House of Lords
Monday 20 June 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.
Animal Welfare: Tourist Attractions, Activities and Experiences
My Lords, as the Government set out in Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare, we are committed to promoting high animal welfare standards, both at home and abroad. We want to ensure that money from tourists from this country is channelled towards animal experiences abroad that practise the highest welfare and conservation standards. The Government remain committed to exploring available options in order to prohibit the advertising and offering for sale here of such unacceptably low-welfare activities involving wild animals.
I thank the Minister for his response, but Save the Asian Elephants has identified some 1,200 companies in the UK promoting 300 unethical elephant attractions overseas. Can the Minister say exactly when the Government will keep their promise to ban the sale of these experiences, which are based on appalling cruelty?
My Lords, the Government very much appreciate the work that that organisation has done and share the view that numerous attractions, many of them advertised here in the UK, involve really appalling levels of cruelty. It is not just about cruelty to animals; there have been human consequences as well—for example, as the organisation has highlighted and as the noble Baroness knows, the death of Andrea Taylor in 2000 at an attraction in Thailand was linked to the abuse of the elephant in question. The Government are committed to the principle behind this measure, and that has not changed. We have not identified the legislative route, but, with the noble Baroness’s help, I am sure that we will.
My Lords, the kept animals Bill is making its way through the process. It is still in the other place; it will be coming here shortly—I am afraid that I do not know the date, but there is no reason to believe that things are held up. However, the scope of the kept animals Bill would not include measures such as the one we are debating today, nor would it involve restrictions on imports. That would belong in a different legislative vehicle, formerly known as the animals abroad Bill, which we debated in Questions last week.
As the noble Baroness will know, in the kept animals Bill that we were just talking about, there will be measures to prohibit the keeping of primates as pets. That will, I think, be a first within Europe, and it will be comprehensive legislation. Defra has commissioned some work on the issue of pets being handed out as prizes. I cannot give her a timeline on that, but it is an issue that we are looking at very closely.
My Lords, how do we help travel companies identify these tourist attractions where animals are cruelly treated? I suspect some of them are innocently selling these holidays without having any realisation of the cruelty being inflicted on these animals.
It is an important point and in fact, to give it credit, the Association of British Travel Agents—ABTA—has updated and published guidelines on a whole range of activities which it classes as unacceptable, and its definition is fairly closely aligned with that of many of the organisations that focus on this issue. It is a voluntary set of guidelines—what we are talking about today is something that will be harder than that, something mandatory—but it is worth acknowledging the steps that the industry is already taking.
My Lords, why are the Government so poor at managing their legislation programme? Every week, Ministers come forward and say that they are committed to something but they have not got a timeline for it. Is it not about time the Government got their act together and sorted out their legislation programme?
This is a question that goes way beyond my own pay grade. All I can tell the noble Lord is that I am working very hard to bring the full range of animal welfare measures that we have been discussing now for a couple of years. I would also remind the House that, by my counting, there are 10 significant animal welfare measures which we have brought in, or which are very nearly through the process, so we are making progress in this area.
My Lords, as a youngster growing up in Liverpool, I spent many happy hours visiting Chester Zoo. I understand that my noble friend visited Chester Zoo recently. Was he able to find the zoo not only informative but educational, and did he experience the best practice during his visit?
I did recently visit Chester Zoo, and it was a hugely eye-opening experience and, in many respects, inspiring. I would say that it is probably the leading organisation in the world looking at the problem affecting Asian elephants in particular, which is the spread of elephant herpes—which does not sound all that serious, but it is life-threatening to animals in the wild. If the work that Chester Zoo has done proves fruitful—and it should do—this could be a very significant win for Asia’s dwindling elephant population.
My Lords, the Gough Island albatross and the Gough Island bunting were in great danger of being wiped out entirely. The Government very helpfully helped the RSPB in undertaking an eradication programme of the mice that were killing all the birds on the ground. Sadly, that eradication programme has not worked—though it almost worked—and it really needs to be done again, or those beautiful birds will be wiped out forever. Will the Government assist the RSPB on the next eradication programme?
The noble Lord is right, and it is a real shame because the RSPB thought that it had succeeded, until it caught a single mouse on a camera trap, but obviously that means there are more. When we say “mice”, of course, anyone who has seen them would not recognise them as mice—they have swelled to look more like grizzly, very large rats, as a consequence of the diets they have enjoyed for the last few decades. The work continues: we are talking to the RSPB, and we have a range of measures and support that we are providing to overseas territories in their various attempts to remove invasive species—this is one of them. I very much hope that we will be able to support the next round.
My Lords, Ofcom has a statutory duty to promote media literacy under the Communications Act 2003. A clause in the draft Online Safety Bill sought to clarify Ofcom’s responsibilities under this duty. Since then, Ofcom has published a strategy paper outlining its plan to expand its media literacy programme, including going further than that draft clause. It was therefore no longer necessary to include these clarifications in the primary legislation.
My Lords, Covid showed the danger of conspiracy theories, while research shows that most internet users want the skills to judge for themselves what is true or false. As the Minister said, Ofcom has indeed published a strategy for promoting media literacy, but this will not be enough. Will the Minister undertake to look at restoring media literacy provisions to the Bill to put them on a statutory footing? Could he also tell your Lordships’ House what is being done to ensure that schools equip our young people with the digital and media literacy skills they need?
The Online Safety Bill includes provisions to strengthen Ofcom’s media literacy functions. Its transparency reporting and information gathering powers will include media literacy, giving Ofcom greater visibility of what the industry is doing. The Secretary of State will have powers to direct Ofcom’s media literacy activity in emergency circumstances—for example, where there is significant threat to public health—and, following a recommendation from the Joint Committee, media literacy is also included in the risk assessment duties. The noble Baroness is right that schools have an important part to play in equipping young people with the skills they need to navigate the internet safely. Citizenship education covers this, as indeed do subjects such as history, English and art, which encourage people to think critically about information that they receive in whatever medium.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests, particularly on Common Sense Media and NewsGuard. I am sure that the Minister will have seen the EU code of practice on disinformation, which was published last week. Does he agree with me that there is much more to this than just media literacy? There has to be a comprehensive strategy that includes the role of platforms, the ability to cut off money from some of the sites which spread disinformation, transparency on political advertising and better research. Will the Minister commit to a much more comprehensive approach to tackling disinformation on the internet than simply media literacy?
Misinformation and disinformation are subjects which are covered in many ways through the Online Safety Bill, which will force companies to tackle harmful misinformation and disinformation, ensuring that they are accountable for dealing with this damaging content on their services. My noble friend is right that we must look at these issues in the round.
I am afraid that I am not sure that I fully follow the point that the noble and learned Baroness makes. If she is talking about the importance of respecting freedom of expression and views and protecting debates through the Online Safety Bill, as well as guarding against misinformation and disinformation, there are important protections in the Bill to make sure that we can have free and unbridled debate. However, if I have misunderstood, I will be very happy to speak to her afterwards in more detail.
My Lords, I remind the Minister that, as recently as April, his department was making the case for more powers for Ofcom in its Year 2 Online Media Literacy Action Plan, so the Minister’s replies today have been somewhat extraordinary. Given the extent of misinformation and disinformation on social media, is it not absolutely clear that we need more specific powers and duties on Ofcom, in particular to ensure that Ofcom can set minimum standards for media literacy initiatives? Why do not the Government commit to put these in the Bill?
Through the Online Safety Bill, we are giving Ofcom strengthened media literacy functions on transparency reporting, information gathering and the other areas I set out. However, through its strategy announced in December last year, Ofcom has set out its own expanded work programme to discharge its existing duty, which includes pilots, campaigns to promote media literacy, establishing best practice and creating guidance on evaluation, so we are pleased to see that it is using and extending the powers that it has.
My Lords, many digital literacy programmes are provided free of charge to schools by private companies with an emphasis that teaches children about user behaviour rather than the risks created by those very same companies. Given the lack of provision in the Bill, perhaps the Minister could say what plans Her Majesty’s Government have to ensure that schools are not simply marketing tech products but offering a holistic digital literacy to children that is independent of those tech companies?
Digital literacy is a key priority in the computing national curriculum in England, which equips people with knowledge, understanding and skills to use the internet creatively and purposefully. Through citizenship education and other subjects, as I mentioned, we are making sure that schoolchildren are equipped with the skills that they need, and of course the companies themselves have a role to play in delivering and funding media literacy education. We welcome the steps that platforms have already taken, but we believe that they can go further to empower and educate their users.
My Lords, the 2003 media literacy duty on Ofcom that the Minister referred to predates social media and urgently needs updating. Carole Cadwalladr’s work has shown how online misinformation has potentially perverted our democracy. The Ofcom strategy is insufficient. Will the Minister agree to meet me and other members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Media Literacy in advance of the Online Safety Bill being introduced in this House to try to resolve this problem?
I would be very happy to meet the noble Lord and other members ahead of the Online Safety Bill, during which I know we will debate this important area in greater detail. He is right that much has happened since the Communications Act 2003 was passed, but Ofcom’s own strategy published in December last year shows its up-to-date thinking and work in this important and evolving area.
My Lords, could my noble friend help those of us who are struggling to understand what exactly media literacy means? Is it about the truthfulness of content or about how to access content, and what on earth can the Government do about that?
It is about equipping users to decide for themselves what is truthful and giving them the critical skills to look inquisitively at the material that they see online, which often conflicts with other sources, and make their mind up. That was an important skill long before people received information from the internet. It applies just as much to traditional media, such as books and other areas of learning, but is particularly important online.
My Lords, I want to follow on from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. Given that we are talking about the safety of children and vulnerable people, to what extent will Ofcom’s duty incorporate the broad range of emerging technologies such as the metaverse and Web3, which include virtual reality and facial recognition?
My Lords, the strongest protections in the Online Safety Bill are for children. We are making sure that, through that Bill, we are protecting young people from harmful or inappropriate content such as grooming, bullying, pornography and the promotion of self-harm and eating disorders. There are many provisions in the Bill looking at these.
No, they have had about three goes.
I was a member of the Puttnam committee that gave pre-legislative scrutiny to the 2003 Act. The truth is that Ofcom put on the back burner its responsibilities in this area until it came under pressure by the fact that the new Online Safety Bill was going to increase its responsibilities in this area. I think the Minister’s answers so far have been very complacent given that, since 2003, we have become much more aware of the abuses and dangers inherent in this technology. We must give Ofcom more specific legislative powers in the coming Bill.
My Lords, I have pointed to some of the provisions in the Online Safety Bill which will strengthen Ofcom’s powers in this area. The Government are taking action as well. Our media literacy programme is supported by £2.5 million of funding in this financial year alone, so the Government are also acting to make sure that we are strengthening civil society groups and others who have a role to play in making sure that people are kept safe and well informed online.
Special Educational Needs
My Lords, we are already increasing high needs funding for children and young people with more complex special educational needs and disabilities by £1 billion this financial year to a total of £9.1 billion as part of a schools funding allocation of £53.8 billion. It is important that local authorities and schools can use their budgets flexibly to assess what provision is required for the young people for whom they are responsible.
My Lords, there are currently more than 1 million children in the UK with special educational needs. In a Written Answer from the Minister received by my noble friend Lady Ritchie, it was disclosed that the mainstream allocation, which is supposed to represent £6,000 per student, was last year £4,136. As the funding is discretionary per local authority, as opposed to being allocated in a separate budget line by the Government, some children will get even less than that £4,000. In view of this, will the Government sort the problem by simply creating a separate budget line for SEN funding that they can then provide to local authorities in full?
I understand the point the noble Lord is making, but we believe it is very important that we give schools flexibility in how they spend their money. Local SENCOs, head teachers and other professionals working locally will be best placed to understand the needs of pupils in the school and the support they require.
My Lords, I declare my interests in this area, as in the register. Does the Minister agree that schools are not being properly prepared to teach children they know they will get in their classrooms on a regular basis? It is reckoned that, on average, you will get three dyslexics, for instance, in every mainstream class, and those with other special educational needs will bring that up to five, six or seven pupils. Unless we get more training for teachers to handle these problems, which they know are going to occur, we will always be going back to this budget. Would it not be much more sensible to prepare teaching staff and the establishment to handle these things without going to a special budget?
I think the noble Lord would acknowledge that we are working in that area. In particular, we have been supporting teachers in the use of assistive technology, which I know is something close to his heart, and by professional qualifications and training focusing on all the areas to which he alludes.
The Government have made a big commitment to increasing funding in this area. High needs funding has risen by 40% over the past three years, but we work proactively with local authorities which are under particular pressure. We have a safety-valve programme, where we provide additional funding to those local authorities that can demonstrate they have a strategy for addressing their overspend.
My Lords, the noble Baroness said that she understood the point being made by my noble friend Lord Kennedy; I fear I did not entirely understand her answer. She appears to be saying that it does not matter that schools are not getting the money per pupil originally intended for them because they have flexibility to spend it as they wish. I do not quite see how those two things go together. Could she explain?
As the noble Baroness knows, schools get two amounts of funding for children. In the current financial year, they will receive directly almost £9 billion, and the notional SEN budget was £4.3 billion. We believe that it is best for them to decide how that is spent. The noble Baroness will also be aware that we are moving to the national funding formula, which will create greater consistency and transparency in how those funds are used.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned flexibility. We agree that schools should have flexibility to implement support for children with special educational needs. I have frequently been told by parents of children with special educational needs that the budget for their child and the staff employed are increasingly being used to cover staffing shortages in other areas and taken away from their children. Is that acceptable in the flexibility she talks about?
My Lords, I cannot comment without knowing a little more of the detail of the case. Perhaps the noble Baroness can share that, then I will be happy to look into it. I think that she is hinting at some of the strains in the system in terms of provision for children with special educational needs and those children in alternative provision. She will be aware that we published the SEND and AP Green Paper in March, which looks to provide a system that works for children but is sustainable. The consultation is open until the end of July.
My Lords, I recently visited a school in County Durham—not a church school in this instance—where 25% of the children had special educational needs. The head teacher pointed out to me the significance of not only the teachers but the teaching assistants, and the training that they too required, and said that there was pressure on her budget to sustain that level of staffing with some specialism. Can the Minister comment on that?
Again, different schools will approach these issues in different ways. Our commitment is to give them sufficient funding to deliver on the needs of children. However, the right reverend Prelate will be aware that there is some discretion in how schools define whether a child has special educational needs. One thing that we hope will come out of the Green Paper is much more consistency on that.
I apologise to the noble Lord: that was not the impression that I sought to give. We are looking for a consistent approach to funding so that children with the same level of needs in two parts of the country get the same per-pupil funding, which is not the case today. I hope that the noble Lord agrees that that is a good ambition.
Leasehold Reform: Forfeiture Provisions
My Lords, I declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. The Government believe that forfeiture is an extreme measure which should be used only as a last resort. In practice, forfeiture happens very rarely, and the leaseholder may apply for relief from forfeiture subject to the court’s discretion. We asked the Law Commission to update its 2006 review of forfeiture law, Termination of Tenancies for Tenant Default, to account for wider leasehold reforms currently under way, and we are considering what action may be needed.
My Lords, there is a desperate need for root and branch leasehold reform. Does the Minister agree that the execution of forfeiture, or even the threat of forfeiture of a lease on a home, to recover a debt or deal with a dispute is totally disproportionate in comparison with the value of the asset, and that what should be in place is a simple procedure to recover the debt or deal with the issue at hand commensurate with the issue or the value of the debt concerned?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that forfeiture is an extreme measure. We have asked the Law Commission to look into this and it has come back not with removing forfeiture but with simplifying the process, making it more transparent and coming up with a mechanism that is more proportionate. We are considering these as part of the second stage of our leasehold reform.
My Lords, does my noble friend recall saying on 9 June last year that it was the Government’s aim to complete the leasehold reform programme in this third Session of Parliament? Is that still the case, because the Bill was not in the Queen’s Speech? If it is not, can we at least have a draft Bill in this Session so that we can hit the ground running in the fourth?
I always thank my noble friend for his interventions. We want to move forward with the second stage of leasehold reform. It will not be part of the third Session but there is a commitment to this Parliament. My noble friend is right that we can use this time to get a Bill drafted. We will take time so that we can get it through Parliament as soon as possible at the beginning of the fourth Session.
