Committee (10th Day)
Relevant documents: 7th, 9th and 11th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
224: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Part 3BYoung carersDuty on local authorities
(1) Where it appears to a local authority that a child within their area may provide or be about to provide care to an adult or a child who is disabled, the authority must—
(a) assess whether the child has needs for support relating to their caring role (or is likely to have such needs in the future), and(b) if the child is found to have such needs, set out what those needs are (or are likely to be in the future).(2) Having carried out an assessment under subsection (1), the authority must meet those needs for support which it considers to be necessary to meet in order to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.
(3) Having carried out an assessment under subsection (1), a local authority must also consider whether the adult is or may be eligible for assessment under the Care Act 2013, and if so must ensure such an assessment is carried out unless that adult objects.
(4) Having carried out an assessment under subsection (1), a local authority must consider whether, in the case of a child who is caring for a disabled child, the child being cared for requires an assessment under the Children Act 1989 and if so shall carry out that assessment unless the person with parental responsibility for that child objects.
(5) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance in relation to the duties set out in subsections (1) to (4).
(6) The Secretary of State shall only issue guidance under subsection (5) after having first consulted persons whom the Secretary of State considers to be appropriate.
(7) Any service provided by an authority in exercise of their functions under this section may also be provided for the family or for any member of the child’s family, and may include—
(a) services to the adult the child is providing care for to meet the adult’s needs for care and support; and(b) services to the adult to enhance their parenting capacity.(8) An authority must provide services under subsection (7) if the authority considers that this is in the best interests of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare.”
This is a model of how amendments can be dealt with. The ministerial team have gone to great lengths, on all these amendments, to meet and talk with people and to see if agreements can be made wherever possible. They have been absolutely stunning on the issue of young carers. They have met a whole range of people, particularly the National Young Carers Coalition—to which we pay tribute for its work—and we now have a government amendment, so I do not want to say very much.
On reflection, we have been slightly concerned about having the clash of the two Bills, but that clash has concentrated the mind. Although we cannot be in two places at once—my colleagues have dashed from the Chamber to the Moses Room—it has, somewhat surprisingly, shown the importance even more.
I will say no more. My colleague wants to go into more detail about how we can get a few issues clarified and be a bit more joined up.
My Lords, it may be helpful to the Committee if, at this point, I outline the government amendment, to enable us to have a full debate. I will, of course, respond to that debate in the usual way.
The proposed new clause in Amendment 241 was announced formally in a Written Ministerial Statement from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education on 8 October. It gives effect to the stated intention of my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families during debates in the other place. He undertook to consolidate and simplify legislation relating to young carers’ assessments, and ensure that children’s legislation works with adults’ legislation to support the linking of assessments, as set out in the Care Bill, to enable whole family approaches.
This proposed new clause makes the following important changes to young carers’ legislation. It extends the right to an assessment of needs to all young carers, regardless of who they care for, what type of care they provide or how often they provide it. Local authorities will have to carry out an assessment of a young carer’s needs for support, on request or on the appearance of need. The proposed new clause also enables local authorities to align the assessment of a young carer with an assessment of an adult whom they care for, by making express provision in relation to combining assessments.
This last point is perhaps the most important of all. My noble friend Lord Howe and I agree that enabling local authorities to consider the needs of the whole family is the key to achieving our joint aim of protecting children and young people from excessive or inappropriate caring roles. The proposed new clause enables the necessary links to be made between a young carer’s assessment and, for example, an assessment under the Care Bill. This, together with planned future regulations and guidance under the Care Bill on whole family approaches to assessing and supporting adults, will provide a clear and joined-up legislative framework that will enable early identification and assessment of needs for support.
Over the summer, we have worked closely with interested parties from the statutory and voluntary sectors. This proposed new clause reflects those conversations. The reaction from the sector has been incredibly positive: I pay particular tribute and offer thanks to the National Young Carers Coalition, which has been especially constructive and supportive.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 224, to which we have added our names, and to Amendments 225, 226, 227, 228, 229 and 230, as well as to government Amendment 241. I echo the comments already made—that this is a very welcome breakthrough in the Government’s approach to young carers. I am very pleased at this unusually effective twin-track approach, with the Department of Health and the Department for Education coming together to address these issues from both aspects. That is a welcome development.
Without rehearsing all the arguments, we can all identify with the overwhelming evidence that there are an increasing number of children and young people caring for a family member, parent or sibling and that that is affecting their education, their chance to socialise and their health. We have not had the processes in place to identify these young people and give them the help they need, but I am pleased to say that we are now moving forward.
The key to this new requirement is the duty on local authorities to identify young carers. As we know, they are often hidden from view. Our amendment places parallel duties on schools, social care and health providers to play their part in finding these young people, and in putting in place co-ordinated support packages for the children and for those for whom they care. Our amendments spell these out in some detail. Amendment 225 also specifies a duty to provide sufficient resources to improve the well-being of all young carers in the area.
We have now had an opportunity to consider the government amendment to the Bill, and I appreciated the chance to attend the meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Nash, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and with representatives of young carers’ charities. As the Minister has said, there was a strong welcome for the steps that have been taken and for the Government’s recognition of the importance of this issue. We feel that the government amendments provide a useful outline framework to address the issue. We also accept that some of the detail will inevitably have to be spelled out in regulations. However, our amendments go one step further in stipulating the specific duties required of health, social care and FE institutions. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain how his amendments—which impose a much more general duty—relate to all those different aspects of the combined package that is meant to apply to young carers in future.
We have acknowledged previously that you can only go so far in driving change from the centre. There also has to be the political will at local level. Concern remains about the appetite of local government for embracing these extra duties. Their representatives were noticeably absent from the meeting we attended, though at the time we were assured that they were supportive of the changes. Would the Government look again at Amendment 225? This goes one step further than simply putting in place whole family assessments—it places a duty on local authorities to provide a range and level of service sufficient to improve the well-being of young carers. We are not just talking about the structure; we are talking about the resources as well. Without the sorts of amendments that we have put forward, there would be a concern about the level of resources made available locally. In other words, we would ensure that the resources were in place to make a real difference to these young people’s lives. Could the Minister clarify whether he agrees that there is merit in such a duty?
We also have residual concerns about the split between adult and children’s services in local government and their inability to work together in a co-ordinated fashion. These structural problems still need to be addressed going forward. How, if not in legislation, might we make some progress on these issues so that all sides of local government are talking and working together?
There is also a big training need. For example, schools and other education institutions, which often have no knowledge that their pupils are carers, need training to identify the symptoms of young carers and in the skills needed to champion their needs. As we have previously identified, teacher training has a big role to play here. Could the Minister address the issue of training, particularly at school level?
Finally, an issue came up in the Care Bill: that of parent carers. It was raised by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley. On Report, in response to her concern the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that it was the Government’s view that the main provision for assessing and supporting those caring for disabled children should be in the children’s legislation, so that the family’s need for support could be looked at holistically—in other words, it should be in this Bill. It feels as if we are addressing everybody’s needs in this wonderful new holistic arrangement apart from the parents of disabled children. How has that read-across from what happened in the Care Bill to this Bill been followed through?
Nevertheless, we feel that the Government are on the right track and support their amendment. We accept that this is a unique opportunity to improve the lives of young carers. Obviously, we should grasp that. I very much welcome the steps taken so far but would like answers on the points I have raised with the noble Lord this afternoon. That could help to make a lot of difference to young carers, in terms of the reality of their experience on the ground.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 224, to which my name is attached. I will also make some comments about government Amendment 241.
I agree with other noble Lords who think that today is a landmark moment in what has been a very long journey for young carers to get the support that they need. More than a year ago, the Government announced new rights for adult carers. Those were extremely welcome but no equivalent provisions were put forward at the time for young carers. I pay tribute to the Government today for the very hard work they have done over the summer, across government and working with the sector, to get to this situation.
Like many other commentators at the time, I was particularly surprised a year ago at that omission, given what we know about children and young people who care for someone. They are particularly vulnerable to poor outcomes and life chances. Obviously, the reasons for that are straightforward. It was clear that for far too long young carers had not been sufficiently protected by the law. Indeed, very few young carers had received statutory assessment and support. Where they did, they often continued to undertake inappropriate levels of caring, simply because the adult that they were looking after continued to have unmet needs. The law was so confusing for young carers that it often was not even clear who had responsibility for them.
These are critical points in what we are looking at today because young carers’ well-being was directly affected by how far the adult they looked after was supported. That is why the whole family approach to assessment, which we have heard about already from the Minister, is so important. If this is to make a difference in practice, it is absolutely critical that children’s and adult services are able to work together. That sounds obvious but any of us who have been involved in the sector know that in practice it is often quite the reverse.
As my noble friend Lord Storey said at the beginning, the two Bills are scheduled at the same time. Originally when I saw that, I thought “Oh my goodness, I do not know how I will cope running between the two”. Actually, I think the opportunity provided to link the Bills is rather important. It has felt quite a complex process at times but I think we are almost there.
I have a final couple of points to make. What it really comes down to now is regulations. In addition, the Government have made it absolutely clear in various briefing sessions that the Care Bill provides a whole family approach to assessment, and this will need to be set out in the regulations. I would very much welcome any further assurances the Minister can give today that all those loose ends will be tied up so that the jigsaw is absolutely complete. One of the reasons that I attached my name to Amendment 224, before the government amendment was tabled, was to make it clear that adults’ support needs should be met in order to protect children. I would particularly welcome assurances that the Government intend to look at how regulations relating to the Care Bill will make this crystal clear. I, too, commend all the collaborative work that has taken place. I pay particular tribute to the expert advice and real-life experience that the National Young Carers Coalition has fed in.
The only remaining point I would like to highlight concerns the respective roles and responsibilities of other agencies, particularly health and education agencies but social care as well, in identifying young carers and knowing how they can best be supported. That is also something I would like to see picked up in the guidance. These amendments, particularly the government amendment, together with the provision in the Care Bill, provide an excellent opportunity to set new standards for identifying young carers and approaches to supporting the whole family. Regulations and good practice guidance on these new standards would be a very good place in which to take the provision forward.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the Government on producing their amendment, which is a significant milestone. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, spoke of a long journey. I pay tribute to all those who have been on that journey, including my colleagues at Loughborough University in the Young Carers Research Group who were there at the outset and I think coined the phrase “young carers”. They have done a lot of research which has helped lead to this conclusion. Therefore, it is very gratifying for me to thank them and all the others who have contributed to this outcome.
I pick up a point made by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch about parents caring for disabled children. Carers UK points out that: it is three times more costly to bring up a disabled child than a non-disabled child; parent carers are more likely to be reliant on income-based state support; 34% of sick or disabled children live in households where there is no adult in paid work, compared with 18% of children who are not sick or disabled; parent carers are more likely to suffer relationship breakdown and divorce, and three or more times more likely to suffer ill health and health breakdown than parents of non-disabled children; and more than half the families who responded to its survey felt that a lack of statutory services was the key factor contributing to their feelings of isolation. A recent study by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner carried out with disabled children found that for many disabled children and their families the impact of low income on basic needs was compounded by inadequate services, personal support and information. In some areas necessary housing adaptations were hard to obtain, long delays were experienced and appropriate provision was achieved only through persistent parental pressure.
Will the Minister explain why this group does not seem to come under the whole family approach that he rightly emphasised? Will he consider having another look at this as it is now a gaping hole? I hope that he might take another look at this hole and be willing to fill it on Report.
My Lords, no one can be anything but absolutely delighted at the government amendment. I, too, was at the joint meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Nash, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but wish to ask some further questions, following on from the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Tyler. I am concerned that, even if a local authority had a duty in this regard, there would be extreme difficulties in continuing this journey. We are on the first step of the journey. As a long-standing practitioner, I know that the problem arises with the actual implementation of these services.
When I asked a supplementary question about the parents of disabled children, I was told that it could be dealt with in this Committee. We do not get those services for disabled children, or a proper co-ordinated family approach in local authorities, because of the difficulties they have in meeting their commitments currently. I have said this before, but I sometimes think I am living in a parallel universe where our aspirations and our joy at achieving excellent legislation cannot be matched by reality. My own local authority is about to face further cuts of £145 million on top of previous ones. Every noble Lord in this Room should know what their own local authority faces and what the implications will be for services on the ground. I want to hear from the Minister how we can meet the young carers approach and about what we might do for disabled families, because they need the services, not more legislation.
There is an answer. If we had good, co-ordinated family assessment and family workers with no duplication—I speak as a trained family case-worker in the past—where one worker undertakes the assessment and knows which experts to call on when other expertise is needed, and much more focus in terms of the work, we might actually save resources. However, I do not know how that gets into regulations. I would be very interested to see whether or not we can do that because we could revolutionise some of these services by the approach we take in implementation. We have legislation that says that disabled children should receive X, Y and Z for particular conditions, but I fear that the services are simply not there to meet the need. I am sorry if that sounds a slightly sour note—it is not meant to, as I am utterly delighted that we have this in the Bill. What I hope we can do now is to start to revolutionise services so that it actually happens, day to day, in people’s lives.
My Lords, I will briefly follow what my noble friend has said in terms of the practical implementation of this very welcome work that the Government have undertaken. I remind the Committee of the difficulty posed by having continually changing professionals. We debated earlier the issue of children making their transition to adult services. On several occasions, parents have raised with me the difficulties posed by the fact that they will have several changes of social worker just as the child comes to access adult services, such that the advocacy for that child as it goes into the adult services is lost. I am very familiar in children’s services, particularly those for looked-after children, with people complaining and saying, “Look, I have had five social workers in the past two years”. People have had multiple social workers, which is very disadvantaging. When we talk about working together to improve outcomes for children, as we are here, we need to keep a good eye on the practicalities and ensure that there is more continuity of professional care. We need to keep and retain our social workers and other professionals, and not keep moving them around all the time.
Here, I would just like to raise the concerns that I have heard in the past when speaking to psychiatrists working in the health service. They feel that the service is changing and being reformed so often—with the best of intentions—that, once they get to build relationships with partners in other disciplines, they or the partner are moved on. They do not know the other people and cannot work in the kind of way I think we are talking about at the moment. I make a plea that we avoid more large-scale reorganisations of, for instance, the health service in the near future. The same story comes from social workers in local authorities, who continually experience reorganisations of their local authority, which overburdens them and, again, breaks up the relationships necessary for them to be able to make effective partnerships work in the way that we want them to work in this part of the Bill. I hope that is helpful to your Lordships.
My Lords, I join in the praise for the Government on taking this issue very seriously indeed. The Minister has brought forward a comprehensive set of proposals to cover this vital area, and it is a source of pleasure to most of us that young carers are to be given some support in the background. It will be good to watch and see what happens.
I want to ask a question about Amendment 225, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, which seeks to insert a new clause headed “Duty to secure sufficient support”, particularly so far as schools are concerned. I speak as an officer of the National Governors’ Association. To what extent has the association passed this message on to all governing bodies? Do a sufficient number of schools have an individual governor from a background that reflects the training, knowledge and awareness to recognise the support that will be needed, and will they have specific responsibilities and duties in this respect in order to see that the policy is properly applied? This is particularly important. I go back quite a long way so far as governing bodies are concerned. Even in the context of the education Bills we have seen in recent years, it has taken some time to make it clear that governing bodies are expected to play an important role, yet they had not even been mentioned in the legislation. That, of course, has now changed, but it would be good to know how well this message has got through to governing bodies and to those with responsibilities in this area.
My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Storey and Lady Tyler, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, for proposing these new clauses. I shall turn first to the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones. I agree wholeheartedly that the effective identification of young carers and assessment of their support needs is best achieved by social care, health and education services working together and considering the whole family’s needs. We have been promoting this approach with local authorities since 2011 through the Prevention through Partnership programme delivered by the Children’s Society and funded by my department.
Our proposed new clause supports the combining of assessments. This enables the necessary link to be made between a young carer’s assessment and, for example, an assessment of the adult they care for made under provisions in the Care Bill. This will support practitioners to take a whole family approach to considering the effect of the adult’s support needs on the rest of the household and provide appropriate services that address the needs of the whole family. I also agree that it is necessary to have sufficient local services available to meet the needs of young carers. That is why we are building on the existing general duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area by requiring them to identify the extent to which there are young carers in their area with needs for support.
I do not agree, however, that a new duty to provide services to young carers, as proposed by my noble friends Lord Storey and Lady Tyler, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, is necessary or appropriate. Our aim is to start by ensuring that the eligible support needs of the person being cared for are met. Most commonly this is an adult, and the provision of services to that adult will prevent young people from having to undertake or continue in a potentially harmful caring role. If the young person still has needs for support, services can be provided under the existing general duty to safeguard and protect the welfare of children in need under the Children Act 1989.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, have also tabled three amendments which place duties on specific institutions to identify young carers. While I fully support the need to improve early identification of those with caring responsibilities, I remain unconvinced that a regulatory approach is appropriate. Once again, we are in the realm of what actually happens in practice. The key issue is about raising awareness and understanding among those working in health, education and social care of the possible impact of a caring role on young people. They will then be able to signpost them to relevant sources of information, advice and support.
