister to clarify whether it is only the diploma that will be specified as an additional entitlement and to expand on it generally.
Furthermore, is the Minister not at all concerned that this may push young people towards a diploma without sufficient care being taken over what course of study or training might best suit their needs? I hope that she might be able to allay the concerns of City and Guilds, which is worried that the very specific nature of the additional entitlement may push people towards a diploma and away from a vocational course. I look forward to her response and I beg to move.
I think that I will be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, as he requests. Noble Lords may recall that we debated the introduction of this entitlement during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill in 2006. It was something that the House took a great interest in, as I understand. Clause 44 merely restates the requirement in the 2006 Act to secure the core entitlement and, as the noble Lord says, the additional entitlement for 16 to 18 year-olds, and it places the duty on local authorities instead of the Learning and Skills Council.
I am happy to confirm that our intention is that the additional entitlement will relate to diploma lines, as the noble Lord describes. Our intention is that this entitlement will be delivered from the 2013-14 academic year. As for this representing undue pressure on young people to pursue diplomas, as opposed to other qualifications such as A-levels, BTEC or apprenticeships, there are strong duties in the Bill that would guard against that, such as those about the importance of delivering education that is appropriate to the individual learner. I am trying to give the noble Lord the clarity that he was looking for that this reference is about diploma lines and that our intention is that this entitlement, as he is aware, will be delivered from 2013-14 onwards. I could go on at length about how fantastic diplomas are and how we have a strong take-up by local authorities already pursuing diplomas, but I see that I may not have to do that now. I hope that, with that reassurance and clarification, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 107A withdrawn.
108: Clause 44, page 27, leave out line 26 and insert “at a school other than a school previously attended by that person, or an institution”
Amendment 108, with which I am going to speak to Amendments 109, 110 and 111, strikes the Bill in Clause 44 at page 27 and it is intended to raise an idea in the mind of the Government—it is very much a probing amendment.
It arises from my still slightly painful memory of being a teacher in a 1,500-boy comprehensive school and being responsible, in part, for teaching in the lower-ability streams and encountering the growing conviction of pupils throughout that stream, in their last year, that they ought to be out in the world doing something quite different, and that what they were doing in school was not very relevant. It was not just me; more gifted teachers than me came across this difficulty as well.
It intensified when word spread that the school leaving age was going to be raised by a year. Fortunately, I moved to a college of education and taught teachers to teach before that happened. However, I was well aware of the sharp distinction in the minds of many pupils of average ability—some were above and many were below average ability—who considered that school was a preliminary to real life. Anything outside the school was challenging, exciting and probably grown up, whereas anything inside the school was boring, tiresome and, to many of them, however hard we tried, not particularly relevant.
It seems to me that the Bill could capitalise on the fact that moving out of one institution into another can give a considerable boost to the engagement of the pupil concerned. This factor is even more important where one sibling decides not to continue with education or training beyond the compulsory age but a younger sibling decides to embark on that course and the elder then decides to follow. This will seem to the latter a great diminution of his stature. We are all familiar with the idea of rites of passage. Leaving school is one of them. I hope that occasionally it can act as an incentive to making more profitable use of a student’s time. That is why I have suggested that education be offered at a school other than the school previously attended by a person, because that is going back to the juvenile in his or her view. If it cannot be offered at another school, it had better be offered at another sort of institution.
There are two pairs of amendments which deal with core and additional entitlements, but the message is the same. I have not explained it very well but those who have taught will know exactly what I mean. I beg to move.
My noble friend Lord Elton raises some interesting questions about what happens when a learner finds a school or institution unsuitable and wishes to change schools while continuing with their studies. He has eloquently illustrated that such a change could be very beneficial for a learner. I hope the Government will seek to ensure that some choice is available.
I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord. The picture he paints of the past is one with which I identify, as I attended a very large comprehensive school, probably not dissimilar to the one he described, and both my parents taught in similar schools. In the 1970s it was evident that swathes of young people felt that they needed to leave school because the learning opportunity was particularly rigid. The noble Lord talked about young people who may be less able but who should have the opportunity to continue their education in the way that is right for them.