My Lords, I look forward to the leasehold reform.
Two weeks ago, I attended a meeting of leaseholder residents in a block of retirement flats. It will be no surprise to the Minister that their main complaint was the exorbitant increases in management fees, with no transparency of cost or answers as to why the increase had in one year gone from 5% to nearly 16%. When will the Government finally put a stop to this obfuscation and general bad practice by regulating management companies, as advised by the Government’s own expert working group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Best, back in 2019?
Once again, the noble Baroness is right that we need to sort out some of the practices that we see among managing agents. We are still considering how to take forward the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Best, but as noble Lords know, there is also a move to introduce voluntary codes, which I hope will elevate this. Overall, we need to see professionalisation of managing agents.
My Lords, with vulnerable, low-income elderly groups in this highly inflationary period facing unaffordable, escalating service charges and possible loss or even forfeiture of their homes, why not promote or sponsor a national scheme for elderly leaseholders that rolls up service charges in the form of a debenture against property title—effectively a rising legal charge? The debenture holder would pay the service charge on behalf of the resident, and then claw back payments—interest-serviced or otherwise—on death or even before.
I thank the noble Lord for some exciting policy ideas. It is important that we recognise that forfeiture is a very lengthy process, and there are ways in which we can cover debt. In fact, where there is an outstanding mortgage, you typically find that mortgage companies step in and pay off any remaining amounts, because they want to protect their financial interest in a property that is worth far more than the debt. But it is an idea that I will take back to the department.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I support fully the Government’s intentions for urgent leasehold reform; I look forward to seeing the legislation. Does my noble friend agree that it is really important to ensure that landlords are still incentivised to let their properties? With the shortage of housing that we have, it is important to balance the interests of leaseholders and freeholders. There are really important areas of reform, such as have been raised, that need attention for this market to function much better than it does.
I thank my noble friend for once again underlining that, when we reform landlord and tenant law, we need get the balance of interests right. As a Government, we have committed to a number of ways in which we try to get that balance right and, indeed, to move away from the idea of having leasehold as the tenure of choice to an era where we have full-throated commonhold, which I hope has the support of many Members of this House.
Does my noble friend agree that there is great interest in leasehold reform? Would not this be an ideal opportunity to take advantage of a procedure which we have always had and greatly valued, pre-legislative scrutiny? If, indeed, there is to be a Bill in draft, perhaps this procedure could be used to let the House look at this in the round, which is urgently required.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising that. I am conscious of that way of starting the process; when you get the Bill written, pre-legislative scrutiny is a good way of getting broad support. In fact, that is how we started the process of scrutiny for what is now the Building Safety Act.
My Lords, as we are not going to have the Bill in this Session of Parliament, which is very disappointing, would the Minister welcome seeing a number a campaigners to discuss the reform with him, so as to get ready for the Bill period in the last Session of this Parliament?
My Lords, I reassure the House that, as the Minister with responsibility for leaseholds, I engage regularly with campaign groups, including the National Leasehold Campaign, and, of course, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, but I am always happy to meet other campaigners so that we get the reforms right. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and it is important that we listen to those stakeholders.
Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
Hovercraft (Application of Enactments) and Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) (Law of the Sea Convention) Amendment Order 2022
Motion to Approve
Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill [HL]
Order of Commitment
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Schools Bill [HL]
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 1st Report from the Constitution Committee
91: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—
“Creation and funding of careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage(1) The Secretary of State must work with sector experts to develop a framework for careers education in primary schools that is aligned with the eight Gatsby benchmarks.(2) The Secretary of State must provide financial assistance available to support the delivery of a careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage.(3) In this section—“areas of disadvantage” include areas with primary schools with the top 10% proportion of pupils with free school meal eligibility;“the eight Gatsby benchmarks” means the benchmarks set out in the report “Good Career Guidance” published by the Gatsby charitable foundation in 2014.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to create a framework for careers education in primary schools and to give financial assistance to primary schools in areas of disadvantage to deliver the programme.
My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State
“to create a framework for careers education in primary schools and to give financial assistance to primary schools in areas of disadvantage to deliver the programme.”
I am grateful for the advice given by Teach First on this amendment, which also draws on the success of the North East Ambition project, supported by Ernst & Young’s EY Foundation. It also reflects the conclusions and recommendations of this House’s Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, which reported six months ago.
Last week Teach First, the education charity, launched a report entitled Rethinking Careers Education: Investing in Our Country’s Future, which highlighted the impact of the pandemic on young people’s career opportunities. Teach First concluded that schools with catchment areas covering the most disadvantaged communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic and that specific extra resource is needed for them. It also concluded that careers education should start in primary schools. Teachers support this, with clear evidence of primary teachers believing that career-related learning for their pupils would raise those pupils’ awareness of different career pathways, with two-thirds feeling that pupils’ aspirations would be raised by this.
These conclusions are similar to those underpinning the work of the North East Ambition project, which aims to put in place the good career guidance benchmarks in all schools in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership area by 2024. This is welcome, and we know from the recommendations of the Youth Unemployment Select Committee that those career guidance benchmarks should be
“rolled out to primary schools and be more effectively embedded in the national curriculum so that all young people learn about the myriad opportunities that are open to them from an early age.”
This is about raising aspiration and personal ambition, and through that, crucially, social mobility. The committee heard conclusive evidence that children begin to think about their futures when they are as young as five or six. By the age of seven, life-defining decisions are being formed in their minds. By the age of 10 many have already made career-limiting decisions, and by the age of 14 those decisions will be very firm. Such decisions can be based on where they live, who they know and what jobs those people do. For social mobility to be successful, it requires much earlier intervention.
Recently, statutory careers guidance advice in schools was rolled out to include year 7 pupils. Now is the time to take a further step and to extend statutory provision to our primary schools. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 171F in my name. Had I not had an amendment in this group, I would have risen to support the amendment to be addressed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. I very much support the gist of that amendment on citizenship, having worked with him on some of the committees. What it says makes absolute sense and I hope we will see progress with that idea as we take the Bill forward.
Amendment 171F is on something completely different. I do not think it is contentious. I hope that we will all agree that there is a problem that needs to be solved. I do not think for a minute that it has been deliberately created by Ministers or anyone else. I think it is a loophole, but a very big loophole, and the Bill is an ideal opportunity to address it.
We all would sign up to the idea that partnership between schools and parents is absolutely crucial. Whether we are mums, dads, grandparents or whatever, we all make speeches and know that partnership and the strength of it between the teacher, parent and child are crucial. It is possibly more crucial in some areas of the curriculum than in others: sex education, faith education and some aspects of history. That understanding about what is happening in the school is very important so that the parent can support the teacher and the teacher can support the parent, all in the interests of the child.
If we look at the Government’s guidance on relationships and sex education, it says that parents should have visibility of what is being taught to their children. That is the central core of what I have always thought was the case, both as a teacher and through my time in politics. I was therefore surprised to see a letter that a parent made available to me after she had gone to her child’s school to ask to see some of the curriculum papers that were being used in relationships and sex education. In this case the child was in key stage 2, the latter years of primary education. The head had written to the parent to say that he could not make the curriculum materials available to her because the organisation that was delivering that part of the curriculum said that it was exempt under Section 43(2) and Section 42 of the Freedom of Information Act.
In many areas of the curriculum, especially the contentious areas, schools look to outside bodies to bring in their expertise. We have already had a discussion in Committee on the importance of sometimes not necessarily using teachers with QTS but going to where there is specialist skill. This school had asked an organisation to come in and deliver sex and relationships education. But the organisation had said, “This is our intellectual property. It can’t be photocopied and shown to a third party.” The law allows it to claim that parents are a third party. That cannot be right. It does not matter whether they like the curriculum material or not. This particular bit of curriculum material was, I think, very contestable in terms of appropriateness for age. However, even if I thought it the best bit of teacher material I had ever seen, I would say it could not be right that a parent could not have access to it and see it. There are so many areas where a parent would want to know what is being taught to a child, and something needs to be done about this.
It is in the area of contested facts and difficult things to teach that schools are most likely to turn to outside organisations to help. They tend not to do that with maths and English and things like that, because they have the qualified staff in the school. It is for the areas that are difficult to teach, because they are contested, that outside organisations are particularly likely to be approached.
Whether we like it or not, we live at a time when there are lots of curriculum areas in which facts are not facts, and what we all assumed was appropriate to pass on to the next generation is now being contested. We have contested information and different views; as a society and a generation we are trying to work these things out. It is critical that giving ideas and words to the next generation is done with care, openness and the support of all the adults possible.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to do two things when she responds to this amendment: first, to accept that there is a problem and, secondly, to say how it will be addressed before Report. I do not want—as was the position in the letter I read—the head to have to come between the parent and the outside provider. It was not fair for that head to have to write to the parent, with whom they would be having a longer-term relationship than that over the relationships and sex education lesson. We can all see that it potentially damaged the working relationship between the head and the parent.
Even if it were the case that the law could be got round, or it would have been possible for parent to see the material, or the outside provider need not have said that that should happen, we cannot make the head the go-between. We must have greater clarity. I do not think that this is intentional on anyone’s part. If this amendment is not appropriate, that is fine. We think it works but, if it is not appropriate—or perhaps I should say, if there is a better way of solving this problem—I know that everybody who supports this amendment will be delighted to discuss this with the Minister in the intervening weeks. I hope we can solve this problem.
My Lords, I too have put my name to Amendment 171F because, as your Lordships have heard, it is important that parents should be able to discover what their children are being taught and, in particular, to see the materials. This has arisen because the commercial providers of materials have apparently tried to prevent parents getting access to those materials. They have met requests for information or to see the materials with the assertion that these are protected, and they can rely on an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.
I find that surprising. The material has been, or will be, referred to in class to the children, perhaps with slides shown. I should have thought that any duty of confidence on the part of the school to the commercial provider has been waived by that disclosure in class, but so be it—the effect of the assertion is to put parents off and, as we have heard, it puts the schools in an embarrassing and awkward position. The parents and the schools are on the same side.
The issue is, of course, particularly sensitive where the subject matter is RSE—relationships and sex education—but it is not limited to that nowadays. History, economics and politics—a whole range of subjects—raise awkward and difficult matters in which there are strong differing philosophies and political views. It is very important that parents should know what is being taught and, in particular, whether their children are in fact being indoctrinated; things are not always the facts that they appear to be. The content must be accurate and balanced.
This amendment will give statutory force to a policy to which, we would argue, there can be no reasonable objection. In the case of RSE material, there is already statutory guidance, provided by the Government in 2019. I note that only the other day, on 17 June, my noble friend the Minister wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I quote one short passage, as follows:
“When schools choose resources and external provision for Relationships, Sex and Health Education and PSHE, we expect schools to consult with parents on these matters and to make reasonable decisions about the content of their curriculum. Schools should also ensure that when they engage parents, they provide examples of the resources they plan to use (for example, the books they will use in lessons).”
That seems to be the Government’s policy, and who could argue against it? If that is the policy, what possible objection could there be to having it reinforced by statute, which would meet the arguments put forward by certain providers?
In 2019 the Secretary of State wrote in the foreword to the statutory guidance:
“We are clear that parents and carers are the prime educators for children on many of these matters. Schools complement and reinforce this role and have told us that they see building on what pupils learn at home as an important part of delivering a good education.”
The guidance says in paragraph 13:
“All schools must have in place a written policy for Relationships Education and RSE”,
and in paragraph 24, under the heading “Use of materials”:
“Schools should also ensure that, when they consult with parents, they provide examples of the resources that they plan to use as this can be reassuring for parents and enables them to continue the conversations started in class at home.”
Who could argue with that? It is common sense and uncontroversial. However, as we have heard, parents are not always getting the access to which they are already entitled and should be getting. We have heard about the school that obviously felt on the spot because the provider did not want them to see the material. The provider wrote that the material was exempt and that the placing of the copies of the actual documents in the public domain by inspection or copying is not justified. What on earth does that mean? How can it be right not to put a copy in the public domain or show it to the parents?
So there we are. We suggest that the amendment strikes a reasonable compromise. It would not require schools to copy all the materials, some of which might be quite lengthy, but would allow people simply to go into a school and see what is there. That would spare schools the burden of copying. The amendment is necessary and reasonable. Without it, it appears that parents will not be assured that, without recourse to litigation, they can see what their children are taught. I commend the amendment to the House.
My Lords, I have also put my name to this amendment. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that the present position is untenable. In 2019 the Government updated the relationships and sex education guidance to make the teaching of certain content compulsory in all schools. The guidance was clear that content should be age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate and—I underline the next words—anchored in science and material facts. It seems that a significant number of independent so-called RSE providers have created materials that promote to schoolchildren, including quite young children, the idea that biological sex is a spectrum, that we all have an inner gender identity that should take priority over biological sex and that our assumed genders are assigned to us at birth.
One may agree or disagree with those propositions, and one may agree or disagree with them being put forward as scientifically based fact, but it is also clear that the 2019 guidance made paramount that parents should have visibility of what is being taught to their children. There are many references to that in the guidance, which says that parents must be consulted in developing and reviewing RSE policies; that
“All schools must have in place a written policy”;
that policies should reflect the communities they serve; and that policies should be “made available to parents” and published on the school website.
However, the intention for openness also covered RSE content because policies should:
“Set out the subject content, how it is taught and who is responsible for teaching it.”
“include sections covering … details of content/scheme of work”.
I support this amendment for three main reasons. First, there is clear evidence that the 2019 RSE guidance has resulted in some schools using ideologically driven materials not grounded in science, in my view, with children, including some very young children. This has particularly been so in the field of gender ideology, where some materials appear to deny the reality of biological sex. These teachings have consequences, not least for women’s sex-based rights.
Secondly, it is very clear that the 2019 guidance was intended to enable parents to engage with materials used in their children’s education. Thirdly, however, it has become apparent that some external resource providers, including some with a notoriously fixed and driven view of these matters, are actively seeking to prevent parents seeing the materials being used, including by using arguments based on commercial confidentiality.
In my view, this amendment provides a solution. Its purpose is to counter what I describe as this obfuscation by enshrining in law a parental right to review curriculum materials that is presently merely alluded to in guidance. For all the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, I strongly believe that this Government should do that.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 168 on fundamental British values. The law at present requires every school to teach fundamental British values and the purpose of my amendment is simply to build on what we have at the moment to strengthen it more firmly into the structure and teaching of the school.
The law we have at the moment was introduced in 2015 in the wake of the Prevent programme. Almost inevitably, it was orientated in a particular direction; the result is that it is lopsided and strangely missing in certain fundamental matters of our society. That law says that democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs have to be taught. It may be obvious to everybody that there is one fundamental gap in that list: the equal respect to be accorded to every person in our society. We all have one vote—only one, not less and not more—and the law has to treat each of us equally, whether we are wealthy or poor. Government departments have to treat everybody equally, whether they are powerful or powerless. This is of course not a value which has suddenly been dreamt up; it goes back to Runnymede. Therefore, in the revised list before us in Amendment 168, there is included
“equal respect for every person”.
The two first values on the list, democracy and the rule of law, remain unchanged but, as we all know, democracy can mean anything or everything. Most countries in the world claim to be democratic when, in fact, more than half of them are not at all, so it needs to be spelt out in law what we mean by a liberal democracy. That can be seen in proposed new subsection (4), and I shall mention two obvious things in it: “an independent judiciary” and
“in a Parliamentary system, a Government that is accountable to Parliament”.
Freedom, of course, is also fundamental to our society and it is a word whose meaning is very well established in law and international law. It is actually to be preferred to the present wording of “individual liberty”, because it goes much wider. That is spelt out in proposed new subsection (5), which says that
“‘freedom’ includes … freedom of thought, conscience and religion … freedom of expression, and … freedom of assembly and association.”
At the moment, fundamental British values are hardly being taught in schools at all. I was speaking to somebody at lunch today who is trying their best to get something taught and was telling me that it meets a great deal of opposition from teachers and pupils because of the phrase “British values”. That was part of the original unease when this was introduced in 2015. It is a great pity to be distracted on that kind of debate, and there is an easy solution to it in this amendment. The values are to be called “values of British citizenship”, and are legally clear. It claims not that the values are unique to society or that they are better or worse than others but that if you are a British citizen by adoption or birth, these are the values of our society. I do not see how anybody could possibly object to that. It would help to avoid a debate that at the moment is distracting and stops this matter being properly taught in schools.