We will continue to work with our statutory and voluntary sector partners to pursue non-legislative means of achieving this. For example, we are training school and community nurses to be champions for young carers. We are also working with the Children’s Society to deliver training and guidance for practitioners on identifying young carers in hard-to-reach groups. These include those supporting someone with mental illness or substance abuse problems and HIV, and those from ethnic-minority communities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked how the amendments would apply to health bodies, FE training et cetera. We do not feel that an apparently simple provision putting duties on everyone—which of course will not be simple—is the right way to achieve the culture change required to ensure that young carers are developed and their needs assessed. I will explain the other steps that will contribute to this. GPs and those working in primary health services have a vital role to play in identifying carers of all ages. For 2012-13, the Department of Health has provided funding of over £800,000 for a range of initiatives by the Royal College of General Practitioners, Carers UK, the Carers Trust, the Queen’s Nursing Institute and the Royal College of Nursing to increase awareness in primary healthcare of the needs of carers and how to access support. The Department of Health is considering further bids for funding for 2013-15.
In addition, the mandate to NHS England, published in November 2012, contains clear objectives, including one on enhancing the quality of life of people with long-term conditions and their carers. The Department of Health has also recently started training school nurses to be champions for young carers. They will speak up on their behalf and help head teachers and governors decide how best to support them at school.
Most importantly, the statutory guidance on joint strategic needs assessments specifically includes looking at the needs of young carers. This, combined with the new role for local authorities in health and well-being boards, which will be developing strategies to meet the identified needs, should result in young carers being given extra support over the coming two years.
The Children’s Society’s recent report Hidden from View includes some startling findings, perhaps none more so than that the young carers involved in the study had significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level than their peers: the equivalent to nine grades lower overall, which is the difference between nine Bs and nine Cs. That makes clearer than ever the need for schools to identify and support their young carers. However, a legislative approach that compels them to do so will not help. The fewer burdens we put on head teachers, the more likely they are to be able to respond to the individual needs of their pupils.
We want to see all educational establishments create a supportive environment that encourages voluntary co-operation and responds to each child’s personal circumstances. It is important that head teachers and governors are allowed the necessary local freedom to exercise their welfare responsibilities in the most appropriate way. There are safeguards. For example, Ofsted inspections take particular interest in the experience of more vulnerable children, including young carers, during inspections.
There are some really good examples of good practice in schools, such as having a nominated lead teacher whom young carers can talk to, setting up young carer card schemes so that they do not have to keep explaining their situation, and making links to local young carer support groups. I accept, however, that there is plenty still to do to make this normal practice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, asked about training. That is why I was so pleased to hear that the Big Lottery Fund is to work with the Children’s Society’s Young Carers in Focus programme on a national award scheme that allows schools to be recognised for getting it right for their young carers. Furthermore, my department has worked with the Children’s Society and the Carers Trust since 2011 to share existing tools and good practice, including an e-learning module for school staff that we developed to increase awareness in schools of young carers’ issues. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that there is a lot going on, which is what we need to see in addition to our amendment.
On the point of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Lister, about carers for disabled children, the Government recognise the tremendous job that parent carers of disabled children do and the impact that their caring responsibilities can have on their own lives. There is a strong framework of support already in place to support parent carers under the Children Act 1989 and in new provisions in Part 3 of the Bill. As noble Lords are aware, we will be debating an amendment on parent carers next week, so I will not respond to this issue further today.
My noble friend Lady Tyler raised a point about what regulations will cover. The exact content of the regulations is still under consideration, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, explained at our recent round table with Peers. Our two departments have already held constructive discussions over the summer with the National Young Carers Coalition, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and young carers themselves to identify key principles of a whole family approach to assessment of an adult needing care and support. To ensure consistent messages around whole family approaches to assessment, the regulations from this proposed new clause and those from the Care Bill relating to the assessment of adults with care needs will be developed side by side. We anticipate issuing draft regulations and guidance for consultation in spring 2014.
I strongly agree with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about a holistic single-family assessment and the importance of implementation. It is only in part about the legislation, as was said. I will try to explain how we are seeking to develop regulations under the Care Bill to support this. Regulation-making powers about assessment in the Care Bill provide the opportunity to expand on a whole family approach to assessment, among other matters. This approach would apply when appropriate in assessing the needs of caring for adults as well as adults who need care and support. While this is particularly relevant where children and young people are providing care to an adult, it will also be relevant to other family members.
We have identified the following principle to inform the drafting of regulations about a whole family approach when assessing an adult. The adult’s assessment should reflect the impact that their care and support needs have on the adult’s responsibilities as a parent of a child under 18, and responsibilities for the function of a family and household. The adult’s assessment should take into consideration the impact of any care and support responsibilities on a child’s well-being, welfare, education and/or development. If a young carer’s need for support cannot be met through meeting the adult’s need for care and support, consideration must be given to whether they might be entitled to assessment and support in their own right as a child in need under the Children Act 1989, or for assessment as a young carer under the provisions that we are debating today. The Department of Heath plans to publish these drafts for consultation in May 2014, aligning with publication of our regulations. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, will see progress when we do so.
Finally, picking up on the point of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about children experiencing constant change of professionals, I will point him to some work in Hackney which seems to be making good progress on this in ensuring that families work with one professional for as long as possible.
I hope that your Lordships will agree that our proposed new clause represents a significant step forward in improving outcomes for young carers and their families. I therefore urge noble Lords to support that amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, to withdraw his.
My Lords, I will press the Minister on one thing. He has clearly not referred to governing bodies at all in what he said or in his own amendment. What responsibility does he see that governing bodies will have to know what is going on and to be active elements in seeing that it is delivered?
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has raised an important point. As she probably knows, school governance is an area on which we are focusing a lot more. To date we have not involved the National Governors’ Association in this, but I agree that it is important that governing bodies are fully aware of and involved in this in terms of training programmes for school nurses and others. I would be very happy to talk to the NGA about how it can ensure that governors focus on this issue more closely.
I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 224.
Amendment 224 withdrawn.
Amendments 225 to 230 not moved.
231: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Personal and social education
After section 78 of the Education Act 2002 insert—“78A Duty of schools to promote the academic, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical development of children
(1) All schools shall make explicit to parents, school governors and pupils how they deliver—
(a) school policies which contribute to the health and well being of pupils;(b) pastoral care focused on the safety and well being of pupils and which, where appropriate, works in conjunction with support systems from agencies outside the school;(c) a school ethos which fosters respect for self and others;(d) a school curriculum from which pupils gain the information and skills to support their academic, emotional, moral, physical and cultural well being and which prepares them for adult life; and(e) the school’s commitment to democratic principles and good citizenship.(2) The above shall be delivered as appropriate to the age, readiness and needs of pupils in the school.””
My Lords, I ask Members of the Committee to allow me to remain seated while I move my amendment because I am still recovering from a close encounter between my head and a paving stone in New York, and I would rather not stand.
Amendment 231 has two purposes. It seeks to guarantee for all children and young people an education, in whatever establishment the education takes place, that will equip them with the skills and knowledge to succeed both now and in the future. It also seeks a guarantee that their well-being and protection be safeguarded. Further, I put forward the view that personal, social and health education, PSHE, is only partly a discrete subject in the curriculum. These issues form part of the whole school life; they are not just topics. Ofsted stated recently that PSHE is patchy in schools and not always of high quality. I want to try to describe how school policies, pastoral care, the school ethos, curriculum and democratic principles all contribute to enhancing opportunities for children and young people.
I believe that the Minister will agree with me on this, but I suspect that he may read out all the duties on schools and academies, and perhaps even on free schools, which are currently set out in legislation and guidance. I hope that he does not do that because we have gone through all this before. Yes, there is guidance and, yes, there is legislation, much of it couched in indirect language that is vague and aspirational. I suggest that that is not good enough. I hear a good deal from Ministers and the media about the rights and freedoms of schools, about league tables, and about what the curriculum should contain. However, I hear very little about the importance of fostering personal development and self-confidence in children, and how that often underpins the ability to learn. This is about the rights of the child.
My amendment does not prescribe what schools should teach or what might be their policies and practices. It simply requires them to state what they provide in relation to their policies, pastoral care, ethos, curriculum and democratic principles. In other words, I seek to make explicit for pupils, parents, governors and those otherwise connected to a school what that school delivers. There are no cost implications to this.
I was most interested in the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about two weeks ago, when he said that custodial institutions for young people should follow the practice in schools. I believe that the principles I have set down here would be very pertinent to young people in custody. I also maintain that in a safe and well ordered school, based on respect for self and others, learning and academic results will be improved. I have seen this happen often in schools that were at risk, which were turned around by placing an emphasis on respect, order and clarity of purpose.
I should like to speak first about school policies on bullying, behaviour, young carers and pupils’ health needs. It is reassuring that the Department for Education has recently announced that schools must have in place a policy on the long-term health needs of their pupils, but children—perhaps it is only a small minority of pupils—also suffer from the effects of bullying and bad behaviour. Pupils being bullied and those who do the bullying both need appropriate help. Expected standards of behaviour need to be clear to pupils, teachers, parents and governors. If no one knows what the school policy is on this, how do they know what to do?
I will move on to pastoral care that focuses on the safety and well-being of pupils. Schools can often spot a child who is in difficulty: they may be physically marked, sullen and inattentive, or absent. Schools can call on help from medical and social services, the police and so on. However, we know of examples where children attending school have slipped the net and been harmed. If no one knows what the pastoral care policy is, how does intervention for the child happen?
You can smell a school ethos when you walk into the school. How are you greeted? What does the school look like—for example, is any children’s art or poetry on the walls or displays about school visits, wildlife or achievement in sport? Do the children walk down the corridors in an orderly way? Are they confident and polite with each other and with adults? A positive school ethos does not just happen but is something the leadership and staff—all staff, teaching and non-teaching—create. That is what good schools do, in both the public and private sector. They are proud of the qualities that they encourage in staff and pupils. You only have to look at the evaluation of UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools programme to see how a whole school ethos encourages good learning and good citizens. If no one knows how to encourage a positive school ethos, how will they know that the ethos is important?
On the curriculum, we all know that structured learning is at the heart of a school and develops—or should develop—at each stage of the child’s development. For example, a child learns to read and he or she goes on to read more and more complex material. Children read simple stories, then more complex literature, before they read Shakespeare. That might be in sex and relationships education, drug education or alcohol education, which dovetails with the amendments of my noble friend Lady Hughes and Lady Jones. Young children can learn about parts of the body, friendships and respect for others before they go on, as older pupils, to discuss changes in their bodies, sexual feelings and emotions, and risk-taking. Learning is, in all subjects, a spiral. Subjects such as sport, music, drama and art all encourage teamwork and respect for others. Teachers, of course, do not do it all—I certainly never did. They invite specialists in to enhance pupil learning in areas such as drugs, alcohol or sexual health. Parents and governors have a right to know what children in a school are learning at each stage, while pupils need structure. If that structure is not there, how does anyone learn and how do they know what they have learnt?
I move on to democratic principles, which some would call citizenship. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, sitting opposite, who introduced a most excellent debate recently about the importance of citizenship in schools and in higher education. Again, young children can learn in school about participation in a group, respecting the views of others and taking responsibility. I have seen many primary and secondary schools with a school council, which contributes to the school’s thinking on, for example, discipline, school meals and so on. As the child matures, they may learn about national and local structures of decision-making. If we hope that people will vote and take part in democratic processes in this country, early introduction to the importance of democracy is surely important.
I believe that all children and young people have a right to a broad education that encourages excitement in learning and joy at being in a school community where they feel safe, respected and nurtured, and where principles of self-discipline and respect for others and self are paramount. If children grow up with these principles, they will surely be better equipped to be better citizens and parents and to enhance that most important quality, home learning. Home learning and parents are the key to confidence and success for children. Sadly, that is sometimes lacking.
The cycle of deprivation still exists: all pupils do not have the benefit of a stable, nurturing home, where expectations are clear and learning encouraged. Schools can help to counteract that, not by trying to “teach” children of two or by pouring in more so-called academic learning, but by having clear purposes on how children will be helped to be secure and motivated to learn. Most schools are proud to make public their policies and practices on personal development and learning, but some do not. If schools receive state funding, then they surely have a duty to the state to demonstrate that they provide a good, broad education for our children. That is all I seek: not to prescribe what they teach or what should be in a policy, but to advocate that schools make provisions and policies transparent and visible with regard to how they intend to develop pupils’ personal, social and health needs as well as their academic needs.
My amendment would encourage action on what schools provide for our children. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 232(Rev) and 233 as this might help with the subsequent debate.
I warmly endorse the contribution of my noble friend Lady Massey and the amendment in her name. She always speaks with enormous weight and confidence on these issues. The amendments in my name are slightly more specific and both propose new clauses relating to the provision of sex and relationship education in schools.
Amendment 232(Rev) is a detailed amendment which would place PSHE in the national curriculum at all four key stages, covering primary and secondary schools. It aims to broaden and update the curriculum to ensure that, in an age-appropriate way, sex education emphasises the importance of loving relationships. It is vital that this subject is taught by those skilled to deal with complex emotional and developmental issues, who might not therefore be based in science departments.
Because young people need to better understand the physical and emotional journey to maturity, they have the right to information about same-sex relationships, the danger of sexual and domestic violence and a much clearer understanding of body awareness and sexual consent. They also need help in resisting the pressures to achieve a size-zero body shape, while understanding the dangers of obesity.
These are all complex issues which require specialist teachers if they are to be handled successfully. The amendment would require the content to be put out to consultation, to ensure that it was age-appropriate for children at different stages—in the way described by my noble friend Lady Massey—and would give parents the right to opt their child out of sex and relationship education up to the age of 15. It would also apply to all schools.
Amendment 233 concerns the need to update the statutory sex and relationship guidance issued by the department to schools. It would require the Secretary of State to convene a round table of experts to update the guidance, which was last updated in 2000 and which contains no reference to the impact on the lives of young people of mobile technology, the internet or online bullying. This update is, therefore, long overdue. We have all been appalled by the recent cases of child grooming, which have highlighted the urgency with which government authorities and agencies need to act to prevent abuse of children and young people. In recent court cases, it became clear that the young girls concerned had no idea what they were getting into or how easily they could be exploited. Meanwhile, research by the Children’s Commissioner has found that too many young people do not know what a healthy relationship looks like any more and do not even know what consent means. In the absence of effective education, they are, literally, modelling themselves on internet images instead.
There is a growing body of support demanding that this issue be addressed. Organisations such as the Girl Guides, Mumsnet, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Mothers’ Union are calling for the guidance to be updated. Even the Telegraph newspaper is running an excellent Wonder Women campaign, calling for sex and relationship guidance to be updated. It cites some shocking statistics; one-fifth of boys between the ages of 16 and 20 told the University of East London that they were
“dependent on porn as a stimulant for real sex”.
In the University of East London survey, 66% of girls between the ages of 12 and 16 say that pornographic images and content are their main source of sexual knowledge; they say they find that information from Facebook. A study by the NSPCC found that almost a third of school pupils believe that online pornography dictates how young people in a relationship should behave towards each other. A study of 601 pupils, aged 11 to 18, revealed that girls feel that they have to act like porn stars in order to be liked by boys. How sad it is that we have come to this. For those of us who think that sex education should be the parents’ responsibility, their survey also showed that young people are three times more likely to go online to find out about sex and relationships than they are to ask their parents. The result of our inaction is that teenagers are being influenced by violent, pornographic images, leading to increasing violence in their relationships.
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, whose Private Member’s Bill has sought to limit young people’s access to adult pornography and I support that piece of legislation. However, we need to approach this whole issue from a number of different directions, and education has a key role to play. We argue that our country is breaching its commitment to Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires us to take all,
“social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse”.
The Welsh Government have already updated their sex and relationship education, building on Article 19, and addressing the rights of the child to have the necessary information to make informed personal choices. So, at a national and international level, the pressure is on us to act.
Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron have backed the Telegraph campaign. In September, the Prime Minister vowed to update sex and relationship education, to bring it into the 21st century, and to ensure that teachers were equipped to talk about the dangers of the internet. We also have support from the Cross Benchers, from the Bishops and from the Lib Dems—although we have yet to hear from them—so I hope that this will be a cross-party issue.
