My Lords, I beg to move that the Children, Schools and Families Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill establishes what children and their families have a right to expect from our country’s schools system. For the first time we are committing to a series of specific guarantees for parents and pupils, and providing a means of redress if expectations are not met. It may be helpful for noble Lords if I give some concrete examples of the kinds of things that would come under these guarantees.
From September, every pupil in year seven and beyond will have a personal tutor who will know the pupil well, have an overview of his or her progress, and help them get access to further help. Also from September, all key stage 2 pupils who are below level 2, and not on course to make two levels of progress, will receive a reasonable offer of one-to-one tuition. All looked-after children are entitled to this guarantee. From September 2011, where a child is not on track to achieve level 2 by the end of key stage 1, the school will have to inform parents of what additional support it will provide, including one-to-one and small group tuition; and how they, as parents, can help their child.
Pupils and their parents will be able to hold schools and local authorities to account if they are not delivering on those or any other guarantees. For the small number of complaints that cannot be resolved at school level, parents and pupils will be able to take matters further. Complaints in maintained schools will be handled in line with the principles of the Local Government Ombudsman’s Parental Complaints Service; the Young People’s Learning Agency will be the route of redress for pupils in academies and their parents. The pupil and parent guarantees will come into operation nationally in September 2011, at the same time as the Parental Complaints Service.
It is only because we have achieved so much over the past decade that we are now in a position to make guarantees about the kind of provision children and their parents can expect. This Government came to power on the promise that education would be at the heart of our administration and our ambitions for the people of this country. We were very clear that driving up standards in schools and across the education system was the best way of giving young people a stake in the future.
Over the 13 years since then, I believe we have consistently maintained that focus, keeping that ambition in view despite the numerous other pressures and priorities of government. We have consistently acted to improve standards in education and to give children and young people the very best start in life. The result is that this country now has an education system of which we can be proud. Thanks to the hard work of teachers and others in our schools, we now have the highest ever standards of education. The Children’s Plan is delivering real change for children and their families in every part of the country, on a daily basis. Sure Start children’s centres are an established part of every local neighbourhood, providing parents with the advice and services they need. The school estate—both primary and secondary—is being refurbished and rebuilt following the biggest injection of capital investment for a generation.
These are all significant improvements of which we should be, and are, rightfully proud. This sustainable change has been brought about only through our consistent policy of investment and reform. We have a proud record of improving standards in our schools. Since 1997, every single school has benefited from increased capital investment. There are now 4,000 new, rebuilt or significantly refurbished schools. The average salary for primary and secondary school teachers has increased by more than £11,000 over the past 13 years. We now have more than 40,000 more teachers in schools compared with 1997, backed up by more than 20,000 support staff, whose training and hard work allow teachers to get on with their core activity.
This Bill will build on that achievement and help deliver a world-class 21st century schooling system that allows every child and young person, whatever their interests and abilities, to reach their full potential. Measures in the Bill encourage schools to work more closely in partnership with other schools and the wider community. The Bill allows for the introduction of a new school report card, enabling parents to make meaningful choices for their children’s futures. In addition, we will expect schools to consider the services and facilities they offer to their local communities. To support them in this, we are giving them greater flexibility in how they spend their budgets.
A new licence to practise for teachers will further drive up standards in the classroom, as well as helping to increase the status of the teaching workforce. This will create a new learning culture among staff in every school, and lead to improved teaching quality across the board. It will also have the equally valuable effect of demonstrating to parents that high-quality teaching standards are being maintained. We are bringing forward reforms to the school curriculum that will ensure children and young people are equipped with the skills and knowledge they, and their future employers, require. The Bill introduces the primary curriculum recommended by Sir Jim Rose, allowing schools greater flexibility to tailor teaching to the needs and interests of their children, while continuing to focus on basic literacy, numeracy and ICT. These reforms are in line with changes called for by teachers and other education professionals.
The Bill also puts personal, social, health and economic education on a statutory footing for the first time. I am sure that many of your Lordships will welcome this—many have already—recognising the important role that PSHE has to play in equipping young people with the knowledge, understanding and practical skills they need to live healthy, safe and fulfilled lives. I know that there has been a significant amount of misinformation and comment about the degree of discretion that faith schools will be allowed in the teaching of sex and relationships education. I can be absolutely clear that faith schools will not be able to opt out of providing sex and relationships education, and that they will have to deliver the programme of study for this subject in accordance with the principles set out in the Bill, like every other school. Those principles are very important.
The Bill contains measures for the registration and monitoring of home-educated children. Local authorities are required to take action where they believe that a child is not receiving a suitable education. However, they cannot fulfil their responsibilities if they do not know that a child in their area is being home educated, or where they have no means of establishing that the child is receiving an education. Registration and monitoring will not be onerous where home educators are doing a good job, but we want to give local authorities the tools they need to tackle the very small number of cases where the education provided is not satisfactory.
To support the implementation of the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the safeguarding of children, new provisions will be introduced to ensure effective information-sharing. We will also strengthen the evaluation of serious case reviews further to improve safeguarding arrangements. Part 2 of the Bill contains provisions to open up proceedings in the family courts in order to increase transparency while ensuring that the protection and welfare of children is maintained. We remain committed to ensuring the privacy of children and families involved in court proceedings but there is widespread recognition that the family justice system needs to become more accountable to the public it serves.
Through this Bill we are also introducing three small but very important changes that will significantly improve services and, therefore, life chances for vulnerable children. In future Ofsted school inspection will report explicitly on the provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Inspectors are already undergoing training in this area. Parents will be given a new right to appeal if their child’s statement is not amended during the annual review processes. This was a recommendation from Brian Lamb’s widely respected SEN inquiry which we believe will make a significant difference to parents. We are also ensuring that all children who are not in school but in alternative provision—whether on health grounds or for other reasons—receive full-time education. This extension of the current local authority duty will mean that some of our most vulnerable children always have access to full-time education, unless it is not in their best interests.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill is for the future of our country. It builds on improvements made over the past 13 years, underpinned by record levels of funding in our schools and children’s services. It builds on a decade of raising standards of pupil achievement, increased investment in buildings and the workforce, and the development of one of the most robust children’s safeguarding systems in the world. The provisions in this Bill are further proof of our steadfast commitment to give every child and every family the opportunities and support they need, both now and in years to come. I can tell by looking at the list of speakers that we are in for a tremendous debate on the principles of this Bill, so without further ado, I beg to move.
My Lords, it seems barely a moment since I stood up to greet the 262-clause Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which is now an Act. We are here presented with yet another Bill—this time a mere 51 clauses long. It seems that the Government, when they turn to the issue of education, simply cannot resist the urge to bombard the sector with more and more legislation. Year after year we go through more of these Bills and each time the issues become more disparate and the names longer. We have a new acronym here which does not roll as smoothly off the tongue as the ASCL Bill but will no doubt come into regular use as we progress through the various stages. From each of these Bills stem reams and reams of regulations, codes of practice and guidance. Does the Minister concede that the Government are making it incredibly difficult for teachers and head teachers to get on with their main priority, namely educating, because they are being swamped in bureaucracy?
As I mentioned in last Thursday’s debate in your Lordships’ House on teaching excellence, led by my noble friend Lady Shephard, the Department for Children, Schools and Families issues nearly 4,000 pages of guidance to schools every year. This new Bill will give teachers even more reading material to occupy their already busy timetables. We have had pages and pages of law and screeds of guidance and yet we are still in a position where 40 per cent of pupils leaving primary school are unable to read, write and add up properly. Figures from 2009 show that half of all pupils in this country did not get five good GCSEs, including English and Maths, and that every day 344 children are suspended from school for assaulting other children. Should the Government not resist the knee-jerk reaction to pass yet another Bill enshrining bureaucracy and targets and instead turn to the solutions which will really address the problems of poor standards in education and school reform?
Instead, we see a Bill where the first three clauses establish pupil-parent guarantees. We accept that the aspirations being framed here have good intentions at their heart. Who could object, for example, to a law stating that children should go to schools,
“where there is good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety”?
However, we on these Benches are unclear as to why it is necessary to enshrine these already existing entitlements in legislation. This is a legalistic and bureaucratic approach to the problem and does nothing to address the really important questions of how to ensure that pupils can go to a school where there is good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety.
There is a gaping hole in policy here which cannot be countered with a guarantee. In another place, Clause 1(8) was introduced to help shore up the fact that this clause would open up the flood gates for increased litigation against schools. We on these Benches would be grateful for this concession. It would be unthinkable for schools to be open to this new layer of litigation. What precise benefits are the Government hoping to gain from a clause which enshrines existing rights and is, thankfully, not legally enforceable?
Further bureaucracy can be seen in the clauses relating to home-school contracts. As noble Lords will be aware, we on these Benches have long called for home-school contracts to be strengthened. The Government, however, have decided that this should mean individual agreements—a decision which the Association of School and College Leaders has branded “impractical” because of the bureaucracy which,
“will consume a great deal of school resources”.
We welcome the principle that the Government are trying to demonstrate of taking parental views into account. However, we on these Benches feel that the clauses on parental satisfaction surveys and report cards miss the point. In the case of parental satisfaction surveys, can the Minister indicate what perceived costs to local authorities she envisages? Who will the evaluators be and what will that cost? How will outcomes be publicised, where will information be made available and how much will that cost? The parental satisfaction surveys have the potential to be useful but instead they create more bureaucracy with excessive planning, consultation and referral, proposing very little in the way of real action. Surely better ways of engaging with parents must be explored. The report cards may actually undermine the Government’s efforts and reduce accountability because it is unclear what specific factors make up the grade and what weighting will be given to each one. How can they be compared? The overall grade will reveal very little about the school. We on these Benches believe instead in reformed league tables and that we should publish as much factual and objective information as is available about a school. It should not be hidden under an overall grade.
I doubt I am alone when I say that my desk is stacked high with letters about this Bill, a large proportion of which are about Clause 26. Is the Minister surprised that this is the case? Clause 26 infringes the basic right of parents to decide what is in the best interests of their child. These parents have done no wrong and committed no crime, yet the law appears to suggest that children are inherently at a greater risk of danger if they are home-educated, that they are less safe with their own parents and so must be the subject of scrutiny by the state. Of course the current system has room for improvement but we believe that changes must be made sensibly and with parents’ involvement, not in a manner which would steamroller over the rights of parents to make decisions about what is in the interests of their own children.
In the previous Bill the Government showed their lack of trust in teachers and head teachers. In this Bill that they show they do not trust parents. We all want to ensure that vulnerable children are protected. There is a whole range of instruments already in place for that, but you cannot equip with one hand and take away with another. I have given a very negative picture of our views on this Bill so far. There are, of course, parts of the Bill to which we do not object. We do not object, for example, to the provisions whereby Ofsted inspections report on how well the needs of children with special educational needs are being met in mainstream schools, or the provision of a new right of appeal against an unamended SEN statement. We agree with the Government that it is important to ensure that children with special educational requirements have their needs met in mainstream schools, if those are the most appropriate places for them to be. However, does the Minister accept that if there are complex needs which are not being met, it may be more suitable to place those children with SEN in a special school which may be better equipped and have staff better qualified to meet those requirements? If she agrees with that, how does it marry up with her Government who have reduced the number of places in special schools by 8,000?
Nevertheless, there is no hiding from it. On the whole, we on these Benches believe that this is a very bad Bill indeed which is indicative of a Government grasping at straws. We see increased central prescription, regulation, bureaucracy, paperwork and time spent out of the classroom on administration. It offers no clarity but ambiguity for all those involved, a legal minefield, and is ever more intrusive in the lives of law-abiding citizens. All of this is at the expense of really engaging with the issue of poor standards and school reform. We just cannot go on like this.
In contrast, we on these Benches would advocate constructive change—real and effective change at the forefront of the education sector. Where the Government would simply pile up guarantees, agreements and surveys on pieces of paper, we will take action. We will raise the bar for teacher recruitment and training and we will give teachers the tools and the powers they need to keep order in their classrooms. We will deliver more robust examinations and a more rigorous curriculum.
We will create a new generation of independently run state schools, end wastage and shift spending to a national per-pupil funding formula. Instead of instigating a “licence to practise” for teachers, which will only increase bureaucracy and demonstrates a remarkable lack of trust in the professionalism of the teaching profession, we will take effective action. We hold our teachers in very high esteem; we trust our teachers and we acknowledge the extremely high quality of their work and the commitment that they put into educating our children. The education of our children is paramount to the future of our nation. That is why we will build on this and raise the bar for entry into taxpayer-funded training to ensure that the best graduates become teachers. We will expand successful programmes such as Teach First. We will open up the flexibility of teachers’ pay so that heads will be free to pay good teachers according to their merits. We want to ensure that the teaching profession is accorded with the respect and prestige it deserves, and we will do this by ensuring better teacher recruitment and better teacher training.
Instead of the six areas of learning introduced in Clause 10, which bring a total of 84 detailed objectives in English alone, we will simplify the national curriculum to focus on core knowledge and ensure that the objectives become more challenging. We will replace national tests in the second year of primary school with a simple reading test to ensure that every parent knows their child is being taught how to read properly. We will publish detailed information about the exams which pupils are entered into and the results they achieve. We believe in robust examinations and an academically rigorous curriculum. We know, however, that the way to achieve this is not through choking prescription and centralised control.
Schools are desperate for change that releases them from prescription and enables them to have freedom. This change should come about through increased choice. We will make it easier for educational charities, groups of parents and teachers, co-operatives and others to start new academies. We will introduce a per capita funding regime and a pupil premium to direct extra funding towards the poorest pupils, whereby pupils and parents can vote with their feet. We will also give every school the right to apply to become an academy; and academies themselves will have their crucial freedoms restored.
I have studied this Bill carefully. I have thought over the provisions. I have done my research. This is a largely bad Bill—a Bill for headlines and not substance. I am afraid that the only conclusion I can come to is that we just cannot go on like this. It is time for change.
My Lords, I was going to begin by saying: “Whatever the fate of the Bill, with the uncertainty of an election well in our sights,”—but the speeches so far have demonstrated that an election is well in our sights, with the issues being well set out by both sides. However, the Bill is an opportunity to debate and test a mix of provisions which contain issues of serious principle whereby whoever form the next Government will have in their heads some of the concepts that we need to look to in the future.
I, too, welcome the focus on children with special needs and those excluded from school. The PSHE provisions that will help children to have a greater understanding of the social and health issues that they must contend with are also most welcome and have been sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and others over the years. I am only sorry that she is not here this evening to speak to them. I also welcome the right for children to receive the sex education appropriate to their needs, having listened in my time to hundreds of children on Childline who were totally confused as to what sex is about—with all the dangers that that brings. I only hope that alongside this focus on education we can remember that “education, education, education” works only if we remember “welfare, welfare, welfare”. Unless children have their welfare cared for and unless they feel safe and understood, their learning is jeopardised.
Therefore, I want talk on an issue that I know something about—not particularly education, but the aspects in the Bill that touch on social work related to the family justice system. We all know that at the moment children’s social work is at a seriously challenged pivot and that workers are under considerable stress. Local authorities fear that that the position will become more difficult. We feel the effects in the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service, in which I declare an interest as its chair.