Although the law states at the moment that these values have to be taught in schools, it does not say who is responsible for teaching them. That is why proposed new subsection (3) says that these values
“must be taught as part of citizenship, at the first to fourth key stages.”
Teaching them does not have to be confined to that—it may be that a head will want to talk about British values in assembly—but at least there would be a clear place in the curriculum where the values have to be taught. This would strengthen citizenship education in schools, which at the moment is very patchy. In some schools it is hardly done at all, while in others it is elided into PSHE. There would therefore be something much more substantial to grasp and to teach children.
There is one further addition that is not there at the moment, “respect for the environment.” From talking to people, there is no doubt that including this in the list has very widespread support, particularly among young people. Seeing that in the legislation would help to arouse their interest in the list as a whole. It is not just a personal value but a political one, which is why proposed new subsection (6) says that
“‘respect for the environment’ means taking into account the systemic effect of human actions on the health and sustainability of the environment both within the United Kingdom and over the planet as a whole, for present and future generations.”
That is a widely agreed definition of what is meant by respect for the environment.
I am a passionate believer in the teaching of British political values in our schools. At the moment it is not being done properly, if at all. This proposal is a real way in which to strengthen the teaching of those values, and I am glad that it has such substantial support, including from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, from the Labour Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, from the Conservative Benches, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, from the Liberal Democrats. I very much hope that this will continue to gain support from all around the House.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 91 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden. Helping children to understand the different opportunities and career paths that might be open to them, what sort of work they involve and how to pursue them is one of the most important tasks for schools to undertake—in partnership with parents and employers.
It is therefore disappointing that the Bill says so little about careers education, information, advice and guidance. The schools White Paper in March included commitments about careers education that do not appear in the Bill, such as the one covered by Amendment 91 on launching a new careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage and the one on improving professional development for teachers and leaders on careers education, including strengthening understanding of apprenticeships and technical routes.
The importance of starting careers education in primary schools was recognised in the 2017 Careers Strategy. Its aim has been well described by the Careers & Enterprise Company, CEC, which has done so much valuable work in promoting and supporting careers education. It states:
“Career-related learning in primary schools is about broadening pupils’ horizons, challenging stereotypes and helping them develop the skills and sense of self that will enable them to reach their full potential.”
The CEC has conducted a number of research studies and pilot programmes both to demonstrate the effectiveness of primary careers education in achieving these aims and to establish what approaches work best in practice. From these studies it is clear that there is not only a clear appetite for careers education in primary schools but growing evidence that such education has a positive impact on overall school engagement and attainment, raises pupils’ aspirations, enhances their motivation and helps to clarify their life goals and break down biases about the world of work. There is plenty of good experience, best practice and resources to draw on, such as the CEC’s report What Works? Career-related Learning in Primary Schools, the Career Development Institute’s Career Development Framework: Handbook for Primary Schools, and the Teach First report that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to.
I strongly support this amendment but ideally I would like it to be extended, with a requirement that the delivery of a careers programme within the framework required by proposed new subsection (1) to be inserted by the amendment should be mandatory for all primary schools. There are three questions I ask the Minister in responding to this amendment. First, what are the Government’s plans to ensure that all primary schools have a careers programme in line with the Gatsby benchmarks? Secondly, how will they ensure that adequate resources and facilities are available to deliver these plans, including not just financial assistance for disadvantages schools but an adequate pipeline of fully trained and qualified career guidance professionals, as well as careers leaders in schools? Thirdly, what action will they take to ensure that all teachers learn about careers education as part of their training?
I also support Amendment 158, which sets out a number of subjects which should be a mandatory feature of every school’s curriculum, including digital skills, financial literacy and life skills. In my view, one of these life skills should be first aid training, which I shall say more about, noble Lords will probably be relieved to hear, when we get to Amendment 167. It always astonishes me that skills such as these, which are so vital to everyone, and which schools are ideally placed to teach, are not taught as a matter of course. Digital literacy in particular is rapidly becoming a category of functional skills complementary to, if not on a par with, literacy and numeracy. This was suggested by the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills in 2015, which pointed out that
“Digital literacy is an essential tool that underpins other subjects and almost all jobs.”
I support the other amendments in this group, including the amendment on British values introduced by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries, and Amendment 171I tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, to make work experience mandatory—to which I add only that it needs to be high-quality work experience.
If we are looking for the Schools Bill to help create an education system that is designed to meet the growing needs of the future, it should ensure that all young people are taught the subjects listed in Amendment 158, are made aware of the values set out in Amendment 168, undertake high-quality work experience as required by Amendment 171I and are helped to start thinking about their own career aspirations and potential from primary age onwards, in line with Amendment 91. I hope all these requirements and amendments will find their way into the Bill.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Shipley and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on Amendment 91, to which I added my name, to ensure that careers education is supported in primary schools. It is really important that young people are introduced to a range of careers before they become convinced that some jobs are boys’ jobs and some are for girls. We need women engineers, firefighters, police and military officers, just as we need men to become nurses, teachers, hairdressers and carers. If very young children are encouraged to see where their interests lie, it will serve them well later on.
There was a wonderful programme—I do not know if it is still going—called Drawing the Future, where primary children drew their ambitions. One eight year-old girl had drawn a very accurate picture of an RAF Hawk aircraft and written “When I grow up, I want to be an RAF Red Arrows pilot”—no matter that the Red Arrows have hardly ever had women; that did not daunt her. What a wonderful aspiration. She and the other prize-winners were then greeted by an appropriate adult in their chosen field, and an elegant woman pilot appeared to give her a prize and talk to her about her aspirations.
It is important for all children—but, as we have heard, particularly for those who are less academically gifted and more practically motivated—to see a way to become a car mechanic, a cook or a carer, so that they are more likely to have confidence in learning and apply that to other areas of schoolwork. Of course, this is particularly important for disadvantaged children who may not have the encouragement at home to stimulate their interests and give them confidence to succeed. I urge the Minister to take this amendment back and see that primary children have the greatest possible opportunities to achieve later in life.
I also strongly support Amendment 168, so powerfully introduced by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. When he introduced it at Second Reading, there were rounds of silent applause from all around the House, but I hope that, with more support from these Benches, this amendment will go through. My noble friend Lord Wallace cannot be here today, but he is powerfully in support of this too.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group and will just say a few words in support of Amendment 168. In the absence of a written constitution, we need a much more explicit statement of the values we hold dear, with which we must acquaint our children. This amendment would fulfil that educational obligation, as set out magisterially by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. It includes acknowledgment of our diversity, as well as the elements which bind us together. It also signals the environmental pressures of our time. It could, with great advantage, be the basis of the content of those lessons which are offered to pupils who opt out of worship. My only rider is that open and continual class discussion is an essential part of the teaching of these values, and this perhaps could have been made explicit also. In the words of the inspirational thinker Amartya Sen, public discourse is a vital part of democracy.
My Lords, I support Amendment 168, on which noble Lords have spoken very well. It is very important, particularly for people who come to live in this country, to understand our values and to feel happy living here.
I also support Amendment 171F, which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, explained clearly and eloquently. As a parent, I find that it is so important to be involved in your children’s education, and children also want their parents to be involved. If there is a loophole—which is so easily amended by this amendment—it is important for it to be included, and it should not be difficult to do so. If it is not corrected, we run the risk of being on a slippery slope. There are consequences if parents are not involved in what is taught to their children—this is what happened under Nazi rule and in communist China and communist Russia, and is possibly happening even now with what President Putin is doing with children in Russia. It is important for parents to be involved and, if there is a loophole, I hope that this Government will amend it.
My Lords, I speak in favour of all the amendments in this group, and in particular Amendment 168. However, before I get to that, I will speak in respect of Amendment 91, on careers education, and the amendments from my noble friends around work experience.
It is really important, in its own right, that we nurture in young people an interest in their future in work and the future careers they might have. I am particularly passionate that they should think about more than one career; it is about not just what you want to be when you grow up but the variety of things in a long working life that young people might want to do when they are older. I also believe in its importance for more than just that purpose, as part of a broader and more balanced curriculum than we have at the moment in our schools, at every one of the key stages, where things are particularly narrow. I would hope that, in the context of Amendment 158, which talks about digital skills, this might include media literacy—something we were talking about earlier at Oral Questions.
I would also say in passing that if any noble Lords are interested in how the career aspirations of children change as they grow up, they should talk to the people at KidZania. It is a rather unusual experience in this country, at Westfield shopping centre, where you drop your children off and they are immersed in a two-thirds size world where they can choose from different work options for them to enjoy as work experience while you go shopping. KidZania exists in various cities around the world, and it collects data about the different backgrounds and genders—all the aspects of diversity—of children and what their choices are, and it is fascinating to see how those change as they get older and become more gendered. The different aspirations according to background are indeed fascinating.
On work experience, I know that, as ever with anything where you are looking at a broader and more balanced curriculum, people in schools have to make some difficult choices about resources and what aspect of the curriculum they are going to let go to make space for something different and new. I think we need to be honest about that. My sense is that we have an overemphasis on academic and cognitive skills and not enough on some other skills. That is a point I make regularly, and it is where I would want schools to focus. I would also want them to use the good work of organisations such as the Careers & Enterprise Company, which has been mentioned; Founders4Schools, which has a great platform to help connect schools with local employers and people who run local businesses to ask them for work experience opportunities or to come in and speak in schools; Speakers for Schools; and the few remaining education business partnerships. In a world where every school is an academy, one thing I would really like to see is for all those academies to be in local partnerships with local employers so that they can help drive this important work at a localised level. I think the partnership in Hounslow still exists, but such partnerships are very few and far between, and I wish that they could be revived.
On Amendment 171F, transparency for parents is really important. They should not be treated as a third party in a school, as my noble friend talked about some being treated. They are an integral part of the community, and for community cohesion purposes among other things, it is important that such transparency exists.
That leaves Amendment 168 in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, which is excellent. I am somewhat partial, in that I tried to introduce through a Private Member’s Bill “sustainable citizenship” as a way of amending the citizenship subject in order to introduce sustainability. I will not rehearse all the compelling arguments that I made during the passage of that Bill, but interested Members of your Lordships’ House can look it up in Hansard. But the rest of the amendment, in respect of codification of British values, is really valuable and important. Indeed, if we could introduce this really quickly, perhaps members of the Cabinet could take some instruction in citizenship and learn about equal respect for every person, an independent judiciary, government that is accountable to Parliament and freedom of assembly—all things that appear to be threatened at the moment.
I have not contributed so far to this debate, either at Second Reading or in any of the subsequent stages. I am no expert in the field of education, but I wanted to contribute today, just once, in support of Amendment 168 in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for reasons I shall come to in a minute. As he pointed out, the amendment has had pretty strong cross-party support.
But before doing so, I want to take just a moment to reflect on earlier days in Committee, which I sat through, covering the opening clauses of the Bill. As I have just made clear, while I am not an expert and know very little about education policy, wearing my hat as chairman of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, listening to those earlier debates—particularly the contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who is in his place—left me quite disturbed. Of course, we come to the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that part of democracy includes,
“in a Parliamentary system, a Government that is accountable to Parliament”.
Many noble Lords will be aware of the recent reports by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and its sister committee, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, drawing attention to the Government’s increasing use of what we have come to call framework Bills. These are Bills in which only the broadest direction of policy travel is revealed in the primary legislation and is, therefore, subject to a proper level of scrutiny, or the detail—and it is the detail that really matters—is left to secondary legislation. The hard-hitting report by the DPRRC about this Bill in particular set out the case in detail.
We on the SLSC have a wonderful staff, but we are concerned that we are going to be asked to report to the House on regulations which are of sufficient importance to justify a much higher level of scrutiny and consultation. The SLSC’s report, Government by Diktat, has been commented on—less so our more recent report published about six weeks ago, What Next? The Growing Imbalance between Parliament and the Executive. To be honest, it is simply not good enough for the Government to say that all these regulations are approved by both Houses. While that may be true technically, it is none the less a sophistry; as the House knows, statutory instruments are not amendable—they are either passed or rejected. Therefore, it is not surprising that when faced with this nuclear option the House has, understandably, been reluctant to press the button marked “reject”.
I have some sympathy with the Government’s view that public policy is evolving too fast for the rather stately pace of primary legislation to keep up. But if this argument is to be accepted, then the Government, in turn, must accept there is a need to examine and redesign our secondary legislation scrutiny procedures to cover these framework clauses—not necessarily very many of them—that come in the Bills before your Lordships’ House. Yes, it will make the Government’s job more difficult—that is why they do not like it—but better consultation and wider debate will lead to better law; most importantly and most significantly, it preserves and strengthens the principle of informed consent which is a critical part of any properly functioning democratic system. So, I urge my noble friend the Minister to encourage some fresh thinking by the Government, who have had, after all, “taking back control” as a primary policy objective.
I turn now to the amendment from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. I had the pleasure—it was a privilege—to chair the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement on which he, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley—from whom we have just heard a very interesting and informed expert speech—all served. One key issue on which the committee focused was what held us all together—the glue that binds us. It must be true that if we are to adhere to that glue, to accept that glue, we need to establish some values that form an essential part of it. This is the essence of the argument of the noble and right reverend Lord.
I have to argue that there is an urgent need to debate, to agree, to teach and to then stand up for those values. Why is this important? I think there are three reasons. First, the impact on our society and on our social cohesion of social media. Social media is a shouty place, it is not a reflective one. It emphasises rights and can often forget responsibilities, and responsibilities inevitably run—and must run—parallel to our rights. If our society is to be successful, every one of us has to be prepared to put back in as well as just take out. Indeed, if I have a concern about the amendment from the noble and right reverend Lord, it is that the words “rights” and “responsibilities” do not appear in it.
The second reason for the glue weakening is the rapid changing of our society and the way it is made up. I touch here on the point made by my noble friend Lady Meyer. ONS statistics tell us that 28% of the children born in this country last year were born to mothers who themselves were not born in this country. That is not an anti-immigrant remark; it merely points out that if you were not born in the country, you will inevitably have a slightly more tangential knowledge of the values that are essential to the country in which you have arrived and are now living, as my noble friend pointed out.
Thirdly and finally, having agreed those core values we have to explain them widely, but in particular, as several noble Lords said, including the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, to those of school age, starting with simple explanations and examples for the early years, followed by more complex situations for sixth form and beyond. We do not learn about values and issues by osmosis; we need to be taught them and taught well. By “well” I do not mean taught just by theoretical learning about the emergence of our democratic system and the sacrifices and pains that went with it, although that is important. Equally important are practical examples: how to organise a public petition, how to conduct a public service, and how to visit a magistrates’ court so that you can see some of the building blocks that make up our society at work. That is hard work for schools, I understand, but a key part in maintaining the glue of our society.
I suspect my noble friend the Minister will not be surprised that I found the response to our follow-up report on citizenship and civic engagement disappointing, especially regarding the teaching of citizenship education. The tone was encouraging enough, but in too many cases the Government sought to “encourage” and “expect” rather than mandate performance to take place. This half-hearted attitude is exemplified by the decision to remove from official statistics the number of trainee teachers focusing on citizenship education.
None of this is easy. For example, it will take us into sensitive discussions about the difference between integration and assimilation. It will require us to establish red lines that we then have to be prepared to defend, painful and controversial though that might sometimes be. But today the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has performed a valuable service by keeping this debate alive. The consequences of this debate will play a critical role in maintaining a country that is at ease with itself. That is why he has my support for Amendment 168.
My Lords, having said to the Minister that I would be quiet today, I had forgotten that this group did not get debated last week when I was away. I support all these amendments. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. He and I do not always agree, but on this occasion I want first to thank him for his incredibly helpful contribution on primary and secondary legislation. It was astoundingly clear and helpful. I thank him very much and hope it will be heeded by Her Majesty’s Government. Secondly, I agree with him on Amendment 168, but I will come back to that in a moment.
