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Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill

Volume 811: debated on Friday 19 March 2021

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, this is a brief, straightforward and technical Bill, but none the less important. Its purpose is simple and clear: it would extend the duty to safeguard and provide for the welfare of children to all providers of publicly funded post-16 education and training in England. All such providers would be required to follow relevant statutory guidance issued by the Department for Education, the current guidance being Keeping Children Safe in Education.

I pay tribute to Mary Kelly Foy, the Member for the City of Durham, for her work on this Bill in another place, in particular for its arrival in this House unamended. I welcome the fact that the Bill has cross-party and, importantly, government support.

As noble Lords may know, the landscape for 16 to 19 education is broad and varied. This has given rise to inconsistencies in the ways in which duties are placed on institutions and providers in this area. While there is an existing duty on local authorities which maintain schools, sixth forms and further education establishments to ensure that safeguarding obtains and child welfare is promoted, that duty does not extend in the same way to 16 to 19 academies, which, perhaps inexplicably, in law are neither schools nor colleges; nor does it extend to specialist post-16 institutions or independent learning providers.

The Bill would ensure that wherever 16 to 19 education is provided and accessed, the requirements as to safeguarding and the promotion of welfare would be the same. This lack of requirements expressed in a clear fashion needs to be remedied for all 16 to 19 education—of course, no more so than for those with complex special educational needs attending specialist post-16 institutions. Bringing specialist post-16 institutions and independent learning providers, as well as 16 to 19 academies, into line with other publicly funded 16 to 19 provision would create clarity and fairness. This is important for students themselves and, of course, for parents and carers on behalf of young people.

Clause 1 would amend the Education Act 2002 to extend the safeguarding duty to 16 to 19 academies, specialist post-16 institutions and independent learning providers, which provide further education where financial assistance—public money—is given for the provision of further education. This duty would be provided for in the funding agreements made with the Secretary of State.

It is envisaged that new T-levels will develop over the next two years. Of course, this is a work in progress at present. Many in your Lordships’ House have in-depth experience of education and will, I am sure, follow this development with interest. The development of T-levels, as envisaged, will see many more providers coming into the area. Therefore, it is critical that, if this expansion is to happen, it must be done with all appropriate safeguarding measures in place. Clause 2 extends the safeguarding duty to providers of education and training associated with T-levels or approved technical qualifications and to approved apprenticeship providers by amending the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 to ensure that funding agreements require compliance with safeguarding. With young people beginning to get back on track properly with their education, this is the time to deal with this gap in the law and ensure that any young person who moves into 16 to 19 provision anywhere in England finds themselves in an establishment in which the safeguarding duty is clear and explicit and in which their welfare is promoted.

In conclusion, I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett: I urge noble Lords to hold their usual enthusiasm for amendment in check in order to speed the passage of the Bill. I am sure that we will all agree that safeguarding and the welfare of children and young people are of central importance. The Bill will help to ensure that all 16 to 19 year-olds have the same safeguards and protections under the law.

Finally, I thank the Minister for meeting me at short notice to discuss the Bill; it was a most helpful meeting. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am delighted to support the Bill, and I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, on all the work that she has done in preparing it. I also congratulate the honourable Member who introduced the Bill in the other place. I also welcome the Minister to her position, and I look forward to hearing her remarks in summing up.

I believe that the Bill addresses a very clear existing loophole in the law, and I imagine all noble Lords would wish to see this fulfilled. I will ask one specific question that arises out of the Bill and the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower. Could it be confirmed whether it is indeed the case that when a child or student in the 16 to 19 year-old age bracket—as with others—is statemented as a student with special needs, the money will follow the statement and the provision will go to the provider of the education to ensure that that student receives the special educational attention that they deserve?

I will take this opportunity to solicit support in relation to another loophole in an earlier age group and indeed all age groups through to 18 to 21 years old that we have identified in the Domestic Abuse Bill. I speak as a vice-president of the National Association of Child Contact Centres and a co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Child Contact Centres and Services. It seems strange that local authorities are obviously obliged to check out whether, and make sure that, the appropriate arrangements for safeguarding, training and other issues of awareness are in place before a nursery or a childminder provision is allowed to open. Apparently, that is not currently the case with child contact centres. In precisely the same way as the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, has done the House a great service in highlighting the issues before us in the Bill, I am delighted to say that Amendment 21 to the Domestic Abuse Bill, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has been carried by the House. I hope that it will engage support from all noble Lords and the other place when it proceeds there.