I therefore hope that, while we look at the needs of teachers and their licence to practise, as much thought, by whichever party is in power, will be given to the needs of social workers. I know that the Government have done much through the taskforce to take that forward. Therefore, I will not be touching on education at this Second Reading, but on issues relating to the children before the court and the local safeguarding and children’s boards.
The balance between the exchange of information to keep children safe and the respect for the confidentiality of the child and their family is difficult. We get it wrong at our peril. Having been the chair of a similar board in my time and involved in safeguarding for most of my professional life, I am more than aware of the need for appropriate information sharing to keep children safe. But we can go too far. Children feel that, on the whole, their lives become an open book in which they feel they are not respected and are disfranchised. I shall tell the House of a time when I was speaking to a room of judges and policemen. I said: “Would anyone like to get up and tell me about their last sexual experiences?”. I have never seen heads go down quite so quickly, but we expect children, when we ask them, to disclose what is happening to them on a whole range of issues.
That is why I have anxieties also about the so-called opening up of the family courts. These provisions could make the difficult job of CAFCASS officers, who must win the confidence of children, even more difficult. Let me put this in context. Since the death of Baby Peter and the response of some local authorities which took more children through the family court system, CAFCASS saw nearly a 50 per cent increase in care applications—I repeat, a 50 per cent increase. During 2009-10, demand has continued to remain high. In June 2009, we experienced the highest ever care demand level since CAFCASS began keeping records. At the same time, demand has continued to rise for private law cases, mainly of course in the context of divorce—possibly reflecting the stress and breakdown of family life during the recession.
CAFCASS has a core responsibility to represent the best interests of children and young people by ensuring that their voices are heard and their feelings expressed in all family proceedings. We therefore play a role in upholding Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that,
“the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body”.
We are aware that in some circumstances the facts of the cases we work with may involve the balancing of competing rights. We are also aware that the proposed legislation in the Bill under consideration involves both the right of the media to report in the public interest and the right of children and families to privacy. However, it is absolutely vital that CAFCASS practitioners are able to engage effectively with young people in order to ascertain their wishes and feelings and to communicate these to the court, along with the CAFCASS analysis and recommendations about how the court might best promote their welfare. When undertaking casework, especially involving older children and young people, it is vital to establish open dialogue. This work requires skill, care and confidence, and it takes time to complete.
The anxiety about the loss of confidentiality will complicate this already complex process. In 2006, we set up a young people’s board, all of whose members had experience of the courts system-young people to advise us. These young people have indicated that they hope the media would not sensationalise family proceedings in the manner prevalent in the popular press. They are fearful; after what has happened this week in the press in terms of disclosures, I suspect they will be even more fearful.
Another concern is that despite the planned anonymisation of media reports, the identity of families involved in proceedings could still be apparent should the reporter publish specific incidents or case details. This would be of significant concern in close-knit and specific communities. The young people have also identified that the internet, in particular the comment sections of newspaper websites, are likely to be used for additional speculation, comment and opinions about case details that have been reported.
Many young people have already voiced the concern that they do not want their wishes and feelings to be communicated to the court as they fear it may upset their parents or make them angry. Other organisations within the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children and 11 Million endorse the view that provisions may limit the information children choose to share. Have the Government evaluated any other methods of improving transparency, such as pilot initiatives to anonymise family court judgments, which would not subject already vulnerable children to a range of further risks? There could be court open days, and family courts inspectorates with the power to review and report on consistency within the family courts. I am sure there are many other ideas.
The issues around the changing of the treatment of sensitive personal information and further opening of the family courts should be specifically considered by Parliament. Changes already made to this part of the Bill may provide only weak protection, and alongside Resolution, an association of more than 5,500 lawyers, I query whether the affirmative resolution procedure is enough.
When taking part in previous legislation going through this House, I have been impressed by the way the Government have adopted and protected the principle that the welfare of children should be paramount. It is what makes them enjoy life; it is what enables them to learn. However, if we listen to the children and young people involved in the research carried out by the University of Oxford for the Children’s Commissioner for England, or to the CAFCASS children’s board—young people with direct experience of these issues—or to how children tell Childline about their anxiety concerning their privacy, do the Government still hold that principle central to their Every Child Matters agenda, or have they gone by expediency to a new approach, something called transparency but which is really an unconsidered opening to the media? I ask the Minister for children to reinforce that children are central and that their privacy will be respected within the context of the courts.
My Lords, as this is International Women’s Day, I wonder whether I have been set up for the odd one out round on “Have I Got News for You”: three are women, but only the other one is wearing a dress.
I found what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said to be very moving, focusing on the heart of what this measure is about and putting children first, so I apologise that I will go back more to address what was said by the Minister and her opposition counterpart.
I approach this debate with both a professional and a personal interest. I have a professional interest because of the church’s strong commitment to and involvement in primary and secondary education, in both church and local authority schools. In the course of my ministry, I encourage vocations to teaching as much as to the priesthood. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, if you want to affect the lives of people in the future, the highest vocation, if there is one, is to teach. I have a personal interest because I have sons-in-law who have done just that; they have responded to that call and taken up the teaching profession. Last week I was delighted to hear that one of them had been given a promotion to a senior management position in his school, but my delight became qualified as I read the measure with all its promises of added regulations, worthy though they are in intent. Indeed, my son-in-law and I had a conversation several weeks ago when he was deliberating with himself whether to stay simply as a teacher or to seek to move up. He is outstanding at his job—mind you, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
I remember a distinguished head teacher telling an astonished audience that his school had only one rule. O the joy! If that could at least be an aspiration, it would help us to avoid teaching by numbers, which is the way we seem to be going. There is a real danger of overregulation destroying the inspiration and enthusiasm essential to good teaching, not least in deterring people from entering the profession itself and then in frightening people who have the holistic education of children at heart from progressing through to management. In many of our schools, we are struggling to find teachers who will take up headships. I am not thinking particularly of church schools; small schools, where head teachers carry a wider brief, are especially vulnerable, as are schools in our inner urban areas.
I fear for teachers when I read in the Bill of personalised home-school agreements, which are to be reviewed annually—actually, it says “at least” annually. It also says:
“Consultation with the parent must form part of any review”,
otherwise, presumably, the parent will go into detention. Mention has been made in another place of the complexity of dealing with parents who are separated from each other. I fear for teachers and for schools and their ethos in the face of parent satisfaction surveys if dominated by parents from hell, as they are called in the profession.
The intention to create and build a partnership between school and home is laudable. It was laudable in 1871, when the headmistress of Brampton New National Schools wrote to parents:
“You must remember that you have not done all that is required by merely gaining admission for your child into our school. Do not suppose that its education is to be left entirely to the care of the master or mistress, and that you are to do nothing. Unless you labour together with them for your child’s welfare, disappointment to all parties will be the result”.
The quotation comes from an article in last Saturday’s Yorkshire Post by the writer and former schools inspector Gervase Phinn. However, I do not believe that you can legislate for this.
Interestingly, the permission for schools to use designated funds in the community will bear much more fruit in bringing parents on board in sharing in the educational well-being of their children. Schools are a natural focus for our communities and, as they expand into them, particularly as centres for lifelong learning, adults and children will encourage each other in their voyage of discovery and families and communities will come together. I welcome this invitation for entrepreneurial initiative in cohesion building.
I am nervous about plans to license teachers. I license clergy, readers and lay workers. Often the licence says, “at my pleasure”. That captures the imagination. What does it mean when somebody has a licence at my pleasure? It means that they fear that, with a flick of my fingers, I can dismiss them from their post. The Government have urged the church to improve its employment terms for clergy. Now I find that, as we are going along the road of improvement, the Government are meeting us going back the other way.
We have two potentially controversial issues in the Bill and I will address them briefly, although they are not controversial as far as the Church of England is concerned. The first is PSHE and sex education within it. We are completely supportive of compulsory PSHE for all pupils at all stages of their school career. We agree that it should be appropriate to their age and stage of development: it should be child-centred. Naturally, we expect that the content of the PSHE and sex education will accord with the religious traditions and teaching of the school if it is aided or controlled. Most important, we want young people to develop the knowledge and understanding that they need to make informed choices on difficult issues in the context of human relationships in a complex world. We hope that schools will create the climate and the confidence required to minimise the desire of parents to withdraw their children from sex education programmes. We are therefore happy to accept the proposals in the Bill for PSHE and sex education, provided that they are properly resourced.
I will just briefly mention the concern about the impact on religious education of the Rose review. The curriculum model developed in the report makes no mention of RE. Perhaps, because of its unchanged statutory position, it is judged to need no comment, but I would be grateful if the Minister would enlighten me. Personally, I would prefer RE to come within the planning of the curriculum advocated elsewhere by the review.
The second potentially controversial issue is home education. We respect the right of parents to opt for home education but consider that this right should be exercised without unnecessary interference from external bodies such as local authorities. The important word is “unnecessary”. It would be negligent if there was no effective supervision. We hope that the relevant agencies can work together to provide a light-touch approach to regulation.
In summary, I believe that, while the Bill is not overly controversial, too much of the legislation is already covered by existing measures. I suggest that we also remove those aspects of the Bill that are simply aspirational, some of which I have mentioned; I believe that they would have little impact on raising education standards. Also, if we get rid of the unnecessary parts of the Bill, my son-in-law will not all too quickly have a hairstyle like mine.
My Lords, this Bill deserves a warm welcome—as does the White Paper on which it was based, which was welcomed at the time. Many clauses embrace and improve the statutory framework within which LEAs and schools operate and which, when implemented, will lead to better education for the children of this country. All my comments relate to Part 1 of the Bill rather than Part 2, on which I have too little expertise to comment.
I am delighted that Sir Jim Rose's excellent report on the primary curriculum is reflected in the Bill, with appropriate provisions for reform. I am equally pleased that the Macdonald review’s recommendations on personal, social, health and economic education are provided for, making it a foundation subject at key stages 3 and 4, as well as an area of learning at key stages 1 and 2 in primary schools. However, much of what I will say later focuses on a concession made in another place that in my view damages these commitments.
The Bill's introduction of a registration scheme for home education, following Graham Badman’s report, and the clauses dealing with alternative provision following Alan Steer’s report, also seem eminently sensible, if a little overdue. Lastly, it provides for special educational needs courses, recommended in the report of Brian Lamb of the RNID. I congratulate the Government on setting up this series of independent inquiries by eminent experts, on accepting the arguments for reform and on bringing forward a Bill to implement them. It is a useful model for future legislation, perhaps not just in the education sector. I am surprised by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, given that so much of what lies behind the Bill comes from independent experts who have studied many of the issues in great depth.
Finally in welcoming the Bill, I strongly support the clauses that seek to increase the involvement of parents. Again, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that I am sure she would agree that if the poor standards that she wants to see addressed are to be addressed, we must involve parents more. A successful educational system must take parents seriously, work in partnership with them and engage them in all sorts of ways. Entitlements for pupils and parents are a start, but pupil guarantees and parent guarantees with mandatory force, applying to head teachers, governors, LEAs and other providers, are a huge and important step towards taking parents seriously and taking further what has already happened.
I also welcome the decision in Clause 4 to allow for some personalisation of home-school agreements, although I am perplexed about how this will work in practice without creating enormous amounts of extra work for teachers. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on this when she winds up. Lastly, the surveys seeking parents' views and testing their levels of satisfaction are also to be welcomed. It is important that they should be undertaken with a high level of professionalism if they are going to be both valid and reliable, and the response rates will need to be high. I welcome the decision to enforce the publication of the results of these surveys, and to seek plans from local authorities to deal with any dissatisfaction expressed in them. It is a valuable way of testing parents’ views, giving them a say and then getting a proper response from the LEAs and others to what they have said.
I turn now to the issue of PSHE, which includes sex and relationship education, becoming a mandatory subject, as set out in Clause 11. I was very glad to hear the right reverend Prelate supporting these provisions. As a parent and a grandparent, as well as someone with a long-standing interest in children and young people and their education, I believe that this is a huge step forward. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said, many organisations have called for this for many years, as have teachers, parents and young people themselves. There is now substantial research literature which demonstrates the value of teaching in these areas.
There is also a great deal of research evidence on the value of sex and relationship education. The pressures on young people through misleading messages about sex in the media have undoubtedly worsened. They need to learn how to resist unwanted advances, how to go for help when they need it, and who to talk to. They need to be clear about what is and is not appropriate behaviour and to be encouraged to be critical of those who overstep the boundaries. Sexually transmitted infections have become a greater risk; and there are still far too many teenage pregnancies, as I am sure noble Lords will agree. Both are reduced, according to the research, by good teaching in sex and relationship education.
The Bill introduces compulsory teaching of SRE that is accurate, balanced, appropriate to the age, religion and cultural backgrounds of pupils, and that is done in ways that provide equality, encourage acceptance of diversity, and emphasise rights and responsibilities. All these were all examined in the pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Its report described the provision and the removal of the parental right to withdraw children over the age of 15 as,
“significant human rights enhancing measures”,
and as having a,
“foundation in human rights law”.
Its report also said that the Bill does not prevent faith schools from teaching the tenets of their faith as long as they do not present those views as the only valid ones and that they promote equality and diversity in the way that they teach.
Why, then, did the Government amend the Bill so that, while religious schools are still required to teach SRE, they may teach it in ways that reflect the religious character of the school? I fear that this is an opt-out clause which will in practice exempt them from having to teach SRE in the way that all other maintained schools must teach it. The Bill is now drafted in such a way that the right of religious schools to teach SRE in ways that reflect their religion overrides the human rights-based principles that the Bill had otherwise embraced.
The real danger is that faith schools will teach the subject in a narrower and more subjective way. For example, contraception, safe sex or different sexualities may not be addressed in an accurate and open-minded way. As a result, some children will not benefit from the comprehensive and objective teaching that others will get.
I am sorry not to be able to support the Government wholeheartedly in all aspects of the Bill, as I should like to have done. It seems to me that the Government had it right when they introduced the Bill in another place, and that this amendment has damaged what is an otherwise thoughtful and progressive measure. I anticipate that the Minister may argue that the amendment merely clarifies the position of religious schools. I do not think that is a legitimate interpretation, because the amendment clearly overrides what has gone before and the specifications about reflecting a range of perspectives, encouraging the acceptance of diversity and so on.
I should perhaps end by apologising to the House for going into such detail at Second Reading. I do so only because I fear that time will run out because of the election and that the Bill will not proceed to Committee; but the Government still have time to think again.
My Lords, I am extremely pleased to follow the noble Baroness, because I do not intend to speak on PSHE, although I am confident that the next speaker will discuss the subject. I regard this question as far above my pay grade. My daughter is a gynaecologist. I spent far too many years in another place discussing this ad infinitum. I have a common-sense view and I am unable to embrace the emotion that so many feel, so my predecessor and my successor will no doubt make up for my inadequacies.
I start in a positive mode. Indeed, one of the reasons why I so enjoy being in this place is that, for the most part, I am able to participate in debates in which I feel a great positive sense. I am afraid that I will not be able to fulfil that pleasurable experience in most of my remarks today, because essentially I think that the Bill is monstrously bureaucratic and irrelevant. However, I can start being positive, which I want to do, by saying that I share the welcome for the improved approach to special educational needs. This is an important subject. Few who have been a constituency Member of Parliament—and there are fewer here this evening than is often the case in this place—can fail to be aware of the acute pressures on parents of children with special educational needs or physical disabilities. All too frequently, they have to fight every inch of the way to attain the educational support that their children so desperately need.