I support Amendment 91 on primary careers guidance because it would help to break down false dreams, as well as raise aspirations. I hear too many false dreams arise from children in primary schools when I visit them, which is a regular feature of my work and that of all my right reverend friends. We visit primary and secondary schools and listen to children there. We absolutely want to raise aspirations but we do not want to give false hopes either. Well thought-through careers education at the primary level helps this.
It also helps children in primary schools develop the sense of work as vocation and calling rather than simply a job that you do to earn money. We need to recover a much deeper sense that work is part and parcel of being a human and that it is not simply what you get paid for but what you contribute to the life of society as a whole and what helps you flourish as a person. If we do not inculcate that thinking during the primary years, we only ever go down the more and more utilitarian road that work is about what you get paid for so that you can enjoy yourself in the rest of life, rather than enjoying work and being fulfilled in it.
Such careers education also helps the sense of why it is important to have literacy and numeracy. The reason why I regularly struggle with the emphasis on literacy and numeracy as if they were utterly distinct subjects, rather than part of education for the fullness and wholeness of life, is that literacy and numeracy are there for a purpose, not simply for their own sake. They enable people to fulfil their calling and their task, and lots of children struggle with literacy and numeracy because they do not see any purpose in it. However, if you get a vision of what work and career might look like—I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight—it must be about the potential numbers of careers that you might hold in the future. Very few people now end up with simply one career, and certainly will not in the future. Therefore I strongly support Amendment 91.
On Amendment 168, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord who used to sit on these Benches for his proposal. I am utterly behind it. However, there are two things that I wish were there but which are not at the moment. I would have liked to have seen something on the social responsibility that flows from the five areas outlined. Freedom, respect for persons and care for the environment require social responsibility. This is where I agree again with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that we need something around the fact that rights and responsibilities go together. I hope that the Government will pick up this proposal, and that would be one of the possible tweaks that I would look at.
On Amendments 158 and 171I, I say “Absolutely” but—I am never sure whether I am allowed to do this—I have a question for the opposition leadership, who proposed this rather than for the Minister. Amendment 171I says “All schools”. Does this therefore mean that we are introducing work experience at primary level and if so, what does that look like, or is secondary level meant? If it is the former, it ties in with primary careers stuff and so on; I am just teasing out how that would look.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for spotting an obvious flaw that needs to be dealt with. She explained it so clearly, and I hope that it is accepted and moved forward.
My Lords, there are some splendid amendments in this group. I very much liked what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, had to say. I will speak briefly to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and to that of my noble friend Lady Morris. The former is an extremely important amendment on the broad principle that it is never too early to widen the horizons of children at school as to what may be possible and the options that may be there. We all know that there is a tendency for the career horizons of students to get narrower rather than broader, and if it is not there at a very early age then certainly is by the time they are in secondary school. They are affected by their peer group very strongly, and I hope that it is not too old-fashioned a phrase to say that it is a matter not just of gender stereotypes but of class stereotypes.
People are often restricted in their view of what is possible by the careers of people they know, such as their parents. These may be very good choices, but people need the whole bandwidth, as it were. I hope it is not seen as too facetious a comment—I know we are not talking about private schools—but if you attended Eton College and said that your career ambition was to be Prime Minister, that would be a reasonable and statistically likely objective, given that, I think, 20 Prime Ministers went to Eton. If that was your objective in life, the strong recommendation would be to go to Eton, assuming, of course, your parents could afford to send you there. If, however, you had been to the schools that most of us have been to and had said in your teenage years that your ambition was to be Prime Minister, you would have been told to sit down, have a drink of water and be more realistic in your expectations. I really think that before children start commenting, essentially in the same language as their peer group or their social background, the broader the options made plain to them the better—and, of course, the ways of achieving those options.
The other amendment I want to speak to is the one from my noble friend Lady Morris. I emphasise that, for me, the issue is not so much about parental examination, if you like, of life sciences, life relationship skills and the like; it is about the principle of accountability that could apply to any area of school activity. I must admit that it was news to me—I am nothing like the professional that she is—that schools could contract out pretty well anything they liked. To take an absurd example, it is possible that parents would not be able to discover what was in the English curriculum at school because it was commercially sensitive. Quite apart from that being unacceptable, it seems pretty impractical. Given that these subjects are being taught in schools to teenagers and the details of the curriculum are being withheld from parents because they are commercially sensitive, you would simply have a situation in the family where a teenager came home from school, their parents asked what they had been doing that day and the teenager responded by saying, “I’m afraid I can’t discuss it—it’s commercially sensitive.” On a practical level, even if the principle is right, which I do not think it is, my noble friend’s amendment should be supported.
My Lords, I support pretty much all the amendments in the group. The one tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is particularly helpful and casts a glow over most of the others. That is why I plead it in aid when talking about Amendment 171F, spoken to by my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley and so strongly supported by both the noble Lords, Lord Sandhurst and Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, with both of whom I align myself.
I should like to make three points. First, almost all of us in ordinary conversation talk about the importance of the relationship and the fact that education is a team sport—schools, kids and parents are all involved. We take it as a truth and do not question it any further. But the other thing about this team sport is that none of the bits is sealed off from another. All of us who have brought up children must have had the experience of them coming home and wanting to talk about something that has arisen in the curriculum they are being taught. If we do not have the smallest idea of what that might be, it will be a much less fruitful conversation than any parent, or the child who introduced the subject, would want to have. These points have to be fundamental and this amendment goes to the heart of the issue. If we mean that it is a team—something shared and collaborative—it must mean that we are all in the position where we can talk about what the other experiences and what the other knows. If not, it does not really mean anything. I hope that point will be taken very strongly.
Secondly, I strongly identify with the point made with great force by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, about the work done in curricula in the sphere of science and scientific knowledge. By training I am a mathematician; I do not know whether that counts as a scientist but, in any event, that is what I have been trained to do. One thing that it has always seemed to me very important to stress is that in any debate it is possible to distinguish between those things which people may hold very sincerely as opinions and those things which, none the less, are not sustained by any kind of research or scientific knowledge.
A couple of examples of this have been given. My noble friend Lord Grocott’s example of class is very important, and another is religion. This may be special pleading, but I can tell noble Lords that if you come from a Jewish family and your child is in a faith school, it is not at all unusual to find the unchallenged view about the culpability of the Jews historically, without anybody making any kind of point about it at all. There are issues of that kind, which in good schools of course would not arise, but they do arise in some schools and that is important.
The extremely important example given by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, is the one that has become the subject of so much debate: the issue of gender. It appears to me that in schools a number of organisations have unwisely been allowed to capture the agenda, and the point is repeated ad nauseum about what you have to believe. Now, I do not mind people championing ideas—I have a go at it occasionally myself—and I do not mind everybody disagreeing with me; it happens to me all the time. But I do not like people being designated as the champion of things whose orthodoxy in those respects has to be adhered to. That is no basis for any kind of education—any kind at all. We are subject to that at the moment. It is not the sole responsibility—I shall mention an organisation—of Stonewall to tell me, my child or anybody else what the orthodoxy is about those questions. I do not think there is any case for that to be done privately in a school without the parents knowing what is happening.
That brings me to my last point. I will now stray a little from schools, but it is relevant because it has also happened in the world of education more generally. The introduction of the argument that commercial sensitivity makes it impossible to proceed in a discussion about anything has not happened only in schools; it has happened in higher education routinely. It may be that noble Lords will not want to hear another word I say when I say that I was the Minister in part responsible for the research excellence exercise and for the ways it has been used. When we were looking at the ways in which we described what was really excellent research, and therefore where it might be sensible for funding to follow that research—it was like betting on winners rather than not—we found that, in the discipline of psychology, for example, where psychometric testing was used, it was almost all proprietary property of the people who set up the experiments. The normal notion that you would challenge the data by repeating experiments could not be done, because you had no right or access to the source material.
It does not matter to me, candidly, whether that happens in higher education or in schools. The fact is that we cannot protect pools of knowledge which people want to address from proper scrutiny and argument. If we do, we kill any scientific process. Let us not mince our words: we kill any scientific process.
For those reasons, let us not have that insidious development, which we have seen happen quite a lot, particularly in research funding, move across into the school sector by accident and not address the problem. As my noble friend Lady Morris has said, we must make sure that we do not let it slip through a crack.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 171F, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, and to add my support for this group of amendments.
It is already well established in national and international law that parents have the right to raise their children and the duty to safeguard their well-being. It is also well established that this includes the obligation to ensure that their children receive a suitable education and that this is then underpinned by general presumption in law that, except in cases where there is substantial risk of serious harm, parents do act in the best interests of their children.
Further, under Article 13.3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has ratified, it is also enshrined that parents have the prior right to choose the kind of education that their child will be given. Many parents chose to exercise this right by delegating the education of their children in certain subjects to more qualified teachers in schools in order to provide them with the best education possible. None the less, it is still their choice as parents to do so.
It follows, therefore, that to make this choice, as we have heard this afternoon, parents must be able to review all teaching materials, in order to make a fully informed decision about the education of their children. This must include third-party curriculum resources. Many schools choose to make use of a wide range of these third-party resources, some of which are extremely useful. However, as noble Lords are aware, there is increasing evidence from parents that schools are using third-party teaching materials which are often ideologically motivated and lack factual basis, particularly in relation to some relationships and sex education materials, as well as other contentious issues.
As we have heard this afternoon, even more concerning is that some of these materials are being withheld from parents. Amendment 171F seeks to maintain the right of parents to view all teaching materials, not just the curriculum lesson titles. Schools have a duty to provide these materials for parents to view and therefore this amendment is necessary in order to close that particular loophole in legislation.
In addition, it has long been communicated to parents that children learn best when they are supported at home by parents who are interested and involved. I can remember hours of testing my children on spellings, maths and history. If parents cannot view and understand the materials their children are being taught, they are hampered in their ability and responsibility to support their children in their education.
Parents should not only be allowed to view teaching materials but actively encouraged to read and engage with their child’s education and the materials being taught in schools. That is why, while I wholeheartedly agree with the amendment, there is one issue that I would encourage the noble Baroness to smooth over, perhaps by Report, should she bring the amendment back, which I very much hope she will. For parents to be able to engage fully with their child’s education, the material needs to be freely available to parents online or at home. The phrase “on the premises”, meaning on the school premises, is an unnecessary restriction. These third-party organisations are commissioned to provide a service, not to teach secret material.
Research has consistently shown that the impact of parental engagement in a child’s education has a far greater effect on the child’s educational success than the schooling itself. This is a trend found across the age range and social backgrounds. Parental engagement is particularly important when children start to engage in some of the personal and social issues in society. There are many examples of good practice in this area already in place in schools across the country, such as making the curriculum, teaching resources and guidance for parents available via parent portals. It would be fun to see some of this material taught on BBC Bitesize, for example.
As parents, we have a duty to ensure that our children are receiving a high-quality education, but in order to fulfil that duty, we must retain the right to engage with the material that our children are being taught in schools. With one tweak in mind, Amendment 171F has my full support.
My Lords, I very much welcome this debate. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for his intervention and the work of his Select Committee, which is invaluable to the House. He put to the Minister very stark choices that we face as a House when presented with the kind of Bill that the noble Baroness has brought before us. In essence, either we take those clauses out or we must see from the Government a new approach to the way we deal with secondary legislation. As the noble Lord suggested, either we must be able to amend such regulations—framework clause regulations, as he referred to it—when they come to us, or we must have a much more extensive system of scrutiny. Otherwise, the House will start to change the convention and reject secondary legislation, because we cannot allow Governments to steamroller through this type of legislation. I suspect we will see, time after time in this Session, the House becoming much more assertive about the way we are being treated.
I very much welcome Amendment 168, from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. I was tickled by the definition of democracy, which, in subsection (4)(d) of the proposed new clause, means to include
“decentralised decision-making, accountable at an appropriate level to the electorate”
and then comparing it to the Bill, which is taking powers away from local education authorities and giving it to either the Secretary of State or non-accountable academies. Ministers should certainly pay attention to the noble Lord’s amendment.
I strongly support my noble friend Lady Morris on Amendment 171F, and I say to the Minister that, if she thinks the wording is unacceptable and there may be some perverse incentives in it, I hope she will say that the department will make it absolutely clear to schools that parents must be able to see the materials we have been talking about—not to veto, because we need a partnership between the school, the teachers, the students and the parents—and she must come up with something firm. A lot of people have raised issues with her department and officials, and they have been mealy-mouthed in their approach and reluctant to say anything firm at all, but I think that time has passed.
Finally, on 10 June, the Children’s Commissioner published a blog in which she said she had been asked by the department to review the content of RSE, and that she has been specifically asked to look at
“How we can support schools to teach high quality RSE effectively and with confidence .. How teachers can feel fully equipped to teach these subjects well … How we can include the voice of children and young people in achieving the DfE’s aims for RSE more widely.”
That is to be welcomed. I have attempted to get a copy of the letter that the department sent to the commissioner, but the Library of the House has so far been unable to get a copy—I suspect it has not yet been written. I am surprised that it has nothing to say about parents and their involvement. Would the Minister look into this to see that the letter, when it finally goes to the commissioner, makes it clear that parents are seen to be a partner as well?
My Lords, I support Amendment 171F, excellently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, and backed up by others. First, I will comment on this whole group of amendments and the interesting speeches we have heard on them.
I think what lurks behind some of the frustrations with the Bill is an absence of anything about the content of education and the curriculum—the whole question of what education is for. I regret that we are not spending more time on the substance of schooling rather than the structures and systems. These speeches indicate that people want to talk about something that is not in the Bill: education, which is, after all, the point of schools.
One trend we have seen over recent years is the tendency to see schools instrumentally as a means to address social, economic and cultural problems, which I worry squeezes out a focus on knowledge for its own sake, which is my particular hobby horse. Regardless, because that has led to an ever-expanding demand on teachers to solve myriad non-educational social problems, I fear that it is stirring up tensions over the distinct division of labour between schools and families—a sort of mission creep that often makes parents feel that teachers are encroaching into areas, such as values, that are either politicised or at odds with their own values. I think that lies behind some of the tensions that have emerged around Amendment 171F.
At the very least, this expanded remit has dragged teachers into some highly contentious arenas that they now have to teach. We have heard the contributions on British values in this debate; one could argue indefinitely over those things, and there have been arguments. The question is whether schools are the places where they should be fought out.
I have a couple of examples. Head teachers and senior teachers I know told me that there was something of a panic after the Black Lives Matter moment, when teachers were told that they had to decolonise the curriculum in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and also in relation to the government extension of relationship and sex education in 2019. Teachers were saying, “Well, this isn’t just teaching biology”—they are aware that it is a toxic topic these days. It is not just something you can send in the teaching staff to do; they know it goes far more broadly than science or facts.
The solution has been to bring in outside experts—third parties, NGOs—with their ready-made materials, but I think there is a real problem here. This is actually undermining the professionalism of teachers. These experts can be used to train governors and teachers or to run workshops directly with pupils and to supply materials, as we have heard. But when you look at who is doing it, some of them at least are partisan political activists who embrace one-sided ideological approaches to contentious issues. They are not trained as teacher trainers, they are not accredited and there is no central regulation.
One would think from the Bill—which is, as several people have noted, such a centralising power grab that it is likely to squeeze the life out of school autonomy—that the Government might be all over a situation where there are all sorts of people going into schools and teaching things and nobody knows what they are teaching. However, on this issue, the DfE seems to be washing its hands, saying that it is up to schools to vet third-party providers. But without clear guidelines it is hard for schools to navigate around what are, if we are honest, contentious culture war issues.
I do not know whether Ministers have looked at the resources produced by some external organisations, but I urge them to go through the research provided by Transgender Trend or the Safe Schools Alliance, because it is more ideology than facts: pronouns for primary school kids, et cetera—I will not rehearse it. I think the excuse is that the material is commercially sensitive, but often what is going on here is that things are politically sensitive. These are not benign ideas, let alone facts; they are often divisive and totally at odds with parents’ values, and certainly fall short of statutory requirements for teacher impartiality.