Unfortunately, Michael Gove remains opposed to updating the guidance, and seems to be blocking it. In a recent interview, he said that he thought sex education ought to be timeless. The Minister also appears to be taking this line. On Wednesday 30 October, when asked about this by my noble friend Lady Hughes, he said:
“Technology is moving very fast, and we do not think that constant changes to the regulations and top-down diktats are the way to deal with this”.—[Official Report, 30/10/13; col. 1580].
Regrettably, this does not match the reality of 21st-century life. Yes, the recent pace of technological and social change has been huge, but it has also had an enormous impact on children’s personal and sexual development. We have to keep pace with these developments, in order to provide proper support for these young people.
We have to acknowledge that young people are being hurt and traumatised by trying to form relationships in a new world that they do not really understand. We cannot remove all these pressures and expectations, but we can give them better tools and insight to help them develop mutual respect and loving relationships. This is what an update of the guidance can deliver, and I hope that noble Lords will support this really important amendment.
My Lords, the Committee is about to hear from the Lib Dems because I was delighted to add my name to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in support of her amendment. I am delighted to see her in her place and congratulate her on the quality of her introductory speech. If she can do that after a bang on the head, what on earth could she do without one?
Current legislation in relation to PSHE and SRE is very confused. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that making PSHE, including SRE, a statutory part of the national curriculum would make schools much more accountable for what they delivered. Young people all say that they want a comprehensive, high-quality programme of PSHE. Teachers themselves are campaigning for it, a large percentage of parents want it and most of the children’s organisations are also campaigning for it. That is why I also support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to make PSHE part of the national curriculum and, indeed, to put an expert group together to look again at the guidance. An enormous amount of expertise is available to the Government on this subject and they should listen to it.
The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is very clever as it builds on a duty that schools already have. I am sad to say that this Government have already made clear their position on making PSHE part of the national curriculum. In my view, a few warm words in the preamble to the national curriculum is not enough but the Government have stated what they want to do or rather what they do not want to do. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has considered a duty that schools already have. Hardly anyone could disagree with the wording of her amendment. Frankly, it occurs to me that no school could comply with this amendment without teaching a comprehensive programme of high-quality PSHE.
I wish to comment on two of the five important paragraphs in proposed new subsection (1) of the noble Baroness’s amendment. As regards a school’s ethos, she mentioned rights-respecting schools. It is very important for children’s own protection that their personal self-respect is built up by a programme of PSHE and by everything which happens to them within the school. I have visited a rights-respecting school where I saw some of the most mature young people that I have met in any school. The pleasant, relaxed and respectful relationship that existed not only between the young people themselves but between the young people and their teachers was outstanding. That is the sort of relationship that is conducive to high-quality learning. Paragraph (d) in the amendment refers to the duty of schools to promote,
“a school curriculum from which pupils gain the information and skills to support their academic, emotional, moral, physical and cultural well being and which prepares them for adult life”.
What are we doing with children in schools if we are not preparing them for adult life?
Children who have self-respect and confidence and feel comfortable and happy in their school environment are good learners and that will help them to achieve academically as well. We are not talking about a soft subject here; we are talking about a very important underpinning for all the academic subjects and the high-quality qualifications which we hope all young people will get in their schools, given good-quality teaching. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is absolutely right that it is important that this issue is in the curriculum but it is also important to understand that this is not just about the curriculum but about the development of the whole child across the whole school. Many schools put PSHE right at the very heart of everything they do. They do not just teach it as a subject; it is a fundamental underpinning of everything that the children do. However, it is also important to teach them all the things they need to know to help them develop into well balanced, confident adults and to protect them from all the dangers that there are out there for them.
My Lords, I am delighted to have been tempted into the Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, who asked if I would put my name to her amendment. I was very glad to do so.
To begin, I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, made some very telling points in her speech. I often wish that we had never had the internet invented but the fact is that it is there, it cannot be uninvented and it has brought a new dimension to the lives of young people—a dimension with which they find it exceptionally difficult to grapple. The noble Baroness was very right to underline that.
Many years ago, because I have been in this building for 43 years, I was a schoolmaster for 10 years. When I talk to my grandchildren—three granddaughters and a grandson, ranging in ages from eight to 16—I realise what a very different world they are growing up into. The challenges and moral dilemmas they face are so different from those of the relatively simple and stable society when I taught in a Church of England school in the early 1960s. Perhaps the biggest problem we had to deal with was the odd Woodbine behind the bicycle shed. Now our young people, almost all of whom are computer literate and equipped with mobile phones—of a very advanced nature in many cases—have their privacy invaded and eroded in a way that most of them are not emotionally able to tackle.
I am not a believer in censorship. I never thought I would hear myself saying this in either House of Parliament but I am afraid that I have come to the conclusion that we must censor this heavy pornographic material which pollutes minds, distorts lives and destroys them, often even before they have properly begun. If that means being very tough with the purveyors of this filth, and denying adults access to it, so be it. Not a single life is enhanced by the filth and degrading material that we know about and read about. In Parliament, we must be adult enough and give leadership to provoke our Ministers and political leaders in all parties into accepting that we cannot solve these problems by pussy-footing around.
I am wholly with the noble Baroness in what she sought to say in referring to her amendment. I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that it would be no bad thing if he and the Secretary of State convened a meeting of Members of both Houses of Parliament to discuss ways and means of tackling this appalling problem. It must be Members from all political persuasions because this is not, in any sense, an issue where party should raise its head for a moment.
Now, I pass back to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, which I was very glad to sign. I am delighted that she has survived her encounter with a New York pavement. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, did, I congratulate her on her very cogent presentation of an amendment that is in fact a statement of common sense. That is why I strongly support it.
The noble Lord, Lord Nash, knows, because he has been good enough to see me on a number of occasions since the debate on citizenship, that I have a passionate interest in that. I have been able to convene a group of Members of your Lordships’ House from all parties and the Cross Benches, and we met with the noble Lord, Lord Nash, just three weeks ago to discuss our desire to see citizenship playing a much more important part in the curriculum. We would like to think that all young people, before they leave school have the opportunity to participate in their local communities in one way or another. The noble Lords, Lord Clarke of Hampstead and Lord Ramsbotham, talked about bodies such as the National Trust, which wish to engage the services of young people. It does not matter whether their interest is in helping the elderly or the young, or engaging in heritage or environmental projects. Each young person is a member of his or her community and should recognise that that brings with it obligations as well as rights. We have suggested to the Minister that we would like to see every young person, having engaged in community service, having the opportunity to have a citizenship certificate. That is not a cataloguing of academic achievement, but recognition of their participation in the community. We base this on the citizenship ceremony, which was denigrated before it happened. People who become British citizens go through this, and many of them think it is a wonderful rite of passage, which it would also be for our young people to have something similar. That was one reason, when I saw the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, why I was so glad to add my name to it.
There are other reasons. The noble Baroness talks in the preamble about:
“Duty of schools to promote the academic, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical development of children”.
That spiritual dimension is, sadly, all too often neglected. Without vision, they say, the people perish. Without a spiritual dimension, young people—all people—are impoverished. There should be this opportunity, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is so right to highlight that in bold letters at the beginning of her new clause. Following on from that, the pastoral care, about which she talked movingly, really ought to be at the core of any good school’s being. You do not know a pupil unless you know his or her home and social background, just as a doctor who only sees people in a surgery and never at home has a one-dimensional view. How many of the awful, dreadful things that have happened in recent years may not have happened if there had been a greater degree of pastoral care and real knowledge on the part of the school? The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is so right to emphasise:
“focused on the safety and well being of pupils and which, where appropriate, works in conjunction with support systems”.
I would also say, “works in conjunction with”—if they have a religious faith—“the priest”, or “the imam”, or whoever. It is very important indeed.
Of course, this leads on to something that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, which is the ethos of the school. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is quite right: you walk into a school and you know whether it feels right. There were some wonderful primary schools in my former constituency in Staffordshire. When you went in, you would have what was often the very small head boy or head girl, perhaps only 11 years old, shaking you by the hand in greeting and proudly showing you works of art and so on. You knew you were somewhere where the children both cared and were cared for. Through the Peers in Schools programme I recently visited a couple of schools in Lincolnshire. It was immediately apparent that there was a sense of commitment on the part of pupils and staff. When that happens, discipline is not a particular problem. This is something that we all ought to realise. Discipline is a question not of wielding a weapon of any kind—in my young days as a schoolmaster that was part of the curriculum; not that I personally did it—but of making young people feel they are truly part of something that is worth while and that they are learning things that are worth while.
The bad teacher is the one who goes by rote, reads out the book and gets the pupils to read paragraphs from it. I saw an example of that not long ago. Of course the children are bored stiff, as would we all be. A good teacher is the one who makes a subject exciting because he or she knows about it and wishes to transmit an infectious enthusiasm to others. If there are good teachers, the school ethos will be right.
What the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has done here is to put down a little coda which no one can really disagree with. I hope that no noble Lord in this Committee disagrees, and most of all I hope that the Minister does not disagree. When he comes to respond, I hope that not only will he acknowledge the pertinent and telling points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, he will also respond positively and enthusiastically to the simple and profound amendment before us.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a film maker because it is in that capacity that I have spent the past 18 months making a documentary film about teenagers and the internet. I wish to speak only to Amendment 233, which is the narrowest of the amendments in the group, but in my view it is important and I have added my name to it.
The amendment is very modest, but within it lies the suggestion that at this time young people need additional help to navigate a world in which the very concept and experience of growing up has changed completely. It is a new and confusing world in which videos featuring beheadings occupy the same space as a homework assignment. The intense sexualisation of media and merchandising, the ubiquitous presence of hardcore pornography and the pressures of 24/7 connectivity are not simply the stuff of the Sunday papers. These are palpable pressures in the real-world lives of young people, and they have real-world impacts. Young people mirror pornographic scenarios denuded of the concept of consent and, most importantly in my view, of intimacy of any kind. They adopt a culture of anonymity that teaches cruelty without responsibility.
The working group should pay particular attention to the role of the internet and social media in sex and relationship education and in online bullying and harassment. It should do so with one eye on the particular problem of young people with learning difficulties, who are extremely vulnerable in this unfettered world. It should address the specific question of the demands placed on young women of body image, sexual norms and its relationship to self-harm. I have read much of the research and it is compelling.
The Government’s stated position is that the current, 2000 curriculum provides a good foundation on which teachers can build. But it has not been updated in 13 years. In that time, the ways in which young people access information, learn about sex and negotiate their interpersonal relationships has profoundly changed. The advent of the smartphone has been a game-changer. It is not simply about the internet and computers; the smartphone ensures that the adult world, in its full beauty and abject horror, is in the hands of children. It is a device which ensures that, once in trouble, a child finds it very difficult to get away. It is a personal device which effectively means that parents can no longer reasonably expect to fully know what their child is accessing or who is accessing their child.
The Minister has also said that the Government,
“trust teachers to deliver the education that pupils need and adjust it for the modern world”.
Teachers are crying out for a new level of information, uninflected and up to date. As someone who has conducted hundreds of hours of interviews over the last year, with some of the most eminent academics on this subject, I have had access to the research. I have also done hundreds of hours of interviews with young people. It is beyond any single teacher’s capability to collate information in a meaningful way and in an up-to-date manner, for the new world order that presents so many problems for young people. I cannot imagine any reasonable grounds on which the Government would refuse to gather the most recent research and best practice, and put it in a form where it is easily accessible to teachers and parents.
I quote the Minister again:
“Technology is moving very fast, and we do not think that constant changes to the regulations and top-down diktats are the way to deal with this”.—[Official Report, 30/1/13; col. 1580].
It is moving very fast. Very soon, we will have an entire generation that has learned its sexual norms from hardcore pornography; friendship rules from Facebook, and self-image from Pinterest and the rest. Of the many professionals I spoke to, not one—either technological or educational—suggested a list of sex regulations or diktats. However, hundreds of adults—parents and professionals—say that they feel more equipped to guide the young when they have the authority of robust information.
I have been absent from this Chamber during Committee on this Bill, so I have had the singular privilege of reading nine days of debate in one weekend. One of the exciting, or perhaps encouraging, things—and noble Lords may not realise this—is that the conversation was littered with the words “holistic”, “whole child”, “whole family” and “child-centred”. I suggest that this modest amendment sits very well within the deliberations of the Bill and reflects that attitude. The only possible reason for rejecting it, because it marks such a small step that needs so little in the way of resources, is the fear of what the working group it would create might recommend. I would ask the Minister to find a way of gathering the guidance, even if there is then a further debate and a fight about what we might then do with it.
I will not quote the many supporters of this idea because others have already done so, but I take the opportunity to say that all the research I have done and the people I have gathered on my journey I would be happy to put in the service of the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government.
My Lords, I also would like to speak briefly in support of Amendment 233, which was so ably and vividly introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have a particular responsibility in the Church of England for education, so I am pleased to be able to bring that authority and support, as it were, on behalf of all the schools that I represent. This is a small but important and crucial piece of work.
As has been said, it is interesting to note that the Mothers’ Union, the Children’s Society and a further 70 different organisations which are involved in and have some knowledge of this area all support the proposal. It was a few years ago now, but the board of education that I represent worked with the Sex Education Forum to try to produce some new guidance, but unfortunately that work was not taken up. It is clear from all we have been saying that the purpose of education is not simply to present children who can pass exams, but to create an opportunity for young people to take control of their lives and values, and to realise their hopes through their approach to life. It is a much larger task, and for that social, emotional and spiritual intelligence is important, along with academic prowess. When the chips are down, nothing matters more to us than our relationships and how we form them. As we have just heard described so vividly, this is a new age for people as they form their relationships.
Building a network of friendships and exploring more intimate relationships with particular people are hard tasks for young people today because they have been made extremely complex by the rapid changes in technology. It is in fact some 13 years of revolution since the last guidelines were produced. This is a fascinating world, but it is a jungle, and our young people have to navigate it. A rare consensus seems to be building around the need to update the guidelines, so it is vital that we seize this opportunity. As part of its commitment to addressing these issues, the board of education that I represent has been compiling resources for use in church schools and any other schools to help combat homophobic bullying. That is an important piece of work, but the problems go much wider. Given that, I want to say briefly that we need to get on the case urgently.
My Lords, briefly, I lend my support to all three amendments. In their different ways they are designed to do something about which I feel absolutely passionate, which is to make sure that all children and young people, in whatever sort of school they are, have access to high-quality, age-appropriate and up-to-date sex and relationships education. Of course, I always put it the other way around and say “relationships and sex education”, for a reason I shall come to in a moment; that is absolutely critical. We must focus on the need for all young people to understand the importance of healthy relationships. It should serve them as part of their fundamental education going through life.
I have read through all the evidence of what people think at the moment. We have heard it and I do not want to repeat it. We know what the National Association of Head Teachers thinks. We saw the reports of the consultation on PSHE education in March this year and the Mumsnet survey. I will just quote from the Brook survey of 2011, where one in four young people said they did not get any sex and relationships education in schools at all and 26% of those that did said that their SRE teacher was not able to teach it well. I fundamentally believe that relationship education should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum and taught by specialist teachers and others who really understand these things. At the very beginning, I should have declared an interest as vice-president of the charity Relate.
Two more points, quickly: when I reviewed the evidence, some of the international evidence in particular talked about the very important protective function that sex and relationships education can have on young people. Those who have really good experiences of this are more likely to choose to have sex for the first time later, use contraception and have fewer sexual partners. We heard earlier, in the set of amendments about young carers, about links between education and health. There is a strong correlation between young people receiving good-quality relationships and sex education and various public health objectives, which are so critical. They are particularly critical to women. The evidence tells us that they have resulted in earlier reporting of sexual abuse, and in some cases its prevention, reduction in intimate partner violence, reduced numbers of unplanned pregnancies, reduced maternal and infant mortality, and prevention and earlier treatment of sexually transmitted infections, as well as reducing the gap in health inequalities. These are important things. The very foundation stone of all this is good-quality relationships and sex education.
I had the great privilege this morning to be part of a launch event in the House of Commons for the Relationships Alliance. That was about emphasising the huge importance of relationships in all aspects of people’s lives, through all stages of their lives, and its links with public policy. It was absolutely clear there that this has to start young, with high-quality relationship education available to all children. I was delighted to hear this morning that in Northern Ireland it is officially called relationships and sexuality education. That gets it the right way round; it sets the context and then gets to the important aspect of sex education as well. I wholeheartedly support the attempts being made through these amendments to shine a spotlight on this crucial issue.
My Lords, my Amendment 57, which had a great deal of support earlier on in this Committee, was on roughly the same subject as and to a great extent coincides with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I congratulate her on an amendment which I almost—almost—entirely support.
I have two things to say here. First, there is a decision to make. The opposition amendment—shall we call it that?—puts the burden upon the state to list the things that schools must do. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and my amendment both place that obligation on the schools themselves. That has a number of implications. I will not go into those in any detail but it will make schools think harder and it is more in line with what I believe to be the Government’s policy, so perhaps it is more likely to happen.