One of my first experiences in my early 20s, when I worked for the Child Poverty Action Group, was giving evidence to the Court inquiry, led by that great paediatrician. His report, with the Committee on Child Health Services, was called Fit for the Future and was published in 1976, which just shows how old we all are. I went around many of those long-stay subnormality hospitals and saw the way in which children, because of a disability, were deprived of any sensible education or an education such that people in the mainstream would receive, provided by the education authorities. Over the years, there has been a great transformation in services for children with special educational needs. However, for some parents, the end of those appalling long-stay hospitals has not solved their problem. There is still a real need for services for which you do not have to fight. I am among those who have a real reservation about the presumption that children with special educational needs are better educated in the mainstream. My experience, both professionally and as a Member of Parliament, has been that many special schools can enable young people with special needs and vulnerability to become confident young people and to do much better. However, I welcome the new development.
The same cannot be said of the sections on home education, which seem to have maximised ill will. Even the Select Committee commented on how poorly the Government had handled it. Many of us have been bombarded with mail from people involved in home education—50,000 families who, for the most part, were educating their children at home because they were so angry with what the local authorities provided. Parent surveys are unlikely to be to be enormously helpful. Parents educating their children at home for the most part can tell the Government all too clearly what their worries are. Personally, I have reservations about home education as a course of action, but I do not for a moment challenge the passionate commitment of those who have pursued that course. This seems to be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There seems to be maximum alienation, especially when the Government say that this is about supporting people involved in home education when it is blatantly obvious that they are getting no more financial or practical support in any way. There also seems to be an ambiguity as to whether the Government are really talking about safeguarding children or about the quality of education.
I will move on quickly from Clause 26. The Government claimed that “education, education, education” would be their mantra, so we are in a fairly worrying place, given that this is their ninth piece of legislation in 13 years. The Minister described the inputs. A Prime Minister for whom I worked, Mrs Thatcher, was always saying, “You should look at the outputs, not the inputs”. Certainly in this regard outputs seem to be a long way from the world-class education that the Government proclaim. The Minister should think again. If the inputs are so good, why are the outputs so bad? Why do less than half of all pupils leave school with five or more GCSEs at A* star to C, including maths and English? That is an appalling reproach.
Many years ago, I used to work in a child guidance clinic in Brixton and Peckham. The one passport to the future was being literate and numerate. I used to work with many West Indian parents. Characteristically, the school would buy steel drums because it had many West Indian children—of all the patronising steps to take, although it was well meant. The parents used to say to me, “Mrs Bottomley, we know that we want our children to read and write, know their tables and be able to sing ‘God save the Queen’”. They were not great aspirations, but that was then the mismatch between what was being provided and what was wished for by parents, without massive, costly, bureaucratic parent surveys.
The challenge faces us all. Levels of abuse and violence in schools remain unacceptably high. More than 1,000 pupils every day are suspended or expelled for physical assaults, verbal abuse and threatening behaviour on both pupils and teachers. I hope that the Government will look seriously at the provision of PRUs. The difficulty that heads have in excluding pupils, which most feel has been increased since the Government have been in power, needs to be considered. Time and again, parents complain that children are unable to study and work because of the disruptive effects of other pupils. Of course, we know that those are the pupils most likely to cause delinquency and crime and to have all sorts of behavioural problems.
Victor Hugo said:
“He who opens a school door, closes a prison”.
The cost of jailing a young offender is estimated to amount to £100,000 a year. The young people whom we are talking about are ill prepared for this complex, information-led society. They are a reproach to us all. We must find a balance as to how to educate them within our maintained system.
The recent CPS report suggested that more than one in five 14 year-old boys has a reading age of nine or less. Where are those inputs going? It suggested that 63 per cent of white working-class boys and 54 per cent of black working-class boys are unable to read and write properly at 14. Youngsters from disadvantaged homes are five times more likely to fail to get five good GCSE grades than those from affluent backgrounds. That is not good enough and I do not believe that the contents of the Bill do anything to tackle those issues.
It may be ironic that this, International Women’s Day, is a time when we can all reflect that girls are faring very much better than boys at school. In 2009, the figures for key stage 2—that is, seven to 11—show that girls outperform boys in most subjects. Indeed, they do so in all subjects except mathematics, and that is by only one percentage point. I do not believe that the measures in the Bill will do anything to tackle the cycle of deprivation that all of us recognise has been so critical in disadvantage and difficulty.
Many years ago, when the noble Baroness was working for the Inner London Education Authority and I was working for Professor Sir Michael Rutter at the Maudsley, a tremendous report was written, entitled Fifteen Thousand Hours. That was a most fascinating comparison, published in 1979, of 12 inner London comprehensives. My noble colleagues will not be surprised that the first response from the ILEA was that no one should identify the schools, because then all the parents would want their children to go to the good schools. There was a great battle about that. At that time, even taking IQ and parental factors into account, there were huge disparities between the 12 schools in pupil behaviour. The brightest children at the worst school were doing worse than the less able children at the best schools.
The key factors in Sir Michael’s work were very simple and very interesting. I commend Fifteen Thousand Hours to the Government—and to the Opposition, in full hope that they will be able to act on it before the year is out. The factors were: the quantity of student artwork on display, the number of active roles and responsibilities given to pupils, pupils and teachers engaging together in extracurricular activities, energetic lessons where time wasting is minimised and where high performance is expected from the outset, regular and consistent homework, high grading standards, students receiving immediate and positive reactions to performance and the use of punishment associated with poor behaviour and attendance. It takes a lot to convince me that we have moved much further forward in the intervening years.
I want to say a little about some of the other measures in the Bill. In my opinion, the pupil and parent guarantees are an irrelevant gimmick, which will result in absolute misery. The idea, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, that those will be personalised for each child and each parent is ludicrous. That is creating unrealistic expectations. Already, nearly half the parents across the country are disappointed with the secondary school that their child is going to. Those parents and pupil guarantees—guarantees, no less—create artificial expectations that will lead to disenchantment, alienation, rage and frustration on the part of the right reverend Prelate’s son-in-law, who will say: “Those people at Westminster have really joined the funny farm altogether now and have no idea what it is like for me at the front line”. Accompanying the pupil and parent guarantees is a 79-page document with 407 numbered paragraphs. That is ridiculous. We want good teachers delivering education to the children of this country.
I support home-school contracts, but I entirely agree with the view of the shadow Secretary of State that the time to sign the home-school contract is when the child is being admitted to the school. Any parent knows that, thereafter, you scarcely read the bits of paper. It is like marriage and a few other things. At the moment of signing, you take it very seriously and look at what is being expected of you. To take it further than that is ludicrous.
I know that noble Lords have already been generous to me about time, but I really wanted to contrast Sir Jim Rose’s report with the 1967 Plowden report on children and their primary schools. We must recognise the degree to which this is a wasted opportunity. The Government should have considered the way in which the Plowden report was approached, the number of people involved and the degree to which it set the compass for primary schools for many years ahead.
The school report card is another gimmick; it is an initiative that I cannot see delivering anything approaching the results promised for it. The national curriculum and the league tables, which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, introduced, to me were an important step in improving education. When, many thousands of years ago, my children were young and you went to a secondary school and asked about exam results, you would have your head fiercely bitten off. You were told that asking about exam results was imposing middle-class values, that that is not what education is about and that you were not entitled to know the exam results. Many of us of that generation, desperately seeking to keep our children in maintained schools in London, will have had a similar experience. So the league tables and the national curriculum had a part to play, but I think that we are all agreed that it is time to move on. The A* to C preoccupation means an excessive focus on the C to D pupils, but what about getting the B pupils to A*? Because they are not measured, they do not have the same recognition. There is more to do about how you report back to parents. The school report cards will be opaque and inadequate. Children want far more information.
I wish that I could speak at great length on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on media reporting in family court proceedings. This is a critically important subject, to which all of us should give a great deal of attention. Children who have been traumatised and who have had their privacy invaded and destroyed because of the appalling circumstances in which they live should not have this experience compounded by the process in the family court. I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will speak about this at great length.
Two weeks ago, there was a debate on teaching excellence led by my noble friend Lady Shephard. Many spoke about brilliant teachers. The noble Lords, Lord Parekh and Lord Puttnam, talked about Sir Andrew Motion, who said that when his English teacher, Mr Way, started teaching,
“it was as though he walked into my head and turned all the lights on”.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said much about the degree to which the Government do not trust teachers any more and that all is red tape and regulation. Above all, if we want to transform education, we need teachers who are committed. The right reverend Prelate’s son-in-law must stay. I am afraid that this Bill will do nothing to make that better.
My Lords, I declare several relevant interests, first as a parent with two children still at school, also as a school governor of a school with a religious character, and as a foundation governor of a maintained school. Professionally, I have also taught, both in the voluntary aided sector and the state sector, working with both mainstream children and with children with special needs. In parenthesis, perhaps I may say how I strongly I agree with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, about children with special needs. I hold a chair at Liverpool John Moores University. The Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship, which I founded, runs a citizenship award scheme in 1,000 schools in the north-west of England. I am also patron of the National Association of Child Contact Centres.
Before turning to the education provisions in the Bill, which will form the main part of my remarks, I express a general anxiety about the lack of scrutiny which this Bill received in another place and the danger that a truncated process in your Lordships’ House may well lead to a defective and flawed piece of legislation reaching the statute book. If it cannot be given adequate time for proper consideration before a general election, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the Government should not expect to see the Bill glide effortlessly on to the statute book. The Secretary of State, Mr Ed Balls, has said that he hopes this Bill will enable Britain to achieve its ambition of creating a world-class education system, a statement reiterated by the Minister today. Mr Balls has argued for,
“a … guaranteed extra catch-up support for every child who falls behind, more powers for parents, a boost to the status of the teaching profession”.—[Official Report, Commons,11/1/10; col. 425.]
If that philosophical approach were made manifest in every provision of the Bill, it would be hard to quarrel with its provisions. As currently drafted, however, the Bill errs on the side of bureaucratic centralised interference in education, eroding both the rights of parents and the status of teachers. This is a great pity because under the stewardship of earlier education Ministers, most notably the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, the Government did much that was positive, particularly through the creation of the academies.
I cannot believe that the cocktail of additional, stultifying bureaucratic provisions, pupil and parent guarantees, home-school agreements, parental surveys, school improvement partners and draconian regulation for home education, all of which have been alluded to in the debate so far, will do more than generate more paperwork and headaches for teachers and parents alike. Every teacher I know feels ground down by a calculating and target-led approach which would do justice to Thomas Gradgrind. We over-examine, over-assess and over-centralise. The professionalism of teachers has been compromised and their ability to innovate has been submerged in an unending tide of bureaucratic control.
It would be more helpful if, instead of costly legislation, the Government were more focused on the size, for instance, of primary schools. Figures today reveal that 460,000 of those under 11—one in eight of children—are in classes of more than 30 and 210 teachers lead classes of more than 41. In so many respects, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone, has said, this is a missed opportunities Bill. It is a great pity that the Government did not try to build consensus with the Official Opposition. It strikes me that one of the best pieces of legislation in the 20th century was the Education Act 1944, which was agreed by both sides. RA Butler was Secretary of State at the time and Chuter Ede, a Labour Member, was his PPS. That was one of the great pieces of legislation, enabling vast numbers of people, including people like myself from relatively underprivileged backgrounds, to have the opportunity of going on into higher education. It was agreed through consensus. This Bill, by contrast, is being driven through with an ideological determination.
I am certain that if there were proper debate around, for instance, the excellent proposals put forward by Mr Michael Gove on Swedish-style free schools and his welcome remarks expressed as recently as Saturday last about creating a new-look curriculum based on consultation with some of the finest minds in the country and especially his ideas about the teaching of history, modern languages and science, we would doubtless find much common ground. The Royal Society of Chemistry has described the science syllabus as “catastrophic”. Surely we should take note and do something about it.
Too many of our schools are far too big. Children disappear into anonymous situations where their childhood is crushed and their potential remains unfulfilled. How much better it would be if our primary schools emulated the preparatory schools of the independent sector and the age of transfer was 13 rather than 11. This would not only allow the immediate reduction in size of too many vast schools but would preserve the innocence of children, allowing them to mature at a better pace. The years 11 to 13 are two of the most productive and fertile years for learning but too frequently youngsters transferring at 11 lose their way in an environment that can become unfriendly and hostile.
For reasons I will detail in a moment, I hope this Bill will be shelved and that we will wait for something that will free schools, respect parents and honour the professionalism of teachers. Before doing so, let me echo a specific concern about the proposals to release sensitive information about young people in the family court, a point raised by my noble friend Lady Howarth of Breckland. Sue Berelowitz, deputy Children's commissioner for England, was right to say:
“If these children and young people's concerns fail to be addressed in the Bill, we could be faced with a situation where they are unwilling to speak out during family court proceedings and this could result in their best interests not being met”.
I hope the Minister will respond to that and to the Law Society’s point that the current proposals should be deferred.
Let me turn to the main burden of my remarks, the effect of this new legislation on schools. First, I want to register, as others have done, the strongest possible objection to Clause 26, which seeks to change the way that parents who educate their children at home are to be regulated. The estimated cost of the implementation of this is about £20 million, about £1,000 per home-educated child. This money could be far better spent in other areas of education than in another layer of inspection. Twenty-two per cent of children nationally enjoy private maths tuition, 43 per cent in London. Are they to be legislated for next? Do we not need to ask why parents feel the need to use private tutors or home-educate, or why more than half a million parents opt for the independent sector, or why Cabinet Ministers and political leaders are among the millions who rightly choose faith schools? We should celebrate the diversity of this position and learn from it, not seek to crush it.
I was particularly struck by a letter I received about the home-education provision from Professor and Mrs Bruce Stafford, who said that,
“this Bill replaces our right to educate ‘otherwise’ with a licensing scheme and in so doing removes our right to privacy and the presumption of innocence”.
Having looked at the arguments, it is hard for me not to conclude that the Badman review on which the relevant clauses in the Bill are based was poorly conducted. Fair and reasonable legislation cannot emerge from a flawed evidential review. There are already laws in place to protect a child where there is a suspicion that children are at risk of harm or that insufficient education is taking place. The Bill’s proposals are opposed by the majority of home educators. Of the respondents to the proposal, 4,497 out of 4,833—that is 93 per cent—thought that the proposals did not strike the right balance; 3,281 respondents out of 3,776—that is 87 per cent—disagreed with the proposals for registration and monitoring. Given the Secretary of State’s own criterion of giving power to parents, home-educating parents would judge the Bill to be a failure.
Concerns have also been expressed by parents about the scope of the Government’s proposals for PSHE. This is my second major concern about the Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lady Howarth, to whom I am grateful for the curtain raiser in her remarks a little earlier, that young people need to have an understanding of sex in relationships, but many parents are anxious that their children should not lose their innocence too young and that teaching about sexual relationships should not seek to eliminate the role and the wishes of parents—a point made by the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. Loving, long-term relationships, particularly the blessing of a durable marriage and the gift of children, should not be seen as a redundant concept.