Moving to a different subject, so that it is not all gender, I was struck during the lockdown by the Channel 4 documentary, “The School That Tried to End Racism”, which involved 11 and 12 year-olds at a school in south London. Many parents I knew were horrified at the use of pseudoscientific implicit association testing and the splitting of classrooms into white and non-white affinity groups, all through the prism of critical race theory. The campaign group that I was involved in setting up at the time, Don’t Divide Us, was drowning in concerned parents asking what was going on and whether their kids were being taught that all white people are racist. Parents went into schools to ask whether they could see the materials being used—even though sometimes that meant dodging lockdowns—and were told that there was nothing to see here, treated as a nuisance and told to go away.
When a group of parents led by DDU challenged Brighton & Hove City Council about its Racial Literacy 101 materials for schools, they were constantly rebuffed. Eventually, what was revealed showed some shockers. For example, under the heading “Overt and Covert White Supremacy”, lynching was listed alongside colour blindness. This is a shocking slur against generations of civil rights and anti-racist activists who took Martin Luther King’s mantra that we should judge on the content of character and not skin colour—no longer, it seems.
When you finally do see some of the teaching materials, they show that Martin Luther King’s position is dismissed as “old-fashioned” and that pupils are often being told that parents are the problem—that they are old-fashioned and backward. We must be very wary of this. For example, parents who go along with colour blindness are being described as exhibiting unconscious bias; those parents who believe in the biological facts of sex rather than the fluidity of gender identity are labelled to their own children as bigots and transphobic, guilty of cisnormativity.
The Government have a responsibility to diffuse what could become quite a nasty set of tensions. Potentially, one of the ways of ensuring against this breach of trust between schools and parents would be more transparency. It is a no-brainer for the Government: they should ensure that the spirit of Amendment 171F goes flying through and becomes part of the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has made a very interesting speech and said some extremely sensible and some provocative things. However, sitting through this debate, and when I first saw the Bill, the one word that kept coming to my mind was “superficial”. We are in danger of pandering to a superficial society and being involved in the evolution of a superficial society.
When I was a young schoolmaster, over 60 years ago, a very well-respected headmaster said to me, “Whatever you do, be thorough.” I was appointed the careers master, and he told me to remember that what was important in the boys that I taught—in that case it was boys—was that they recognised that the job which they have when they leave school, whatever it is, is only part of them and that, in whatever they do, they must seek be a part of the community in which they live. I paraphrase, but that is the essence of what he said.
I often think of that when I go across to Lincoln Cathedral, as I do every day when I am in my hometown. I sit above the choir-stalls before evensong, while the choir is training and rehearsing. These young people are being given a thorough grounding. They can sing often the most complicated music with great beauty and accomplishment because if they get a note wrong, kindly but firmly and—to use the word again—thoroughly, the master of the music or his deputy points it out and they do it again, and, if necessary, again. In what they are doing to create great music in one of our greatest cathedrals, they are, in a sense, emulating the people who built that great cathedral and who, through the ages, had long, complicated, detailed apprenticeships.
I know, as the founder of the William Morris Craft Fellowship, in which I declare an interest, that today many young men and women—we have awarded fellowships to many young women—are able, through mastering their craft, to become much more important members of the society in which they live. They have mastered something and done it thoroughly. A great many of those young people play a role in their local communities—some even as councillors—or in the voluntary sector.
The Bill must be put into some sort of order; I pick up on the substance of the amendments spoken to so splendidly by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and others, and in the fine speech made by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. We are saying, in effect, “Do not be superficial; remember that aspiration is important.” I remember a Minister in the other place saying in a Queen’s Speech debate many years ago that the real poor of the 20th century, as it then was, “are those without hope.”
Hope and aspiration are terribly important; they have to be encouraged, through partnership between parents, teachers and students. The Bill comes nowhere near that. We need to inject the spirit of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts if at the end of the day we are to get a Schools Bill that is worthy of its name. At the moment it is not. This is no personal criticism of my noble friend the Minister, for whom I have real regard. Nobody would call her superficial but she is in charge of a Bill that is. That needs to be put right; I hope that it will be.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the speech made by my noble friend Lady Morris—and in no way to demur from anything she said about appropriate access to curriculum materials for parents—but also to reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lord Hunt that we are not talking about a veto. We have strayed into some extremely difficult areas. It is important, therefore, to stress that we are talking about partnership between schools, parents and students, and looking at curriculum content in a collaborative way. This is not saying that a group of parents, or indeed one parent, should be able to turn up and say, “I would like to look at this and, by the way, my child is not having it”—and expect that somehow the writ of that will run throughout the school. That was clearly not the intention of anyone who has spoken in the debate.
For example, in previous debates we have talked about parent councils, originally introduced by my noble friend Lord Knight under a different kind of Government. We have to be in that place throughout this; it is not just about access to curriculum materials. We need to be saying that the work of a school is a partnership between the parent body, the students, the wider community and the teaching and other staff. This is not in any sense to demur from the notion of access, but it is perhaps to draw the balance. This should not be about a veto but about developing a relationship so that parents understand what is going on in schools. They may feel that they can and should influence that in some small way, and that may be welcomed by the school. However, there is a very big difference between that and vetoing. That is all I wanted to say.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and to agree with everything she said. This has been a rich and full debate, reflecting the importance of these amendments. I am going to join the breadth of support for Amendment 168, to add another party to the list, and will make some contributions that are different from, and a point of disagreement with, some of the discussion we have had.
Picking up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, I entirely agree with Amendment 171F but we have been somewhat driven off course. When we think about this being about commercial confidentiality, we are talking primarily about commercial companies, which are going to be citing commercial confidentiality. I reference a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, in the DCMS Oral Question earlier today. She was expressing concern about giant multinational media companies providing materials on media literacy to schools. That might be a cause for concern.
I also have great concern about very large multinational companies selling curriculum materials all around the world; these may or may not be appropriate to the British context. That is where we are much more likely to encounter that argument of commercial confidentiality. I query whether any commercial company should be providing materials going into our schools. I fully accept that NGOs, social enterprises, and people who start out with a social purpose to produce materials for our schools, are very valuable and worthwhile in specialist areas. However, if you have a company where its entire purpose is to make money—that is what a commercial company is—what will that do to the materials it produces?
Just to note, a lot of the charitable organisations and so on are making money. I am not suggesting that because they are making money, they are evil, but I do not think that it quite works in this instance because the phrase “commercial sensitivity” is used by organisations which are not big businesses going in; they are small and socially worthy, but they are also commercial. Let me tell you, a lot of them are making quite a lot of money, even if they are doing it with the best intentions. That is not really the point.
While we are at it, I declare my interest that I work with a company called EVERFI, which does some of this work, but it liaises with money-making commercial organisations to provide resources at no charge for teachers. Some of those, for example, relate to careers, which is part of this group of amendments. There are excellent science employers or computer gaming companies, for example, which are trying to help create the learning that will mean that people from all sorts of backgrounds are more inclined, readier and more confident to think that they could work in those industries. I would not want anything that the noble Baroness is saying to curtail that sort of important learning resource.
I take the noble Baroness’s point that NGOs and social enterprises may indeed have commercial interests. I still think that there is a difference between them using that to fund their work and a company that exists purely for making profit, but I take the point about commercial confidentiality. I will circle back to the question on computer gaming companies when I comment on some of the other amendments.
I entirely support Amendment 91 and the related Amendment 171I on careers programmes and work experience. We have already had an interesting debate, but a bit more needs to be drawn out. Some of the discussion was about raising aspiration and social mobility; the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said that in introducing his amendment. We need to acknowledge that there is a huge amount of aspiration in our societies that people cannot fulfil because they lack opportunities. We need to acknowledge all those strangled aspirations.
I pick up the point from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that we need to think about this not just as a way of helping people to think about different careers—although I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, that addressing gender stereotypes is really important—but as people going out into and spending some time in operations in society as a way to see how they might contribute in all sorts of ways, not just through whatever paid employment they might eventually take up. It is important that we see that.
On this whole language of aspiration and social mobility, I contend that we have to ensure we value everyone contributing to our society in all sorts of ways. I will pick up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, about Eton. Would we not have got somewhere when pupils at Eton aspired to be a school dinner person or a bus driver? Maybe there are pupils at Eton who do, but I doubt it somehow and I doubt they are encouraged to. Yet those are both vital jobs in our society that people can make a large contribution through.
I entirely support Amendment 168. Its importance has been powerfully covered by lots of people, in particular the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. However, I question one word in it. It refers to British values as “values of British citizenship”. The values in the amendment—
“democracy … the rule of law … freedom … equal respect … freedom of thought, conscience and religion”—
are ones that the international community has collectively agreed should be the values of human rights and the rule of law and should be observed all around the world. I do not think this necessarily has to be referred to as “British” citizenship; they are the values of citizenship that we encourage in our own society and all around the world. Indeed, British jurists, British campaigners and British Governments have played a very powerful role in spreading those values around the world, such as through the European Court of Human Rights. They are not uniquely British values but values we want to encourage everywhere.
On that point, I have to challenge a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who suggested that those who were born overseas and have chosen to become British citizens may have less awareness of these values than those who were born here. Of course, people who have chosen to move here—I declare my own interest as someone who chose to become a British citizen—have consciously chosen to sign up to those values. It is very important that we do not suggest that this is an issue for some people and not everyone in our society.
I had a lot more but I am aware of the time and we have not yet heard from the noble Baronesses on the Front Bench about mandatory curriculum subjects. I will just come back to the point about computer gaming. Some of the items that the noble Baronesses suggest as crucial are “financial literacy” and “life skills”. I looked to a report from the Centre for Social Justice, On the Money: A Roadmap for Lifelong Financial Learning, which points out that there is a huge problem with a lack of financial knowledge among young children being exposed in digital online marketplaces, particularly with gaming loot boxes. We need to be very careful about the involvement of companies such as that because there are very large financial interests there.
Finally—I am aware of the time and wanted to say a lot more—the one thing that I do not agree with, which I have to put on the record, is that all academies must follow the national curriculum. The Green Party does not believe that there should be a national curriculum. We think that there should be a set of learning entitlements whereby learners and teachers together develop a curriculum content to suit their needs and interests.
My Lords, this group of amendments is extremely important and I just want to raise a number of issues arising from them. Let me remind noble Lords that in the early 1970s the only compulsory subject on the school curriculum was religious education. Anything else was left to the schools themselves to decide what to teach. Then in 1974, the William Tyndale Junior School in London had a parents’ protest outside because of the radical learning going on in that school. That resulted in a huge educational row and the Government wanting to develop a curriculum in schools that flowed down to local authorities. Then, of course, we had the national curriculum of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, which was very inclusive. People had an opportunity to say what they felt should be included in that national curriculum, which we followed, by and large, with great joy.
Then came the academy movement, and we said, “Do you know what? We need schools to have the freedom to choose what they want to teach”. So we now have a system whereby some schools have to follow a national curriculum and some have the freedom to choose what they want to do. I will not comment on the rights and wrongs of that, but it creates real problems in our learning.
The amendment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is absolutely stunning, but while we talk about British values, we live in a multicultural society. Our curriculum does not reflect that multicultural society, which is why Amendment 158 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, is so important.
Over the last few years, in a series of Written Questions I have tried to probe the opportunities for black studies in our curriculum. They are incredibly limited and, by and large, it is left to schools themselves to say, “Do you know what? I would like to do a unit on slavery”. If schools in Liverpool and Bristol, which were the centres of slavery, did not have to pull down statues but there were a historical unit on slavery, it might have been a very different situation altogether. Again, it is left to schools to decide. In her written replies, the Minister will come back to me and say, “They can do so and so”. They can choose to do that but it is not mandatory, so we have a society in which it is mandatory to study the Egyptians but not other important multicultural and historical issues.
I turn to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I had not thought about this at all, in the sense that when I was a head teacher I always assumed that parents had the right to know what was being taught to their children. We spent a lot of time making sure it was on the school website and, before that, they would come in and find out. This is such an important amendment that we have to get right, because I see issues that can arise. We have to road test it in our minds to make sure that it works. There is another side to it that we have not mentioned. The noble Baroness has perhaps come to it from one direction, but we have unregistered schools, which we will talk about later. They are unregistered for exactly that reason: they want to teach things that are not inspected. The curriculum and the materials they use are not inspected. Also, the only subject that parents can withdraw their children from is relationship and sex education. Maybe, if parents saw the materials used, they would feel comfortable enough to let the children come into school. It is important that it can have a very positive impact on parents and on learning.
By the way, I say sorry to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, but I do not agree with this notion that you cannot have commercial companies producing material for schools. I can think of a whole host of teachers who are brilliant in the classroom and who had an idea, wanted to share it, went to a commercial company and asked if they could produce—in the old days—some books on certain subjects. My goodness, some teachers produce the most amazing reading schemes which would never have happened were it not for the commercial companies being prepared to put their money behind them.
Finally, I come to something I feel very strongly about and have done for a long time. It was the subject of the first contribution we had from my noble friend Lord Shipley today: careers education in primary schools. Primary children are like sponges: they suck up knowledge and information. At my school we did careers education—if you want to call it that. We invited a host of parents with different careers to come into school and, using a carousel-type approach, the children went to different parents and heard, in a 10-minute question and answer session, about the different careers. There was a male nurse and a female firefighter, which blew away the stereotypes that my noble friend Lady Garden talked about at the very beginning. This has to be kept focused on primary schools, and it has to be kept simple, but it has to be there because it will lead to important contributions later on.
I finally want to mention something we have talked about quite often. I just want to add a word of caution. We sit here glibly and say, “Children and students should go on work experience.” But we need to know what that entails; it is a huge operation to make work experience work: you have to find employers for the hundreds of children, and you have to make sure that it is the right work experience opportunity for them. My experience is that I would get schools contacting me asking, “Can our students come into your nursery, because we’ve got nowhere else to put them?” If we are to do work experience, it has to be properly funded, properly organised and properly thought through so that it makes a proper contribution to the career development of those young people.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Storey. By the time we finish this group, we will have spent more than two hours on it, and that says a lot about the meaty topics that we have in this group that really could have been separated into more groups. The fact that we have had to table amendments to get these topics discussed tells you something about what is not in the Bill.
I still do not understand why the Government are taking this approach. We understand, say, the measures on home-educated children and why the Government are doing that—we will have questions and we will want to challenge specific areas, but we know why they are doing it. With most of the rest of the Bill, we do not know what they want to do, and we do not know why they are doing it; we know how they intend to do it—by taking powers—but we really need to understand why the Government have decided to bring the Bill forward in the way that they have.
Amendment 91 proposes a careers programme for primary schools. It has been spoken to very well by several noble Lords, and I will not repeat everything that they have said. We support the focus on encouraging quality careers advice, information and sharing ideas about different careers with young children. This should be embedded throughout the curriculum. Amendment 158 insists that all schools should follow a national curriculum. The Secretary of State is giving himself the power to do these things—or not—by regulation. We want to know whether he intends to use that power, and how. That gets to the crux of all this: we are all just talking about what we would like to do. That is all very well but, unless we know what the Government are going to do, we are really just having an interesting conversation among ourselves without having anything to properly hang it on. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said very well, this is about democracy and the role of Parliament. Forgive us, but we take our role seriously and want to use the time afforded to this Chamber to make a positive contribution to the legislation before us. I know that the Minister is listening, and I feel for her, but we are very firm on this point that we keep coming back to. We need to know why.
Many people spoke to Amendment 168 from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries so, again, I do not want to take up time repeating what others have said. This amendment talks about citizenship and British values; we think it is interesting and a sensible evolution of the current situation. I would like to know what colleagues in the other place think about this. Given that the Bill is a Lords starter, the only way I know how to do that is to get something into the Bill to send to them so that they can debate it. It would be incredibly valuable for us to get the reflections of the elected House so that we can take that forward, because it does make sense—especially given the debate that my noble friend Lord Knight led last week on including environmental education.
Our Amendment 171F—no, sorry, that is the amendment of my noble friend Lady Morris, but my support for it is such that I want to take ownership for myself—is obviously about sharing information with parents and getting rid of the issue of commercial confidentiality in this context. It is perfectly sensible and I hope that the Minister can say something positive about it when she responds.