We need to be mindful of the fact that this issue concerns not only the young person’s ability but their learning styles and experiences and the place where they feel confident and relaxed enough to learn. We know that a lot of young people might opt to learn in a more practical or work-based environment. It does not necessarily mean that they are less able. For example, they may be incredibly able in an entrepreneurial sense. It is a matter of giving them the right opportunity that suits them. That is why the Government have opted for a qualification strategy that puts diplomas very much at its heart and, through our debates on raising participation—I know the noble Lord was interested in those debates—making sure that if we are doing that we accept that for some young people it is right for them to take a job. While we believe that they should have access to training, we also believe that training should be suitably practical and relevant.
The point made by the noble Lord about rites of passage was very well made. I can identify with it; moving to a new institution—to an FE college or a sixth form at a different school—can often give a young person an opportunity to reinvent themselves as a slightly older person without all the baggage of their younger years or errors, and gain new friendship groups and so on. I appreciate all the points that the noble Lord is making. We recognise that choice is extremely important and that funding should follow the learner to facilitate that diversity. We recognise the need for diversity in providers and we have a qualification strategy that takes into account diplomas, GCSEs, A-levels and, of course, apprenticeships.
I hope that the noble Lord can feel reassured that, as we move to a time when we have raised the participation age, those rites of passage will be possible within a learning system that allows young people to stay in learning, to grow and change, and that they are given access to the opportunity for development that we in our society need so much and that is of such great benefit for them. I hope that the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment on the basis of what I can only describe as a plea.
I thank the Minister for a very interesting reply. Is there any evidence available on what young people say about this matter? Do young people say, “Actually, what I am studying at the moment is gripping me and I am engaged with it, and I am not so keen immediately to move into the workplace or elsewhere”? What are teachers saying? Having worked in this field, are they saying, “Yes, we see this change going on”. A concern might be that the focus on testing and teaching to the test might be frustrating teachers as regards allowing young people to be creative and engaging them in the way that the Minister described—and producing courses which produce enthusiastic learners, not impatient and frustrated young people who wish to move out of that institution.
That was a very interesting and reassuring exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness. The only thing that worried me was her comment that she “hoped”, because I should have thought that the way that the Bill is written and the fact that the funding follows the individual and so on indicates that that choice will be available. I would be very grateful if the noble Baroness was more positive.
I am very happy to be more positive. Perhaps I may focus on the introduction of diplomas, which is an essential development for engaging exactly the kind of young person who could have been switched off in the past. These are diplomas which create the opportunity to learn in a real-life context, making learning much more relevant, while ensuring that young people have some of the things that we want them to learn, like functional skills, strong literacy and numeracy. The early diplomas such as those in construction and the built environment, creative and media, engineering, information technology and society, health and development are being well-received by young people. We are getting positive feedback and teachers are enjoying making use of this new teaching opportunity.
In preparing for this debate, I wanted to be able to share with noble Lords some of the detailed feedback from young people around these qualifications. I would be happy to do that but unfortunately cannot find it in my pack. I apologise.
Amendment 108 withdrawn.
Amendments 109 to 111 not moved.
Clause 44 agreed.
Clause 45 : Provision of boarding accommodation: persons subject to learning difficulty assessment
112: Clause 45, page 28, line 9, leave out “may” and insert “must”
This amendment brings to the Committee’s attention the issue of boarding education for those with complex learning difficulties of one sort or another.
In the Learning and Skills Act 2000 there was a requirement for the LSC to secure boarding education if,
“it cannot secure the provision of facilities for education or training which are sufficient in quantity and adequate in quality”.
We understand that there is no intention to dilute this clause. Clause 45 is a transfer over from the Learning and Skills Act. The current wording is:
“A local education authority in England may secure the provision of boarding accommodation in connection with the provision of education or training for a person in their area who is … over compulsory school age but under 25, and … subject to learning difficulty assessment”.
We would like to see the “may” put into a “must”, but with the proviso that there should also be a new paragraph (c), for those who cannot secure the provision of facilities for,
“education or training which are sufficient in quantity and adequate in quality without the provision of boarding accommodation”.
Only a small number of learners—currently about 3,600—need access to residential provision to ensure that their further education and training needs are met. These learners have severe and complex learning difficulties and/or disabilities and require a specialist, fully integrated, multidisciplinary environment in which to receive a personalised and appropriately supported learning programme. The use of the word “may” risks the possibility of these learners either attending local colleges where their needs cannot be adequately met, staying on at school until the age of 25 or being denied access to any further education. We draw attention to the fact that the term “boarding accommodation” does not fully reflect the wide range of extended learning opportunities that are available to learners in a residential setting.