The other point about these two sets of amendments, particularly the second set, is that they are only about sexual relationships. If you think about life, other sorts of relationship are equally important. Particularly in the context of sexual relationships, the relationship between a parent and their child is crucial. I would like to see built somewhere into these amendments a reference to other important forms of relationship. For goodness’ sake, no one can tell me that relationships in the workplace do not matter, or when dealing with clients, in social life or looking after older people and children. Sexual relationships are frightfully important and I agree that at that stage of a child’s development it is important that they should be given the detail and information, and be able to question and think about those relationships, but it should be done in the context of all interpersonal relationships.
My Lords, I go back a long way on the whole business of citizenship, which is what I shall call it. When I came into this House, a new Government arrived shortly afterwards and my noble friend Lord Northbourne was keen on promoting something called citizenship. Suddenly there was an idea that citizenship was actually going to be taught. I think we assumed that citizenship would encompass some of the less explicit things we have been talking about in the debate, and an awful lot of them were going to be taught within this subject. However, it did not happen. The subject was spread around a lot of other different subjects being taught, and nothing was made of it.
We have seen a huge change in the influences bearing on young people and on families more generally. I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lady Kidron, who is writing a book or making a programme—I do not know which it is—about this whole area. My goodness, what she has uncovered and described to us is something that I am afraid we are becoming more aware of every day.
What I would like to see, along with the superb amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, which we all support, is real attention being paid to how we can address this issue. I am afraid that we have moved much further up the sexual agenda. I am grateful for the comments that have been made about my Private Member’s Bill, but having listened to what has been said in this debate, I almost feel that it is out of date. However, there is a lot of emphasis on this in the redraft and it is still awaiting its Second Reading; I hope that that will come soon. There is a lot more about education and support of that kind in the Bill. Judging by the number of noble Lords who have talked about this subject today, I hope that we shall see lots of them in the Chamber when the Bill is debated.
I will not go into the specific details of what I would like to see being covered, but I hope that the Minister has, above all, listened to what has been said. My noble friend Lord Cormack—I call him that we because we have known one another in different capacities for many years, although we do not necessarily always agree on every subject—made an extremely telling contribution. Again, I hope that the Minister will pay a huge amount of attention to what is set out in this amendment and to what has been debated. It is absolutely the gist of what we have to deal with in the future if we are to bring up the next generation, particularly young women, with sufficient self-esteem, knowledge of and confidence in themselves to play their full role. I fear that all too many young women are regarded as objects in today’s world, which is a terrifying comment on what we have failed to achieve so far. This is a major challenge, but I will not go on because we have had a very good discussion. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that this issue is going to be taken seriously.
I am sure that we are all very happy to bring this fascinating discussion to a close, but I want to make one point. I was seized by what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said in discussion on the previous amendment. We can sit in this building and make laws, decide what should happen and sometimes even get it into legislation, but what matters is how it is delivered in reality. My only point is that all these splendid things—citizenship, relationship education, spiritual and moral development and so on—have to be delivered by teachers. Unless we have the right teachers who are properly trained, it simply will not happen. We can write it into the books, but we ought to spend far more time addressing what actually happens in the selection and training of teachers than simply on what we ask them to deliver.
Since the noble Baroness has just mentioned my name, I will say one sentence. I absolutely agree with her; all I will ever talk about is implementation and application. However, in this context the revision of the guidance on sex education would be such a support to teachers that it would make a difference.
My Lords, following what has just been said, the strongest reason for making PSHE statutory has been the case put by teachers. This would be the way to ensure that teacher training bodies really put a priority on training for PSHE. Teacher training is skewed towards what is statutory in the curriculum. The noble Baroness is absolutely right. We need to empower teachers so that they have the confidence to hold these conversations with young people. Doing what is suggested in these amendments would make that more possible.
I warmly welcome the words of the vastly experienced noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. I vaguely remember that the previous Government commissioned an expert group to produce a report on this topic which was presented some time ago. I felt at the time that it was a little soft. I so admire my noble friend Lady Howe, who is absolutely right to bring forward, very late in the day, her Bill to regulate the availability of this material on the internet. Perhaps the Minister will be able to use his good offices to take back to those thinking about the Bill a little encouragement to move ahead with the Second Reading because it is so concerning. I hear from other sources concerns about gangs of boys and the way young women are treated, and how that has changed because of what young men are seeing on the internet. It is very troubling. I support all these amendments.
One particular point has always niggled at me. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to same-sex education in particular. I had an experience some years ago when visiting a children’s home. The manager was gay. There was a young man there who certainly dressed in quite an effeminate way and could have been called gay, and the manager was saying, “Well, this young man is gay”. My concern is that it is of course a common experience for children to be attracted to the same sex as they grow up, but many of them grow out of it. Those who take the most active role in this particular area are sometimes overly enthusiastic in promoting an attitude. In dealing with these sensitive same- sex issues, on which people get so polarised, there should be a recognition that young people experience attraction to other young people of the same sex, but most of them grow through it. There should not be a misunderstanding that if one seems to be attracted to other members of the same sex in one’s mid-teens, for instance, that that is one’s sexuality and how one is now set. I am sure that that is not the intention, but it is my sense of how this sometimes comes out. Some reassurance on this point, not necessarily in Committee, would be welcome.
Can I come back briefly on that? The noble Earl has underlined the point we were making: addressing these issues requires specialist teachers with proper guidance. I agree that you cannot pigeonhole young people and say that just because you are attracted at one moment in your life to someone of the same or different sex, then you are that for life. People have complex emotional experiences and they need to find the terminology to make sense of the journey they are going on. It is all very complicated, but that is why you need really well trained teachers who can explain this. The alternative of pigeonholing in the way the noble Earl has described makes young people feel very confused. They do not have any understanding of the language to express what they are feeling, or they do not think anyone will listen to or respect them if they admit it, or they think they will be bullied. A way has to be found to put all these issues on the table so that people can feel confident about their sexuality, whichever route it will finally takes them on.
First, I welcome the very clever amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. Sometimes we have to remember the journey we have come on and how we have created some of these problems ourselves. We had a national curriculum with core and foundation subjects which was, if you like, the bible of schooling. At the time it was very progressive and a great deal of thought went into it. There might have been disagreements about what the subjects should be, but it laid down clearly what every pupil would be taught. It was easy for trainers to train teachers because they knew what the national curriculum was.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, knows, the legislation laid down clearly that every school should have a daily collective act of worship. That does not happen in schools any more, although it is still the law of the land. Ofsted, when it reports, has concerns about how schools try to get round it by having a quick prayer in the classroom or whatever. So that was covered, and inspectors came to schools knowing what they were inspecting. It was not just a very narrow definition of inspections. They would look at the whole ethos of a school, and in their reports would actually use the phrase—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—“feel the ethos”. They would shadow a pupil for a whole day to see their experience in the school. Then as a society we thought, “Hang on a second, we are being too prescriptive here. We need to let schools be free and decide what they want to do. Perhaps the national curriculum is a bit too much for them; perhaps the type of school is all a bit too organised and bureaucratic”.
The previous Government went down the route of academies, particularly for schools that were failing pupils. Academies had slimmed-down curriculums where they did not have to teach the national curriculum so they did not have to do some things which they did not think important, whether that was PSHE or sex and relationship education or whatever. We have built on that tradition and, as political parties have coalesced round it, we have said that we want a slimmed-down curriculum. There is a lot of merit in that because in the past more of society’s concerns have been pushed on to schools, which could not cope. We now have a slimmed-down curriculum so that schools can breathe and build on their strengths. Certain schools, such as free schools or academies, do not have to follow it. What is more, we will move to being more flexible on who can teach.
We have got to a situation with the national curriculum where it is not actually a national curriculum. It does not have to be taught in Scotland and Wales, in academies or free schools. It is not a curriculum for all, so I do not know why we still use that phrase. However, we are now realising that children have a right to learn and teachers have a right to teach. Pupils have a right to be respected and understood. We suddenly realise that some of the pillars of our educational establishments are in danger of being taken away or need to be developed again.
The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was absolutely right to say that it is not just about looking at what needs to be taught, it is how you teach it and the quality of the people who teach it. I can tell noble Lords from bitter experience that there are hundreds of schools that proudly say in the school prospectus that they teach PSHE. You go in and it is a tick-box exercise; they do not teach it. The same is true of sex and relationship education. We have got to realise that. It is all very well sitting in Committee and saying, “This is what we believe in; this is what we want”. It will not change unless we change the foundations of how things happen.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that I do not know what has gone wrong here. I had always thought that schools produce a school prospectus that sets out the aims and values of the school and states clearly what it does. I remember my vision and the phrase we used. We said that we wanted to, “Ignite the imagination of pupils”. We listed everything we did in the school, and why we have lost that, I do not know. Parents should be able to look through a school prospectus and see exactly what the school is doing and how it is done.
This debate is absolutely fascinating and I will make just one other point. When I first started teaching we had sex education. We followed the BBC “Merry-Go-Round” radio and television programmes and we starting teaching it at the age of seven. If you leave it until children are aged 11 and 12, it becomes a bit of a joke. They get embarrassed and giggle, but if you do it when they are six and seven, it becomes a natural progression. I hope that we realise in our deliberations, and in how we build on this debate, that other fundamentals have to be put in place as well.
My Lords, I, too, support these amendments and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on her persistence on these matters and issues. Like my noble friend Lord Storey, I believe that the right teaching for vision and delivery can make a difference and change lives in schools. I know this from personal experience, because I often visit primary and secondary schools across the country and always speak about philosophy to children; some as young as four years old but right up to 18 year-olds. I tell them to practise the philosophy of what I call my three Cs.
Consideration is about having respect and empathy for other people and being able to put yourself in the place of others without being judgmental. The more privileged you are, the more consideration you need to show others. The second C is for contentment, which is about having a happy, contented heart and not being jealous and envious of what other people have. The more contented you are, the more ready you are to receive what is right for you. The third C is for confidence, which is about having high self-esteem and high self-worth. If others do wrong to you, it is not your fault. It is about feeling worthy and being able to love and give unconditionally, and practising that at that very young age. I teach children how to deal with temptation and to learn to say no, whether that is to joining a gang, having sex, drinking or bullying others.
This philosophy really empowers children. It makes them feel worthy and gives them the spiritual guidance that children crave in the materialistic world in which they live today. It helps them to cope with adversity; to feel as if they belong. Children need that feeling deep in their souls. It gives them the confidence to face the world: it opens up their minds to the world. I have been doing this for the past 30 years or more and I have seen the results. However, more needs to happen: children need to feel as if they are somebody.
Every single day of my life I receive a letter from someone or meet someone in the street who tells me: “What you did for me in school saved my life. What you did showed me I could be somebody. You showed me how to lead my life the way I wanted to, to be who I should be”. I met a woman who said: “I was a crack addict when I was a young teenager. When you came into school and spoke to me, you saved my life. You showed me I was worthy. You made me look at it and see it in a different way”. We need to give that kind of philosophy to children in school: they desperately need that help.
I also agree that we need to have meaningful sex and relationship education as part of PSHE, to demonstrate what loving, respectful relationships are. Too many of our young people are learning from, and being influenced by, online pornography. Girls think they have to behave like porn stars to be liked by boys. Boys expect the girls to behave in a sexually explicit way. They both think this is what love is. Some young people are even raping and sexually abusing very young children—five year-olds are being raped—because teenagers are putting into practice what they have witnessed in online pornography. Children need to have a balanced influence about sex and to learn what love and respect are.
After one school visit, when I spoke to 13 year-old girls, I received several letters from girls who said that no one had ever told them that they were loved unconditionally. Years later, I met one of these girls who told me that she had not got pregnant and was going to sixth-form college. She wanted to be somebody: she felt worthy. We must not assume that children know how to cope or deal with the hard slog of life. We have to teach them so that they can lead the happier life that some are so desperate for. They can then pass that knowledge on to their children. It all starts at school, where they spend most of their early life. They do not always receive that guidance from home, so let us make sure that those who do not get it do not miss out. That is why I support these amendments.
My Lords, I hesitate to speak after such a powerful speech, but I want to make three brief points in support of these amendments. First, my noble friend Lady Jones referred to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is important to have a rights-based approach to sex and relationship education. People sometimes say that there is too much emphasis on rights these days and not enough emphasis on obligations. However, we must remember that this is about the right to safety—a very basic right for children and young people. A few years ago, in Leicester, colleagues and I did some interesting research about young people’s transition to citizenship. We were quite surprised that the young people found it much harder to articulate their rights than they did their obligations. They knew what their obligations were: many of them had expectations about paid work and knew their obligation to be good citizens in the local community. However, when we asked them about their rights they did not know what to say: they did not know about rights. It is a myth that we have got too much into rights and not enough into obligations.
The second point which links to that, to which we have perhaps not paid enough attention in my noble friend Lady Massey’s amendment, is about democratic principles and citizenship education. I am glad to say that my party now supports votes at 16. If we are to have votes at 16, or even votes as we have them now, it is really important that young people have good citizenship education which prepares them for that and, as has been said, infuses the ethos of the school. There has just recently been quite a bit of debate about whether there is any point in voting. The comedian Russell Brand has been saying, “Don’t vote, it encourages them”. Well, we want to encourage young people to vote. We want them to know why they are voting and what is at stake. That is another reason why this education is so important.
Thirdly, I am a member of an informal parliamentary mindfulness group. I know that mindfulness is now being taught in schools and is one path into the three Cs that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, referred to. All of us, whether we are young or older, face difficulties in our life. We have bad days, and mindfulness helps us to steer a path through that and helps to achieve the contentment to which the noble Baroness referred. I hope that that will also be part of the mix when we think about citizenship education and sex and relationship education.
My Lords, we agree about so much here. Everything that noble Lords have mentioned is what a good education is all about, and is what a good school does. I agree that it is so important that all schools do this. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is of course right that we have debated this many times before. We just disagree about how we ensure that it happens.
The noble Baroness has read out a long list of things that schools should do. All schools should have a behaviour and bullying policy, and Ofsted will inspect against it. She talked about ethos, pastoral care, self-confidence and raising aspirations. I agree that all schools should provide their pupils with the right to an education which delivers these. All schools will, of course, state their ethos and their approach in their prospectuses, as my noble friend Lord Storey has said, and at parents’ evenings, and be inspected by Ofsted. This is what good schools do. However, making the schools write all this down in lists will get us nowhere.
The Government do not believe that politicians, Peers or bureaucrats are the best people to dictate what should be delivered in schools in this regard and how it should be delivered. We believe that writing lists of what PSHE should cover, this kind of central prescription, is a recipe for failure, for minimum prescription and for a race to the bottom; a race which we have just successfully won by following this approach with the shocking OECD statistics which show that our school leavers are among the most illiterate in the developed world.
I will say it again: the Government trusts teachers and head teachers to tailor their PSHE and general provision to the individual needs of their particular pupils. Many of these needs are specific and cannot be delivered by teachers. I speak with some experience here. We took over a school which was failing on just about every measure. The behaviour was awful. The morale and the results were very poor. There were gangs and riots; it was just a mess. We brought in a head teacher and a new senior leadership team, and they introduced a totally new behaviour management policy which was clear, consistently applied, and required the teachers to be in evidence at every turn. We brought in a raising aspirations programme and, by letting the team get on with it, they turned the school around in record time. They did not do this by following lists.
I am sad to say that we still have gangs in the school, as do most inner-city schools in this country. Their students often join gangs because of the complete absence of male role models in their lives. They are often brought up in maleless households and have been to primary schools where there are no male teachers—which is the case in just over 27% of primary schools in this country. When we identify these pupils when they come in at age 11, we seek rapidly to give them male role models but, sadly, the gangs have often got there before us. These children are not going to open up to their teachers, whom they see as authority figures. The only way to counsel them out of gangs—which is a highly skilled job—is to introduce them to mentors, often mentors whom they see as being of their own kind. That means black boys to black men; white boys to white men; Asian girls to Asian women.
Other schools have other issues. I have just been involved in a school where there is an issue with forced marriages. Examples such as this confirm us in our belief that enforcing more prescription on teachers is not the way forward. The kind of education that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lord Cormack refer to is being delivered in schools up and down the country which failed for years and which have now been taken over and turned around by successful academy sponsors. They are developing the whole child and putting them at the centre of the school. I hear no desire from them, or the mentors, or the counsellors I work with, for a list of things to do. Frankly, they think this completely misses the point.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Storey for his observations. I also agree with my noble friend Lady Perry that teachers are at the heart of this and that there may be some provision where they need to bring in outside agencies. Because they are very much at the heart of this, we have developed more than 350 teaching schools and are expanding SCITTs, which are much more highly rated by Ofsted.