Our Amendment 171I is about mandatory work experience. I totally take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Storey, has just said about the burden this would place on schools. I hope my noble friend Lady Blower does not mind me saying that she raised this with me earlier and it is an absolutely fair challenge. But the way we are looking at this is that if you are going to have work experience that is of value, it ought to be accessible to all children. It cannot be right that those children with parents in careers or with good contacts get a really good experience, while others get to do a school-based activity or end up in the nursery school run by the noble Lord. That does not seem fair so, in that way, it needs to be made an entitlement so that it is properly supported. We know that is an onerous responsibility but it is one that we think ought to be fulfilled. If noble Lords look at our amendment, they will see how: by doing it in partnership with local organisations.
We think it is wrong that, too often, young people rely on their social networks and connections to get work experience. We think that this disadvantages children and the community of employers because, be they small businesses, public bodies or voluntary and community sector organisations, they are missing out on the opportunity to engage with their local young people. Building a partnership with local organisations equipped to provide quality, horizon-broadening placements would, if the partnership is stable, be long lasting and benefit everyone.
There are lots and lots of examples of this being done very well all over the country but it is patchy. To namecheck just one of them, I say that the Social Mobility Foundation runs a scheme called One +1. It is a good example of a project that could be done in partnership across a wider area, where an employer who has already agreed to take on a young person whom they know, which could be the child of a childhood friend or relative, agrees to take an additional young person which the project has put in touch with them. Taking on two young people on work experience can often be a bit easier than taking one, so it is a minimal extra responsibility for the employer but it doubles the opportunity and makes sure that it is available based on the interests of the young person. That is just one example of how this could work.
Our Amendment 158—to which a few noble Lords have suggested enhancements, which are very welcome—is about the national curriculum. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has suggested that we add first aid, my noble friend Lord Knight would like to include media literacy and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, wants us to include online marketplaces, and I think all of that is sensible. I know there is an irresistible temptation to chuck things into the national curriculum and ask, “Why can’t schools do this thing that I am passionate about?”, but the intent of this amendment was more about honing things that are already taking place. We already have financial literacy education in schools, for example, but we think it is important to ensure that that is kept up to date and covers things that are of current concern.
The reason why we feel strongly about this issue and have done for some time is that there are choices here about what is important in what we teach and what skills we think our young people will need to benefit them and indeed all of us as a country. The answer to that question informs the values and attitudes that we as a society want to promote. We should take great care and consideration, as well as debate, in deciding what our children learn. There should be, and there is, flexibility for schools, teachers and parents to influence what is taught, but it cannot be right that the governance structure of a child’s school is what determines whether they benefit from the national curriculum. My noble friend Lady Morris made that point in an article that I found she had written over 10 years ago, and the argument is probably even more relevant now that we are going to see so many more of our schools becoming academies. She talked about the curriculum being
“an entitlement to all children”
“It stops schools giving up on children who find it difficult to learn or who are difficult to teach.”
There is something in that.
If everything worked perfectly in every school at every stage then there would be an argument for moving away from the national curriculum, but we are just not there at the moment. If we had universally high-quality teaching and leadership, and parents were always getting excellent feedback about how their kids were doing, then perhaps we could be more relaxed about this, but our mission here is to develop the potential of every child. That requires flexibility but it is right that gold-standard core knowledge is available to every child—including, I suggest, my noble friend Lord Knight’s suggestion about environmental education.
Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 158 is about the teaching of black history, something that the Welsh Government have decided to take forward, and we very much welcome that. Michael Gove removed the curriculum’s focus on diversity, and we would say that some of the richness of our national story—which is becoming appreciated more and more, and that is a good thing—has been lost. Teaching black history is essentially optional now. There have been black people in Britain since at least Roman times, fighting in the most famous battles, including Trafalgar, as well as both world wars. Obviously, issues such as the slave trade, colonialism, apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the US have had a significant and long-lasting impact on the world as it is today. However, we make the point that it is vital that the teaching of black history should not only be about empire and slavery, vital though these things are, but should celebrate figures who have achieved incredible things, such as those who were part of Henry VIII’s court or, I would say, someone like Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer, who played for Darlington. Those are important too.
This issue is important to us—I think it is important to explain why you are doing things—because we need to connect our history to the world around us as it is today. These are not just fascinating and exciting stories; this is about a history that has too often eliminated women, people of colour, the non-literate and even children. Learning to see past events from different perspectives is a key skill, not just for historians but for everyone who wants to understand the world around them.
I make the point again to the Minister that the Government have so far not explained why they are taking the Bill forward in the way that they are. Unless we get to that, there are several clauses of the Bill that I think are not going to make it to the other place.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their very thoughtful contributions to the debate on the amendments in this group. I start by thanking the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for their Amendment 91. The Government believe strongly that starting career-related learning early is important. As noble Lords have said, children as young as seven start to adopt stereotypes based on gender, ethnicity and social background which can limit their future subject and career choices. In fact, on Friday I was lucky enough to take part in a careers session at the Howitt Primary Community School outside Derby. I am not sure that I converted anyone to a political career, but there were definitely budding newsreaders, scientists, paramedics and others in the room.
The importance of early career-related learning is why we announced in the schools White Paper that we will fund a new careers programme for primary schools in disadvantaged areas, and we will announce more details of that in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised some particular questions; if I may, given the time, I will write to him with answers to those.
As your Lordships will remember, careers advice also featured prominently in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act, with many helpful contributions from this House. We have strengthened provider access legislation by requiring schools to put on six encounters—if I remember rightly, that figure was quite challenging for us all in terms of our maths, whatever our curriculum was—with providers of technical education or apprenticeships to take place during school years 8 to 13.
Turning to Amendments 171I and 158 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, of course the Government agree in principle with what the noble Baroness said about every child having access to work experience. We want that happen in practice; it is not enough to agree in principle. The first part of Amendment 171I would require schools to provide pupils with at least 10 days of work experience. We believe it is right to give schools the autonomy to provide a range of experiences of work of different type and duration, rather than to impose a blanket 10 days. Schools can deliver this as part of their legal duty to provide independent careers guidance for year 8 to 13 pupils. Of course, work experience is part of the Gatsby benchmarks, which all schools are expected to follow. We believe that the second part of the amendment is unnecessary as we already fund the Careers & Enterprise Company to deliver careers hubs. We are extending access to careers hubs so that they will cover approximately 90% of schools and colleges by August next year.
On the first part of Amendment 158, many academies choose to use the national curriculum, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, said on another day in Committee, we trust heads and trust leaders to determine their own curriculum. I find a slight irony in the mix between areas where the Government are being encouraged to lean in and influence the curriculum, and others where the Government are being accused of taking too much power. We believe that heads and trust leaders should determine their own curriculum but that the national curriculum is something of great quality for them to benchmark against.
We recognise the value of academy freedoms and do not intend to undermine them with this legislation. Academy trusts have been at the forefront of curriculum innovation. We believe that many of the topics suggested in the remaining parts of this amendment are already covered in the existing curriculum. After a period of disruption in education due to the pandemic, we have committed to make no changes to the national curriculum in this Parliament.
I turn now to Amendment 168 in the names of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. The amendment seeks change to the phrase “fundamental British values”, the list of values and their definition, and their place in the curriculum. The national curriculum does not add the level of detail in this amendment as it is our policy that schools should lead on the development of the detailed content of their curriculum. However, the key principles of the amendment—democracy, law, freedom, respect and sustainability and climate change—are already covered across the citizenship, science and geography curricula.
It is rightly highlighted that these values are not exclusive to our society; however, we believe it is important to articulate those values fundamental to life in modern Britain. “British values” is a shorthand for those values that unite us and are commonly understood to be at the core of what it means to be a citizen in a modern, diverse Britain. Developing and deepening pupils’ understanding of these values is already part of the Ofsted inspection framework. Ultimately, school leaders are best placed to make decisions about how to embed these values to meet the needs of their pupils, and many good schools already do so very effectively.
As I hinted at, we think that adding “respect for the environment” to the values is unnecessary because this is taught through the geography, science and citizenship curricula. Whether we refer to “fundamental British values” or “the values of British citizenship”, what ultimately matters are the values themselves and how they are embedded in schools’ ethos and practices. We do not believe that it is the role of the Government to try to manage the delivery of the curriculum in this way.
The point about quality of delivery was behind what the noble and right reverend Lord and other noble Lords spoke about. As I mentioned, Ofsted inspects how well schools and colleges promote these values and, by 2018, nearly all leaders and teachers—98%—reported that they were confident that their school effectively taught the values of respect and tolerance for those from different backgrounds.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 171F in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, my noble friend Lord Sandhurst and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven. Of course, we should encourage parents to engage with their child’s curriculum to allow them to support their child’s learning at home. However, as the noble Baroness and other noble Lords expressed very clearly, parents should feel confident that they understand what their children are learning. We also think it vital that schools and teachers are focused on the activities that add the greatest value to pupil outcomes. It is a priority for the Government to reduce teacher workload. We are concerned that introducing this amendment could drive teachers to focus on tasks which become very burdensome—which I know is not the noble Baroness’s intention. There are already ways for parents to engage with their child’s school curriculum to the extent needed to support learning at home. My noble friend Lady Stroud spoke about online learning. The Oak National Academy, for example, provides packages of optional, free and adaptable digital curriculum resources and video lessons which pupils and parents can access to supplement learning.
Just to be clear, the Oak National Academy, as my noble friend may know, was set up during the pandemic to provide online resources. It continues to make those resources available to any parent or child who wishes to use them and to teachers who want high-quality curriculum resources to teach in a physical setting.
Furthermore, the statutory guidance for relationships and sex education is clear that schools must have a written policy in place for these subjects and must consult parents. My noble friend Lord Sandhurst referenced our guidance in this regard: schools should provide examples of the resources they plan to use when they consult to reassure parents and enable them to continue the conversation started in class when their children are at home. I think those are exactly the points your Lordships raised this afternoon.
The department has published guidance to support school engagement with parents and leaflets for schools to provide to parents when communicating about their teaching of these subjects. As was referenced, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked the Children’s Commissioner to look at the RSE curriculum to complement the work that the department is already doing to improve the consistency and quality of RSE teaching, to make sure that children are being taught well and that we have equipped teachers with the right tools to teach these sensitive and difficult subjects well.
My Lords, this is an incredibly disappointing reply. My worry is that I do not know whether the Minister has offered all she is going to offer. This is not about using Oak National Academy resources rather than those of an outside organisation. It is not about how to communicate with parents. The amendment has nothing to do with that. I am quite sure that the Government have a lot of good ideas on advising schools about how to communicate with parents. This was very specifically about schools using materials from outside bodies, which save them work and having to rewrite the curriculum in line with what the Government want them to do—but, by law, they are not permitted to show parents these materials. I hope the Minister will forgive me if she was about to address that point, but I do not want her to sit down before doing so and I am a little worried by the tone of the response so far.
I am sorry; the last thing I want to do is worry the noble Baroness. I am not sure that I will be able to reassure her entirely, but I was coming to this point. Specifically on the intellectual property loophole, which I understand is the point the noble Baroness raised, if she would be agreeable, it would be helpful to meet and go through some of the examples. We would like to be confident that the law is being interpreted correctly and, without seeing the examples, it is difficult for us to establish that. If the noble Baroness agrees, we could look at this in more detail.
I think two issues underpin the point that my noble friend raises. I will finish the point on intellectual property, which is where I think he was initially; perhaps I misunderstood. We want to be clear that the law is being applied correctly. We will be honoured to take the time to establish that and clarify it for the House. That is one point.
The second point is that I absolutely understand the spirit of my noble friend’s question. When I spoke to colleagues in the department who had previously been head teachers, their answer was that they understand the sentiments that my noble friend expresses but are also concerned that one could end up in a situation in which there are vexatious requests and a school becomes unable to cope with them because of the number of them. With the permission of the Committee, I would just like to be able to explore that in more detail.
A very good point was made earlier about this not being a matter of veto. We have only to remember what happened with the RE teacher who was driven into hiding because he offended local activists from the more extreme Muslim wing—not the majority of Muslim parents, I hasten to add. We get that. Nobody is saying that. Can the Minister clarify that none of us are trying to give a parent veto to what is taught? Can the Minister also acknowledge that this is not just a technical question and that the Government are in danger, if they do not see what is going on, of parents starting to withdraw their children from these lessons because they hear that all these terrible things are being taught?
The Minister pointed out—or somebody made the point—that if they could see the materials, they would be reassured. I think they would be horrified, but that is not the point. The point is that you need to be able to see them so that you are not relying on reading in the newspapers what is in them. The Government surely have to tackle this and be sensitive to it.
The department and the head teachers the Minister has spoken to have chosen to go down a dangerous avenue on this. If the issue is to stop parents being vexatious and demanding too much of schools in asking for materials, they can do that now with almost all the curriculum materials that are taught in schools and they do not. The only ones they cannot see are these in the most contentious areas of the curriculum. I am not worried about parents being vexatious and asking for all the curriculum materials; that is not what happens at the moment. I am not sure how there can be any justification for the one area where, by law, you cannot see the teaching materials happening to be the area where parents would have most concern about curriculum content.
All I was trying to say to the noble Baroness is that I think there are two steps in this. First, is the intellectual property law being applied correctly and, secondly, how does that then translate? I think we have to answer the first question first, but I will undertake to give a full answer to the House when we have a chance to look at this in more detail. If your Lordships have specific examples, it would be extremely helpful to share them with us so that we get a broad sense of the issue.
With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, to withdraw Amendment 91 and other noble Lords not to move their amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for her reply. We have now been on this group for two hours, 21 minutes and 51 seconds. I think it rather demonstrates the problems that we have been experiencing in the first three days of this Bill—it is now day four—where a whole set of matters being proposed have not been properly thought through. I hope the Minister will understand my concern—and I think that of others in your Lordships’ Chamber—that perhaps Report should be deferred until the autumn.
However, I am slightly encouraged by what the Minister said in relation to my Amendment 91 on careers guidance in primary schools. I hope very much that the Government will come forward with proposals, maybe before we get to Report. If that is not to be, I need to give notice that I am likely to come back on Report with a further amendment and debate on this matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in my name.
Amendment 91 withdrawn.
91A: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—
“Funding: 14 to 16 school-college partnership fundThe Secretary of State must make arrangements within the nationally determined funding formula to establish a ‘14-16 school-college partnership fund’ to enable school children aged 14-16 to access college courses, where this is agreed by their school and the local college as benefitting the student and their learning.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment establishes a 14-16 school-college partnership fund to ensure that students can benefit from being able to study periodically in a college setting.
My Lords, I will try to be as brief as I can. Four of the five amendments in this group are mine, so I rise to move Amendment 91A and to speak to Amendments 91B, 171A and 171B. These amendments will ensure that colleges delivering education to 14 to 16 year-olds are funded at the same level as schools delivering the same curriculum and experience. They will strengthen partnerships in education to benefit 14 to 16 year-olds and, finally, they will create a duty for all parties to consider greater collaboration in the education system.
The reason for wanting to strengthen existing joint working and generally to re-establish partnership working between schools and colleges more strongly reflects the successes of the increased flexibility programme that was abandoned a decade ago. That programme encouraged more school students with strong vocational interests to follow opportunities in a college setting while studying academic subjects at school. Student confidence, attitudes and behaviour were found to be improved. Students were more engaged in learning and in developing their social skills. Extending such collaborative methods of working would enable young people to have a wider range of opportunities across vocational and academic routes. They would also, I submit, support stronger outcomes at key stage 4.
Amendments 171A and 171B would strengthen partnership working between colleges and schools and include a duty on providers of pre-16 education in England to consider collaborative agreements with other education and training providers, including over-16 providers, with a “14-16 school-college partnership fund”, which is proposed in Amendment 91A.
Amendment 91B is about the national funding formula, which aims to deliver funding to each mainstream school on the same basis. Funding for 16 to 19 year-olds in colleges has been allocated directly from the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, so this amendment relates to pre-16 funding. The issue is this. The three blocks of the DfE’s dedicated schools grant cover schools, early years and high needs. High needs amounts to £9 billion a year, £300 million of which goes to colleges to support some 30,000 students. When a student reaches the age of 16, funding drops and, despite recent increases, is still lower than it should be. There are several differentials between academies and colleges. Several thousand 14 to 16 year-olds study full-time in colleges, but they attract college funding only at the post-16 rate for pre-16 courses. There seems to be a clear funding disparity here, and the Bill offers an opportunity to re-examine 14 to 16 partnership working. I hope the Minister will be willing to do this, because it is in the interests of so many of our young people. I beg to move.