This same amendment was discussed in the other place. The Minister stated that it is important to read Clause 45 in conjunction with Clause 40, which inserts proposed new Section 15ZA into the Education Act 1996. Subsection 15ZA(1)(b) places local authorities under a firm duty to,
“secure that enough suitable education and training is provided to meet the reasonable needs of persons … aged 19 or over but under 25 and … subject to learning difficulty assessment”.
That is in effect where the “must” in the predecessor Act comes in. Clause 45 clarifies that the local authority may deliver that overriding duty through boarding education.
The Association of National Specialist Colleges, which has asked us to bring this matter forward, is unhappy because it still believes that the word “may” in the clause is unsatisfactory, because local authorities will not be legally obliged to arrange boarding education. A perhaps unintended consequence is that residential education and training provision for vulnerable learners will not be secured.
I believe that there has been considerable discussion between Ministers and the Association of National Specialist Colleges in the past few weeks and that the matter has moved forward somewhat. I know that the association is anxious that the elaboration that Ministers have given to the explanation given by the Minister, Jim Knight, in the other place, should be put on record in Hansard. I would be very grateful if the Minister could give a full answer to the queries about the “mays” and “musts” and how that it does not matter having “may” in Clause 45, because of the point made by the Minister that the “must” from Clause 40 carries over and that there will be no diminution of the duty on local authorities. I beg to move.
I certainly welcome the clause. First, I declare an interest. I am the president of a charity that provides boarding accommodation for blind and visually impaired children, nursery provision and schools up to the age of 16. We also have an extensive FE college for those aged from 16 to 19. That is a very expensive service. We have to provide not only in capital expenditure for a variety of needs—in our case, not only the blind and visually impaired but those with emotional learning difficulties and physical learning difficulties—but that requires supervision at night and even at weekends, if the youngsters cannot go to similar secure accommodation.
I would hope that in any discussion with specialist colleges, the Government will recognise that the most effective way for a local authority to meet its obligations under the clause will be to use the specialist colleges. Local authorities will be very reluctant to build such boarding accommodation for 16 to 25 year-olds if they have to find the money themselves. They also have responsibility for people who are disadvantaged in the adult age range, and they may have their own priorities to deal with that. That is another expensive programme. We may need some amendment to the wording of the clause so that local authorities would first call on the specialist colleges, most of which are charities and most of which are in the private sector. They give remarkably good value.
Several FE colleges have boarding accommodation. For example, nearly all the agricultural colleges around the country have boarding accommodation. That is because, first, the journey for youngsters may be 30 or 40 miles, which is a long journey. Secondly, if they are looking after animals, they have to get up at dawn, so they must have boarding accommodation. That should be recognised. That is not quite pertinent to the clause, but it will be an issue increasingly in future. I imagine that that will come under the new Skills Funding Agency, not local authorities, but I am sure that one consequence of the Bill going through will be a demand for more boarding accommodation, especially in rural areas, not just for children with disability or learning difficulties but for the diploma in environmental services. The Minister just said that she is very committed to diplomas. The diploma in environmental services, which covers agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, and so on, will almost certainly require boarding accommodation for most of the students that colleges hope to get. I hope that we may receive a positive answer from the Minister on both of those points.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that, in many cases, boarding accommodation can be extremely beneficial to young people, especially those with learning difficulties. My noble friend Lord Baker asked some very important questions, and we look forward to the Minister’s responses to those. In addition, will the Minister tell the Committee what assessment is expected to be done by local education authorities as to whether specific boarding accommodation would be suitable for a young person with a particular learning difficulty? Obviously, some types of accommodation are more suited to some people than to others. Can he give the Committee any form of reassurance as to how different LEAs are expected to collaborate, so as to provide such accommodation to those who need it?
Briefly, I support this amendment—it clearly is important. Also, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, were equally important— that it makes sense, in the relatively few cases of these needy students, to make proper use of those establishments which exist already. I also think that the proviso to really make quite certain that this is necessary is important, not least in these times.