The underlying sentiment of much of the new clause proposed by Amendment 231 is one that the Government would support. We want to see all schools accountable to their pupils’ parents for what happens. That is why, in 2012, we amended the School Information (England) Regulations. Schedule 4 of those regulations contains a list of the minimum information that maintained schools are required to publish, including their ethos and values, with parallel provision included in academy funding agreements. This includes the content of the curriculum to be followed for each subject during each school year and details of how additional information relating to the curriculum may be obtained. On this basis, schools must publish information about their PSHE provision as well as about any other subjects they teach which are not part of the national curriculum. We expect all schools to make provision for PSHE, drawing on the good practice to which I have referred. This is an expectation which we have made clear in the introduction to the framework of the new curriculum and one which I make clear to all academy sponsors and academies whenever I meet them. This expectation is not set out in the statutory requirement. However, as I say, this Government believe strongly that teachers need the flexibility to use their professional judgment to decide when and how best to provide PSHE in their particular local circumstances.
One of our core aims in reviewing the national curriculum was to slim it down and to reduce prescription, thereby allowing teachers more flexibility and freedom to exercise professional judgment at a local level. They can, for instance, create space in their curriculum for bringing in outside agencies or for teaching specific matters in PSHE. To place new and wide-ranging duties on governing bodies and head teachers would run counter to this approach. Through the school inspection framework, Ofsted inspectors continue to be required to consider pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development when forming a judgment of a school. This enables important aspects of PSHE to be considered in a proportionate and integrated way, linked to the core inspection areas. We consider that publishing the information set out in the current school information regulations and academy funding agreements is the best way for parents to have access to the key information, and that teachers should be given more freedom, not less, to decide the content of the school curriculum and how it is taught.
Turning to Amendment 232(Rev), I have already indicated, but will stress again, that the Government want to see all schools provide a high-quality and broad programme of PSHE that includes sex and relationship education. Where we differ is how such provision is specified and delivered. As I noted previously, placing new and wide-ranging duties on governing bodies and head teachers, and furthermore requiring that the Secretary of State issues new guidance to be followed by teachers, would run counter to this Government’s whole approach. International evidence shows that the best school systems in the world give considerable autonomy to those professionals working on the ground.
Sex and relationship education is already compulsory in maintained secondary schools. All schools, when providing it, must have regard to existing guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Amendment 232(Rev) proposes that all schools teach sex and relationship education, including at key stage 1. It specifies that such education should include information about sexual and domestic violence, for example. I agree that it is vital that schools cover such issues when providing sex and relationship education and that they do so in an appropriate manner. However, to specify that pupils in key stage 1, including those as young as five, should be taught about these issues, without allowing teachers the discretion to decide whether to do so, as we do currently, is completely inappropriate.
The amendment would mean that where a child is aged 15 or over, their parent would no longer have the right to remove them from SRE. Currently, parents have the right to withdraw their children from religious education and sex and relationship education, with the exception of those topics that form part of the national curriculum for science and acts of collective worship. There is no need to amend any of the provisions in existing legislation as this proposed new clause seeks to do: they provide a clear and workable model for schools and parents. I fully understand what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve, but the Government do not believe that the rights of parents should be diminished.
Turning to Amendment 233, I agree with the noble Baronesses on the importance of high-quality teaching in this area and on the need for young people to have reliable and well informed sources of advice and support. However, I do not consider that the best way to achieve that is to revise the statutory guidance on SRE. The existing guidance was considered as part of the recent review of personal, social, health and economic education that I mentioned earlier. In March 2013, the review concluded that the statutory guidance continued to provide a sensible framework for schools to use in developing their own SRE policy. We agree that sex and relationship education should be informed by both current and expert advice. However, our clear view is that that advice is best provided by expert organisations which can make available to schools up-to-date materials and advice on changing technologies that fit within the framework of our guidance. This means schools can always access the most current advice and guidance on every emerging issue and teachers can make informed decisions about which resources best meet the needs of their pupils. We have directed schools to sources of information, including the Sex Education Forum, which has already listed 24 pages of further resources that are available to secondary schools for teaching SRE. There are other organisations with which schools can engage in relation to this such as Brook, the Family Planning Association and the SRE Project.
A number of noble Lords referred to access to pornography and online safety. I share entirely noble Lords’ concern about this point. When I was first looking into this, I spoke to a number of people and was struck by the fact that when I spoke to people who were highly IT literate and had children, the more IT literate they were, the more concerned they were about this issue because they appreciated how, with three clicks, children could look at the most appalling images. However, we are doing a lot in this regard. Through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, we are working with social networking sites and internet companies on developing a safer online environment, which I agree is essential. Good progress has been made with the main ISPs, which are putting in place systems to encourage customers to use parental controls and filters.
An example of the resources that we have made available to teachers is the resource pack, Exploited, published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre with input from national partners, including the NSPCC, Brook, the Sex Education Forum and Barnardo’s, which aims to help prevent child sexual exploitation by educating young people on how to stay safe. The Government are supporting the BeatBullying charity’s CyberMentors programme to give online support to victims of bullying and train 3,500 11 to 17 year-olds over two years to act as mentors, backed up by support for teachers and parents. As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, we will strengthen the requirements to teach e-safety as part of changes to the new computing programme of study. From September 2014, e-safety will be taught to primary pupils in key stages 1 and 2.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, said that this is beyond any single teacher’s capability, which supports my point about the importance of engaging with outside agencies. I would like to take the noble Baroness up on her offer to study the information that she gathered and would be very happy to discuss online safety with any other noble Lords. I am happy to convene a meeting about it because I agree entirely that this is something that we should all be deeply concerned about.
We have directed schools to other sources of information, including the Sex Education Forum. The department has also provided grant funding to the PSHE Association to help schools develop curricula, improve staff training and promote the teaching of consent in SRE.
In conclusion, the best people to help schools deal with changing technology are, in our view, the experts. Our SRE guidance directs schools to draw on the up-to-date advice produced by experts for use in sex and relationship education. SRE is a sensitive area, in which expert organisations and professionals have an essential role to play, but in our view that does not require the Government to revise existing guidance. We consider that publishing the information set out in the current school information regulations and academy funding agreements is the best way for parents to have access to the key information. Teachers should be given more freedom, not less, to decide the content of the curriculum. However, we do not disagree at all about what we are trying to achieve here. I would like to reinforce that point: we do not disagree at all, it is just a question of methodology. I would be happy to discuss further all the points raised today but I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Will my noble friend amplify that point? He very kindly said that he would be glad to convene a meeting to discuss this appalling problem of the internet. Could he give reasonable notice of that meeting and try to convene it as soon as is reasonably possible?
Can the Minister answer the point made by my noble friend Lord Listowel about the ways in which teacher training could concentrate on this area that I roughly think of as moral teaching? There is no requirement that this should be taught in any particular way. I quite agree with the noble Lord about the futility of making lists but the point is that teacher training does not concentrate sufficiently on it simply because it is not part of the national curriculum. Can he say what he thinks about my noble friend’s point?
We have great concerns about the quality of teacher training in this country, which is one of the reasons why, frankly, we do not think qualified teacher status is essential. If teachers were trained for many years, like doctors, vets or lawyers, it might be different, but they are not. In ITT colleges, somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of training is in schools. We are expanding in-school training and have substantially beefed up, for instance, behaviour management training. I will look at this and write to the noble Baroness, as well as talk to Charlie Taylor about what more we can do in this regard.
I just want to correct what I believe to be a misunderstanding about what Amendment 232(Rev) says. The noble Lord talked about teaching children at the age of five. I must draw his attention to the proposed new Section 85B(4)(b), which talks about teaching that is,
“appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned”.
Of course, that needs to absolutely underlined. We are fully aware of the need to teach age-appropriately. What is right for an 11 year-old is clearly not always appropriate for a five year-old.
I know my noble friend Lady Massey will want to address much of what the noble Lord said so I will just say that I am very disappointed by the tone he took. I feel he is swimming against the tide here. There is a growing consensus on the need to update the guidance. It is a fairly simple act. Just referring everyone to a whole lot of different websites and so on is missing the point about the Government’s responsibility here. However, I am sure my noble friend will address that more coherently.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the point about the training of teachers. During our earlier debates on child development, the Minister said something that I certainly found quite comforting, about there being, in the standards for teacher training, a requirement that teachers have a good understanding of child development, which will be helpful in this area as well.
I listened with great interest to what the Minister said about his personal experience in this area and about why he thinks that it is unhelpful to be so prescriptive about what teachers do. Although that does not instantly change my point of view, I have sympathy for his position. I think of the situation, for instance, in Finland, where they have a very loose national curriculum. The Minister for Education there has described his teachers as “researchers” who develop their own kind of education base. However, in Finland, of course, teaching has been of very high status for many years. They have competition to teach and to get on to teacher training courses—it is a different culture. I suppose the question might be where we are today in this country with moving towards raising the status of teaching. We have only started that in the past few years. The question is one of getting the balance right between prescription and freedom, and empowering teachers to do the best they can with all their capacities.
I welcome what the Minister said, particularly with regard to mentoring and the recognition that so many boys are growing up without fathers in the family, which was a theme of the debate on Friday on the age of criminal responsibility. One of the very encouraging parts of the Minister’s response then was that the Home Office is putting so much energy and investment into mentoring for these young people. Two-thirds of young black men in the United States are growing up without a father in the home. The proportion of lone-parent families in this country is even higher than in the United States and about twice the level, I think, in Germany and Denmark. We have a real issue that we need to address. I often wonder, when thinking about this topic, whether there might be a more strategic push on mentoring: a sort of big society approach, with something like a national service commitment, to think about how we could mentor young men who do not have fathers in their families. I was encouraged by what the Minister said in that regard.
About a year ago, I wrote to the noble Lord’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, on this point, suggesting that some teacher training colleges should specialise in training specialist teachers for PSHE and associated disciplines. The reply that I got back from the Minister said that the Government did not guide or direct teacher training colleges as to what courses they should make available but that it depended on the demand from schools. Can the Minister confirm that that is still the position?
I can confirm that that is still the position.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his responses and will come on to those later. Meanwhile, I sincerely thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this fascinating, very knowledgeable and passionate debate about the well-being and education of children and young people. Two key things have perhaps come out for me today. One is, as several noble Lords have mentioned, how the world has changed and how we need to address that change. We all have to tackle this, not only by helping children to have self-respect and respect for others but by tackling the dangers of the internet and other technology.
Secondly, the issue of child development has been central to many of our points. It is very important to understand child development. As my noble friend Lady Jones has just said, of course you do not teach five year-olds about the intricacies of sex. However, they can learn about friendships, respect and parenting: of course they can. Not a single person in this Room has even mentioned, as the Minister did, teaching children of five about sex. We have all learned our lesson about age appropriateness.
I tabled Amendment 231 because it encompasses—as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said—what should be good practice in schools: policies, pastoral care, school ethos, curriculum and democratic principles. I am not being prescriptive: all I am asking is that schools should make their approaches on these explicit to parents, staff, governors and, very importantly, to pupils. What does a school expect of its staff and its pupils? The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, talked interestingly about the protective function of education and the use of experts. I have never said that teachers should be able to do everything. They cannot, of course, but teachers and schools can—and most do—create a climate for good relationships and learning. My noble friend Lord Northbourne quite rightly said that this is about all relationships, not just sexual relationships. One example of this is that if children learn respect for themselves and others—if they have opportunities to explore spiritual, moral and emotional issues and learn about the importance of security, well-being and safety—then they may well become better parents and know how to relate to and guide their own children. This is different from maths, English and so on in the formal curriculum.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is not in her place; I take her point about trained teachers. However, my view has always been that teachers go into teaching because they want to relate positively to children. I am not asking for miracles: I see generally trained teachers who, if they do not know something about a particular issue like drugs or first aid, will call in an expert to help them. That is what trained teachers do: teaching is about relating positively and sympathetically to children. If teachers do not do that then I really do not know what they are doing. Amendment 231 calls for schools to make clear how they are promoting things: it is not about making lists. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed their thoughts.
I am somewhat baffled by much of the Minister’s response. The amendment is not about writing things down in lists and I do not understand why he thinks it is. I find it quite insulting that the issues I raised in this amendment should be considered as a long list of things to do. It is not that: it is about what schools should be about. I am not being prescriptive and the noble Lord’s good example of turning a school round was exactly what I am talking about: heads and teachers—and, perhaps, pupils and governors—sitting down together and working out what policies they need and how those policies will be carried out to make the school better. That is not about making a long list: it is about having policies. Nothing is achieved, in any organisation, without policies.
School policy—or any policy in industry or wherever—should be written down, because pupils, parents and governors can then understand what is expected of them and of the school.
If schools do not have policies, how does anyone know what is happening? The PSHE arguments have already been won. The Minister, as someone said earlier, is swimming against the tide. We all want the best for children in our schools. We need to have those expectations and how they will be delivered explicit. It is not a prescription. It is not a list. It is policy on various aspects of school life.
I thought that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about convening a group across both Houses to discuss these issues was interesting. Prior to that, I suggest that the Minister might facilitate between Mr Gove and those of us who have been involved today a discussion about our concerns and try to explain to him that this is not about prescription or lists, but is about doing the best for our children. I shall certainly return to this issue on Report.
Amendment 231 withdrawn.
Amendment 232 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 232(Rev) and 233 not moved.
234: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Welfare of children: asylum seekers
(1) Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (withholding and withdrawal of support) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 6(1), after “person” insert “who entered the United Kingdom as an adult”.
(3) In paragraph 7, after “person” insert “who entered the United Kingdom as an adult”.”
My Lords, the amendment would ensure that all care leavers, including young asylum seekers and migrants who came to the UK as children, are given the support that they need while they are in the UK by amending Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 so that it does not apply to people who initially came to the UK as children. It would not create an automatic right to support but would make sure that a young person is not discriminated against on the basis of his or her immigration status.
The concern is that young people are leaving care and being made destitute. Another point to make clear at the outset is that while being so harsh to these children, it is unlikely that they will be returning home to Eritrea, Afghanistan or anywhere else earlier, and it may well make it more difficult for them to return home as they disappear into prostitution, disappear from sight, and go underground.
Although the immigration status of a separated or unaccompanied child does not affect their entitlements while they are in care and as care leavers under the Children Act 1989, a young person’s entitlements after 18 will depend on their immigration status. There has long been concern about the forced destitution of former separated asylum-seeking children when they turn 18 and a recent report from the Children’s Society found a sharp rise in the number of young people who are experiencing destitution. The majority of unaccompanied children in the UK are seeking protection from violence, abuse and persecution from places like Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iran. Some of these young people experience destitution because they are discharged from children’s services at 18, and have been refused asylum and exhausted their rights to appeal, often despite significant barriers to their return or continuing protection needs.
Case law has made it exceedingly clear that a young person in this situation should not be moved on to support provided by the Home Office but continue to be supported by the local authority. However, in practice, this still happens as the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 prevents some categories of migrants from accessing certain types of support, including leaving-care provisions, and practice among local authorities varies widely due to confusion around entitlements and their budgetary pressures.
The Government say:
“There is absolutely no intention that destitution should be a deliberate aim of public policy. That would be wrong and that is not the aim of immigration policy or any other part of our policy”.
However, the provisions under Schedule 3 have precisely this effect by withdrawing vital leaving-care support from young people while they are still in the UK. This is at odds with the Government’s policy on supporting British care leavers. As I say, there is also no evidence that withdrawing support is effective in encouraging young people to return to their country of origin. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that forced destitution is an ineffective policy. In fact, severing contact between refused asylum seekers and the authorities is likely to make returns more difficult.
Destitution has severe consequences for young people’s safety as these vulnerable young people are forced to take extreme measures to survive, including being sexually exploited, working illegally or being forced into criminality. It also has an impact on a young person’s physical health, for example, through their being malnourished and unable to travel to see their GP or get warm clothing in the winter, as well as having adverse effects on their often already fragile mental state. Various systematic reviews estimate that 19% to 54% of separated children suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder compared with 0.4% to 10% of other children in the UK. Being able to access education and safe housing—two key protective factors for separated young people—becomes more difficult when young people are destitute. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is added to this amendment. I would like to speak particularly about young people who have been trafficked into this country. I declare an interest as the co-chairman of the trafficking parliamentary group and a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation. The Refugee Council and the Children’s Society have highlighted this particular group of young people who come within Amendment 234. They are included in the young people to whom the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred but they form a very specific group of young people who have been trafficked into this country, are identified as having been slaves and are often put into care or accommodated by the local authority which arranges for them to go to school and live in England until they are 18. Some may be asylum seekers. The latter were referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. However, some are not asylum seekers and the minute they turn 18 they become illegal immigrants under Schedule 3 to the relevant Act, and there is no one to protect them. If they remain in this country, they are particularly vulnerable. They have no status, no access to public funds and no housing. Some of them sleep on the streets and are dependent on soup kitchens. They are destitute. Others are at real risk of being sent back to the abusing situation in the country of origin from which they had escaped, having been trafficked here. Some of them are terrified at the prospect of going back because they may be retrafficked or may well be very ill-treated for having escaped the traffickers, so to go back to their country of origin, particularly when that is Nigeria, is extremely problematic.