My Lords, in supporting all these amendments I add my support for Amendment 171R, which my noble friend Lady Wilcox will speak to from the Labour Front Bench at the end of the debate.
This is a very good means to rescue the missing third of children. This is the large number of children who are capable of further education but never get to the starting point for a variety of reasons. Prejudice and discrimination play a part, for instance in the case of Gypsies, Travellers, Roma, boat workers and the children of showmen. It is really important that schools get ahead with this kind of arrangement.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, given the way in which she champions the Roma community.
I support all the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Shipley and those from the Labour Front Bench. They indicate the important role of further education colleges in our education system. They link to the demand for young people in schools to be aware of all the possible programmes of learning available in colleges at an early enough stage to be able to make informed choices about future work and study opportunities. It is really important that colleges be funded at the same level as schools and that college teachers and tutors should be paid at the same level. It is quite wrong that college pay should be lower than school pay.
Amendments 171A and 171B would ensure better continuity of education. Too often, FE has been the forgotten element in our education system, but it is a vital part of the options available to young people, as it spans school, vocational options and university provision. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us of the value the Government place on the FE sector, and perhaps indicate the parts of the Augar review—whatever has happened to that?—which concern FE that the Government intend to implement.
My Lords, we support the principle of Amendment 171B. There are currently many barriers to further education institutions working effectively with academies and MATs, and it is apposite that this is being raised. Funding further education appropriately continues to be a prime issue, as noted by several noble Lords. Schools are more often part of the solution, not the problem, so we need a concerted, cross-government commitment to improving the life chances of young people in our most marginalised and deprived communities and addressing the root causes of underperformance, as noted by my noble friend Lady Whitaker.
Our Amendment 171R obliges the Secretary of State to consult on and establish access to further education for all schoolchildren aged 14 to 16 within one year of the Bill’s enactment. We understand that the Minister has discussed the matter of academies working effectively with FE organisations, and I wondered whether she could update the House on any progress made on identifying and unblocking the barriers to working together.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss further education and take the opportunity offered me by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to say how much the Government value further education and its part in the educational landscape.
I turn to Amendments 91A and 91B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and start with a general point. The framework set by the Bill does not intend the content of the funding formula to be specified in legislation itself. As such, any detailed provision would not be dealt with here. More specifically, schools are already fully able to make arrangements with colleges to allow their 14 to 16 year-old students to undertake part of their education at college, so there is no need for further legislation.
The funding arrangements in the Bill are designed for schools and could not be readily applied to colleges. The noble Lord will know that there is a separate approach to funding the relatively few 14 to 16 year-olds on full-time courses at colleges, aligned to their post-16 funding. However, I agree with noble Lords that we need to ensure that funding for 14 to 16 year-olds in colleges is sufficient. Noble Lords will know, and I hope be reassured by the fact, that the basic rate of funding per student will increase by 8% next year as part of the work to close that gap.
Taking Amendments 171A, 171B and 171R together, I absolutely see the intention and recognise the importance of partnerships and collaboration between schools and further education providers. However, it is unnecessary to specify such requirements in the Bill. Although further education providers, maintained schools and academy trusts are different types of legal entities, these differences do not prevent partnerships and collaborative working, including sharing services, facilities and resources. There are many examples of how schools and academies collaborate with other education and training providers, such as where 16 to 19 institutions are part of a multi-academy trust or where further education colleges are sponsoring academy trusts.
The Government have done significant work on improving collaboration between education providers. The college collaboration fund has supported education providers to work more effectively together. I give noble Lords just one example: Wilberforce College and its partner sixth form colleges have worked with local secondary schools to improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessments in blended learning; a case study of this project was published in November last year.
On the issue of establishing access to further education for all 14 to 16 year-olds we agree that, as we heard on the previous group, young people need a full picture of their post-16 education and training options. As noble Lords have already heard, through the Skills and Post-16 Education Act schools are now required to provide at least six opportunities for year 8 to 13 pupils to meet providers of technical education or apprenticeships to discuss their education and training options. It is important that each of those is a meaningful experience.
Today, we launched a consultation on the statutory guidance that will underpin the provider access legislation, and I encourage all those with an interest to participate in the consultation and to share their examples of how schools and providers can collaborate effectively. That consultation will be important to ensure that, when we commence the legislation on 1 January next year, its implementation will be informed by the very best and innovative professional practice.
This was a brief group, but I thank the noble Lord for the opportunity to talk about further education in the Bill. I hope he will withdraw his amendment.
In a moment, I shall, but I tell the Minister that I shall read very carefully in Hansard tomorrow the exact wording that has been used.
It is of course true, as the Minister said, that schools can collaborate with colleges. The problem is that there is not as much of that as there might be, and it would help enormously if my amendments had been supported by the Government. There is a huge amount of competition; we need a bit more collaboration between the various institutions at local level. That is where I am headed with the amendments.
I may well come back to this at Report. I will consider carefully what the Minister has said, but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 91A withdrawn.
Amendment 91B not moved.
Clause 39 agreed.
Clause 40: Reallocation of funding to locally determined education expenditure
Amendments 92 and 93 not moved.
Clause 40 agreed.
Clauses 41 to 43 agreed.
Amendments 94 and 95 not moved.
Clause 44 agreed.
Schedule 3: Consequential amendments relating to Part 2
96: Schedule 3, page 93, line 18, at end insert—
“Education Act 1996
A1 (1) Section 494 of the Education Act 1996 (recoupment: excluded pupils) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1)—(a) after “maintained by” (in the first place it occurs) insert “, or from any Academy located in the area of,”; (b) after “provided with education by” insert “or in the area of”;(c) for “or otherwise than at school” substitute “, at an Academy located in that authority’s area, or by that authority otherwise than at school”.(3) In subsection (3)—(a) after “maintained by” (in the first place it occurs) insert “, or from any Academy located in the area of,”;(b) in paragraph (b)—(i) after “education by” insert “or in the area of”;(ii) for “or otherwise than at school” substitute “, at an Academy located in that authority’s area, or by that authority otherwise than at school”.(4) After that subsection insert—“(3A) For the purposes of this section references to an Academy do not include a 16-19 Academy.””
Amendment 96 agreed.
Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.
Clause 45 agreed.
97: After Clause 45, insert the following new Clause—
“Funding for specialist education services for children and young people with sensory impairment(1) An English local authority must secure that provision of specialist education services to children and young people with sensory impairment and their parents is sufficient to facilitate the development of the child or young person with sensory impairment and to help him or her achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.(2) Specialist education services include support to the parent of a child with sensory impairment, following the point of identification of any sensory impairment.(3) The Secretary of State must ensure that funding to local authorities for provision of services under this section is sufficient.(4) In discharging their duty under subsection (1), a local authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.”Member's explanatory statement
Part 2 of the Schools Bill makes a number of changes to school and local education funding. This amendment seeks to introduce a new duty for local authorities and the Secretary of State to ensure there is sufficient funding for specialist education services for children and young people with sensory impairments.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 97 and 99. I also have Amendment 129, which is in a later group, for which I apologise that I will be unable to be present. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, in his Amendments 163, 164, 165 and 166. I pay tribute to him for his excellent and compelling report and recommendations about disabled students that was published earlier this year.
I make it clear that I support the Government’s ambition, through the schools White Paper and the Bill, that all schools should be welcoming and inclusive for all children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities. I also support the Government’s target for 90% of children to achieve expected outcomes in reading, writing and maths by 2030. But to achieve these goals for deaf children, it is particularly important that expert support is available from local specialist education services for children with sensory impairment. I pay tribute to the National Deaf Children’s Society for its work and its help in drafting these two amendments, and to the Special Educational Consortium for its work.
Part 2 of the Bill sets out a number of changes to schools and local education funding. One key area that is currently funded through local education funding is specialist education services for deaf children. These services are usually formed of small teams of peripatetic or visiting teachers of the deaf and other specialist staff. These teachers play a key role in ensuring that deaf children achieve good language outcomes, and as well as advising on and supporting the inclusion of deaf children in mainstream schools, their early intervention work with families of pre-school deaf children helps to ensure the best possible start in life for deaf children.
Despite the importance of this role, there has been a 17% decline in the number of teachers of the deaf since 2011. In addition, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s annual freedom of information request to local authorities shows that specialist education services continue to be under threat, from either cuts to budgets and staffing or local SEND reviews of provision. Parents also repeatedly say that services are not sufficiently funded to meet their children’s needs.
These specialist educational services for deaf children are usually commissioned by the local authority and funded through the high-needs block, but these services have no formal statutory basis so funding for their work is discretionary. The SEND Green Paper observes that a “vicious cycle” has emerged, where funding is moved away from early intervention and inclusion, so leading the system to not delivering for children, young people and families. It is my belief that specialist education services for deaf children and other low-incidence needs are a critical part of the solution to the problem, in helping to ensure that deaf children start primary school with good language, and ensuring that mainstream schools have access to specialist advice and support.
Improvements to the Bill are required if the Government are to meet their ambitions around inclusion for children with SEND. Indeed, it will also need improvement if the Government are to reach the target set for 90% of children to achieve expected outcomes in reading, writing and maths by 2030, as I said earlier. Looking at the results of deaf children and those with sensory impairments, who do not on the whole have a learning disability—so there is no reason why they should not achieve the same as hearing children—we see that, currently, they achieve an entire GCSE grade less than hearing pupils and have done so for at least six years in a row. Too few deaf children receive tailored or specialist careers advice that focuses on their needs and, as a result, many have limited expectations for what they can achieve.
There are many other examples of poor outcomes for deaf children, including in later life, so it is very important that we do more in our education system to get them started on a much firmer base and foundation. I would welcome a great deal of reassurance by the Government that they understand this and will be taking action to do it. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this group, and a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I not only thank him for his kind words about my report on the disabled students’ allowance but thoroughly and full-throatedly support his amendments, particularly Amendments 97 and 99 in this group. Everything that he said in relation to deaf and hard-of-hearing students was absolutely right and applicable to partially sighted and blind students and, indeed, all SEN and disabled young people in our education system. I will speak to Amendments 163 to 166 in my name, all of which largely come out of the review that I conducted earlier this year.
Amendment 163 deals with that horrific—shocking in the 21st century—educational attainment gap for our young people with special educational needs and disabilities. According to key stage 2 stats, at age 11, only 22% of SEN students are achieving the appropriate level in literacy and numeracy. At GCSE, they are achieving pretty much half of what their non-disabled counterparts are achieving. When one looks at the progression rate—that is, young people going into higher education—the rates are over 47.5% for non-disabled students, 20% for those with SEN, and 8% for those with an education, health and care plan. If we go further and look at those progressing to Russell group universities and the higher-tariff providers, it is 12% of non-disabled students, but only 3% of those with SEN, and 1% of those with an EHCP.
This is all about levelling up, or the lack thereof, and what needs to be done to close that educational attainment gap for our SEN and disabled young people. The amendment proposes a review into this, and indeed a plan, reviewed every year, until we close the educational attainment gap by the end of 2027.
Amendment 164 speaks directly to the disabled students’ allowance and what should be happening in our schools and colleges right now to promote it, so that our SEN and disabled young people can be aware of it and can know that higher education is a route for them where they will be supported and enabled to succeed and fulfil their potential. Only 29% of disabled people in higher education currently take advantage of the DSA. One of the main reasons cited for this low take-up was lack of knowledge or awareness of its existence. That is why this is recommendation 1 of my review. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that an information and awareness campaign in every school and college about the existence of the DSA and what it can do for our disabled young people would be a thoroughly good thing, and is very much supported by the Student Loans Company, among others?
Amendment 165 speaks to the idea of a passport that disabled people could carry through their education and higher education and, indeed, into their working lives, to cut through the bureaucracy of having to constantly declare what their disability is, what their needs are, how that impacts on their education, higher education and work experience, and what needs to be put in place.
It seems to me that all of this could be enabled through a passport, not least now in a digital real-time format, cutting bureaucracy and time at every beat point of the interaction that the young person would have with the state, and cutting costs. All too often, young people are asked to provide evidence, and they have to pay to get it from one part of the state—be it the NHS, a doctor or whatever—and present it to another part of the state to get a particular allowance. I believe a passport is overdue and would be beneficial to all concerned. I know there is an excellent pilot under way between higher education and access to work, but I believe that, if we are to gain all the benefits and lay out a seamless process for all our young people, it should run right through school and higher education and into work.
Finally, Amendment 66 looks at consistency of terminology and the need to have consistent language through every beat point, not least through school and into further and higher education and into work. All too often, we have some language based on medical concepts—the so-called medical model—some more positively rooted in the social model, and some somewhere else. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is high time we had language that is enabling, empowering and consistent through every beat point? Again, going back to my review, many young people with special educational needs had no idea that they could be entitled to disabled students’ allowance because of that complication of language, lack of consistency and lack of a smooth journey through all the points of the education, higher education and work journey.
Amendments 163 to 166 would each make a material difference to the experiences of our disabled and SEN young people. Taken together, I believe they would be transformational, enabling and empowering all our young people with SEN and disabilities to succeed—because of the system rather than, as is all too often the case, too few being able to succeed and having to do so in spite of it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite her to speak now.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a former chair of governors of Mayfield Primary School in Cambridge, which at that time had the hearing impaired unit for southern Cambridgeshire.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, introduced his Amendment 97 on arrangements for funding for specialist SEND services for children and young people with sensory impairment. I completely support it. I have heard very recently of a profoundly deaf child, the only one in his mainstream primary school, who has access to a deaf teacher for just one afternoon a week. That is not inclusive education.
The Secretary of State must give local authorities the right level of funds, in this case through the high-needs block, so that they can deliver the support that SEND children need. This is the key to the current SEND issue: the money does not get to the local authority so the local authority cannot follow the child and the child’s needs; this probably explains many of the problems that we are discussing in this group.
Amendment 99 adds to Clause 48 that the details of any SEN or disability that a child has need to be listed; I support that too. I also support the amendments in this group in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, who set out so eloquently the further protections needed for pupils with SEND. Amendment 163 at last demands a strategy to close the education attainment gap for young people with SEND.
Last Friday I attended a webinar run by the Disabled Children’s Partnership, at which parents recounted many of the problems they are facing in getting the right level of support; or worse—as in the case of one parent of a child with multiple physical disabilities but who was intellectually on a par with his peer age group. The only school available to manage the former issue could not teach him at his chronological age; every other child in that school also had learning difficulties.
Even worse, Oskar Nash and Sammy Alban-Stanley, two disabled teenagers with complex medical needs, both died after their school and LA failed in their duty to follow their care plans. Their families had pleaded for support in helping them to cope with the boys’ disabilities. Sammy’s mother told us at the webinar how exhausting it had been to constantly have to fight for the support he needed. CAMHS had recommended a care education and treatment review, but it was not actioned before his death. Oskar Nash was moved from a special school to a mainstream school without further review of his EHCP. Despite urgent referrals to CAMHS, which passed him on to an external counselling service without any clinical assessment, at the time of his death his local authority, Surrey County Council, had not done an assessment of his needs. Coroners in both these cases are extremely concerned about the boys’ deaths and have written recently to Mr Zahawi, Mr Javid and the local education and healthcare bodies involved.
I have worked with families with disabled children for years. These cases are the tip of the iceberg. The system is broken. Children are dying and children are being let down. While many of the amendments relating to Part 4 of the Bill relate to the concerns of parents who have chosen to home-educate their children, I want to focus in this group on a number of different groups of pupils who do not wish to be out of school but who face difficulties, either with their needs not being met or who have medical conditions that mean they are out of school. They broadly fall into the category of school being an unsafe place for them either without medical advice being followed or, for some, without reasonable adjustments that would have made school safe for them.
Almost universally, all these affected children are getting no alternative provision at all. They include pupils so severely bullied that they are waiting for mental health appointments but cannot face school until they get help. There are also pupils who are young carers known to their local authorities, who are doing a full-time job caring for a parent or other family member and are emotionally and physically exhausted. There are pupils with complex medical needs, with clinical requirements that are not being followed by the school. There are pupils who are either immunosuppressed or immunocompromised, whose doctors say that special arrangements should be made for them in school; otherwise, they are at risk of catching illnesses—such as, but not only, Covid—which might kill them.