Together, Amendments 112 and 113 place a duty on local authorities to secure boarding provision for learners with a learning difficulty assessment, where sufficient and adequate facilities cannot be secured unless boarding education is also secured. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for again introducing an interesting issue.
I am grateful for the opportunity to place on record our appreciation for the valuable role played by independent specialist colleges in providing education for learners, often with very specific needs and requirements. Some learners relish the independence and confidence provided by living away from home. This can be an important step to independent living. It is essential that this type of provision continues to be available where it is needed, and that both national and local commissioning processes are centred on the needs of learners.
Local authorities will need to work in partnership with specialist providers to ensure that they are involved in planning and commissioning discussions. There are particular benefits to be gained from this, as these colleges often have particular skills that it would be beneficial to share with other colleges and learning providers. This outward-facing approach is one that both we and the Local Government Association are keen to promote. We will ensure that the benefits of these types of arrangement are reflected in the national commissioning framework.
We are working with specialist colleges nationally, through the Association of National Specialist Colleges, to develop arrangements that recognise that independent specialist colleges will often work across local authority boundaries and nationally. I absolutely endorse the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about the expensive nature of these provisions. One could certainly not expect every local authority to provide them within their own boundaries—which is why we have to ensure the ability of young people to go across local authority boundaries and, in some cases, nationally as well, because that is where the facility exists.
On the question of the specialist FE colleges, for example, some might do boarding; in others, students might stay out in local hostels or hotels. I think there are a variety of arrangements. I have met a number of apprentices who have been involved in this: it certainly does not just apply to people with learning disabilities. It is likely that the Young People’s Learning Agency will act in a brokerage role for an interim period to allow local authorities to build up their expertise in this area.
I understand that some colleges have concerns about the specific working of Clause 45, and here is where I want to place on record the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raised. I would like to reassure the colleges and the noble Baroness on this point: Clause 45 needs to be read in conjunction with Clause 40. Clause 40 places local authorities under a firm duty to secure enough suitable education and training to meet the reasonable needs of all young people aged 16 to 19, and those aged 19 to 25 who are subject to learning difficulty assessment. In deciding whether the education or training is suitable to meet a person’s reasonable needs, the local authority must—note the word “must”—have regard to a number of considerations, including any learning difficulties that persons in their area may have. Therefore, the overriding duty and the “must” is in Clause 40.
Clause 45 clarifies that, where appropriate, local authorities may deliver this overriding duty through the provision of boarding accommodation. This approach is exactly parallel with the requirements in pre-16 education and boarding provision, where the local authority has a clear duty to provide education and the legislation makes it clear that the local authority may fulfil this duty by providing boarding provision where suitable education cannot be provided without it.
I trust that, with those assurances on the record, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
In view of what the Minister has said—he makes great play about Clause 40 interacting with this clause—perhaps it will be possible to table an amendment to this clause on Report to require the local authority to bear in mind the provision that is provided locally by specialist colleges when they fulfil this duty.
I thank the noble Lord for that contribution. I assume that what the Minister has said will satisfy the Association of National Specialist Colleges, but I will need to consult it and consider in the light of this debate whether it might be worth bringing this matter back on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 112 withdrawn.
Amendment 113 not moved.
Clause 45 agreed.
113A: After Clause 45, insert the following new Clause—
“Provision of screening for specific learning difficulties
In section 321 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56), before subsection (1) insert—
“(A1) For the purpose of establishing whether a child falls, or probably falls, within subsection (2), a local authority shall provide that each child in a maintained or voluntary aided school shall—
(a) on completion of key stage one and by their seventh birthday; and(b) at the beginning of key stage three and by their twelfth birthday,be screened for risk of dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties.
(A2) The screening referred to in subsection (A1) shall be carried out by a prescribed person with prescribed qualifications.
(A3) The specific learning difficulties referred to in subsection (A1) are—
(a) dyslexia;(b) dyscalculia;(c) dyspraxia;(d) speech and language disorder;(e) autism spectrum and Asperger’s syndrome;(f) attention deficit disorder;(g) attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder; and(h) a high level of co-morbidity of any two or more of these conditions.””