At the moment, sex education is taught in a way that provides scope for considerable parental influence on two bases. The first basis is that the curriculum is devolved to schools and determined on a school-by-school basis by governors in consultation with parents. This arrangement means that this particularly delicate subject is taught in line with the ethos of the school that is chosen by parents and that there is scope for parental involvement in determining the curriculum to a degree that would not be possible were it in the national curriculum. Secondly, if parents find themselves in a minority and unable to shape the curriculum as they wish, with the result that the child is to be taught in a way to which they object, they can currently exercise their right to withdraw their child from sex education lessons.
The Bill seeks to take away powers from schools and parents by placing sex education and relationship education—SRE—on to the national curriculum and removing the parental right to withdraw children for the last year at school. How does that sit alongside the rights of parents—a point which the Minister restated today? This trend towards centralisation is confirmed very eloquently by a timely legal opinion from the eminent employment and human rights QC, John Bowers. It states:
“In essence at present the SRE policy and resulting curriculum is not determined centrally by the National Curriculum but on a school by school basis by parents and governors. The Bill therefore represents a radical appropriation of power by central government, enabling them to dictate teaching on a matter over which many parents have strongly held moral or religious convictions. The Bill would further erode parental influence in an area which many parents would assert is a matter for the family rather than for schools”.
This erosion of the rights of parents should be resisted. First, government rhetoric, certainly during the era of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has quite properly gone very much in the direction of devolving more powers to schools and enhancing parental choice. In the midst of this enlightened trend, the centralising clauses are entirely inappropriate. Secondly, research demonstrates very clearly that SRE works best when parents are more involved. If we are to respond effectively to the evidence base, we should increase not decrease the role of parents in SRE. Decreasing the scope for parental influence is precisely what the Bill would do.
The proposed changes to the right of parents to withdraw their children from such lessons are entirely contrary to the spirit of Protocol 2 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which states that,
“the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”.
Many parents are particularly outraged at this proposal, and at the other main innovation in the Bill, that henceforth primary schools must teach SRE to children from the age of five. This is causing considerable public hostility. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents to the Government’s own consultation said that they did not want SRE to be placed on the national curriculum, and 79 per cent of respondents said that they did not want the parental right to withdraw a child to be interfered with. Simply ignoring the views of parents on such a sensitive matter smacks of arrogance and the worst kind of nanny state.
The proposed changes will also put governors and teachers with conscientious objections in an invidious position. Counsel’s opinion, which I cited earlier, is that the new impositions may lead to applications, by pressure groups as well as by parents, for judicial review to enforce the relevant duties. It would be unfortunate if the Bill led to an increase in such litigation, thus diverting vital resources away from front-line teaching. We owe a considerable debt of gratitude to the voluntary endeavour of school governors, and we should trust them and not dictate to them.
There is an additional consideration for schools of a religious character. Many parents opt to send their children to a faith school precisely because of the values which it espouses and the ethos which it strives to create. Recent remarks by the Schools Secretary risk undermining the character of those schools and have caused consternation and indignation. Last week, I tabled a Written Question to the Government, indicating my intention to raise this point. It was reported in the media that:
“Catholic schools must teach pupils where to access an abortion, Schools Secretary Ed Balls has said”.
Mr Balls said this on the “Today” programme:
“What this changes is that for the first time”—
“cannot just ignore these issues or teach only one side of the argument”.
The Minister herself said something similar today at the Dispatch Box. I cannot begin to tell the Minister how much anxiety this has engendered, and not just among Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Anglicans, who as a matter of conscience believe abortion to be the taking of an innocent life.
This is not a trivial matter, and I hope that the Government realise the implications. The Government need to understand that such a fundamental attack on the character and ethos of faith schools will create a crisis of conscience for parents and teachers alike. After their inept handling of the adoption agencies issue, the Government should understand the enormity of this question which they have opened.
As someone who left a political party when it said that abortion had to be a party policy rather than a matter of conscience, I can say with some feeling that Catholics and many others will not meekly accept that their children should routinely be taught how to procure abortions. That is promotion, not information, and the Government really do need to clarify the difference between the two. This is a wholly unacceptable assault on the rights of conscience, beliefs, the integrity of religious foundations, and the integrity of families.
I hope the Minister will assure the House that teachers, as professionally skilled practitioners, will have the discretion and flexibility to teach SRE in ways that are consonant with their identification of the needs and the maturity of their pupils, and that this will be reflected in their ability to choose appropriate materials and strategies, subject to the school’s SRE policy as determined by the school’s governing body. I hope that the Government will assure us that the level of prescription in the programmes of study for PSHE education, particularly SRE, will not compromise the values of schools with a religious character or require them to promote activities or behaviour that undermine their religious values. I also ask the Government to give similar reassurances on matters of guidance or regulation that they may issue from time to time on PSHE education, and SRE in particular.
To conclude, while I am deeply opposed to the legislation before us, I do not wish to give the impression that I am complacent about the problems that it seeks to address. Our teenage pregnancy rate and levels of abortion among young people are some of the highest in the world, but in looking at the problem we fail to see the elephant in the room. Clauses 10 to 14 are some of the most unenlightened clauses that I have ever encountered in my 30 years in Parliament. They marginalise parents and make life impossible for governors, faith schools and teachers. If the Bill reaches Committee and Report, I intend to lay amendments that challenge many of its aspects. I hope, for the reasons that I have given and because of my other objections to the Bill, that this legislation never reaches the statute book.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister for her introduction. I apologise for not being able to be present for the first couple of minutes; I was not quick enough to reach the Chamber. I also thank the Government for their significant investment in teaching over several years, and I welcome the Government’s raising of the status of teaching and increasing teachers’ salaries, which is crucial. Indeed, one of the themes of this debate has been that the professionals who educate our children and the social workers who work with our children make the biggest difference to children’s success in life.
I am very grateful for the work that Moira Gibb and the Social Work Taskforce have done for social workers, but I have one slight comment to make, which I hope will be borne in mind for the future. I know that it has been a priority for the Government to address the needs of the workforce, but my sense has been that too many other priorities have sometimes occluded the need to focus on teachers, social workers, health visitors, staff in residential childcare and in other related professions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, spoke of the Conservative commitment to raising the bar in respect of teacher recruitment into courses. I very warmly welcome that. Speaking with two deputy heads of primary schools last week, I found it was exactly what they desired. Another primary school head teacher recently told me that she regretted that, in her own and her staff’s limited experience, the quality of candidates in the past five years or so seemed to be declining in terms of numeracy and literacy. So I do welcome what the noble Baroness proposes.
I should like to speak about personal, social, health and economic education within the Bill. As we might not have a Committee stage, I shall try to go into a little depth on it, emphasising three main points. One is the need to prioritise the training of PSHE teachers, because there are so many competing interests in teacher training. Making this a statutory responsibility will help to do that. Secondly, it will reduce the levels of teenage pregnancy. Flowing from that, there is a particular concern that I know many of your Lordships have: the number of black class white boys growing up without fathers in difficult circumstances. I hope that this introduction of better sex and relationship education early in children’s lives will help them to make better choices of partners. This will result in more children experiencing the presence of their fathers in their up-bringing.
The quality of the training of teachers has shrunk over many years. When the Minister’s parents trained as teachers, they may have had three or four years’ training for a Bachelor of Education degree in teaching. But that has gradually declined, and a one-year post-graduate certificate in education has become much more important. There has long been a concern that one year is not enough time to equip teachers with what they need when they enter the school gate. I remember Professor Sir Michael Rutter referring to this when he spoke about child development some time ago at the British Psychological Society.
More recently, for the best possible reasons, more teachers are being trained on the job, so they are not necessarily having access even to the education that is provided in colleges. So we have more teachers who might be better at their specialist subject which is very welcome, but they are not getting the pedagogical understanding that they need to teach well in all subject areas.
I will develop that a little further. I spoke to a teacher who trained in Hungary, who spent several months observing one child, making careful notes of that child’s development, and speaking about what she observed with her tutor and her peers. I am not aware of that happening in this country. In Finland, where they have the highest performance in the PISA tables, I understand that the teachers have a five-year qualification. Roughly the last two years are spent either in a range of placements in various schools, so they have a wide experience of what schools are doing, or in pedagogical development and understanding the philosophy of education and child development.
I do feel it is important to prioritise PSHE within this very confined space that teachers have to learn in during their initial training. It is crucial to have good quality PSHE. Teachers must be equipped to teach this difficult subject to children. I am also wondering where the Master’s qualification in teaching is now going. I should be grateful for any information that could be provided about the future of this proposal, which is very welcome in principle, that teaching should be a Master’s qualification.
In Holland particularly, good quality sex and relationship education appears to have brought down teenage pregnancy rates and kept them down. In the United States, it has taken some time for there to be some demonstrable impact, but a 2008 article by Mueller et al says:
“Our analyses suggest that sex education before first sex helps protect youth from risky sexual behaviors. For population groups that are often considered the most disadvantaged (i.e. urban, African American females), sex education seems to be the most beneficial. Researchers have recently documented the contribution of delayed sexual initiation and improved contraceptive use to the decreased teen pregnancy rate … findings from our analysis suggest that sex education received before first sex by youth in formal settings may contribute to this positive outcome. Sex education should continue to be implemented in schools, community centers and churches and, to be most effective, should occur before youth engage in sexual intercourse for the first time. Sex education provides youth with the knowledge and skills to make healthy and informed decisions about sex, and this study indicates that sex education is making a difference in the sexual behaviors of American youth”.
The UK still has the highest level of teenage pregnancy among its neighbours. There has been a welcome reversal in the upward trend, but we are still performing poorly. We should remember what that means. It means that girls and young women are not completing their education, are often not entering employment, are dependent on the state and do not pay taxes. Those are just the most obvious implications of the high teenage pregnancy rate, but of course the children often suffer as well.
I apologise for taking so long at this time of night. My third point is that I hope that this policy will enable more fathers to keep in touch with their children. If children receive sex and relationship education early so that they learn how to make better choices in their life partners, to think about their emotions and are able to speak about their decisions openly in school with their classmates and teacher, I hope that they will begin to form more committed relationships. As a result more children would have the pleasure of knowing their fathers. Many noble Lords will know of black and white working class men who do not have the opportunity of knowing their fathers, and it is distressing to see their unhappiness about the experience. They often perform poorly and may well live in poverty. Many of them recognise that their mother has to work twice as hard as she might otherwise have to since she is living without a partner.
To conclude, I hope that your Lordships will feel able to befriend this part of the Bill, although I know that it may not have a Committee stage. It could make a significant contribution to breaking the cycle of deprivation that we are so familiar with. It will ensure that teachers are better equipped to teach sex and relationships education. It will reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy and will have beneficial outcomes for children, including more boys having ongoing contact with their fathers.
Perhaps I may begin by welcoming the Government’s position on doing something for which I have been arguing for some years: to try to customise and personalise the delivery of public services. Whatever one’s views politically, it is an interesting part of the argument that we feel we need to make the public services that people generally want more responsive to individual needs. Whether that is about opening the school down the road—a right the Conservatives want to give and which addresses the issue, although I am not convinced it is a good idea—or the sort of thing set out in this Bill—it is an idea which has been waiting to happen for some time. It is about trying to deliver more effectively the small group and one-to-one teaching needed for some children on some occasions during their educational process. Certainly it is something that I would have welcomed. The idea of personalising services and making sure they address the needs of the child at different stages of his or her development is an important step forward. Although some people may scoff, if we do not start somewhere, we will not catch up with other countries such as Finland, which have been very successful with this. I commend the Government on the proposal.
My main purpose for intervening tonight is on the issue of home education. I put an entry on Lords of the Blog, not at the time expecting it to attract too much attention, saying that, like everyone else, I think that home education requires a great deal of commitment. Although I have nothing against it, it needs to be regulated, and I knew then that the regulatory system in Great Britain is significantly less rigorous than almost any other country in Europe. Even with the proposals in the legislation, it will still be less rigorous than most. Indeed, some countries such as Germany do not even allow home education to take place. There is a broad range of treatment across different countries.
I was interested to see that the piece received a massive response. A post on the blog normally attracts 500 or 600 visits a day. This one attracted thousands, and it went on for a couple of days. You cannot tell what conclusions people are drawing. A person who selects a particular entry on a blog is a bit like someone who picks up a newspaper. They may or may not read it and they will agree or disagree with what they are reading. We cannot know. What we do know is that several hundred people commented on the posts put on by myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and therefore recorded their views. The vast majority of them were opposed to what the Government are doing. I was struck by the tone of some of the contributions. They seemed to think that their basic rights were being swept aside. That brings to the fore something referred to by the right reverend Prelate: the balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child, because children have rights too. Very often we talk about our children as “my children” or “my child”. That does not mean that the child belongs to you; it does not mean the child does not have rights. When the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, referred to honing up the national curriculum and making it apply to all children, the question arises about whether it applies to home-educated children. If it does, how do you make sure they get it? If not, why is it so important? It is a real dilemma that has to be addressed.
We need regulation. My line on the blog was, essentially, that home education is fine; that the majority of parents do it very well; and that it is an enormous commitment in time and resources by those parents. However, we cannot ignore the fact that not everyone does it well or for good reasons. On my first post about this I simply said that there are obvious examples. The first and most obvious one is whether the child is getting the educational standard they need to be able to cope with modern life—basic reading, writing, arithmetic and so on. I then said there was another small, but nevertheless, important problem: was the child taken out of school in order to avoid the attention of the authorities? That means, of course, was the child subject to abuse?
It is interesting that about the time that this happened in the past week or so, the case of the young child in Birmingham who was tragically starved to death came up. A number of home educating parents reacted angrily to that; they said that that was nothing to do with home education but with a failure of the local authority. Whether it is or is not does not alter the fact that some parents will choose to take their children away from where they can be seen by the public for reasons which are not good. We have to address this issue. It is not enough to say, as some people did in their comments, that you cannot make the law apply just because of one case; the trouble is that there will be other cases. I believe—I may be right, I may be wrong—that home education will grow. If it does and you want to remove your child from the attention of the authorities, you are signalling that this is the way to do it. That is what that family did in Birmingham.
The third comment I put on is that there are cases in this country of girls being kept out of normal education because it is not believed that they should be able to read, write, do science and so on. That is also a problem in certain communities and certain places. It is not confined to overseas groups by any means, as some people believe, or to certain religious groups, although religion sometimes comes into it. Again these children have rights; they are children and they have rights. I believe home education is right—I have no problems about that—but we need regulation.
I would ask Members who have commented on this to go back to the blog over the past couple of days and look at the entries. I was quite worried by some of the comments. People are doing this for good reasons, I am sure, but I was worried about some of the underlying attitudes towards the rights of children. We need to bear this in mind, particularly when taking into account the United Nations declaration on the rights of the child and the need to respond to that.
Many parents seem to want to home educate—I am reading between the lines here—because of bullying. However, bullying has always been around and is always a problem; you cannot avoid it altogether. Parents have different views on this. I say this gently, but parents have to make a decision about how much they protect a child by removing them from a situation, or how much you protect them by keeping them in a situation and helping them to find their way through it. I certainly come into the second category. I have never played what I regard as an overprotective role. Where bullying is concerned, it is necessary both to intervene with the school and help your child to see the process through because, however long you live as a parent, you are not going to be able to look after your child for ever.