We are in the extraordinary position of having identified these young people as victims of trafficking and having cared for them in this country where they were looked after and made welcome. However, the moment they turn 18, they are considered to be illegal immigrants and no one looks after them. I ask the Minister to look at this group of trafficked children, who probably number 100 or 200, who have been to school in this country. I have no idea what the actual number is but it is tiny. It is a pretty odd situation if we look after them and educate them but then leave them destitute the moment they turn 18.
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in support of the amendment, and I am very pleased that it has been tabled. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, have both talked about destitution. I was a member of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Asylum Support for Children and Young People. That was a slightly wider group than that on which this amendment is focused, but the point is the same. We said that:
“Although the inquiry’s focus was on those in receipt of asylum support, the panel was shocked to hear of instances where children were left destitute and homeless, entirely without institutional support and forced to rely on food parcels or charitable donations. Evidence received by the inquiry cited counts where children made up between 13-20% of the local destitute population”.
I find it shameful that we have anyone in the population who is destitute in a society as rich as ours. It is particularly shaming that people who have come to this country to seek refuge should be destitute, and that children should be destitute.
Perhaps I may reinforce what the noble Earl said by referring to a case study which has been provided by the Refugee Children’s Consortium. It states:
“Case study: Matthew—a young person from Iran. Matthew is a torture survivor who came to the UK from Iran when he was aged 17. He was refused asylum and wanted to appeal but his solicitor did not want to support his appeal so he went to court unrepresented. His appeal was rejected and children’s services stopped his support. He was made homeless for one year. He was seeing a psychologist while being supported by children’s services but once the support was cut off, the counselling stopped as well. While homeless Matthew’s health deteriorated”—
is that surprising?
“He couldn’t sleep at night. His hair was falling out. He experienced a lot of violence when he was sleeping on the streets. Sometimes he was able to work for his friend in exchange for accommodation. He was desperate to stay in the UK because he feared for his life if he were to return to Iran. With help from The Children’s Society he was able to get a new solicitor and put in a fresh claim”.
This really should not happen.
I was also involved in the launch of a report from Freedom From Torture about the poverty experienced by torture survivors. One of the strong messages in that report was how poverty undermines the rehabilitation of torture survivors. This is dreadful. Torture survivors, who are psychologically scarred, then have to go through further ordeals when they get to this country. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to say something rather more positive in response to this amendment than perhaps was the response to the previous amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Nash.
My Lords, I support this amendment. Noble Lords will recall that I talked about a similar group of young people who were privately fostered. It was then subsequently discovered that those with whom they had been privately fostered were not in fact family, or if they were, they had not sorted out the children’s immigration status. When they reached the age of 18, or sometimes 16, and went to college, they found that they did not have the appropriate paperwork and they then became illegal immigrants.
As a country, we have totally failed to grasp a very straightforward issue, which is that if these children are in our country and are at school, they can be checked by the school, by the local social services or by the health services wherever they find themselves. Surely we have a responsibility to sort out their status before they reach the age of 18. Some of these young people clearly could go back to their country of origin, and there are voluntary organisations which work in that area. Others, however, clearly cannot do so. Recently I met a young man at a reception provided by the Children’s Society for the work it is doing on its Here to Listen? campaign. That young man was bright and intelligent, and wanted to get on with his life. I asked him about his immigration status, and the answer was, “I have not yet got a passport”. My heart sank because I knew that what might well happen, if this could not be sorted out, would be that he would possibly find himself being sent back to whatever he had escaped from.
We pride ourselves in this country on the work we do with children and child protection. Look at the lengths we go to in order to develop child protection procedures. We go to huge lengths to ensure that young people, including these young people, have a proper education. How can we be so neglectful as to not notice that when they reach later adolescence they will become destitute, be sent back to appalling circumstances or have a hugely strenuous set of interactions with the law to try to gain proper status so that their lives do not fall apart? I have been an advocate for some young people who have found themselves in this position at 18, trying to go through our complex system in order to get this sorted.
I do not think it is beyond our departments to find a system that looks at all of these groups of young people. I agree with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that young people who are trafficked are particularly vulnerable. All these young people could easily have their status sorted out earlier in the process. We would not then be faced with these kinds of difficulties.
My Lords, this is an important amendment. The Refugee Children’s Consortium, a coalition of more than 40 NGOs that are involved in this sphere, is very concerned about this legislation and is looking for changes. Three or four weeks ago, I was with a group of four young people in Cowley in Oxford; 16 years old, three were from Eritrea and one from Somalia. They were so pleased to be at the end of a journey that had taken months, and to have access to education and safety. That was the thing they kept on saying: “We are safe”.
The Children’s Society told me that this is the time of maximum happiness. From that point on, it is all downhill, with 95% of the young people who come there having to go back at the end of a process that in many cases will lead to destitution—the word that we have used quite often. That, of course, has many implications for physical health, as a result of being malnourished and not being able to get access to a doctor. It leads to illegal work, sexual exploitation and all kinds of problems. There must be another way, a more humane and civilised way, of handling vulnerable young people who have all their lives before them. It seems crazy that, at the age of 18, everything should just turn over. Their needs for education and safe housing are basic things. The age of 18 should not be so critical that it makes people destitute. This is a really important amendment and we need to take it seriously. Destitution is not the answer.
My Lords, for 21 years I was a lay member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I used to hate it when we had young people of 18 presented to us for deportation. These youngsters had been through school, some of them having come to this country when they were seven, eight or nine years old, but they had no clue how to go through the legal system or get a solicitor—there were free lawyers in those days. It would have been extremely difficult for them to establish a life in their own country again. Many had lost touch with their parents, or their parents had died. They did not know what they would be going back to and, in many cases, did not speak the language. It is incumbent on us—this is maybe part of the social care aspects of the Bill—to see that social services ensure that their immigration status is settled before they are 18, so that when they leave school or are out of the care of the community they know where they stand.
My Lords, I understand that the way adults in this situation are treated is to wait until there is an order for them to be removed from the country. If they do not comply, all support is removed and they can become destitute from their own choice. However, children turning 18 can be made destitute before they receive the removal instruction. I understand this was not the Government’s intended policy, but it has evolved over time. I hope that is helpful and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and other noble Lords for this amendment and for stimulating some important debate.
It might be helpful if I explain how the existing legislation works. Unaccompanied children who apply for asylum are supported by local authorities under the Children Act 1989 and under similar legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the same way as any other child in need. As children their immigration status is, rightly, irrelevant to their entitlement to support, and remains so until they reach adulthood. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, made an extremely cogent set of points, especially on picking up at an early stage the challenges for some of these children. Local authorities already have a duty under the Children Act to plan the transition to adulthood of care leavers. She made an implicit point about when that ought to be examined and not left until the young person is about to turn 18.
For unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in care, this planning should include the different steps required in response to different immigration outcomes. The guidance is clear that local authorities should work with dedicated case workers at the UK Border Agency. As we set out in our letter to noble Lords on 1 November, the Department for Education is currently developing an action plan to drive forward improvements—which I think is what the noble Baroness was flagging—in the way local authorities identify children in, for example, private fostering who are at risk and where there may be concern about a child’s identity and immigration status. The noble Baroness specifically mentioned schools. We are currently exploring options with interested agencies and partners and hope the noble Baroness and any other noble Lords who are interested will contribute to that process by sharing their expertise and discussing any outstanding concerns in more detail.
When young people reach the age of 18, the position may be different from the one I have just described for under-18s. If they have been refused asylum, have not been granted any other form of leave to remain in the UK and have had an opportunity to appeal against the decision to an independent judge, then automatic access to further support from the local authority ends. That is what we are addressing here. It is important to recognise that support may still continue where it is necessary to avoid a breach of a person’s human rights. Whether this is necessary will depend on an assessment of the individual circumstances, but should include any failed asylum seekers who are taking reasonable steps to return to their countries of origin but need time to make the necessary arrangements because they are awaiting the issue of a passport. Equally, those who face a temporary barrier to departing because, for example, they are too sick to travel, should continue to receive support.
I turn to trafficking, which was mentioned in this context. Noble Lords will remember that we had a very important debate on this subject earlier in Committee. We will have further discussions on it, both in the Chamber and outside it. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, highlighted this issue and other noble Lords picked it up. In the case of potentially trafficked children, the first step is to assess whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person is trafficked. If the answer is yes, in practice it is likely to be considered as a breach of the child’s rights to refuse leave to remain. I hope that somewhat reassures the noble and learned Baroness.
We believe that the existing arrangements already make provision for those who have a genuine need. I realise that this is a probing amendment which is trying to get to the bottom of this particular challenge. We are concerned that, if we were to accept it, it could create further incentives for young people to claim falsely to be under 18 when they apply for asylum. This is a problem that local authorities already struggle to deal with. It could even put more young people at risk by providing an incentive to make dangerous journeys to the UK to claim asylum in order to receive extended support. The dangers of these journeys are well evidenced in the courts, by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and by UNICEF.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that young care leavers whose immigration appeal rights are exhausted do not face an abrupt withdrawal of all support. It is important that their options are clearly explained, including the availability of generous reintegration assistance from the Home Office if they agree to return voluntarily to their countries. It is important that any genuine barriers to preventing return are identified. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I emphasise that the local authority must assess each case individually, and if the authority considers that stopping support would breach a person’s human rights, it should continue. The Home Office provides funding to local authorities to cover the cost of extended support beyond the point at which a person turns 18. It already continues for three months after the person’s immigration appeal rights are exhausted, specifically to allow the local authority time to make the necessary assessments of individual cases. If an assessment shows that additional time is needed to complete the practical arrangements to leave, or where there are real obstacles to leaving the UK, further support should continue. However, we are aware that some local authorities are unsure of the practical steps they should take to assess individual cases properly. Young people in different areas may experience different levels of support. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner is currently examining local authority practice in this respect. We believe that it is right to wait for the findings of that study before considering whether further work with local authorities is required to ensure more consistency in case assessment. I hope that this information is useful to noble Lords.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. Can she give us the timing of the study in relation to the progress of the Bill?
The report should come through in February. It will inform what the Government might or might not need to do to address this issue. I hope that noble Lords will feed in any experiences which they feel need to be looked at so that the study can be as effective and far-reaching as possible.
I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that the Government take seriously their responsibility to provide appropriate support where care leavers no longer have leave to remain in the United Kingdom. As I have mentioned, there are a number of different categories where it would not be expected that people would be required to leave—for example, trafficked children. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
The Refugee Children’s Consortium and the Children’s Society do not think that trafficked children are being properly looked after. Would the Minister take that back? Could those behind her have a discussion with the Children’s Society and the Refugee Children’s Consortium, who have some very worrying examples? At this stage of the evening I did not want—if I may say so—to bore the Committee with endless examples but they have examples of children identified as trafficked who, at the age of 18, are destitute. Others, they think, would be in grave danger should they go back home but are not given the opportunity to stay. There are these two groups. If those behind the Minister would be prepared to be in touch with the Children’s Society and the Refugee Children’s Consortium, perhaps some useful discussion might take place.
I thank the noble and learned Baroness for that. I am sure that my colleagues here will take that on board. That might also be part of our general discussions on trafficking.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her sympathetic and careful response. I was particularly pleased to hear of the study being undertaken by Dr Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner. Clearly, we need a robust immigration system. The people of this country really feel that that is of great importance. However, I am not aware of any evidence that the policy in this area acts as a pull factor or that the way we treat these young people encourages more young people to come into this country. Indeed, my understanding is that we currently treat these 18 year-olds more harshly than adults of similar status but who have not come through the care system. This needs to be looked at carefully. I will take away what the Minister said and for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 234 withdrawn.
235: Before Clause 74, insert the following new Clause—
“Staff to child ratios: Ofsted-registered childminder settings
(1) This section applies to Ofsted-registered childminder settings.
(2) The ratio of staff to children under the age of eight must be no less than one to six, where—
(a) a maximum of three children may be young children;(b) a maximum of one child is under the age of one.(3) Any care provided by childminders for older children must not adversely affect the care of children receiving early years provision.
(4) If a childminder can demonstrate to parents, carers and inspectors, that the individual needs of all the children are being met, then in addition to the ratio set out in subsection (2), they may also care for—
(a) babies who are siblings of the children referred to in subsection (2), or(b) their own baby.(5) If children aged between four and five years only attend the childminding setting outside of normal school hours or the normal school term time, they may be cared for at the same time as three other young children, provided that at no time does the ratio of staff to children under the age of eight exceed one to six.
(6) If a childminder employs an assistant or works with another childminder, each childminder or assistant may care for the number of children permitted by the ratios specified in subsections (2), (4) and (5).
(7) Children may only be left in the sole care of a childminder’s assistant for two hours in a single day.
(8) Childminders must obtain the permission of a child’s parents or carers before that child can be left in the sole care of a childminder’s assistant.
(9) The ratios in subsections (2), (4) and (5) apply to childminders providing overnight care, provided that the children are continuously monitored, which may be through the use of electronic equipment.
(10) For the purposes of this section a child is—
(a) a “young child” up until 1 September following his or her fifth birthday;(b) an “older child” after the 1 September following his or her fifth birthday.”
My Lords, Amendments 235 and 236 would simply place in the Bill the current permitted staff/child ratios for childminders and nursery settings respectively. The current ratios are at the moment in regulations which can be changed by order of the Secretary of State. I had hoped I would not have to speak to these amendments, which were precipitated in the Committee deliberations of this Bill in the other place by the Government’s attempt earlier this year to increase the permitted staff/children ratios for childminders and nurseries. Noble Lords may recall that, after strong resistance from many parliamentarians but particularly also from childminders, daycare providers and children’s organisations, and after Mr Nick Clegg made it clear that the Liberal Democrats could not support these changes, eventually they were dropped in June.
However, in the last 10 days the Government have launched what I have to say is a very strange online survey using Facebook and Twitter to ask parents what they know about ratios in childcare settings and the qualifications of staff. Entitled “Ratios in Nurseries and Other Childcare Settings”, it asks 10 questions of parents with three and four year-olds in nurseries. All the questions are about ratios and qualifications. The Pre-school Learning Alliance described the survey as “biased”, “unscientific” and easily open to manipulation. Clearly, the understandable concern is that Conservative Ministers are trying to revisit this issue. There is suspicion about the motives behind the survey, particularly when, inevitably given its nature, the results will be random, unsystematic and potentially open to abuse.
Therefore, we felt we had to explore the support for putting into primary legislation the current requirements on staff ratios. As I said, that is the intention behind Amendments 235 and 236. We have done this for two reasons. First, the current ratios have, for the moment, stood the test of time in balancing on the one hand the quality of provision for children and on the other hand the costs to providers and therefore to parents. The evidence from Holland, where ratios were increased in 2005, was that this led to significant worsening of the environment for children and a much impaired responsiveness by staff to the children. They have now reversed those increases in the Netherlands. There is currently no evidence to support an increase of ratios.
Secondly, we also believe, given recent events, that if at some point any future Government were to feel that that was evidence to support a change to these ratios one way or the other, this issue is sufficiently important to require close parliamentary scrutiny and debate. The well-being of the youngest children in our society will depend on getting this right. At one level, the subject of staff/child ratios in nurseries could be taken to be a very dry subject, but I know that noble Lords will appreciate that it is critical. It is the most fundamental factor in shaping the daily experience of children in those settings: how happy they are, how well cared for they are, whether that setting is contributing positively to their development or not.
Amendment 235 and 236 set out the current regulatory requirements. Amendment 235 covers childminders. To set out what we are talking about, a single childminder can currently care for up to six children aged eight, including a maximum of one baby under 12 months and another two children under five. In practice, then, a childminder can now have a baby of six months, two children aged 18 months and three children aged five. In addition, he or she can exceptionally look after a baby sibling of one of the other children and her own baby if parents and inspectors agree. That is up to eight children: three babies, two young children under five and three children under eight. One would think that that was already more than enough to ensure quality of care.
I will share my own experience. I regularly—with my husband—have my three granddaughters for whole days at a time, at least once a week. They are aged three, two and one. I can tell you, at the end of that day, all we can do is flop back and put our feet up. Getting the three of them out with coats on, in separate buggies or whatever, is a logistical challenge in itself. I think that, normally, six children—one baby, two toddlers and three others—is quite a challenge for a single childminder.