This amendment seeks to amend Section 321(2) of the Education Act 1996, which puts a general duty on local education authorities to,
“exercise their powers with a view to securing that, of the children for whom they are responsible, they identify those to whom subsection (2) below applies … This subsection applies to a child if … he has special educational needs, and … it is necessary for the authority to determine the special educational provision which any learning difficulty he may have calls for”.
That is the trigger for the process of assessment and statements.
The Government’s reaction to the Rose report was very welcome, and I understand—the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, will tell me whether I am wrong—that 4,000 teachers will be trained and put into place who will be able to identify the children who are at risk of dyslexia and related disorders. The amendment proposes the method by which they shall be engaged in the process. I realise that there are questions of timing—the 4,000 have to be trained and so on—and I suggest to the noble Baroness that, rather than declaring it premature or something like that, we should have this or something like it in the Bill. It should be one of those clauses that is brought into effect by statutory instrument; we will come to the part of the Bill that gives the Minister the power to bring into effect parts of the Act that come into effect later than the Act as a whole.
I am not sure that it is necessary to say much more than that. We have already debated the sorts of difficulties that are involved, and if we go on with this I would like on Report to get verbal communication into the standard list that follows dyslexia, because we all agree how important that is. I am anxious at this stage to ascertain the Minister’s general reaction to the proposal that we should provide a means by which these teachers, when they are trained, shall be deployed. I beg to move.
My noble friend Lord Elton has once again brought forward a particularly sharp and important amendment. This time he is not tightening the drafted legislation but is attempting to tighten a crucial part of the policy within it. I am sure that most noble Lords around this Chamber will have deep sympathy with the amendment proposed here. I hope, therefore, to hear a positive response from the Minister when she stands up to reply.
This is effectively the second act of the discussion we had earlier. I am trying to think of any reason why the Government should not do this, other than the fact that they think it is difficult. We have already heard that certain people do not think there is the absolute killer test that will identify everything and I have had various discussions in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, about the problems associated with this. However, there are plenty of tests and screening initiatives which can give a good identification for virtually all of these spectrum disorders. As the noble Lord has quite rightly put down, if you have two goes, you are much more likely to catch all of them. I have not heard anybody disagreeing with the fact that you are unlikely to get a system that is 100 per cent accurate in identifying these special needs.
No one would dispute the fact that, even if you get in early with coping and support strategies, you do not cure any of these conditions, but people can learn to live with them and deal with them properly. We need to make sure there is the right help and support for pupils with different patterns. If you are dyslexic, as I know to my cost, you are dyslexic for life. Someone comes up with a miracle cure for dyslexia, for instance, approximately every 18 months—sometimes more frequently, sometimes less. And every three years there is someone who knows that it does not exist. This is roughly the pattern I have noted. As these miracle cures come and go, and the person waving a theory disappears off into the night saying that the rest of the world is mad and he is sane, those of us who suffer from these conditions know that, if you identify patterns and put structures in place early enough, many of the downsides are removed—predominantly, the failure to jump through the hoops of the academic system to get into the right positions within it to access better training in later life.
The effect of not addressing these conditions can lead to a downward spiral of bad behavioural records, certainly for dyslexics but also for dyspraxics and dyscalculics. If we can address them, we will get rid of that. Also, if you train people better—for instance, dyslexics to use a voice recognition system on their computer—and get in earlier, they will be able to get into learning technology more quickly. Everything about these types of conditions will be made easier if you get identification and learning strategies in earlier. I would suggest that we really must travel towards this.
I thank the Government for their 4,000 newly trained teachers in about 25,000 schools. It would be a reasonable assumption that these 4,000 teachers have acquired a degree of knowledge. But it is still the case that only one in two schools has one specifically trained teacher. So unless it is written in the Bill that they have to buy in the expertise that is in the system for this function, we will be underachieving. I hope that the Government will see this approach as a way of cashing in on their assets in this field. At the moment, we are in danger of merely having slightly fewer holes in the system into which you can fall, as opposed to trying to make sure that there are no holes, or at least very few.