I referred to two cases of home education that I know about personally—I know of very few—which make the case for regulation. In the first case, a woman took her child out of my son’s school in Acton—I do not know why—and, as far as I know, she has done very well; she was certainly committed and I suspect she was very good at it. Another woman, who was also a good mother, was good at it most of the time but had bouts of depression. She was not depressed to the extent that she would be taken into hospital, but to the extent where she was not able to do the job at home. So not only was the child not being educated, suddenly they were acting as a carer in the home for their mother. That is not a good situation. So when people say that you do not need regulation or inspection, I think they are wrong.
The other thing that puzzled me about the reaction of many parents was the incredible hostility to Graham Badman, who wrote the report. So I went away and reread it—I had not read it very carefully in the first place—and I can understand some of the things that they are worried about. However, he says about the training of officers who have to be part of the inspection process:
“This training must include awareness of safeguarding issues and a full understanding of the essential difference, variation and diversity in home education practice as compared to schools”.
He goes on to say, about the training of inspectors,
“the home educating community should be involved in the development and/or provision of such training”.
That is wholly good and should be encouraged.
Graham Badman goes on to recommend that people who home educate should have access to additional resources. What would you do with your child if you wanted them to have good science lessons? Where is your science laboratory going to be? What about if you want them to have wide musical experience? Where will that be unless you just take them to places or pay for it individually? The educational authority can provide that. The home-educating community needs to engage more fully and more positively, not just with the Government, but with people like Badman, who, for whatever reason, they have taken an intense dislike to. It needs to work out what sort of training and regulation is needed and to work, over a period of time, to improve that. You will not get it right on day one, so it needs to be a continuing process. This is why I think the home-educating community needs to have a voice. Judging by the response on the blog, it has a voice all right: it is a lobby and I congratulate it on that. We need to reach out and hear communities like that—that is what the Lords of the Blog is about—but they also need to engage. Whatever Government are in power in the future, no Government will fail to legislate on this: there is going to be additional legislation. The argument is, what type, how much, who does it and what capacity you make to change the system as you learn from it.
If home education is done well, it will benefit enormously from additional support. If it is done badly, then it is important that those children have their rights respected too. I encourage those who have spoken about this to read the comments on the blog, as a parent or as someone who thinks that children have rights and see if they think that all those people have the right balance between the rights of parents and of children. It is difficult—it is not easy. I do not have the right answer, but home education is here to stay; it might well grow, but at the edges there will be very real problems, so we need a regulatory system that picks that up and responds to it. I hope that the Government will not lose sight of that. I think that they are addressing it quite well at the moment, but it is still very early days.
My Lords, I shall speak solely in support of Clauses 28 and 30. I feel sure that the whole House will share with me the hope that the day will never come when we fail to be shocked when something awful happens to a child or young person who has already been identified by the local services as being in danger of suffering serious neglect or deliberate harm. It is for that reason that I welcome the parts of the Bill that strengthen the work of the local safeguarding children boards. Indeed, I commend the Government on the progress made since the death of Victoria Climbié. As a result, in every local authority there is now a director of children's services, a local safeguarding children board and a lead member for children’s services, as well as the availability of considerable guidance on good practice, including in inter-agency working.
The work of local safeguarding children boards is of immense importance, not least in undertaking serious case reviews when a child has been killed or seriously injured and abuse or neglect is known, or suspected, to have been a factor. However, does the Minister agree that the purpose of these reviews is not always well understood? Is it not important that we recognise that these reviews, important as they are, are not inquiries and that it is certainly not within their remit to apportion blame? As your Lordships will recall, the primary function of these reviews is to learn lessons to improve service provision by highlighting ways to improve good practice, both locally and nationally. The task is therefore to conduct a detailed study of all aspects of the child’s life, the family circumstances and the activities of each of the services that were directly involved.
Does the Minister agree that in these circumstances, success depends predominantly on securing voluntary contributions by everyone with knowledge of the child and the family? The challenge is to persuade everyone involved to have the confidence to be open and frank with the review. It is important to recognise that this often entails family members, neighbours and others revealing aspects of their sometimes chaotic lives that they might well prefer to remain hidden, and helping professional staff to be willing to expose less than adequate performance or conflicts between agencies.
The reality is that the local safeguarding children boards have few powers in this respect when conducting serious case reviews. Indeed, their main power rests solely on persuasion and the guarantee of personal confidentiality to each and every contributor. I therefore welcome the provisions included in the Bill to enable local safeguarding boards to better gather all the relevant information they need to carry out their functions.
In the progress report that I prepared on child protection in England, I indicated that these boards must have access to full information and must see all the key players in order to give greater confidence that serious case reviews, and indeed child death review processes, are doing the job intended of them. Because of comments made elsewhere, not least in another place, does the Minister agree that any local authority or health authority can formally establish an inquiry either in circumstances where the criteria for a serious case review are not met or in addition to such a review?
I hope the House will excuse a personal reflection. When, some 10 years ago, I was persuaded to chair an inquiry of this kind established jointly by a local authority and a health authority, following the conviction of a patient of the mental health services for the death of a local person, the limits of the powers of the inquiry to gather evidence were all too evident. Indeed, if media reports are correct—I realise that that is always a big “if”—mention was made in the inquiry report on the hospital in Mid-Staffordshire that the former chief executive of the hospital declined to give evidence to that inquiry, which was conducted by a leading QC. If that is correct, it demonstrates all too clearly the need for everything to be done to assist serious case reviews to access all the relevant information.
If I may make another personal comment, when Parliament established the independent statutory inquiry following the death of Victoria Climbié, it invested in the inquiry very wide powers, which frankly I never expected to have to use. In the event, though, sadly, I had to employ each one of those powers. I mention that only to emphasise that serious case reviews are very different from inquiries and must be treated as such. Most of all, we should not underestimate the difficult task that we have given to those who conduct these serious case reviews—a task so important that, on average, 100 or so such reviews are initiated each year in this country. Chairing or writing the report of a serious case review is very demanding and, therefore, it behoves us to do all that we can to help those who do this work to achieve the best possible outcome.
It is clear to me, and I hope the Minister will agree, that it would be entirely unreasonable to embark on a serious case review and at the outset give a guarantee of confidentiality to all concerned, only for that to be disregarded later.
I was somewhat surprised that mention has been made elsewhere that it would be possible to preserve the confidentiality of these review reports by redacting sections of them. I would have thought that the other place might already have had sufficient experience of the hazards of trying to publish sensitive material in a redacted way. I hope the Minister will agree that any attempt to handle a report of a serious case review in this way would result in page after page being blacked out. Therefore, it would not achieve the objective that those who mention this possibility have in mind.
Furthermore, it is surely unrealistic to think that only certain review reports would be published, not least because at the outset it is impossible to know which reports are likely to attract most media attention. More than that, it is surely important to recognise that the suffering of every child must be of equal concern and that we must guard against allowing the degree of media interest to determine which reports can or cannot be published. I feel strongly about this point because I believe that we have entrusted a most arduous task to those who conduct serious case reviews. In my view, the legislation and guidance that is currently laid before Parliament needs either to be protected or, I fear, that it will need to be abandoned. That is why I warmly commend Clauses 28 and 29 to the House and I hope that they will command the support of the whole House.
My Lords, I grow potatoes like this Bill—they look pretty good when you dig them up, but when you have washed them, knocked the knobbly bits off, peeled them, cut out the rotten bits and dug the slugs out of their holes, you wonder why you bothered. The first part just seems to me to be sheer electioneering. What is the point of a guarantee which is no guarantee? What is the point of promising people things that are so ill defined that they do not really know what they are getting? How on earth is a personal home-school agreement practical? The point of home-school agreements is that they apply to the whole school; that they are universal, simple and understandable. You may need a few personal ones in very extreme cases, but you are going to need an extra head teacher just to handle home-school agreements, if you give them the time that they will require.
I am not at all confident that we should move ahead with the Rose review, as proposed in this Bill. The abandonment of knowledge in favour just of learning seems to me to be against all experience. There is no mention, as the right reverend Prelate remarked, of religious education. There is precious little mention of foreign languages. There is no specification of the knowledge which should underpin learning. We are really drifting into some very strange territory. It is a nice report, but there is no real underlying evidence that this is the right thing to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has said, we are moving into some very strange territory in the PSHE requirements.
It is not at all clear to me where this Government now stand in relation to the rights and practices of faith schools. It is in the nature of faiths, or at least some parts of them, that followers believe that they are the only ones who are going to be saved and that certain practices are a sin and should not be contemplated. How can you compel those schools to go against the fundamental tenets of their religion? It does not seem to me that the Government have worked out that contradiction at all.
It disappoints me, too, that we seem to be looking at PSHE in a very old-fashioned way, as a collection of things that children are to be told to do or not to do, rather than teaching children how to make decisions for themselves and how to tackle the unexpected and the unknown as well as they will tackle the predetermined questions that go into the PSHE syllabuses. That part of the Bill deserves a lot of attention. The same applies to the rest of it, but the part about home education is the bit that I would wish to cut out.
The noble Baroness said today that in a very small number of cases education is not satisfactory. She told me, when we met to discuss the Bill a day or two ago, that there was no intention to impose a curriculum; and that there was unequivocal support from the Government of the right to home-educate. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that legislation in this area is inevitable, but why then is the Bill as it is? Why is the home education community up in arms? I share with the home education community the fears that it expresses on the blog, on my blog and elsewhere. There seems to be something in the DCSF, which I have not identified in any of the people I have met, that is malevolent to home education and wishes to destroy it.
Why else does the Bill start from the principle that you are only allowed to home-educate if the local authority gives you permission to do so? It may withdraw that permission, on review, every year. Why do we start with the idea that you have to produce a syllabus to be allowed to home-educate, when the basis of autonomous education is that the child follows their own path, with you at their side? You cannot produce a syllabus until a year has passed and you look back. Why do none of those good things in the Badman review, about training and support, appear in the Bill?
What has done the damage in making progress in what, I agree, is an inevitable direction, is what is written in the Bill. The Badman report was hard enough. The thing that hurt there was the idea that it should be compulsory for your child to spend time alone with an inspector. Having time alone with an inspector is not something which one would readily allow for one’s own children, even though they are in school. It is not in the Bill but it was in the Badman report. It is in the Bill by implication. If you do not allow the access to your child that the local authority requires, it can refuse home education, and that access may include—if the local authority judges it right—time alone with an inspector.
We seem to have set out, in going down a quite proper road, with the wrong foot and, as a result, trodden on a landmine and found ourselves blown up. We must realise that we cannot carry on, particularly with no Committee stage, to make something of Clauses 26 and 27 and Schedule 1. They must be restarted and revisited. There are some good principles on which this can be done. The first is to recognise what my noble friend Lady Verma said. Our school system is far from perfect and for children in care we do even worse. We should not expect something from home-educating parents that we do not deliver in the system which we present as an alternative.
We should show respect to home-educating parents, who are, in most cases, shouldering burdens and responsibilities which, otherwise, we would have to shoulder. There are people who home-educate purely out of conviction. There is certainly a strong stream of those. However, there are many parents who home-educate children with special needs or children who, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, have been bullied.
It is fine to work with the school. I thoroughly encourage the remedy that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, suggested; but schools are not perfect. Many schools still do not deal with bullying properly. You can get to the point where a child is prostrate at the thought of going to school, cries continually, will not do it and is obviously very distressed. You know—because you have seen the head teacher or tried to get through to the school—that they are not dealing with the bullying but are allowing it to continue. Under those circumstances, home education is a totally reasonable alternative. Where children with special needs are not being properly dealt with, it is also a much better alternative. The situation is much better than it used to be, but it is not perfect. Many schools do not deal well with special needs. These parents are taking on often difficult children but always difficult cases and are looking after them without support. That deserves our respect.
Where we have evidence—evidence is pretty thin on the ground in this country but it has been produced in other countries—home education seems on average to be at least as good as school education. We should not have fundamental prejudices against it but we have to recognise that in most cases the style will be different. There are things you can do one-to-one that you just cannot do in school. In school you require structure, curricula and timetables. If you are one-to-one, you can go without that. The Bill ought to start out by respecting all those things and then go on to provide assistance. Children who are being home educated find it very hard to take exams because there is nowhere for them to take them. Where do you find a centre to take GCSEs? How do you deal with the modern GCSEs that require moderation of coursework? There is no capacity for that in home education. As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, pointed out, it is extremely difficult to get remedial help or specialist help when your child has problems in a particular area. There is much good practice in providing special educational needs support, but it is extremely deficient in some areas.
If you provide support for home education, most—but not all—home educating parents will take advantage of it. You will get to see as much of those children as you need to just by them turning up at classes that are provided. Children with special needs get no special access to swimming pools, have no facility to learn first aid or to be taught how to ride a bicycle. They do not get taken on a week’s holidays in Wales. All sorts of things that are available to ordinary children could be made available to home-educated children. The budget is there because, through the Bill, the Government are proposing to spend £40 million a year—£2,000 per home-educated child, on average—that is £20 million on observing them and another £20 million on corralling into school the 20 per cent of home-educated children who they say are not up to scratch.
That is another reason why the department is not trusted. It has produced a range of figures in the impact assessment that are frankly daffy. It said that 20 per cent of children are not receiving a suitable education: 15 per cent of that figure are children who have not been assessed, and only 5 per cent have any question mark over them. The real figure of pupils who ought to be being better educated is something like 2 or 3 per cent. It said that there was a double risk of children who were being home educated being the subject of safeguarding concerns. Again, it has messed up the figures there. The absolute number—51 children in home education—were giving cause for concern, but it divided that by the number of children in home education that it knew about, whereas it knows that there are two, three, or four times as many who are not registered. However, any of those who are not registered and who become the cause of concern immediately move into the registered section. Therefore, rather than looking at double the risk, you are looking at about half the risk of children in home education causing concern if you do the statistics right. The Government’s deliberate distortion of the position has really upset the home education community, and I am not at all surprised. A bit of honesty and openness would go a long way.
As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, we will get regulation at the end of the day, but there are underlying concerns. There are changes in our society that are bound to have an impact on home education. My basic message to the Government on home education is: let us begin again. Let us forget about this section of the Bill, cut it out when it comes to the wash-up, and begin again. That way we have a hope of getting something which will do justice to the home education community and calm the fears and concerns we have for the children involved.
My Lords, I, too, wish to address the issue of home schooling, which is covered by Clause 26 and Schedule 1. There has been massive representation on this issue from home educators who object to registration and see the provisions as taking away the right to educate at home, whereas it is merely a system of registration and not a very onerous one at that. We do not know what we do not know. There are no firm statistics about the number of children receiving home education, although it is commonly said to be 80,000. We do not know how representative in terms of quality and quantity the home educators who have flooded their MPs, and my blog site, with their views are. They cannot amount to more than 6 or 7 per cent, but the rage and resentment they express, their mishmash of ideological views, their rejection of state interference, their indifference to the rights of the child, their accusations of totalitarianism and their superiority over those who would like to help the child do not paint a good picture of home educators. They made me determined to speak up for the rights of the child, when I had taken hardly any notice of home education until recently. I have now immersed myself in the topic.
Registration is to be welcomed, together with the parent’s statement of plans for the child’s education, but I have seen no method in the Bill for ensuring that every child who is not being educated at school but, purportedly, at home, is registered. Only those children whose parents apply for registration will be registered and the entire scheme could be scuppered by a failure to do so. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister whether the children’s register, ContactPoint, can be used for this purpose; granted that there can be no accurate assessment of which children should be receiving education at five unless all those born in and who arrive in England after birth are included and tracked.