However, in addition to that loophole, a further one is before us today. I place the highest possible emphasis on safeguarding duties to be in place for every possible provision in education, particularly in the further education provision to 16 to 19 year-old pupils. I commend the Bill and am delighted to support it.

My Lords, this is one of those odd Bills where, when you look at it, you think, “You mean you actually need this? We missed this as we went through?”. I have probably been here too long and become cynical, but I said, “Right, what is the horror story behind this? What has gone wrong?”. Apparently, nothing has. This may be more by luck than by judgment, but nothing has gone wrong, so I commend everyone involved in this for taking action before they absolutely had to, because we are far too often very reactive.

I hope that, if we see something like this, all of us will bring it to attention and that the Government will respond in the same way. Everyone involved in this should take some credit for this: the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, the people who did this in the House of Commons and those involved going forward.

When she sums up, can the Minister—or the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, whichever is more appropriate—give us a bit of an idea about how it came to be and was spotted. That would be helpful going forward. Looking down at education, especially further education, and when you look through this and some of the changes that have taken place, it is understandable that it happened. However, the fact that we went through this without something going badly wrong does not mean to say that we will get away with it next time. Responsibility and being able to have an overview will be very important.

Further education is a very complicated area that spills into both secondary and higher education and connects in odd ways. This should have been done in the first place. I congratulate all those involved on seeing this and changing it, and I congratulate the Government on not fighting it but helping it get through. However, please can we have an overview of the process of finding this and what we will do to make sure that other oversights like this do not occur in the future?

Having said those rather grumpy and petulant words, I hope that the Bill gets through quickly because it is clearly needed.

I also congratulate my honourable friend the Member of Parliament for the City of Durham on this, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Blower on carrying it forward in this House. I can shed a little light for the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the fact that changes, particularly the introduction of academisation, introduced new ways of delivering services, including those for 16 to 19 year-olds, that had not previously been dealt with in Acts that provided the safeguarding that we are talking about today.

I can be blissfully brief because I will just put on record that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and with what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said. I have two things, not for my noble friend to address but perhaps for the Minister to reflect on. First, I suggest moving very quickly on the issue of protection for young people of this age in relation to sporting facilities, which everyone is very well aware of. Secondly, there is an area that still needs to be addressed: looked-after children, or those in care, who, between the ages of 16 and 19, are moved into semi-autonomous facilities, in which they have semi-independent living but where norms of supervision, protection and safeguarding still do not exist. I hope that it will be possible for us to come back very quickly to these important issues in order to close further loopholes and ensure, as we always do, that we do not have a day zero but that we build and stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

My Lords, I too wholly support the Bill and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, on bringing it forward. There is now widespread consensus that children have been and are among the groups worst affected by the pandemic. While welcoming the generous provision that the Government have made for continuing free school meals and other child welfare schemes, there are remaining concerns. The huge number of distinct projects, actors and specific funds in this field—for example, several local and central government departments, NGOs and schools—indicate a scattered approach to a continuing problem. Is it not now time to introduce a long-term coherent strategy to improve children’s welfare?

There are, of course, important initiatives, such as the National Food Strategy, the Marcus Rashford Child Food Poverty Task Force, the Food Foundation and the Children First Alliance, to name a few. However, given the funding available, the national concern and the fact that children remain especially vulnerable, a strong, accountable political voice is needed. That could be best achieved by appointing a Cabinet-level Minister for Children. Historically the Department for Education, the current responsible ministry, had a wider remit as the Department for Children, Families and Schools under previous Administrations. Today, the Department for Education has a Secretary of State, two Ministers of State—for universities and school standards respectively —and three parliamentary under-secretaries covering children and families, apprenticeships and skills, and the school system. A Cabinet Minister would pursue what needs to be done politically to ensure co-ordination and coherence around food, education, mental health and poverty programmes across government.