They are all cures for dyslexia which I have seen tried. The noble Lord and this amendment make a crucial point. There needs to be early diagnosis and, as the noble Lord said earlier, it should not be when there appears to be a problem. Many of these problems emerge only when the child’s inner resources have been exhausted. I have seen bright dyslexics diagnosed in their second year at Cambridge. If you are bright enough you can carry this for a long time before you know what is going on. It is important to pick up these kids, whatever their level of innate intelligence, in order to separate out the reasons for the difficulties that they are having and to give them the right support as a result. This is much better done by way of a universal diagnosis, which is not expensive because diagnostic testing of those kids should be done at that stage anyway. If we get around to doing it, it will save a great deal of money and a great deal of heartache in the long term.
This amendment goes back to our earlier discussion. It is crucial that it is considered and taken on board. Had the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, been here, he would have reiterated the point that he, I and others have made; namely, that the earliest possible testing, at the age of 2, 1 or whatever, is important. I have certainly read the Rose report and was delighted that it was accepted by the Government. My only reservation was the reasoning that testing early would not help very much. Testing early may not be the only test that one needs to do, but it could be, should be and almost certainly would be an early indication of problems and the need for support in the future.
We have all grown more aware of this spectrum, which used to be called autism and embraced everything. As people have realised the complexity of the whole issue, it has expanded into goodness only knows how many subsets. I very much doubt whether there is anyone in this Chamber who does not have knowledge of a relative, a friend or whoever. I declare an interest in that I have a niece who is dyslexic. What is more, I think that her father, James Stirling, who is dead now but was one of our best architects, was also dyslexic.
We live with these difficulties. We could do much more to ensure that the individuals concerned are enabled to develop to the best of their potential and be a full part of the community, all of which benefits the whole community and all of us. I warmly support this amendment.
I thank the noble Lord for his amendment. I will take careful note of the strong commitment around the House to the early detection of learning difficulties such as dyslexia. In this House we have a great deal of expertise on the subject and a great deal of commitment, passion and concern about children and young people who are affected in this way. I cannot stress enough how much note I take of what has been said now and in the earlier debate.
Noble Lords have referred to Sir Jim Rose’s review, which was recently concluded and published. The Government have accepted his recommendations. His report offered the clear advice to government that there are better ways to identify children at risk of literacy difficulties and dyslexia. He advised us that the best way is to closely observe and assess their responses to pre-reading and early-reading activities in comparison with their typically developing peers in the reception year of primary school and beyond.
As noble Lords are aware, the review found that the first step advocated in identifying that children may have language learning difficulties, including dyslexia, is to notice those making poor progress in comparison with their typically developing peers, despite receiving—this is an important point that noble Lords have made in the past—high-quality, wave 1 literacy activity, or other words, children who are failing to thrive despite significant expert literacy intervention.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. It is not always children who are making poor progress. For instance, my son had just won a scholarship when we were asked if we would have him tested. They thought that there was something the matter with his eyes. He was dyslexic, and he was 14 before we realised that whenever he read, the text moved around on the paper. I asked him why he was not reading and he said, “Because it makes all those awful patterns”. I asked why he had not said anything before and he said, “Because I thought that happened when everybody read”. It was important that he was diagnosed, because he was not doing as well as he was capable of doing. It is not always children who are doing poorly: that is why you need a general diagnostic test for everybody.
I will not argue with the noble Baroness about the importance of early diagnosis—perhaps “identification” is a better term. It is absolutely essential. The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, have stressed this on many occasions. We all agree that early identification is essential. I do not want it to be thought that there is an assumption that it is only children who are less able who have dyslexia or other learning difficulties. Very bright children struggle with these difficulties. I fully recognise that. The example given by the noble Baroness is a very important one.
I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that we should continue improving the school workforce’s skills in identifying and teaching children with special educational needs. Noble Lords will be aware from our previous discussions and correspondence over the years that we are looking to address these concerns in ways that are different from those proposed in the amendment. We have had a very good debate today. A statutory duty is already in place on schools to use their best endeavours to ensure that necessary provision is made for pupils with special educational needs. The professional standards for teachers require trainee teachers to demonstrate that they can make effective personalised provision for those whom they teach, including those with special educational needs, and that they know how to differentiate their teaching accordingly. The Training and Development Agency for Schools is encouraging training providers to use new specialist study units that include material on learning and teaching for pupils with, for example, autism or dyslexia, or who require support with speech, language and communication needs. This is important new work that is being developed.