The existing law is weak. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that parents have a duty to secure efficient full-time education suitable for their child. There can be no duty in law unless there is a correlative right, and no right without a correlative duty to secure that right. Children have rights. That is the most important principle of all. It should be underpinning this Bill and must be conveyed to home-educating parents. The rights are clear. Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that states must undertake to ensure that primary education is compulsory for all and that different forms of secondary education should be available and accessible to every child. Article 29 says that education in all institutions must conform to standards laid down by the state. Article 31 protects the right of the child to play and recreation, and to cultural and artistic activities. Article 12 says that the child has the right to express his or her views—a right which is set to be denied if this Bill does not permit the child to be seen alone by an inspector but only in the company of the parent.
Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights also grants the right to education while respecting the rights of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their views. The European Court has held that this, of necessity, implies state regulation of the education that the child receives. The court held that Germany was entitled to ban home education. It is the duty of home-educating parents to secure for their children the education pledged in international treaties; the parents do not have stand-alone rights to determine that education in any way that they wish without state regulation.
Since home education has no minimum hours, no curriculum and no examinations, there can be no assurance that home-educated children will receive suitable education. There are no statistics about their GCSE and A-level results, or even their 3R competence, let alone university entrance; and the Badman report called for such research to be carried out. There can be no guarantee that home-educated children will receive reproductive, personal, social, health and economic education, as is compulsory—or will be—for others over 15; nor will they receive any guarantee of careers guidance. There is no assurance that migrant children who are being educated at home, even if they can be tracked, are learning English.
I have blogged about this on your Lordships’ website, lordsoftheblog.net, along with the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and each of us has received about 200 replies. Some use arguments that must have been used in the late 19th century to oppose the introduction of free and compulsory primary education. Others, understandably, withdrew children from school because of bullying, special educational needs, or poor local schooling. Others have a belief that children can just learn autonomously without being taught. I wondered how this worked with, say, physics, and fear that those children are being experimented on in a way that may blight their only chance in a lifetime to be presented with the knowledge and life skills that they will need.
Some of the home educators expressed contempt for the state in all its manifestations. None mentioned the welfare of the child. Some home educators were clearly dedicated and successful, and I could see no reason why they should not register. They seemed overwhelmingly middle class, and it struck me that the provision of home education must be an expensive effort, involving not only the likely sacrifice of a career outside the home by the educating parent, but, as has been mentioned, payment for all the outings and extracurricular activities that are usually provided by the school—not to mention the examinations and equipment. The home educators were insistent that their children had socialising experiences, although whether it is correct to include trips to the supermarket, as one did, or learning French with a grandfather learning at the same time, was open to question.
One does not know how representative they are, and the level of resentment struck me as worrying in itself. It cannot be ruled out that girls in particular, possibly from cultures which expect them to marry early and never work, are denied the opportunities they would receive in school, and might be sent away or into forced marriages, with an even smaller chance of rescue than exists at school. I am not for a moment conflating child abuse with home education, but there is a need to see the child. In albeit very different circumstances, the NSPCC recently called for the law to be changed to allow social workers to see children at risk alone. In Britain, we pride ourselves on the law of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus must extend to our children as well.
It is inadequate that the local authority will be able to see the child only once a year. I should have thought that it would be better—albeit expensive, I appreciate—to produce the child every quarter or six months. The child should have the right to talk alone to the inspector. Fear of strangers is no excuse; or rather that is the very excuse that has been used when there have been failures to meet a child's needs which could have been avoided, had that child been produced. A child cannot go through youth without meeting doctors, dentists, repair men and so on. Two weeks’ notice of a visit by the inspectors in the Bill is possibly too long; one week should be adequate, and in cases of concern there ought to be the right to visit without warning. Where a parent appeals against refusal to register, the child should be sent to school at once and not allowed to continue at home, pending appeal.
In sum, our registration system will be weaker than that of most countries. Most US states have a more structured system, and opting out is forbidden in Germany. Your Lordships should not be deterred by the strong wording of the home education lobbyists. There needs to be a way for the home-educated child to be seen and heard, for samples of his or her work to be produced and for rigorous tracking of existence and outcome. I therefore strongly support this part of the Bill.
The hour is late, and I will just say a couple of words about media access. Clauses 32 to 42 and Schedule 2 arguably do not belong in this Bill. They deal with a system for allowing more public knowledge of what goes on in family courts, which has been the subject of controversy. There are arguments for privacy, and there are arguments about knowing what goes on—especially when apparently harsh decisions leak out into the public. For a year, reporters have been allowed to sit in on family proceedings, but only allowed to report the gist of those proceedings. The provisions of the Bill would allow authorised publication; this is rather complicated and time might be wasted on deciding what it is. It is also feared that only one side might be reported as more attention-grabbing—that is the allegations reported, and not the rebuttal.
Clause 40 allows for publication of sensitive personal information to be brought in. It will be reviewed after 18 months, but arguably grave damage might be done in the mean time. There is, I believe, no impact assessment yet; this will be carried out only on review. Nor has there been an impact assessment of media access to the family courts so far. However, the Children’s Commissioner for England has funded research to establish children’s views on media access and transparency in family proceedings. It will not surprise your Lordships to learn that by and large the children interviewed were opposed to the media being allowed into family courts to hear their cases, because they would be less willing to talk about what had happened to them, they were concerned that their identity might be revealed, and, understandably, they did not trust the newspapers with sensitive information.
The children wanted their views to be considered before deciding whether or not the press should be admitted. This reflects Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which I referred to earlier: the child has the right to be heard, “in proceedings affecting them”. One cannot therefore but agree with the view of the Law Society: it may be wrong to introduce this new provision about publication of sensitive information in this last-minute Bill. The system of public access and publication should be reviewed from the point of view of cost and effect, and for now, it says, Clause 40 should be deleted.
The principle of the welfare of the child should guide us in deciding both the points I have raised; the welfare of the child should decide the controversies in the Bill.
My Lords, I strongly welcome the Bill, especially the clauses which make personal, social and health education compulsory subjects in the national curriculum. I should like to talk about that.
I had the good fortune to be a member of the Good Childhood Inquiry, and we were one of the many organisations that recommended what is now included in the Bill. In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said nothing much about her party's attitude to this key issue. I will make clear why it is so important that this goes into law. Of course, it is not an original idea: the ancient Romans believed in a healthy mind in a healthy body. However, it is more important now than ever. For example, there have been four comparable surveys of 15 year-olds in Britain. These national samples show that the number of youngsters who suffer from emotional problems is now twice as high as it was in the 1970s. The same is true of the number suffering from behavioural problems. To reverse these trends we need a major rethink of the purpose of education so as to make it as much about the development of character as about competence.
That means many things. It means major changes in the ethos of many of our schools, especially our secondary schools, so that mutual respect becomes the central feature of all relationships in school. However, that cannot be legislated for. What can be legislated for is that a specific part of the week be devoted to the development of the life skills laid down in the national curriculum for PSHE. These include understanding and managing your emotions, understanding other people and learning to help them wherever possible, understanding the dangers of unhealthy living, understanding the implications of sex and the obligation to care for a sexual partner, and so on.
It is often said that it is the job of parents and not schools to handle these issues. That might work if parents did a good job. However, I should like noble Lords to consider the following facts about sexual relationships in Britain and the Netherlands, where sex education begins in primary schools. In Britain, there are five times as many teenage births. Among young adolescent boys in Britain, only 14 per cent of those who had had sexual experience said that their main reason was that they felt love and commitment. This compares with 56 per cent of young adolescent boys in Holland. Not surprisingly, in Britain only 50 per cent of the couples used contraception, compared with 85 per cent in the Netherlands. These figures speak for themselves and totally justify the approach of the Bill to sexual relationships. Indeed, I would go further and support the clearer position on SRE that was requested earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.
Much more important than that is moral education, more widely considered. No society has ever flourished where the moral education of young people was left exclusively to the parents or family, without other adults being involved. When I spoke on these matters at a conference only a couple of years ago, a questioner came up to me afterwards and said, “Are you saying that schools should provide moral education? Do you not realise that you are not allowed to say that?” Well, I was saying that, and I hope that that will be an important result of the Bill.
A crucial issue must be considered: how these things can be taught. They are not easy to teach, especially in secondary schools. They must be taught by teachers in the school and not by outsiders brought in without teachers being involved. They must also be taught by teachers who are qualified to teach them. Starting with primary schools, all teacher training should include a basic minimum of life skills training. In primary schools, every teacher will have to include this in their basic class teaching. We are already seeing very good results from the teaching of social and emotional aspects of learning, under the SEAL programme introduced by the Government a few years ago. However, at secondary level the topics become much more difficult—as do the students. There is a requirement for much more specificity and authoritative detail in these topics, as there is in every subject.
I taught history in a secondary school. That was a specialist subject. Teaching life skills should also be a specialist subject in secondary schools: it should not be taught by whoever has a gap in their timetable. It should not be contracted out, as has been suggested in some quarters, to voluntary organisations. It has to be taught by people who are recognised as authoritative by the students and the school. Furthermore, what we actually have to have in secondary schools is the teaching of life skills as a specialist subject taken within the postgraduate certificate in education—not necessarily by everyone teaching life skills, but there must be a core body of specialists teaching this subject in the school and helping the other teachers to do so.
Teaching of life skills, as of every other subject, should be evidence based; and there are evidence-based ways of teaching these very difficult subjects. There are programmes that have been developed in many countries where we know, from studying the outcomes by randomised controlled trials, how these programmes actually affect children. We do not always know that in the way we teach French but we could know it in the way we teach life skills; and we ought to be using evidence-based programmes—I happen to know one very well, the Penn Resiliency Program, which is now being taught in 22 schools in Britain. There are enough to make us feel confident that we could teach this subject properly. We ought not to be making it compulsory unless we are confident that we could teach it properly. That has always been the best argument against making it compulsory. We need to proceed rapidly to develop the expertise and to get together the knowledge worldwide that exists of how to teach the subject. It is because I think that that is possible that I support the clause.
I have spoken at length on this because it is so important, and because I worry about what the Conservative Party’s attitude to PSHE really is. We are in a pre-election period, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, in her opening manifesto—if I may call it that—said nothing much on this point. It would be extremely helpful if, when he comes to wind up, her colleague could tell us where they stand on this.
My Lords, when I first joined the Army, I was introduced to an acronym by my first company sergeant-major, the word KISS, which stands for “keep it simple, stupid”. It is quite late, and I do not want to enter into any of the discussions which have been so eloquently and impressively deployed in the House this evening. Instead, I would like to draw attention to three things that I feel are missing from the Bill which, had we had a Committee, I would like to have seen included, because I believe that they are missing not just from this Bill but from other Bills that we have discussed on the Floor of this House. I will refer to them by the clauses in the Bill.
I would first like to draw attention to Clause 10, which refers to areas of learning for the first and second key stages in the curriculum. Proposed new Section 83A(3) of the Education Act 2002, introduced in the clause, refers to,
“understanding English, communication and languages”.
Clause 10 also introduces proposed new subsection (2A) of Section 87 of the 2002 Act, which says that,
“the Secretary of State may by order specify in relation to the areas of learning set out … such assessment arrangements, as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
We are in the age of the information revolution, but unfortunately, while the land of blog and Twitter may occupy people, the ability to communicate verbally with people is dangerously lacking in far too many of our young people. As I have said on the Floor of this House before, lack of communication skills is, in many ways, the scourge of the 21st century. I do not believe that it is right that we should have an education system which does not begin with enabling all children to communicate with the teacher, and therefore engage in the system. Unless they can do that, there simply is no engagement with the education that we are talking about.
In two instances, we know that action is being taken on that. The National Health Service in Northern Ireland has laid down that every child is to be assessed at the age of two for their communication abilities. That not only identifies possible special educational needs and learning difficulties, but acts as a trigger as to where some help may be needed. In the recent apprenticeships Bill, it was agreed that every young offender would receive assessment when they went in to a young offender institution to a scheme laid down by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the Children’s Communication Coalition. We have done that because we realise that the children coming into young offender institutions at the age of 15 are lacking something which, if they had been provided with it earlier, might have prevented them going down the crime route which ended up with them in a YOI. If we recognise that that it is necessary at 15, why not do it much earlier before education starts?
Two weeks ago, I went to Walsall to launch an impressive speech and language assessment scheme, which a secondary school was starting. It had realised that children were coming to it from primary school unable to communicate properly, which was damaging their engagement with what the secondary school had to teach. That was not a start-up, because it was taking on board a very successful scheme pioneered in Salford a long time ago. Therefore, I would have hoped to have some acknowledgement in the Bill that that assessment is essential if all the rest is to be provided.
Secondly, Clause 31, which refers to young offender education, states:
“In carrying out any of their duties under those provisions and in carrying out any other function in relation to the youth justice system … a local authority shall comply with any directions, and act in accordance with any guidance, given to them by the Secretary of State”.
That concerns me, because if every local authority is to conduct its own syllabus and make its own curriculum, there will be considerable inconsistency in provision throughout the country, which will hamper young offenders who are moved between areas and young offenders who may be sent to one part of the country who live in another. A whole lot of factors could make the provision of education worse
I therefore raised that with the Minister last week when we met, and she kindly wrote to me today explaining:
“Local Authorities will need to adhere to statutory guidance”,
which will include a curriculum embracing suitable education to meet reasonable needs. I accept that, but I ask her to confirm exactly who will lay down what those reasonable needs are and what suitable education is. The offender spectrum is vast in ability and need. If a funding agency, the Young People’s Learning Agency, is funding something linked to guidance that may not be abundantly clear, we do not have a satisfactory system. It needs tightening.
That goes back to what I have said before on the Floor of the House: there is a need for the “what” to be laid down very clearly so that the “how” can be delivered appropriately not just for the child concerned but also for the part of the country in which they live.
The last group to whom I shall refer is covered by Schedule 1. Those are children who might be described as having special educational needs, children who have exceptional provision of education and therefore might qualify for Clause 9 provision. They may need a power for the community to provide facilities in Clause 15. However, I think that really they come under the duty of arrangements to identify children not receiving education. These are two groups of children who all too often slip through the net. One is children who are in care. When you go into a young offender institution it is frightening to see the large number of children who have come from care and look at the lack of education that they have had. Many of them have had a large number of care interventions, so it is hardly surprising that their education has been fragmented and inconsistent. I believe, however, that it is essential that something serious is done to try to put some coherence into the education of these people because they will arrive in adulthood seriously undereducated, and it is our fault.
Another group being missed are the asylum-seeking children who are distributed among the social care systems throughout the country. They are not merely related to the port or airport of entry. What happens to them is entirely a lottery according to what the local social service in that part of the country decides to do. Some are left in bed-and-breakfast accommodation with absolutely nothing. Some are given access to education. Some have voluntary education schemes, including beginning to be taught English. But these are children who have dropped below the radar and nobody appears to be responsible for getting a grip on what is happening to them. I believe this Bill could provide the vehicle for laying down conditions for that to happen, which is why I would have proposed it if we had the possibility of having a Committee stage further on in this Bill. I regret that there may not be time for that but I still believe that the Government should take these issues on board.