For nurseries, there must be one member of staff for every three children under two, one member of staff for every four children aged two to three, and one member of staff for every eight children who are over three, with minimum standards of qualification set out in regulations. In 2008, when my party was in government, the ratios for three and four year-olds were increased. Providers were given the option to increase the ratios to 1:13 for three and four year-olds, provided a qualified teacher had direct contact with the children. These ratios already seem to be as far as one would want to go. For example, a 22-place nursery with six babies, eight toddlers and eight three year-olds would be required to have just five members of staff. Again, that seems fairly challenging.
Professor Nutbrown, who was appointed by the Government to undertake an independent review, opposed increasing the ratios and restated the well evidenced facts not only that good-quality childcare benefits young children’s development, but that that quality is also directly related to the numbers and the qualifications and training of the staff concerned. These amendments do not mean that the ratios could never be changed, but they would mean that the Government would have to bring forward legislation to change them that would precipitate the detailed scrutiny that we think that they merit.
I am pretty sure that the Government will say that putting ratios into primary legislation would make it too difficult to change them. However, when it is judged to be a very important issue, this and previous Governments do and have put detailed requirements into primary legislation. We have at least one example in this very Bill, where the Government have include the maximum time limit for care proceedings, over which courts cannot go. They have put that time—a number—in the Bill. This is an equally important issue, justifying primary legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am one of the Peers who is concerned about the government proposals to change the ratios and I tabled an Oral Question on this which the Minister answered. I admire the work that the Government have been doing through Iain Duncan Smith, working in partnership with Graham Allen, on recognising the importance of the earliest years of a child’s life and ensuring a good attachment between the child and the parent. Andrea Leadsom MP is the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sure Start Children’s Centres and a leader of the 1001 Critical Days campaign, which looks at the period covering pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. It is thinking about how that time can be made into the best possible experience for both the parent and the child.
I was therefore very worried about the proposal to change the ratios for babies in baby rooms, particularly because one tends to have the least experienced and least educated young women working in them. I recognise that the Government are concerned about affordability, and we all want children to have the benefit of both good quality group care and childminding. In terms of affordability, three or four months ago an interesting editorial piece in Nursery World looked at the various factors that contribute to making childcare expensive or affordable. One of the things the editor emphasised was that the Government need to fund the entitlement properly—the entitlement that had been available up to three years old but has now moved down to two year-olds. The Government should come up with the full whack, and that is an aspect that needs to be addressed. The editorial highlighted that several different factors make this a complicated issue, which means that it is difficult to make childcare profitable.
I was very relieved when the Government decided not to go ahead with the changes in the ratios, and I hope that the Minister can now assure us that, for the foreseeable future, we will not see them changed, particularly for the very youngest children.
My Lords, not for the first time the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has hit the nail right on the head. There is more than one way of making childcare more affordable for parents; properly funding the free entitlement is one of them while increasing the ratios is not. I was also concerned about the proposal and I am very pleased that the Government did not go ahead with it. It is not appropriate to put these ratios into the Bill. But, having said that, if the Government come up with another proposal to increase the ratios between now and 2015, I will be writing to Nick Clegg.
My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, that as a mother I would never regard child/staff ratios as being a dry subject. No doubt other noble Lords have had the same experience as she of what it feels like to look after three under-fives. However, coming home to find a childminder reading Captain Pugwash to my two spellbound little boys while at the same time spooning food into my baby girl, and everything being peaceful and quiet, demonstrated that some considerable skills are required. That was not quite how I managed it.
These amendments seek to set out ratios and minimum qualifications in primary legislation. As the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lady Walmsley have pointed out, staff/child ratios are currently set out in the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage and are made under powers in the Childcare Act 2006. Ratios are currently linked to other welfare requirements which are also set out in secondary legislation. To put this into primary legislation would separate it from all the other welfare requirements covering child protection and the suitability of staff. These include health, the safety and suitability of premises, the environment and equipment. These are all equally important and interrelated areas concerning the well-being and safety of young children. In our view, all aspects of the welfare requirements are intrinsically linked and should stay together in secondary legislation.
As my noble friend pointed out and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, will know extremely well, the ratios were in secondary regulations under the previous Government. It may very well have been the noble Baroness who took this through as Secretary of State.
The noble Baroness is correct. However, I would like her to acknowledge that we did not try to increase those ratios, nor did we expect a Government to try to do so. We thought that they were safe in regulations.
I think that the noble Baroness understands why it makes sense that they are there.
Noble Lords will be aware—again, reference has been made to this—that the Government brought forward proposals in January of this year to amend ratios where staff were more highly qualified; there is always a balance between how you make child care cost effective and how you ensure that it is safe. However, as my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Elizabeth Truss, made clear in the other place on 11 June, the Government are not proceeding with the proposals to change the staff/child ratios for childminders and non-domestic providers. We do not believe that it is right to put staff/child ratios in primary legislation. I assure noble Lords, and especially the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the Government have made it clear that we do not intend to proceed with the previous proposals to amend the existing ratios. I hope noble Lords find that reassuring.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, flagged up one or two issues such as the survey. The survey was intended to inform our understanding of what barriers might be preventing early-years providers from using an existing flexibility that is already there for three-to-four year-olds. We wanted to know why that arrangement, which would no doubt have come in under the noble Baroness’s Government, was not being used. Social media was used for that; it is a cost-effective and quick method of gaining some responses that might help to inform that. It was limited; it was live for just under a week and received 260 replies. The department will have a look at that as part of its ongoing work. It was looking at why the existing flexibility was not used.
I reassure the noble Baroness and other noble Lords that the Childcare Act 2006 provides a framework for the regulation of childcare which prescribes the detail in secondary legislation subject to the negative resolution procedure. These powers contain a simple but effective safeguard in that there is already a requirement that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education must consult Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills and any other appropriate persons before making welfare regulations. The existing process achieves the right balance between an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny and taking into account the views of providers, parents and other interested parties.
I hope that I have reassured noble Lords on the key point that the Government are not proceeding with the proposals which were initially put forward. It is important that all these areas should be looked at, addressed and considered, so that we see what their implications might be. However, in the light of that decision not to go ahead, I hope that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment and be reassured about those ratios.
I thank the noble Baroness for her response and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for their contributions. The Minister’s response on the principle of something like this going into primary legislation was pretty much what I thought it would be. However, she did not quite answer the point about why the Government think some issues can be in primary legislation but not this one. However, the Minister did not just quote what the Minister, Elizabeth Truss, said rather ambiguously on 11 June, but on two occasions she said—I have written it down and will check in Hansard—that the Government,
“do not intend to proceed”,
with these changes and, “are not proceeding”, with the previous proposals. That is a bit more definitive. I will check those quotes in Hansard, but I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this point.
Amendment 235 withdrawn.
Amendment 236 not moved.
Clause 74: Childminder agencies
237: Clause 74, page 51, line 10, at beginning insert “If, after a consultation period of not less than three months, and the publication of a response to the consultation, the Secretary of State is satisfied with the provisions, he may make an order so that”
I will speak, on behalf of my noble friends Lady Jones and Lady Hughes, to Amendments 237, 239 and 240 in their names.
I have listened patiently for weeks to the deliberations of this Committee and have been very impressed with the standard of expertise and knowledge. I have been asked to speak to these amendments relating to childminders and childcare agencies because, when we started to discuss this, I became very animated. I felt that noble Lords were all at the grandparent stage while I am still at the mother stage. Having served as an MEP, rushing off to Brussels every week while my children were very young, and now abandoning them again to come to your Lordships’ House, I confess that I am utterly dependent on my childminder, Margaret. There are hundreds of thousands of other parents in the same situation. We all, of course, want the best for our children. We need to feel confident that they are in a safe and secure environment, especially if we are not there to protect them. Getting this right is critical, not just for the well-being of the children, but for the peace of mind of countless parents throughout the land and to ensure respect for the profession.
I will focus on the issue of childminder agencies, as mentioned in Clause 74. It is essential that a high standard of care is maintained and important to note that there have been many improvements over the years. In 2008, the early years foundation stage was a welcome development in the professionalisation of childminders, leading to increasing standards and better qualifications. However, I remember watching my own childminder despair at the paperwork that mounted up; a new and challenging part of her job. The purpose of this clause is the introduction of agencies which would take away the paperwork burden and allow childminders to concentrate on what they do best. At first, encouraging childminders to join agencies might seem like a sensible suggestion, as these agencies can give advice, share best practice and provide a useful network as well as lessening the burden of paperwork. The problem is that, however competent the agencies are, much of the paperwork involved is about observation, assessment and planning for the individual child. So I am not quite sure what they will bring to the party, other than an extra tier of bureaucracy and significant additional cost. This goes directly against the Government’s recently published paper More Affordable Childcare.
These costs will, inevitably, be passed on from childminders to parents, adding to their burden. Childcare costs are one of the key issues causing the cost of living crisis under which so many are currently suffering. In addition, as this is a dramatic departure from the current system, it would make sense to wait until this proposal has been properly piloted and consulted on, prior to putting it in the Bill. We seem to be putting the cart before the horse here. This is the general gist of what we are trying to address with Amendment 237.
On inspection, childminders are currently inspected by Ofsted, operating under the early years foundation stage statutory guidance. I want to probe further what the Government are suggesting in new Section 51D of the Childcare Act 2006:
“Inspections of early years childminder agencies”.
The new system would allow childminders to register with, and be inspected by, a childminder agency, rather than by Ofsted. Ofsted would not be responsible for assessing the quality of care of the individual childminders registered with the agency; rather, it would inspect the quality and support provided by the agency.
My concerns are threefold. If the nature of your private business—the agency—is to attract more people to use your service but you are at the same time policing the people who pay you on the quality of the service that they provide, there is a clear conflict of interest. Paid, privatised regulation should be regarded with a degree of suspicion. Is there not a chance that standards of care will be reduced if agencies are inspecting their own people? How can the Government ensure standards when individual childminders are not inspected? We all know the pressures that Ofsted is already under. In time, it is likely that fewer and fewer individual childminders, signed up to agencies, will be spot-checked.
Under the current system, the costs of inspection are borne by the local authority. In future, these costs will inevitably and dramatically fall on parents. The costs of childcare are already seriously impeding many from returning to the workforce, in addition to putting immense pressure on already hard-pressed families. Is the Government seriously suggesting that, in future, they will have to cough up significant extra money to pay for childminders to register with an agency? We are creating a two-tier system, and a lack of reference in new Section 51D to individual childminders being inspected seems to underline this. Amendments 239 and 240 draw attention to this two-tier system, and ensure that all childminders are treated equally, with no temptation for the agencies to cherry-pick which childminders they inspect.
The introduction of a two-tier inspection system could dramatically increase the cost of childcare for already hard-pressed families. Before launching into such dramatic changes which have not been well tested or consulted upon, surely we should see if they work through properly constructed pilot programmes which are endorsed by the profession and by the parents they impact on. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have considerable concerns about this clause, which is why I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill, to initiate a probing debate. As I understand it, the Government’s objectives are to recruit more people to childminding, to improve quality and to make childcare more affordable for parents. Those are all laudable objectives with which I have no argument. I am yet to be convinced that these objectives will be achieved by setting up for-profit childminder agencies. I realise that it would be voluntary for childminders to sign up to an agency. If that was where it ended, that would be all very well. However, I fear that the existence of these agencies could affect non-participating childminders, parents and children. That is of great concern to me. I am aware that pilots are being carried out, but this measure will be in place before they have reported. In addition, when the pilots are assessed will that assessment cover just the agencies themselves, how many childminders they sign up and how satisfied the parents are, or will it go wider than that and study whether there has been any adverse effect on other early years provision in the area?
I will take the Government’s perceived objectives in reverse order. First, I cannot for the life of me see how this measure will make childcare more affordable for parents. These are profit-making organisations and they will have to set up a whole administration system, provide quality improvement services for childminders and comply with all the regulations. To pay for all that, they will either charge childminders to be registered or charge parents a percentage of what they pay the childminder. Both options will fail to cut costs for parents since childminders are low paid. If they pay the agency, they will have to pass on the costs to parents by increasing their fees. Alternatively, the agency will have to pay the childminder less if they are to keep the cost to parents the same. Childminders cannot afford to accept less money for their services. The average childminder only earns £12,200 per year and has no paid holidays or sick leave. They may earn much less than that.
Let us look at recruitment. I have to accept that it is possible that a new recruit to the job might be attracted by an agency that offered help in setting up the new business, getting registered and trained, and complying with safety regulations. However, good local authorities already do this for childminders so there is really no need for profit-making agencies to take over the role. It is the fear of many childminders, most of whom have declared that they are not interested in signing up to an agency, that, in places where there are several agencies, the services to independent childminders offered by the local authority will be severely depleted because of issues of scale. They will eventually be forced into agencies against their will. They are independent small businesses who decide when and how long to work and how to go about things, within the safety standards and the early years foundation stage. Those who have been in touch with me say they really do not want to be told what to do by an agency. Childminding will only become more attractive as a profession when they are paid more, but the agency proposal does nothing to achieve that.
Finally, on the most important issue of quality, I am very concerned that Clause 74 requires Ofsted to inspect only the way the agency supports its childminders—and a sample of its childminders. Since inspection is now moving away from local authorities and exclusively into the hands of Ofsted, parents will rely even more than they have done on the conclusion of an Ofsted inspection when choosing a place for their child. How can a parent be sure of the quality of an individual placement if it has not been inspected? On what basis would parents be able to rely on the judgment of an agency? Why should an outstanding childminder sign up to an agency that has only a satisfactory rating?
It seems to me that handing the responsibility for ensuring quality to the agencies is simply a way to take it away from local authorities, many of which have great expertise in assessment and improvement services—but could always do more. Replacing the successful Ofsted registration system for childminders with a fragmented combination of local and national inspection systems risks undermining standards, lowering the professional status of childminders and reducing the transparency of information on quality for families. Broadly, it is difficult to see a long-term future for a fragmented early years inspection system that hands responsibility for certain aspects of inspection to providers themselves. Some high-performing early years systems operate successfully with regulation devolved to local authorities, but there are no examples of privatised regulation. This is an approach that the Netherlands, whose example the agency model is based on, stepped back from after quality problems arose.
I can see only one possible advantage to parents, and that is when their usual childminder falls sick and cannot work. In that case, an agency may be able to provide a replacement at short notice. However, most childminders already belong to networks and often have friends in the business who can help out in an emergency, so even that is not a unique selling point. Why are we rushing to legislate now when there really is no evidence that this will be advantageous to parents or children?
I accept that many, although not all, foster parents are currently found by agencies. However, fostering is a very different situation. Foster parents are inspected by the local authority and have a close relationship with it. In the case of childminders and agencies, they would no longer have that, which causes me a lot of concern.
My Lords, I want to ask the Minister how the vision and the application of this proposal will work together. The Government have a laudable wish to increase the level of childcare that is available to families—mostly women who find themselves unable to work because they do not have good childcare arrangements. The Government want to provide good quality childcare and ensure that the costs are manageable. They want to reduce bureaucracy and provide a focus for childminders so that they can share some of their understanding together. I appreciate the last point in relation to agencies, but the others I find very difficult. I cannot see how the solution fits the vision.
On transparency, I share the views of other noble Lords, which is that anyone who has been involved in inspections—noble Lords know that I have been a regulator in at least three different agencies—knows that asking a regulator to inspect its own is fraught with danger. That is my major concern with regard to ensuring that child protection issues are picked up. We know how easy it is, as they say, to consume your own smoke within an organisation. Transparency and protection issues in all this would be difficult.
It has been demonstrated that the increased costs would, in the end, increase the cost of childcare for families. Some childminders are already extraordinarily expensive. The childminder employed by my niece—who I brought up as my daughter and who has the equivalent of my grandson—is extremely expensive. That is because she is confident that the care is of high quality and meets the right timeframes for her. I would like the Government to find a solution to some of the issues they have identified that matches the vision which I believe they have for the care of children when mothers need to return to work in order to increase their own opportunities.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, to the Grand Committee. It is very helpful to have a parent who is bringing up her children taking part in the Bill and it was good to listen to her tribute to her childminder, Margaret. I am also grateful to the Minister for hosting a meeting on this matter. The discussion was useful, and it was particularly helpful to be reminded that childminder agencies will be one way to help childminders feel less isolated. I have visited childminders in the past. They were part of childminder networks which they found very useful. They would meet regularly and take on training together. That is the positive side of this.