Specifically, a senior Minister would have the political weight to do the following: review where there is continuing need, including among older children, and what projects have proved most cost effective in meeting those needs; embrace the many diverse ideas, schemes and policies to arrive at a single, coherent strategy, such as has been achieved in New Zealand; and ensure a close working relationship with and between key players to include the Children’s Commissioner. The need is urgent, and the responsibility for children’s welfare across many different government departments risks losing the opportunity that we now have to use the funds to the best possible effect. A true voice for children at the heart of government is something that HMG might consider seriously and expediently.

My Lords, I am pleased to support this Bill. I have a few comments on the issues that it throws up in relation to welfare for children. The aim of the Bill is clear and was well described by my noble friend Lady Blower, and I congratulate her. Crucially, it is about extending safeguarding the welfare of children to all providers of publicly funded education and training in England. The Bill is supported by many previous conventions, laws and practices. Safeguarding and promotion of welfare is defined in the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the UK in December 1991. A child is defined there as a person under 18.

I thank the House of Lords Library for its excellent notes on the Bill and for helpfully recalling the statutory guidance in January this year from the DfE and the DfE guidance of July 2018 around interagency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It is worth noting that the guidance makes it very clear that:

“Nothing is more important than children’s welfare ... We want a system that responds to the needs and interests of children and families and not the other way around.”

It is clear also that local authorities working in partnership with other organisations have

“specific duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in their area”,

as set out in the important Children Acts 1989 and 2004. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 places specific

“new duties on key agencies in a local area ... the police, clinical commissioning groups and the local authority are under a duty to make arrangements to work together, and with other partners locally, to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in their area.”

That includes a child-centred approach, with early interventions and information, taking account of the needs and views of the child, assessing disabled children and their carers, children in need and secure youth establishments.

All this reflects an understanding that a holistic view of children, and holistic interventions for them, are essential. The Bill follows a similar view of partnership working, which would also cover independent providers. I therefore very much welcome it.

Given the agreement that the approach to children should be wide-reaching and holistic, with responsibilities shared across a number of agencies, does it not make sense for the Government to create a Cabinet post with responsibility for children, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza? This question is being asked more and more, not just by me and colleagues in your Lordships’ House but by MPs and the children’s voluntary sector. Are the Government listening?

My Lords, I declare an interest as an apprenticeships ambassador, and certainly welcome this Bill. I congratulate the MP for the City of Durham and my noble friend Lady Blower on her comprehensive introduction. I have only one concern, which is the reference in the Bill to a simplified safeguarding system. If only that were true. I think that independent providers who do not have school systems to draw on will find this quite a challenge. Safeguarding is a bit of an industry because it is so complex and there are constant training needs.

If the safeguarding is to include topics such as county lines, FGM and, presumably, Protect, I hope that someone in government is thinking about how this can be simplified, because it is certainly not simple in schools and, every year, the Department for Education updates its safeguarding guidance. This academic year has been spectacularly difficult because schools did all the usual updates and rewrites in September and then, in January, discovered that it had to be done again because of Brexit, as the legal basis for the policies had changed. I hope the Minister will recognise this problem and undertake to look at the complexity of current guidance.

Nevertheless, like everyone else, I welcome the Bill, which addresses an important gap and ensures that, wherever young people are in the education system, they are protected.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate following the clear and informative introduction from the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, who made important points about resource needs, which I shall seek to build on.

I shall, however, be fairly brief, because some of what I might have said has already been covered. It has been noticeable in the past few months that the number of invitations landing in my inbox referring to apprenticeships and other post-school training has leapt significantly, some of which I have been pleased to be able to take up. The term “lifelong learning”, long central to Green educational philosophy, has come to increasing prominence.

As the mover of the Bill in the other place said, it corrects an anomaly in the law by ending an unintentional oversight that meant that young people attending 16 to 19 academies, special post-16 institutions and independent learning providers were not protected in the same way as they would be at a school or further education college. I can only wholeheartedly endorse that intention but, following on from the previous speaker, I note that funding for this sector of education, which offers young people and adults who may not have had the same positive experiences in schools an additional and potentially life-changing opportunity, is clearly inadequate. To deliver on what is contained in this Bill, and for many other reasons, further education should be funded on an equal basis with other sectors.