My Lords, this is a curate’s egg of a Bill but I am bound to say that the good parts are very much outnumbered by the bad. Given that this will probably be our only opportunity to reflect from these Benches on the matters proposed, the lack of debate on some parts of the Bill in another place, the last-minute amendments introduced by the Government and the fact that my noble friend Lady Sharp is recovering from an illness, I may have to speak for longer than I normally would. I hope that your Lordships will accept one longer speech instead of two shorter ones on this occasion.
It is tempting to start with the parts of which I approve, but I think that it would be more logical to comment sequentially on the major issues as they appear in the Bill. I will look first at Clauses 1 to 6, which concern pupil and parent guarantees, complaints, home-school agreements and parental satisfaction surveys. In my view, the vast majority of this is meaningless, overprescriptive and bureaucratic. Clause 1 defines a set of ambitions for pupils and parents. My early ambition was to become a doctor; I then wanted to be an interpreter of foreign languages; I landed up as a biologist, a teacher and a politician. I really do not see that it is up to the Government to poke their nose into the ambitions of pupils or parents. In any case, the Bill is extremely woolly about the liabilities of schools in this regard and the mechanism for enforceability of these ambitions. Unless proper funding is available to provide all schools fairly with the ability to abide by the guarantees, this whole thing becomes a whingers’ charter and a waste of time for a lot of head teachers.
At the Commons Report stage, the Government amended the Bill to provide stronger safeguards to protect head teachers and governors from liability on the basis of individual guarantees and from frivolous or vexatious complaints. However, there remains an issue of whether or not the guarantees constitute a contractual obligation. With school budgets under increasing pressure in the next few years, the delivery of all the guarantees will become increasingly difficult. In these circumstances, it must be up to the head teacher to prioritise, and their priorities may not be in line with those of an individual parent. It must be counter to the Government’s intended purpose if the guarantees are seen as merely another tick-box mechanism.
I am aware that for certain pupils home-school agreements have been enormously helpful. However, it is quite unrealistic to expect a school of 1,000 pupils or more to individualise them and to do it every year. I believe that they work best when they are individualised. That is why I feel that, although parents and pupils should be expected to abide by or support the school rules and school behaviour policy, home-school agreements should be used to help pupils who are having problems and their parents to engage with the school. Parental satisfaction surveys are a survey too far. Many schools do them anyway, and local authorities have their own ways of finding out how well schools are performing. Asking parents questions about schools that their children do not yet attend will be a poor basis on which to gain sound information.
Clauses 7 and 8, on SEN, have been widely welcomed. Indeed, they are crucial to many children. However, the proposals could be further strengthened by also allowing a child’s school to appeal. The pupil’s school will be well placed to know about the inadequacies of SEN provision. Where the parents are unwilling to take an appeal to the SEN tribunal, it may be in the best interests of the child to let the school do it.
Clause 9, on exceptional provision, is welcome, but it is crucial that an appropriate independent person should be the one who decides whether it is in the best interests of the child to provide full-time education. This clause was amended during its passage through the Commons to make it clear that, in deciding whether it is in the interests of a child with physical or mental health problems to receive full-time education, local resources could not be used as an excuse. However, given the wide lack of understanding of conditions such as autism, several organisations have urged that appropriateness should be assessed by someone with experience and expertise in the child’s condition.
The proposed changes to the primary curriculum, as recommended by Professor Jim Rose, appear in Clause 10. While I regret the Government’s dismissive attitude to the Cambridge Primary Review, I think that these proposals move in the right direction, although they are still far too prescriptive.
The noble Lord, Lord Layard, has outlined the many good reasons for incorporating PSHE into the statutory curriculum, as Clauses 11 to 14 propose. I agree with him and I will not repeat what he said. However, the Government have watered down this measure until it is almost unrecognisable. My first disappointment was when I saw that they will allow parents to withdraw a child from PSHE until he or she is 15. Each year in England and Wales, around 300 girls under 13 become pregnant and, since 2002, there have been more than 63,000 pregnancies among those under 15. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that, since 2002, 15 girls aged 10 have been pregnant, so it is clear that the age of 15 is far too late for young people to obtain this information. These facts simply reinforce the need for this teaching for all children.
The right of parental withdrawal was introduced through the Education Act 1993. It currently affects any child or young person up to the age of 19, so I suppose that the age of 15 is at least a step in the right direction, although it is insufficient. International human rights obligations towards children and young people are clear. As the European Court of Human Rights has ruled, the parental right of withdrawal is unnecessary and should be repealed. It found that, so long as the education provided is balanced, objective, critical and pluralistic and the child can access other forms of lawful education, the state can refuse parental withdrawal from sex education. Allowing a parent to withdraw their child from SRE interferes with the child’s rights under Article 10 of the ECHR, on freedom of expression, which includes the right to receive information.
My second disappointment was when the Government inserted subsections (8) and (9) into Clause 11 at the last minute in another place, where they were hardly discussed. Many bodies, including the JCHR, have expressed serious concerns about this. Under the original wording, all schools were to teach PSHE according to the same sensible principles in Clause 11, but faith schools will now be able to ignore these principles where they believe them to conflict with the religious character of the school. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, the Bill now says that heads and governors can ignore principles such as accurate and balanced PSHE that apply without exception to other schools. Whatever the Minister says, that is the impression that has been spread about. On 5 March, the Catholic Herald said:
“Catholic schools uphold the teachings of the Church in all that they do. This applies, in particular, to all work about sex and relationships education. They robustly teach, for example, about the sanctity of life and do not and would not promote abortion. We do not expect the situation to change in the light of the Children, Schools and Families Bill”.
That is a clear indication that these schools do not believe that they have to abide by the principles in the Bill. I think that the Government have let children down by doing this and it puts a black cloud over what should have been a major step forward for children’s rights.
Clause 19 provides for school improvement partners, or SIPs, not only to give advice but also for other prescribed services. Without the ability to insert appeals into the Bill in this House, we on these Benches do not believe that these changes should be made.
Clause 20 is about the new report card. We on these Benches have argued consistently that current school accountability mechanisms are unduly focused on pupils’ academic performance and should be more concerned with what schools do to support the development of the whole child. We do not believe that the new proposals address that. Any close reading of the report card prospectus can only lead to the conclusion that this has the capacity to become a bureaucratic nightmare. Had the school report card been proposed as a replacement for league tables, it would have deserved serious consideration. As it is, it appears to be an additional burden and difficult for parents to evaluate.
The current system is inequitable and demoralising for teachers. A primary head told me recently about his local head teachers and how many of them were planning to leave the profession. He said:
“I work with many very talented head teachers, and in the last two years, four who work locally have decided to retire early as the demands are now too great. Teacher morale is very low in many schools due to excessive workload, and replacement head teachers are very hard to find”.
I do not believe that these proposals will change that state of affairs.
Clauses 23 to 25 are about the teacher licence to practise. There was limited scrutiny of this in another place, with more questions raised than answers given. In a recent speech, the Minister of State, Vernon Coaker, told a group of new teachers that the licence would be,
“included within the normal performance review mechanisms”.
I ask the Minister whether this would mean that the appraiser could effectively remove a teacher’s permission to teach. Will the General Teaching Council have to have regard to whether a teacher has received a full entitlement to professional development, as determined by their annual performance management review? This proposal falls between two stools. It neither gives teachers a proper right to continuing professional development nor makes it any easier to get rid of incompetent teachers.
Clause 26 deals with home education, which has been one of the most contentious issues in the Bill. The problem is that the Government have confused the child’s right to an education with a child’s right to safeguarding. They have ignored the powers that social workers already have with regard to the latter. The death of Khyra Ishaq was nothing to do with home education, despite what has been suggested in the press. It was a safeguarding issue. Social workers visited the house because of numerous calls from her head teacher expressing concern for her welfare. They did not see her alone and made no attempt to ascertain her wishes and feelings—clearly contrary to existing guidance. That only serves again to emphasise the need for primary legislation to make it quite clear that social workers must see the child separately in any care proceedings. If we had a Committee stage, I would have tabled that amendment.
On the substantive issue of home education, we on these Benches support those who want to home-educate and understand that it is usually a positive choice. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, made a thoughtful and interesting speech, but his comments tended to reinforce my view that we need a lot more consultation. We want very light-touch regulation and not this regulation. We are concerned that the government proposals, which are rushed, ill thought out and heavy-handed, are in danger of enforcing a one-size-fits-all education. We regret that the Badman report has given the impression that home education is more likely to be related to child protection issues than school education. We believe that it is quite sensible for home educators to notify local authorities that they are home-educating to enable them to support local parents in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned. They cannot do that if they do not know where the children are. Of course, if children get in contact with the authorities, it will soon be spotted whether there are safeguarding issues or not. You get things done only if you take people along with you and it is clear that the Government are not taking home educators along with them in this case. At that point, you should stop and think again.
Clause 28 extends the power of local safeguarding children boards to require individuals and bodies to supply relevant information to assist them to perform their “functions”. While most organisations are happy to provide information for serious case reviews, they are concerned that the boards have a very wide range of functions far beyond those. In the drive to protect children, it is crucial that their rights to privacy and confidentiality are maintained. Many noble Lords have talked about the fact that these measures could deter them from asking for help. That is something that concerns me very much. Independent schools have also questioned whether the duties would contravene their contractual arrangements. How do these new provisions comply with obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 to collect information for a specified purpose?
The last highly contentious issue is the effect on children of the measures for reporting family courts in Clauses 32 to 42. While greater transparency in our justice system is desirable, the framework for the reporting of family proceedings by the media should always seek to protect the privacy and safety of the children and adults involved in an appropriate way. Along with many of the professional bodies involved, I have considerable concerns about the effect of these proposed measures—again, many noble Lords have said the same. The Government should first evaluate the impact on children, the courts and CAFCASS of alternative methods of improving transparency, including the current pilot initiatives to anonymise family court judgments that started only about three months ago and certainly have not been evaluated. We do not believe that changes to legislation should be made until this has been done.
Finally, in another place an amendment was laid to clarify the law on the reasonable chastisement defence and limit it to those with legal parental responsibility. The Government, accepting that there is a loophole, have now asked the Chief Adviser on the Safety of Children, Sir Roger Singleton, to review the use of physical punishment in part-time educational settings and by others who may be acting in loco parentis and to report back by the end of March. At the Report stage, the Secretary of State confirmed that the Government would respond to the report on the day that it was published. In the light of the fact that we may not have time for a Committee stage in your Lordships’ House, can the Minister say how the Government plan to carry out Sir Roger’s recommendations and to fulfil the pledge made by the Secretary of State?
There is evidence of children being mistreated in madrassahs, Sunday schools in some Christian sects and other voluntary forms of care. Beliefs that children can be witches or possessed by evil spirits and need to be physically punished prevail in certain African Christian churches within the UK. All physical punishment has already been banned in other voluntary provision and part-time education of 12.5 hours or more a week. There can be no justification for failing to protect children in the remaining voluntary settings. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I rise to respond to the debate from the Opposition Benches. It has been of extraordinarily high quality and a quite astonishing level of expertise has been brought to bear. I want to try to weave as many of the thoughtful contributions into my remarks as possible, but time is running out, so I will keep my speech as brief as I can. No doubt the Minister will be able to respond with support from what must be one of the most sizeable Bill teams I have ever seen assembled. At a time when I am sure the pupil to teacher ratio in primary schools is doing pretty badly, it is nice to see that the ministerial adviser ratio is in a very healthy state indeed.
The Bill is a political afterthought, and that is why it has been brought forward at this stage in the Parliament. It is very much about making political points for debate. So be it, and we shall respond to them. The first point I want to make from these Benches is on the complexity of the Bill before us. My noble friend Lady Verma commented on this in opening the debate from these Benches. She talked about the complexity, bureaucracy and centralised control that we are witnessing. That was added to by my noble friend Lady Bottomley and was powerfully remarked on by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
I was struck by a couple of statements in the Minister’s opening remarks. First, she said that education had been at the heart of this Administration and that after 13 years the education system was in a position of which one could be proud. I shall look at that statement in a little more detail because many people would take a contrary view. They would point to the fact that half of all pupils leave school without achieving five or more A to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths; 300,000 pupils are suspended from school each year for bad behaviour; every year more than 100,000 children—one in five—leave primary school unable to read or write properly; and that after 13 years of missed opportunity we have dropped from fourth in the world for science standards to 14th; from seventh in the world for literacy standards to 17th; and from eighth in the world for mathematics to 24th.
Coming from an inner-city part of Tyneside, I have a lifelong belief in the power of education to narrow the gap between the most disadvantaged and most advantaged in society. It is one of the most important instruments a civilised society can use to narrow that gap. In my case, it began to be narrowed in Gateshead only when, under the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher, a city technology college was established in a town where the expectation of people staying on and going to university was limited; only 10 per cent of pupils in Gateshead stayed on at that time. Now, as a result of the city technology college raising the bar in terms of expectations, we have seen what can be achieved. That school is regularly sending 63 per cent of children on to good-quality universities and large numbers on to Oxbridge universities, nailing the myth that because people come from disadvantaged backgrounds they are incapable of achieving the highest levels of academic success. We on these Benches certainly adhere to that. It is therefore particularly galling after 13 years that two-thirds of working class boys aged 14 have a reading age of seven or below. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to that figure and the implications that it has.
What makes the decline even worse, more tragic and costly is that the gap is widening between the richest and the poorest. This year, nearly a quarter of a million children left primary school unable to read, write and add up properly; overwhelmingly they were from the poorest families. This year, more than half the children leaving comprehensives failed to achieve basic GCSEs; again, overwhelmingly they were from poor families. Nearly 40 per cent of those children eligible for free school meals failed to get a single C pass at GCSE. This year, hundreds of schools entered no children at all for either A-level history, geography, physics, chemistry or biology—and invariably those were schools with the poorest families.
This legislation does nothing towards narrowing the gap. In fact, even the Guardian, no less—at this point noble Lords opposite may wish to pay attention—on 8 May 2009 pointed out:
“Britain under Gordon Brown is a more unequal country than at any time since modern records began in the early 1960s, after the incomes of the poor fell and those of the rich rose. As a result, income inequality at the end of Labour’s 11th year in power was higher than at any time during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership”.
Would the Minister like to come back to the Dispatch Box and still claim that this is a record of which they are proud?
Faced with this staggering record of failure, what do we find is the target in the legislation that is needed to reverse this terrible record, particularly among the poorest in our society? The answer, of course, is to attack home schooling, when these are parents who are making huge sacrifices for the benefit of their children. Home schoolers are not failing children in this country; the state is. It is not the parents who take an interest in their children that we should be worried about; it is the parents who do not take any interest in their children that we should be worried about. When will the Government wake up to the problems that they face in their own state system? When will they stop obsessing over the spelk in the eyes of others, namely the home schoolers, and start addressing the plank in their own eye in terms of failing standards?
The Government are patronising about parents and yet they fall in love with legislation, while all the evidence points in the opposite direction. The Bill will mean that, instead of parents being presumed to have the right to educate their children, they must in future apply for that right to be returned to them from the state. That is surely anathema in a civilized country, particularly when those parents do an outstanding job of educating their children.
Then, of course, the target turns to personal, social, health and economic education. At this point I wish to respond to the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who invited us to say a bit more about what we would do. First of all, we need to look at the record. We have had some 30 years of believing that, if only you provide an education for people and tell them about conception and the alternatives to abortion, then, basically you would solve this problem—education is the answer in these areas. We beg to differ, because the numbers beg to differ—this statement was very powerfully made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his remarks.