I want to encourage the Government to be open-minded in terms of how they develop childcare in this country. Perhaps I may highlight the value of nursery schools and other things that the Government are involved in, but I should voice my concern that an over-emphasis on private provision may not be helpful. After all, the cost of this provision is in the pay and training of the women—and it is women—who do this work. Historically, it has been very difficult for these businesses to make a profit. These nurseries have found that they just do not get enough bums on seats and therefore it is costly to run the whole business which means that they have to drive down price by cutting training or pay. We know that pay in nursery care has historically been very low indeed. The risk is that by having too much provision in the private sector we will move towards something which may not be much cheaper but may be inferior in quality. From memory, the turnover of staff in nursery schools is about 4% whereas in some of the large private providers the figure can be 14% or 15%. I recall that the latter offer quite a different setting. It is so important that our young children have continuity of care and that their professionals stay around for them for long periods. There can be stagnation but in general we want that long-term relationship with the carer.
I conclude with a quotation from Childcare Markets: Can They Deliver an Equitable Service?, edited by Eva Lloyd and Helen Penn. Professor Penn states in her summary:
“The key question is whether the childcare market is a reliable and equitable way of delivering childcare. For neoliberal countries, the risks and complications involved in allowing entrepreneurs to provide childcare are either unrecognised or deemed acceptable—or a combination of both”.
I think this was what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was referring to—the possible extra costs of placing more emphasis on the private sector. Professor Penn continues:
“In other countries where there is a childcare market, it is carefully controlled and generously funded, and although there may be many kinds of provider, the type of funding and the regulatory framework means that for-profit companies have limited room to manoeuvre. In yet other countries the childcare market is altogether unacceptable, and the government takes on the responsibility for providing childcare”.
Given that we are having a clause stand part debate, I remind the Government that a range of options are available and they can benefit from taking a very active role in this regard. Professor Penn concludes that there are,
“limitations and tensions in relying on the childcare market. Viewing childcare as a commodity to be bought and sold undermines equity and quality, and regulation has to be comprehensive and wide-reaching in order to try and compensate for these failings”.
This also speaks to the concern that has been expressed about relaxing inspection in these new arrangements. I do not consider that I understand the area sufficiently to be particularly critical or to be either for or against what the Government are proposing but I encourage us all to be as open-minded as possible in this area.
Will the Minister answer two questions given that the statement of policy intention talks about the 20 childminder agency trials that are now up and running, with which the Government are testing this idea? In summing up, will the Minister say how many of the agencies in the trials are private sector companies as opposed to local authorities or voluntary organisations? Do the Government have any knowledge or evidence from anywhere else in the world of private sector companies being given responsibility for the regulation and inspection of childcare providers?
My Lords, I would like to speak to the group of amendments including Clause 74 stand part, Amendments 237, 239, 240 and government Amendments 240A to 240Q on childminder agencies. As regards Clause 74 stand part, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue. There are superb childminders right across the country, but their numbers have fallen significantly in the past 20 years. Through the introduction of agencies we aim to increase the number of childminders in the market, and provide an affordable, high-quality service to parents. This is enabling legislation. Childminder agencies will be voluntary. No childminder will be forced to join an agency. However, some childminders, especially those new to the profession, may want to take advantage of the support that agencies can offer.
Securing high-quality outcomes for children is central to the agency concept. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, the chair of Ofsted, told us when we met with Peers last week that when childminders work together, there is a clear improvement in quality. Ofsted regards this as a way of professionalising the sector and driving up standards. Ofsted will play an essential role in ensuring this through its inspection of an agency—including, for example, observing a sample of childminders registered with the agency to make sure that the agency is providing a high-quality service.
Affordability of childcare is a growing concern for working parents. Agencies will be able to operate more cost efficiently by reducing administrative burdens on individual childminders and helping them to fill their spare places. This and increasing the number of childminders will help make it more affordable for parents.
Amendment 237 tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes of Stretford and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would delay the coming into effect of the childminder agency provisions until after a period of consultation. We already have plans for consultation on agencies. During the course of the passage of the Bill through the other place, my colleague the Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs committed the Government to consulting on the key requirements for registration for agencies, and we will bring forward plans to do so in due course.
On the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley about piloting, we are supporting trials and will disseminate the learning so that others who may be interested may follow. No one will be forced to set up or join an agency. Twenty organisations are participating in these trials, including local authorities, schools, children’s centres, nursery providers and private companies. Of the 20 trials, six are private businesses, eight are local authorities and two are academies.
I will take the second question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, away, but I know that fostering agencies, which will probably be many of the organisations concerned and cover a large proportion of the fostering market, are expected to secure the quality of their carers. We do not expect Ofsted to visit every one.
Can my noble friend the Minister answer my question about whether the assessment of the pilots will include looking at the effect on the rest of the childcare provision in the area of the pilot?
I will attempt to answer that question in a minute. All the organisations I mentioned are getting involved to explore new and innovative ways to deliver the quality childcare that parents and children need. There will be a full evaluation of the trials with a first report early next year, including the difference they make in the local markets. Moreover, key requirements for registration will be set out in regulations and subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the usual way.
Amendments 239 and 240 seek to make all childminders registered with early years childminder agencies subject to individual inspection by Ofsted. However, we believe Ofsted will have sufficient powers to inspect early years providers registered with an agency. First, the Bill contains provisions that will enable Ofsted to inspect early years provision by those registered with an agency, as part of its inspection of an agency. Secondly, Ofsted retains its existing powers of entry to any registered childcare premises to determine whether providers are complying with requirements imposed by the Childcare Act 2006. If there are concerns about an agency-registered childminder, Ofsted will have the power to go in and investigate.
That is not dissimilar to the process for other organisations subject to Ofsted inspection. School inspections do not observe every teacher but instead observe a sample, although they pay close attention to the arrangements in place to secure good safeguarding. That is the approach we wish to see. We are working closely with Ofsted to develop a robust registration and inspection regime for childminder agencies to make sure that agencies are providing a high-quality service to childminders and parents. We expect Ofsted will consult on its inspection framework later this year.
A key feature of the agency model is that the agency rather than Ofsted is responsible for monitoring the quality of provision and compliance with registration requirements for its childminders. It is the agency that is responsible for communicating the outcome of monitoring evaluations to parents. The intention is for agencies to help remove some of the burdens that childminders currently face. It does not make sense for agency childminders to be subject to two separate inspections by different organisations. Agencies will be required to monitor the standards of care being delivered by the childminders they register and will be able to help childminders with training, business support and advice, and in finding parents needing childcare. They will also be a valuable service for parents who want to find a high-quality childminder. I therefore urge the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, to withdraw her amendment and the other noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, not to push their other amendments.
I turn to government Amendment 240A. The Bill gives the Secretary of State a power to make regulations about the suspension of a childminder’s registration by a childminder agency. Amendment 240A seeks to make clear that those regulations must provide for a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal for any childminder whose registration is suspended and should be included in the Bill.
Government Amendments 240B to 240Q seek to amend the disqualification regime set out for childminder agencies in the Bill. Safeguarding will be paramount, and agency-registered childminders will be subject to the same checks as independently registered childminders. However, agency staff who are involved in marketing support, for example, will not be caring directly for children. These amendments are required to ensure that the Government can make appropriate disqualification provisions for those who apply to register as, or work in, childminder agencies, which are in line with the roles that they will play and mirror the approach taken by similar bodies.
Amendments 240B and 240C will therefore amend the Bill so that the consequences of disqualification from registering as a provider relate solely to the delivery of childcare or any direct concern in the management of childcare provision. Amendments 240D to 240L will make corresponding amendments to the Bill so that the consequences of disqualification from registering as an agency relate solely to the running of an agency, in the sense of being involved in the management of an agency or working in an agency in a capacity which involves visits to childminders’ homes. Amendments 240M to 240Q are technical amendments which are consequential on those I have outlined above. They amend provisions concerning powers of entry to the premises of a childminder agency and offences by corporate bodies. Amendments 240B to 240Q should be included in the Bill.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, withdraws her amendment, as I assume she will, I will just make a point about the Minister’s analogy that not every schoolteacher is inspected by Ofsted, but a sample from the school. We have a very different situation here. Childminders are working on their own, behind closed doors and on their own premises. Teachers in schools are all on the same premises and their work is quite visible and open to everybody to see. When I did my teaching practice, I was in an open-plan laboratory and my supervisor was the other side of the bookcase. It was terrifying. The fact is that it is very easy to know, in a school, if a teacher is not doing the right thing or is just not up to standard. It is not the same thing at all and I really would not accept that analogy.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for addressing some of those issues. I would like to pick up on a number of them. First, he suggested that childminders working together makes sense. Yes, absolutely that makes sense, but informal networks exist already. Local authorities are doing a lot of this work already. It also seems very odd that we are still in the middle of a pilot and are putting something into the Bill when we have no idea whether it will work. Even if it does, the sample we have is just six private companies out of 20. When the whole point of this is the suggestion that we move to a private sector approach, having just six out of 20 does not seem to make much sense.
The Minister mentioned that Ofsted can inspect any of these childminders. The question is: will it? The cost of inspection according to Ofsted is £701 per childminder visit. That is quite a lot when Ofsted is already under pressure financially. I am very disappointed that the Minister did not address the issue of the conflict of interest, because that is absolutely fundamental. If a private provider inspects childminders who are paying it, there has to be a conflict of interest. At this time of austerity, when people are really up against it financially, to suggest that costs will come down is fairy-tale land. The assumption that the Minister makes is that a childminder does not have enough children, and that they can go to an agency that will have a whole pool of children they can pick up. That is unlikely to be the case because we know that there is already a shortage of childminders. The probability is that costs will increase for childminders and they will pass that cost directly on to parents. That concerns me but—
What would stop the Government from injecting funds into local authorities to enable them to build more networks? Rather than going down the agency route to bring these childminders together, what obstacles would there be to a push to enable more local authorities to build on the networks they already have? Why would that not meet the Government’s aim of building the capacity of childminders?
I will take that away. My first thought would be that we have not got any money at the moment. Secondly, the assumption that the public sector can run things more efficiently than the private sector is one that I would probably disagree with on principle.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 237 withdrawn.
Clause 74 agreed.
Amendment 238 not moved.
Schedule 4: Childminder agencies: amendments
Amendments 239 to 240 not moved.
Amendments 240A to 240Q
240A: Schedule 4, page 175, line 21, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations by virtue of subsection (1) which make provision about the suspension of the registration of an early years provider or a later years provider with a childminder agency must include provision conferring on the registered provider a right of appeal to the Tribunal against suspension.”
240B: Schedule 4, page 178, line 17, leave out sub-paragraph (3)
240C: Schedule 4, page 178, line 24, leave out sub-paragraph (4)
240D: Schedule 4, page 179, line 32, leave out “member,”
240E: Schedule 4, page 179, line 32, after “of” insert “, or partner in,”
240F: Schedule 4, page 179, line 34, leave out “or otherwise work for such an agency.” and insert “be a member of the governing body of such an agency, or otherwise be directly concerned in the management of such an agency, or”
240G: Schedule 4, page 179, line 34, at end insert—
“(d) work for such an agency in any capacity which involves entering premises on which early years provision or later years provision is being provided.”
240H: Schedule 4, page 179, line 34, at end insert—
“(1A) No early years childminder agency or later years childminder agency may employ a person who is disqualified from registration by regulations under section 76A in any capacity which involves—
(a) being directly concerned in the management of an early years childminder agency or a later years childminder agency, or(b) entering premises on which early years provision or later years provision is being provided.”
240J: Schedule 4, page 179, leave out lines 35 to 40
240K: Schedule 4, page 179, line 41, leave out “(2)” and insert “(1A)”
240L: Schedule 4, page 179, line 41, at end insert—
“( ) A person (“P”) who contravenes subsection (1A) is not guilty of an offence under subsection (3) if P proves that P did not know, and had no reasonable grounds for believing, that the person whom P was employing was disqualified from registration.”
240M: Schedule 4, page 181, line 33, leave out “member,”
240N: Schedule 4, page 181, line 33, after “of” insert “, or partner in,”
240P: Schedule 4, page 181, line 34, after “agency,” insert “a member of its governing body or otherwise directly concerned in the management of the agency,”
240Q: Schedule 4, page 183, line 20, at end insert—
“ (1) Section 87 (offences by bodies corporate) is amended as follows.
(1) In subsection (1) for “This section” substitute “Subsection (2)”.
(2) After subsection (2) insert—
“(3) Subsection (4) applies where any offence under this Part is committed by a partnership.(4) If the offence is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, any partner, that partner (as well as the partnership) is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”(3) In the title, at the end insert (and partnerships”.”
Amendments 240A to 240Q agreed.
Schedule 4, as amended, agreed.
Clause 75: Inspections at request of providers of childcare to young children
Debate on whether Clause 75 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, this is a probing debate because we now have a very new and different Ofsted framework for early years settings. Local authorities will no longer inspect them, although they will retain their duty to help improve quality, based on the Ofsted verdict. There is some confusion as to whether Clause 75, which allows settings to pay for an additional Ofsted inspection, only applies to early years providers operating on non-domestic premises. That would exclude childminders and, I think, Sure Start children’s centres. I hope that the Minister can clarify this point because I have received two different interpretations from the sector.
Referring back to our debate on Clause 74, it occurs to me that childminders who are signed up to agencies but who are not chosen in the sample of those to be inspected by Ofsted when they inspect the agency, may wish to ask and pay for an individual inspection in order to establish their own standards. Can this be done? I am doubtful about how many childminders would want to pay for an inspection if the Government decided to extend the provision to them. They are not highly paid and may not be able to afford it. A small nursery setting might also find it a burden. How much are the inspections likely to cost? We do not want to add to the running costs of settings, in order to avoid them putting up the price of childcare for parents. Could settings that did not previously have a “good” Ofsted rating make quick improvements and ask for another inspection? This might give them an advantage over other settings, since normally the inspectors turn up without notice. However, if you have just made improvements, ask to pay for another inspection and then the inspector comes along exactly when you are expecting to see him, that gives an advantage.
How often can settings ask for a paid-for inspection? Can they keep on going until they get to the quality they are looking for? The Secretary of State is against multiple GCSE entries; is he also against multiple Ofsted inspections?
My Lords, the aim of this clause is to enable early years providers to request and pay for a reinspection from Ofsted outside the normal inspection cycle. We are aware of the impact an Ofsted inspection rating can have on a provider. Both reputation and the ability to offer funded early education for two, three or four year-olds will be affected. This could, in turn, have a dramatic impact on the viability of childcare provision, as much early years provision is run by private, voluntary and independent organisations.
We need to ensure a balance between maintaining high standards of provision and encouraging providers to make swift improvements in quality. While we recognise that Ofsted has introduced changes to its inspection framework for group providers from 4 November 2013 so that providers who receive “requires improvement” or “inadequate” ratings will be reinspected in six to 12 months, there are a number of providers, for example those judged “satisfactory” prior to 4 November, who will not benefit from these changes immediately and may wait a number of years for the opportunity to be reinspected, regardless of having made improvements much sooner.
The intention behind this clause is to enable providers to request a paid-for reinspection at an earlier date, should they wish to do so. This opportunity to demonstrate improvement sooner provides an incentive for providers to make improvements at a swifter pace. We appreciate that it would be unworkable if every provider requested and was given an early reinspection. That is why the Secretary of State, working closely with Ofsted and others, will set out in a remit letter the conditions under which such reinspections can take place. For example, we intend to have a minimum time between inspections to ensure that the provider has had an opportunity to make the necessary improvements. The situation will be kept under review and further conditions will be introduced if necessary.
My noble friend asked about costs. The fees will be set out in secondary legislation and the amount will be decided based on further negotiation with Ofsted and in the light of any consultation with the sector. Ofsted has indicated that the cost of childcare inspections is likely to range from around £700 for an individual childminder to £1,500 for group settings. Individual providers would need to decide for themselves whether or not paying for an early reinspection is worth it financially in terms of generating future additional income. I remind my noble friend that it is of course entirely voluntary. On her analogy with endless GCSE resits, I would say that costs could be a factor.
My noble friend also asked about the scope. It will include childminders and childcare within a Sure Start children’s centre. It does not include inspection of children’s centres’ wider functions. Childminding agencies could request reinspection, but not the childminders registered with them. If that does not sufficiently clarify, I am happy to write to my noble friend in answer to any of her questions. I hope that she has been reassured as to the intention of the clause and that she will be happy to allow it to stand part of the Bill.
I thank my noble friend for her reply. As I said at the outset, this is a probing debate. The Minister has clarified one point about the scope of the application of this power to request another inspection. As I say, I have had briefings from two different groups, one of which said that childminders were not included and the other that they were. Having said that, I cannot imagine many childminders forking out another £700; they just cannot afford it. Of course, I am sure that we would agree that it is far better to provide a high-quality service and get a good inspection rating in the first place. My noble friend has clarified some of the issues and I am satisfied enough to withdraw my opposition to the clause.
Clause 75 agreed.
Committee adjourned at 7.37 pm.