As a former school governor, I am very aware of how many resources safeguarding issues can demand of educational institutions. That experience was in a primary school but, of course, the challenges faced by all young people can present similar issues and resource demands. The funding model should reflect and support the enormous social and economic benefits that accrue from lifelong learning and should not be focused purely on vocational skills—those that can be narrowly commercialised. Lifelong learning is also about being a good citizen, a member of a healthy family; it is about enriching lives and not just turning out servants of “the economy”. Of course, that requires proper safeguarding, and I welcome the steps in this Bill to ensure that. I wish it fast passage.

My Lords, this is an important piece of legislation, because it concerns the welfare of children and young people. We fully support its aim of closing a loophole in safeguarding duties for post-16 academies and independent providers. We also welcome that the Government are solidly behind it, as set out clearly by the Minister, Gillian Keegan, in another place—a position that I have no doubt the Minister will emphasise today.

It is perhaps surprising not just that a loophole exists but that it went unnoticed for so long, a point alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Great credit is due to the honourable Member for the City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy, for her awareness of the issue and for seizing the initiative to fill the gap. It would have been preferable had it been undertaken by government, but I accept that that would have been difficult; after all, there has not been an education Bill of any sort since the Technical and Further Education Act 2017. Perhaps the upcoming Queen’s Speech will bring that barren spell to a close—we shall see. I commend my noble friend Lady Blower for taking up the mantle as this Bill makes its way through your Lordships’ House. She brings a wealth of experience in education to the task and she spoke with passion on behalf of the young people who come within the reach of the Bill at a crucial, perhaps even vulnerable, point in their lives: the bridge between childhood and adulthood.

Although there exists a statutory duty on schools, sixth forms and FE colleges to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of the young people who are their students, this does not apply to 16 to 19 academies or independent training providers. These providers do have safeguarding requirements as a condition of the funding they receive but, for some reason, legal safeguarding duties do not apply in the same way as for an FE college or school—perhaps the Minister can say how that came about.

The statutory guidance that will be developed to cover all providers will introduce long-overdue consistency. It is more by luck than good judgment that the fact that not all students and apprentices have hitherto been provided with the same level of safeguarding has not been exposed and tested until now. It barely needs stating that parents, too, must have confidence that the education and training providers in whose care their children are placed afford an appropriate level of safeguarding and are clear about their responsibilities to these young people.

So much has changed since the Bill was launched a year ago, but one thing that has not is the enduring importance of apprenticeships and skills, particularly for 16 to 19 year-olds, who will form the workforce of the future. The Government’s White Paper launched in January had much to say about that agenda, putting colleges at the heart of post-16 skills. T-levels have come in for much criticism but I hope they are allowed to develop and play their role in enabling some redress in the imbalance between the so-called technical and academic routes open to young people pondering their career prospects. Though set in an educational environment, T-levels have a work focus and a link to developing skills.

It is essential that the working and studying environments that these young people enter offer safeguarding levels that are consistent, no matter whether the tuition is delivered by further education providers or independent learning providers. I say “young people” but, in many cases, they are children. I echo the point made by my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza: the Government really should consider whether children are adequately represented at Cabinet level. The call for the creation of a Cabinet post is something to which I hope the Minister will give a positive response in respect of the question from my noble friend Lady Massey.

There is every reason to believe that the Bill will achieve the consistency that many noble Lords referred to today. I hope the Minister is able to confirm that the amendments required to the guidance on keeping children safe in education will be swiftly introduced, so that the uncertainty that the Bill has highlighted will become a thing of the past.

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this debate today and pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, for sponsoring the Bill, and to the honourable Member for the City of Durham. It was a pleasure to meet the noble Baroness and I thank her for her efforts in developing the Bill and leading it successfully through this place. The importance we all place on safeguarding is underlined by the cross-party support and collaboration which has characterised, and I hope will continue to characterise, the passage of the Bill so far.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for raising the importance of protective measures for young people in a sports context. The distressing reports we have seen this week highlight yet again how vital it is to have an effective, transparent and relevant safeguarding regime. As the Minister responsible for out-of-school settings, I will look at these matters in detail. The noble Lord also raised the issue of children in supported accommodation. Where a child cannot live at home, it is one of the state’s most important responsibilities to ensure that they are kept safe and flourish. That is why local authorities have a duty to provide services to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area. The situations he refers to concern accommodation, rather than education, but I am sure he is aware that we are banning, as of this September, the use of that accommodation for under-16s, and there will be a consultation on national minimum standards for those over 16 accommodated in that way.