Teenage pregnancy rates are now double the western European average: teenage pregnancies account for 7.1 per cent of all births in England, compared to an average of 3 per cent in western Europe. A study shows that when we are dealing with sexually transmitted diseases, those numbers have doubled since 1997. Over the past decade the number of young girls under the age of 16 seeking abortions has risen by 27 per cent. If the answer was simply more education, surely the trend ought to be heading in the other direction.
Our proposal would be to have a greater partnership with parents. Parents care passionately about their children, about their life chances. They understand that their life chances are limited, should they have children early on, and that there is nothing better for inspiring young people and tackling the issue of sexual relationship education than inspiring them with their own potential for their life and what they can achieve going forward.
Some comments were made about the importance of character—the importance of moral education. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford made the point very powerfully about teaching people not only the functionality, but the moral context and the importance of character in arriving at those conclusions. Legislation already exists in this area. A question was asked as to what we would see as good legislation. Good legislation recognises the importance of the parent in the raising of their children, which places an emphasis on morality and on character, and which trusts parents and school governors.
In the Education Act 1996, the last Education Act of the previous Conservative Government, we set out the following broadly based curriculum. We said it should be one which,
“(a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
(b) prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life”.
That seems a straightforward statement: allowing parents, teachers and governing bodies to interpret that in their own setting would seem to be the best way forward.
As for pupil-parent guarantees, which have been referred to on many occasions, rather than removing burdens on teachers and giving them the powers they need to deal with disruptive pupils, we see a proposal which could open the floodgates for litigation against schools and undermine their work and authority. As my honourable friend Michael Gove has put it:
“The fundamental problem with … guarantees is that the Government have run out of money and are reduced to printing promises that they know they cannot redeem”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/09; col. 163.]
They are like some bankrupt regime—maybe they are a bankrupt regime—that keeps the printing press going even though it knows that the pieces of paper that it is sending out are worthless, because it does not have the resources and reserves behind it with which to deliver.
At the end of this long Parliament, we are in great need of change that will raise standards of education in this country. Instead we have a Bill that concentrates on bureaucracy at the expense of action, centralised control at the expense of trust and narrow prescription at the expense of freedom. The Bill is a monument to a Government who have run out of ideas for addressing the real challenges of raising standards of education in this country and so hide behind guarantees, entitlements and agreements instead of taking real action to create genuine change.
Everyone knows what goes into successful education. It is great leadership in a school, inspiring teachers, the support of parents and well behaved children. We would move towards a framework in education that reflected just those principles. We would give teachers the powers that they would need to keep order in the classroom. We would deliver more robust examinations, reflecting a more rigorous curriculum. We would guarantee freedom, independence and choice by removing regulatory barriers to make it easier for educational charities, groups of parents and teachers, co-operatives and others to start new, independently run state academies. The Bill will do none of these things and it will do little to address the problems of poor standards in education, particularly those impacting on the poorest in our society.
The need of the hour is for a Government who will free up teachers, trust parents and inspire children, especially from poor backgrounds, to achieve their personal best. The Bill fails that task and it fails in restoring the broken society. It is time that we had change in order to give those children a chance.
My Lords, what a privilege it is to respond to this tremendous debate. I thank all noble Lords who have taken the time today to contribute to it.
I will say up front that the hour is challenging and so is the task. I undertake to write to noble Lords if I fail to pick up points of detail. I will do my best to cover in 20 minutes the remarks that I want to make, and I hope that noble Lords will bear with me on that.
The Government have always been passionate about education. We came to power promising that education would be at the heart of our policies, but our education system was literally in disrepair, with teachers worrying more about the drips coming through the roof than about how they were going to get through the day. There were real challenges in simply getting schools operating in more than a hand-to-mouth fashion.
We have made significant and sustained improvements to schools over the past 13 years, and output from our schools, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, calls for, has never been better. I challenge the Opposition to stop talking down the efforts of our pupils and teachers in this country and to talk up the amazing achievements of our young people. More children are leaving school equipped to enter the workforce, or go on to further or higher education, than ever before. Now just one in 13 schools is judged to be failing; in 1997, half of all secondary schools were judged to be failing.
We have a strong record of investment and rising standards in education. More young people from disadvantaged backgrounds than ever before are going to our universities, which we are all very proud of. In 2009, 80 per cent of children left primary school with the reading levels expected of their age, and achievement in English is up 17 per cent from 1997. Seventy-nine per cent of children left primary school reaching the expected level of achievement in maths. This is up 17 points from just 62 per cent in 1997. It is important to evaluate outputs and to recognise these achievements. We had 240,000 young people starting apprenticeships, compared to just 75,000 in 1997. We now measure the outcomes for children in care, to see how they are achieving in terms of educational output—and, yes, at last we are starting to see them achieving better.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, when she spoke, which I have to say feels like some time ago, suggested that we are introducing too much regulation. I can reassure her that we are always conscious of the impact of our proposals and we are always sure to introduce new regulations only where they are strictly necessary and appropriate. It is this Government who, from a zero start, introduced 200,000 support staff in schools—not 20,000 as I said in my opening remarks—to help teachers and to let them concentrate on what they do best, which is teaching. We are the Government who have created a 10 per cent of time entitlement for teachers to do the preparation and planning work that they want to do, so that they can promote the excellence that we require as parents.
However noble Lords put it, I will make no apology for the guarantees that we are introducing in this Bill, as it is by their introduction that we will ensure that all children and their families benefit equally from what is on offer through our schools, especially the vulnerable who might otherwise lose out. Similarly, for example, that applies when we talk about changes to the home-school agreement and the introduction of a local authority survey for parents. These will ensure that all parents take their responsibilities seriously and have their views on local school provision taken seriously. Not to introduce these measures risks a piecemeal approach to change and not giving everyone a voice, which cannot be right.
When it comes to the question of the pupil-parent guarantees, it is this Government that set out our commitment to education right from the very start. It is because of the work that we do now that we can be clear about what parents and children can expect from the system. Through this Bill, we are providing guarantees for pupils and parents. This is a landmark development. I thank my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Soley who spoke very eloquently about the importance of these measures—that pupils and their parents will, for the first time, be able to hold schools and local authorities to account if they are not meeting their commitments.
Many of these guarantees build, as I know Peers recognise, on existing legal duties and non-statutory programmes, but through their inclusion in this Bill we will ensure that all children, including the most vulnerable, will receive the education to which they are entitled. There must and will be redress for a guarantee to have meaning. We expect complaints to be resolved at a school level, and that is why the amendment about “tort” in the other place was so important. Only then, after it has not been possible to resolve matters at the school level, can they be referred to the local ombudsman. Therefore, there will be important means of redress.
There has not been much mention of the proposed licence to practise, but we need to be clear that this is not about not trusting teachers to teach; it is about giving the teaching profession the status that it deserves. It is about creating that mechanism and using it to drive up standards by giving teachers the entitlement that they deserve for continuing professional development.
The Bill also allows for the introduction of the new school report card, which will enable parents to make meaningful choices about their children’s future. This is something on which we are working closely with stakeholders, parents and teaching organisations, to make sure that the reconciliation of the different elements of the report card really works in a meaningful way.
On curriculum reform, I have to admit that I am even more bemused now than I was before about the Opposition’s proposals. They are becoming increasingly contradictory. They are a contradictory combination of, on the one hand, a backward, nostalgic look that thinks children must learn lists of kings and queens of England, names of rivers and algebra and, on the other, reckless hand, market forces letting rip with a Swedish free-school experiment. This is not what our children need to set them up for success in adult life, nor what employers are looking for. It is not what higher education institutions are calling for. The proposals include, among other things, I believe, relaxing planning requirements so that you can open a school anywhere—in an office block or a car park. These are the gimmicks, not the serious guarantees that are in the Bill. These gimmicks do not add up to a coherent approach to delivering a good education for every young person. They are about starving some schools while this project goes ahead in an ad hoc way. So I am bemused, though I am sure that at some point someone will put me right.
Thinking about curriculum reform, I was particularly appreciative of my noble friend Lady Blackstone’s remarks about the Rose review, and the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The Bill proposes reforms to the primary curriculum to ensure that children receive the thorough grounding they need in reading, writing and maths, based on a huge amount of expert consultation and advice. We have looked at how the primary curriculum can be freed up so that teachers can concentrate on doing what they do best, and to ensure that the children they teach get the best possible education. These changes have been widely welcomed by teachers and others involved in our schools system.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about the future of the Masters in Teaching and Learning. We have made £30 million available for the initial rollout of the Masters in Teaching and Learning. Teachers have started to enrol in the north-west and in challenging schools nationally. The MTL will provide an important source of continuing professional development over time. This is something that I know noble Lords will be interested to hear more about.
There was much debate about PSHE and the relevant proposals, principles and clauses in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about Catholic schools and his concerns about the implementation of the Bill. We recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach to SRE will not work. That is something that the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear me say. That is why the programmes of study are written at a very high level and why schools can still teach SRE in a way that reflects parents’ wishes and the ethos of the school. However, there is a common core of knowledge and skills that all children should receive. It is not right that schools can choose simply not to teach about contraception or same-sex relationships. What we propose achieves the right balance. It does not, for instance, require Catholic schools to teach young people where to access an abortion, but it requires them to teach young people where they can access health information and advice.
My noble friend Lord Layard also welcomed the contributions on PSHE. I was very grateful for his remarks and those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford—I was pleased to hear his welcome. We know that the Bill sets out several guiding principles for the teaching of PSHE as part of the national curriculum. Schools will be required to comply with these. They have been designed to provide a set of clear and consistent messages about how PSHE should be taught. They will protect against inappropriate, inaccurate and unbalanced teaching, particularly on some of the more emotive elements of PSHE.
For the record, I must be clear. The principles are as follows. Information must be presented as accurate and balanced. PSHE must be taught in a way that is appropriate to the age, and religious and cultural background of pupils—and that reflects a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives. PSHE must be taught in a way that promotes equality, encouraging acceptance of diversity and emphasising rights and responsibilities. These principles are absolutely key and are designed to offer protection from one-sided arguments. We need this Bill because at present there are no such principles in our statutory system. It would be possible, therefore, for a school to provide PSHE teaching which was inaccurate, unbalanced, biased and which took no account of the diversity of our 21st century England. Therefore, it is extremely important that we have this Bill and its provisions on PSHE.
Guidance will be produced, including more information on the principles. We will be consulting on this and it will be in place to support schools as they prepare for the statutory implementation of PSHE by September 2011. I hope that that offers important reassurance. My noble friend—
My Lords, one would normally expect all elements of the national curriculum to be fully inspected by Ofsted. As part of the national curriculum, that would be the case for PSHE as well. I am getting a very slow nod coming from the source of my inspiration over there, but that is what I would expect.
I reassure my noble friend Lady Blackstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that the effect of the government amendment which was accepted in the other place is slight in practice. It simply puts beyond doubt something that we believe was already clear. All schools will still be under a duty to comply with the principles regarding accuracy, balance and diversity, as I have just described. Faith schools will still—as now—be able to teach pupils about the stance of their church, so Catholic schools, for example, will be free to communicate the Catholic Church’s views about the use of contraception, but they will be required to teach that contraception exists, is available, and to say that the church’s point of view is not the only one. I also welcome the recognition by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that the age of withdrawal is a step in the right direction.
I am still focusing on curriculum. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the Rose review. I will write to the noble Lord on that. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about the challenge posed by teenage pregnancy rates and how they are influenced by a wide range of factors. He was very clear about his concerns, but there is growing evidence in this regard. We know that sex and relationship education programmes have a positive impact on the behaviours that lead to teenage pregnancies. There is a great deal of evidence available that I would be happy to share with noble Lords. I agree also with the noble Earl about teacher training in PSHE. We are taking a number of steps beyond this Bill. We are delivering £2 million of funding each year to train teachers and professionals delivering PSHE in schools. As noble Lords would expect, we are working with the Training and Development Agency for Schools.
I appreciate that home education is a very controversial issue. I was very interested in—and have thought very carefully about—the comments made in the debate. My noble friend Lord Soley spoke very eloquently about the dilemmas involved, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. The noble Baroness talked about balancing the rights of the parents and the right of the child to education. I listened very carefully indeed to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as I always do. As we know, the Bill ensures standards of education—that is the key driver here. The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, was particularly concerned about what was driving standards of education. Access to a standard of education is important.
The registration and monitoring of home educated children will not be onerous. Many noble Lords wanted that to be clear. Local authorities must have the tools they need to tackle the small number of cases where the education provided is not satisfactory. I want to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the ContactPoint directory will be very helpful in promoting registration, along with a whole range of other issues. It is key that we promote access to a suitable education for all children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, stressed so clearly.
With regard to the concerns expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Bottomley, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the Bill does nothing to change the rights of parents to educate their children. Parents will continue to decide whether their children should go to school or whether they wish to educate them at home. There is nothing in the Bill that requires parents to teach the national curriculum, take certain qualifications, or follow certain hours, but it is right that local authorities have the tools they need to fulfil the duties that we place on them.
The noble Lord, Lord Laming, as ever, spoke extremely eloquently about Clauses 28 and 29 and I welcome his support. I agree that the purpose of a serious case review is not to act as an inquiry or to apportion blame but to help agencies learn the lessons and improve practice. I agree that success depends on the voluntary contributions of all involved, relying on families and neighbours to share aspects of their lives which they might otherwise hope to keep confidential. I agree, too, that it is best to gather all the available information if we are to have confidence in the serious case review recommendations which are so key to moving forward. Serious case reviews are different from inquiries. I stress the important role of the executive summary as a published document and the key role that Ofsted plays in ensuring that it is an accurate summary of the main report so that the public can have confidence in the recommendations. I agree that undertakings of confidentiality made in the production of these important documents must be honoured and that we must have consistent policies in the handling of all serious case reviews. I thank the noble Lord for advising us and giving us the benefit of his experience once again. I will have to wait until I have had Sir Roger Singleton’s review before I can answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but I will make sure that she is properly and promptly informed about the Government’s plans on that.
There was much concern about the family courts. In response to the challenge from the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, the Government are committed to the paramountcy principle, to the Every Child Matters outcomes, and to promoting the best interests of the child. We are committed to ensuring the privacy of children and families involved in court proceedings, but there is widespread recognition that the family justice system needs to become more accountable to the public that it serves. There were some very detailed questions on this and I will respond to each and every one in full. There were 23 amendments in the other place looking at strengthening the review process for the transparency measures. We hear the concerns that have been raised and we will work hard with partners and stakeholders to ensure that we are offering the reassurances required.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, as ever, made some very important points about the needs of vulnerable children. I can commit, on the record, as I said in my letter to him earlier today, to the legislation requiring local authorities to ensure that there is enough suitable education and training to meet the reasonable needs of young people detained in the youth custody system. That is very much the responsibility of local authorities, and I would be happy to meet further with him to discuss that and any other matters of concern that he may have.
I should conclude, because I have overrun by three minutes. I reiterate my commitment to follow up on the concerns that have been raised to make sure that we do the work and that we do it properly. I thank noble Lords for this debate. Building on our record of improving standards, this Bill will help to deliver a world-class 21st century schooling system that will allow every child and every young person, whatever their interests and abilities, to reach their full potential. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.