We know that most providers are using these materials on their primary undergraduate teacher training courses. That is new; it is something that we have talked of in the past as being very necessary. We launched the units for secondary undergraduate courses on 23 June. SEN units for the PGCE will be available before the end of the year. We have also developed the inclusion development programme for the school workforce. Since we debated this issue last year, we have issued materials to increase confidence and knowledge in relation to children with autism. I know that noble Lords are very concerned about that, too.
My noble friend has already referred at length to Sir Jim Rose’s report, as I have just done, but the noble Lord, Lord Addington, touched on the 4,000 teachers in specialist dyslexia teacher training. I would say that that is an important and significant contribution. It has been welcomed by the stakeholders as an important step forward. I recognise noble Lords’ concerns about the need to do more for children and young people with special educational needs but, equally, I am sure that they will recognise the challenges in establishing reliable screening tools for all learning difficulties listed in the amendment.
We are taking this seriously and trying to ensure that the teaching workforce has the skills. We are committed to supporting, in particular, children and young people with dyslexia. I accept the point about early intervention. We look forward to the significant Ofsted review that is being undertaken, in which I know this House will show a great deal of interest. I hope that, with this ongoing interest and concern, the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment.
I am sorry to delay the Committee, but does the Minister accept that the answer probably lies not in either good screening or good observation but in a combination of the two to back each other up? Do not get me wrong: this situation is a case of, “You wouldn’t want to start from here”. Everybody has been trying to find solutions and we have found, as we have gone into it, that awareness of the problem has expanded. I appreciate that the Government have gone on to new ground, but they are the Government and they are supposed to do that. Does the Minister not agree that there is some case for some form of screening—if not in all of these conditions, then in some of them—which, enhanced by greater teacher awareness, stands a much better chance of not missing people?
We have sought advice from Sir Jim Rose and we have had clear guidance from him. However, I will not argue with the noble Lord at all about this. I accept that early identification of learning difficulties is essential. Screening, by definition, is about looking at a whole population using a particular identification tool. To go into the debate about screening, the advice that we have had is that the most effective way of early identification is not through a school population-basis screening. We have sought expert advice and this issue, I accept, is not going to go away. We are always interested in research, the next expert review and the next Ofsted review and we are always committed to listening and learning as we go forward. We have to live up to the commitments that we have made to the Rose report, so we need to get on with that, too. I accept all that.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I have not quite finished with this. The Rose report said, as the noble Baroness implied, that,
“blanket screening for dyslexia of all children on entry to school is questionable, not least because screening tests for this purpose are as yet unreliable”.
Can she confirm that the reason why he said that is that there is no agreement within what I would call the dyslexia community as to which of a series of tests is the best and most reliable? Could she give an undertaking that the Government will fund urgent research in order to develop a test that is reliable? I believe that they exist because they are used in certain places. Indeed, I am sorry that my ally, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is not here because he knows a great deal about where it is being done in a youth detention centre in Northern Ireland. It is not proving to be too expensive, as we were told on the last Bill, and I hope that the noble Baroness has noticed that I have reduced my interventions from three to two in anticipation of her claim that it would be very expensive, which is what she said the last time around. I shall pursue this question for as long as it is necessary. The Government have to put their shoulder to the wheel on this and get a reliable test in position. In the end, it will save money.
I do not suppose that the 4,000 new teachers due to come along will all arrive in one year, although it would be a good thing if they did. How long will they take to get into place? Is it intended to stop the process of training them when they have arrived? In that case, along with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I feel that that will be inadequate. It is a good start, but more than 4,000 will be needed in order to provide a significant presence in all our schools. My own view, as I expressed before, is that you do not have to have a diagnostic specialist in every school, but you need someone who can select those pupils who are most likely to need a diagnosis. A sufficient level of skill is required in every school to ensure that a child who is at risk of one of these conditions is referred to a more expensive expert who will be able to make the identification.
I hope that eventually we shall have a training module on every teacher training course to cover the rudiments of identification, but for the vast number of teachers already in service I hope that we shall have a corresponding inset course so that they, too, can become qualified. I shall consider with great care what has been said and I can promise to come back on Report with a modified version of the amendment, if only to get my ally the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on to the stage to deliver his expertise. I repeat my thanks to others who have contributed to the debate and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 113A withdrawn.
Clause 46 agreed.
House adjourned at 6.48 pm.