The Bill will help streamline and simplify the current safeguarding system. It will give clarity on safeguarding to providers, students, apprentices and parents, making it easier to understand the protections that are in place. It will make the Secretary of State for Education directly accountable for ensuring that the terms of funding for post-16 education and training providers include safeguarding duties, further demonstrating the Government’s commitment to safeguarding. The Bill will ensure that safeguarding duties on providers of post-16 education or training will in future come from one of two sources: from the statute or the funding agreement with the Secretary of State. All providers must have regard to the statutory guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education.

Our post-16 education and training landscape is diverse. It has evolved over time, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, outlined, to respond to our diverse education and training needs, but within this diversity a potential anomaly has been identified which might give rise to some confusion over safeguarding duties. It is important that I take this opportunity to reassure the House that all children in post-16 education and training are currently protected by safeguarding arrangements; I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in particular. However, there has been complexity over the origin of those duties and, in safeguarding, it should be simple and clear. So, for example, the safeguarding duties at the moment for providers of T-levels or training to apprentices aged 17 and below are determined by the statutory regime applicable to that provider type and through funding agreements. In contrast, safeguarding arrangements in 16 to 19 academies are a condition of funding agreements.

The specific obligations in these funding agreements will differ according to when the agreements were entered into. Inconsistencies in these obligations make safeguarding more complex for providers than it needs to be, and this will increase the risk of things going wrong. The origin of the safeguarding duties was raised by those providers. It is an attempt to future-proof: if it is the Secretary of State’s obligation to put it in a funding agreement, it matters not what kind of provider evolves in the future; it must be within the funding agreement.

On the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, there is no change here to the funding of special educational needs placements; we have just brought into scope the specialist 16 to 19 providers. It will apply to any provider in the 16 to 19 sector where there is a contract and it is funded through the ESFA, which is basically public funding. The Bill will also ensure that the same safeguarding obligations that currently apply to schools are clearly placed on academy trusts in the 16 to 19 sector.

The Bill makes clear that all providers should have regard to the statutory guidance. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Young, there are annual updates to the guidance, but one year they will be technical updates and the following year substantive updates. It is unfortunate that, during Covid, we were in the process of doing the round of substantive updates, because the threats for children in education evolve and develop at pace. We now include specific sections on peer-to-peer abuse, on child exploitation, on county lines and so on. Unfortunately, the guidance needs to be looked at annually but, as I said, it is substantive one year and technical the next. However, having one set of guidance will make it simpler for providers to know what their duties are.

On the question raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady D’Souza and Lady Massey, the Secretary of State for Education is responsible for driving forward the policy on families and has appointed a specific adviser. We recognise that there is more to do on cross-government co-ordination but, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, in the Department for Education we have a mental health strategy task force group that is led by the Minister for Children and the Minister for Universities, Ministers Ford and Donelan.

The post-16 education and training provider landscape is diverse, but the safeguarding duty should be clear and universal. The changes in this Bill are important but technical. A provider which is already fulfilling its safeguarding duty would not need to make any practical changes. This Bill should not lead to any additional costs or burdens on education or training providers—in fact, quite the opposite.

The Government are pleased to be able to support this Bill. It simplifies the current system and clarifies the duties and obligations on education and training providers. Ultimately, its overwhelming purpose is to keep children safe in education.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her very full responses to all the points raised in the debate and for the commitment she has demonstrated to safeguarding. It is of course true that safeguarding provisions existed but, as I and other noble Lords mentioned, they were inconsistent because of the piecemeal development in post-16 education. With the passage of this Bill, we will have a much more coherent position. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that it was not so much missed as that things just grew. However, now we will be able to put things on a much more consistent, coherent and clear footing.

I genuinely hope the Minister is right that this will be much easier for all providers to work with and that it will not require any further resources, since none appears to be forthcoming, but it will be important to keep this under review. As my noble friend Lord Young said, there are significant complexities, but we hope that the purpose of this Bill will be fulfilled and it will make everything easier to manage, so that we can ensure that all young people in 16 to 19 provision, wherever they are, are properly safeguarded and their welfare is promoted and supported.

My thanks go to all noble Lords who participated in this debate. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Watson for his support. I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Sitting suspended.