Dr Lee-Anne Kohli’s son Kieran is clinically extremely vulnerable. His paediatric cardiologists requested remote learning for both of her children. This was agreed until Department for Education policy changed. From September 2020, the school enforced new government policy that every child must attend school. When the school threatened fines and prosecution for persistent absences and recommended to the parents that the child be off-rolled, the parents eventually did this. Children such as Kieran should have access to remote exams but most exam centres do not permit remote exams. The parents say that, if a school attendance order were enforced against them, the children would have no option but to relocate overseas to live with their father as UK schools are not safe for their child; the hospital doctor says so too.
“Child EA” is due to start primary school this autumn. Both she and her mother have primary immunodeficiencies and her father is also clinically vulnerable. The family are acutely aware of the issues faced by high-risk families. Both parents have been supported by their employers to work from home. All their child needs to be able to go to school is a HEPA filter to be installed at the school, but the school will not do that. Currently, these parents are considering delaying their decision until their child reaches compulsory school age. They face having to educate her at home alongside her attending a private forest school to allow her to socialise outdoors if there is no HEPA filter in the primary school.
There is one thing that many parents from this group share: they are already being fined for their child being out of school because currently schools have the right to ignore professional medical advice or the advice of other experts such as social workers. This is because the statutory guidance for schools on pupils with medical conditions has been diluted away from its original intentions. It cannot be right for parents to be fined if their child’s safety or needs are not being met in school and where an expert says that, until their safety is assured or their needs are met, the school should make alternative provision for them. Parents are being fined now despite their children being ill. Clauses 48 and 49 will make this much worse, especially if Ministers, local authorities and head teachers are able to decide what is and is not medical, contradicting the advice of professional doctors.
There is a way to remedy all this. Section 100 of the Children and Families Act says:
“The appropriate authority for a school to which this section applies must make arrangements for supporting pupils at the school with medical conditions … In meeting the duty in subsection (1) the appropriate authority must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”
The statutory guidance published in 2014 after the Secretary of State worked with schools, parents, medical charities and Peers, including myself, stated clearly:
“The aim is to ensure that all children with medical conditions, in terms of both physical and mental health, are properly supported in school so that they can play a full and active role in school life, remain healthy and achieve their academic potential.”
It further said:
“Governing bodies should ensure that the school’s policy is explicit about what practice is not acceptable”,
including ignoring “medical evidence or opinion” and penalising
“children for their attendance record if their absences are related to their medical condition.”
That guidance also states how schools, local authorities, doctors, parents and the children themselves should together create a healthcare plan for these children that sets out how best the child’s medical needs can be met. As I have said at earlier stages of this Bill, unfortunately this statutory guidance was changed in 2017, with no consultation with medical charities or parents, to remove the statutory elements about schools having to work with, and not ignore, medical advice.
Page five of the new guidance talks about schools having to follow the duty under the Equality Act for disabled children, but not all children with medical conditions are classified as disabled. Worse, some of the excellent parts of the previous version are now reduced in strength to being merely “further advice”, including working with medical practitioners who know the child.
At the webinar on Friday, I heard about a six year-old child with type 1 insulin-dependent and complex diabetes, ASD, sensory processing disorder, Pica, communication difficulties, severe anxieties and more who has not yet attended school. Nursery consisted of one and a half hours per day and was very inconsistent. Nursery staff were said to be trained in diabetes, but mum was called on a daily basis to check her son’s dropping levels. The family recently attended a SEND tribunal. The tribunal judge found that a SEN school with no medically trained staff or qualified nurse on site can meet need against parental choice of a non-maintained special school. The problem is that the tribunal decision was made of the grounds of the best use of resources, even though the parents argued, “How on earth can you put a price on his life?” The actual effect of that decision is that it is dangerous for the child to be left in school without experienced staff who understand the child’s diabetes properly. I have laid my amendment to make sure that we go back to a previous version, where medical advice is followed for these children.
My Lords, I am speaking in place of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who was at a meeting at the DfE. As he arrived late, he did not want to be accused of not being part of the debate. He was talking about dyslexia at that meeting. I would rather hear from him than me, but I will just say a few words.
First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his very important amendment. I want to understand a bit more about the usage of language in respect of that. He gave some examples, but he did not give any real steer on the language we should use. Maybe that is something we could have between now and Report. I am conscious that special educational needs will loom large over the next few months in any case.
I was at a meeting at lunchtime hearing from families of children in alternative provision. These are children and young people who have been permanently excluded from school. The fact that linked them all was that they all had special educational needs. Had those needs been identified at a very early stage and provision made, maybe the problem of exclusion from school would not be as great as it currently is.
If we look right across the board in terms of disabilities and special needs, we see that it is almost a postcode lottery; it depends on where you are. Some local authorities are very proficient at responding quickly in providing to education, health and care plans. Often, it is those local authorities that are well resourced. With other local authorities, it is almost passing the buck. They are not resourced; the money is not there, so delay upon delay occurs. That should not be the way it operates. We know that these young people need the best possible support we can give.
It is concerning that in some of the key provision that is required—whether for the deaf, where there has been a 17% reduction in teachers of deaf children, or for visually impaired young people—there are huge shortages. There is a shortage of speech therapists. For young people who are visually impaired and might need some speech therapy support but who do not get an education, health and care plan for that, the resource is not available because it is supporting those young people who are on a plan. Right across the board, there is a huge shortage of support and that must be changed as soon as possible.
My noble friend Lady Brinton made many important points. My first ever amendment, which I was quite petrified of moving, was during the passage of the Children and Families Act. I moved the amendment that she referred to, which gave a duty of care to schools to ensure that children and young people had the medication they required in school. Prior to that, a school could refuse a child if they were carrying medicine that they needed. It just seemed plain daft that schools would not give the medication within the school. My noble friend says in her amendment—and I would like to understand it a little more—that there should be a doctor’s note as well. That makes sense, but I do not want to think that it would delay the learning and schooling of young people. These amendments are really important, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
I looked at these amendments and what struck me is that there did not seem to be an awful lot of trust in the Government on this area. I think we are all very worried about this because we have all spoken to families. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on her speech, which was quite a difficult listen. The cases she described were harrowing in the extreme. However, reflecting on the conversations I know many of us here have had over the years with parents in not completely dissimilar situations, we recognise that sense of desperation. Reluctantly removing your child from school because you feel their needs are not being met is such a big thing to have to do as a parent. It should trouble us all that families are put in this situation.
It gets to a pretty fundamental issue about who is entitled to support, how much they get, what it is used for and how it varies so wildly across the country. We are obviously used to locally determined provision on various things, but this seems to be so fundamental to a child’s well-being that it should not be dependent to the extent that it is on where you happen to live.
When I looked further into this, I came across a report from the House of Commons Library, which explained that in January 2007 there were 1.6 million children with special educational needs in England, which grew to 1.7 million in 2010 before declining and reaching its lowest level of 1.2 million in 2016. This fluctuation suggests that something is going on here that is about not just the child’s need but assessment, local availability of support or some other change of approach. Clearly, we want children to be supported appropriately and consistently.
It would have been helpful to have had the benefit of the SEND review ahead of this Bill, because there is very little in the Bill on this. Amanda Spielman has said that the 2014 SEND reforms, which were some years ago now,
“had the right aspirations, but did not have the intended impact because insufficient attention was given to their implementation.”
She was absolutely right about that because, according to the National Audit Office, between 2014 and 2018—so after the last set of reforms—
“the Department increased high-needs block funding by £349 million (7.2%) in real terms. This rise was larger than the 2.3% real-terms increase in schools block funding for mainstream schools, meaning that the Department has shifted the balance of funding towards high needs. However, because of a 10.0% rise in the number of pupils in special schools and those with EHC plans in mainstream schools, high-needs funding per pupil fell by 2.6% in real terms”
over that period, after the last review. The NAO’s report continues:
“Per-pupil funding in the schools block also reduced over the same period, despite a £754 million real-terms increase in total funding”.
We are very concerned that this new review does not fail on its implementation in the way Amanda Spielman says the last one did—I know many people would agree with her. We wonder whether we will look back when we get the SEND review and think, “My goodness, if only there was a Bill coming before us.” It is not too late for the Government to set out the concrete steps they might want to take to get this provision right. To be positive with the Minister, we would very much welcome government amendments on this on Report or when the Bill enters the other place. These children are often our most vulnerable. They need our support as soon as possible. It is a shame that we are not getting the benefit of the consideration that will take place as part of the review before the Bill reaches Report.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to discuss further issues related to SEND on this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said, some of the individual examples and stories were quite harrowing. It is an issue that the Government take very seriously and, through the process of the SEND Green Paper, are committed to improving. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, my noble friend Lord Holmes and others that this Government are just as ambitious for children and young people with SEND as for every other child and young person.
Amendment 97 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, highlights the importance of local authorities providing specialist educational support services for children and young people with sensory impairments, and there being sufficient funding to do so. As we have heard, local authorities have existing duties to ensure that appropriate support is available to meet their needs. To enable them to do this, they have flexibility on how they use high-needs funding, including to support those with sensory impairments. The budget has increased by £1 billion this year to a total of £9.1 billion. In a number of contributions, we heard about the pressures on the high-needs budget. This is something that the Government acknowledge and have tried to take action to improve. We have seen unprecedented increases in high needs funding. The SEND and alternative provision Green Paper proposals for changes are also intended to establish an improved system that is financially sustainable, as well as securing better outcomes for children and young people. We are really clear on the need to do that.
Within the current system, Ofsted and the CQC report that some areas, such as Barnsley and Hounslow, are highly successful in offering good provision for children and young people with sensory impairments. We want to spread good practice such as this to all areas and, as several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Storey, referred to, remove the postcode lottery that can be associated with special needs. That is why we are consulting on introducing national SEND standards as part of our Green Paper.
Amendment 99 from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, proposes a new requirement that all local authority “children not in school” registers must include information about any special educational need or disability that child may have. I know that we will speak in much more detail later in Committee about those registers, but I assure noble Lords that we plan to legislate via regulation to require local authorities to record information about any special educational needs and disabilities a child may have within their register.
Turning to the amendments from my noble friend Lord Holmes, Amendment 163 seeks clarity on the Government’s plan to improve outcomes for pupils with SEND and report on those pupils’ attainment in key examinations. The Government have plans to reduce the attainment gap and improve the SEND system in, as I said, both the SEND and alternative provision Green Paper and the schools White Paper. Taken together, these papers contain ambitious proposals to improve outcomes. Regarding my noble friend’s point on data, the Government already publish information on the attainment levels of children and young people with SEN.
I share my noble friend’s view, set out in Amendment 164, of the importance of ensuring that all students eligible for disabled students’ allowance are made aware of it. That is why existing legislation already requires local authorities to publish information about disabled students’ allowance in their local offer, which must be accessible to all those with SEND and their families. In addition, the Student Loans Company provides information about student finance to schools and colleges, actively engages with higher education providers about student finance, including disabled students’ allowance, and supports higher education institutions to publicise it through events.
On Amendment 165, on every child having access to the support they need and the role that the right documentation can play in this, which the Government would acknowledge, children and young people who require them will receive EHC plans, which are statutory documents describing their needs, and the educational, health and social care provision required to meet those needs. Mainstream schools may, when complying with their existing statutory requirement to deploy their “best endeavours” to secure special educational provision for children and young people with SEN, use appropriate documentation to do so.
Finally, my noble friend’s Amendment 166 would require the department to consult academics, including those who subscribe to the social model of disability. I assure him that one of the key principles underpinning the SEND system is the social model of disability. Where a child or young person needs additional support to access education, their educational setting must put in place appropriate support. The nature of that support is not contingent on any particular diagnosis.
Finally, Amendment 171V in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would require schools to follow medical advice provided by a pupil’s doctor. I assure the noble Baroness that the Government are committed to supporting pupils with medical conditions at school. That is why we already set expectations that schools consider the advice of healthcare professionals.
The department’s statutory guidance on supporting pupils with medical conditions at school is clear that school staff, healthcare professionals and parents should work together to agree the support that a child needs in school to effectively manage their condition and take the best approach. That includes fully considering the advice of healthcare professionals, including doctors. It might be valuable, if the noble Baroness is amenable, to have a meeting to discuss some of the specific examples that she has raised. We believe the position in the guidance is quite clear that the needs of these children must be met, and it would be useful to talk through some of the specifics where the noble Baroness thinks that might not be happening.
As all noble Lords have said, the amendments in this group highlight the importance of supporting children and young people with SEND or additional health needs to thrive, but we know that many parts of the SEND system are not working as well as they should. That is why we set out in the recent SEND and alternative provision Green Paper ambitious proposals to improve the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND. They include a proposal to legislate for national standards for SEND and alternative provision. Such standards would make provision, processes and systems consistent across the country, which is a theme that we have heard. We encourage everyone to reflect on and respond to the consultation, which is open until 22 July.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, that I do not think the timescales for that piece of work align with our ability to amend this piece of legislation with it, but it is our intention to bring forward legislation to provide for the proposals in the Green Paper. In the meantime there are other proposals that we might come on to, such as the children not in schools register, which have been subject to extensive consultation and work, that we want to take forward while also taking forward the work on the Green Paper in the appropriate way.
The Government completely accept the importance of these issues and the desire to improve outcomes for these children and consistency across the country. That is what I hope the proposals that we have set out will do. For now, I hope the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and useful debate. For me, the report by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, was very telling. As he said, taking his report and the amendments together would be very empowering for young people with SEN and disabilities. The Minister responded to each of the amendments and that is encouraging, but I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, hopes the Government will go further. I hope there can be further discussions.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her support. Like my noble friend Lady Chapman, I found her speech moving and instructive. I am afraid that experience is all too common. I am sure all of us have experienced discussions with parents who have real problems when their children have illnesses and the school is not able to respond in the necessary way. As I have mentioned before, I think that, in the new arrangements in the health service—the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, will know about the integrated care partnerships—there must be an opportunity for the health service and schools within health ICS boundaries to talk together about how some of this can be resolved.
I noted what the Minister said about statutory guidance. She will know that the problem is that it is not working in some areas—the noble Lord, Lord Storey, talked about inconsistencies—so I am sure that her offer of a meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be very welcome.
I turn to my amendments. I am struck by the poor outcomes for deaf people. Some 55% to 58% of deaf people are in employment, compared with 81% of non-disabled people. More generally, disabled people experience higher rates of unemployment and economic inactivity. I am convinced that part of the issue lies with schools and the need for more support of them. The Minister said on my Amendment 97 that local authorities are required to provide specialist support, but they are flexible on funding and, unfortunately, over the last few years that flexibility has not worked in deaf children’s favour.
I note what the Minister said about the school register on Amendment 99. That is very welcome, and I thank her for that assurance.
My noble friend Lady Chapman ended by saying she thought the Government could table amendments later on to meet some of these points and respond after the Green Paper. The Minister said that that was not possible, but I still think there are great opportunities to pause the Bill to allow her time to do so, and I hope the Government will think again about that. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 97 withdrawn.
Clauses 46 and 47 agreed.
Amendment 97ZA not moved.
Clause 48: Registration
97A: Clause 48, page 40, line 34, after the second “is” insert “mainly or wholly resident”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is to enable the meaning of “is” in this context to be clarified.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 97A I shall speak also to the other amendments in my name in this group.
The substantive amendments in the group concern the completeness of the register. I personally see no justification whatever for the register targeting only people who are home educating. To my mind, the point of the register should be that we know what is happening to every child in this country. We should be able to track their progress through education, know what it has been, see the outcomes, understand what is going on and, through that process, improve our education system and make sure that every child benefits from our determination that they should have the opportunity of education.
Amendment 101B asks that we specifically identify those who are electively home educating so that we can know exactly which children come under that category—we do not want it cluttered up by people who have been off-rolled by schools into the care of parents who are clearly not up to home educating; this should be a definite decision—and understand how support for those parents and children in different local authorities, because it is very different between local authorities, results in the outcomes that it does. Then we can get a good picture of the benefits of, and concerns that we might reasonably have about, home education, rather than the darkness which is all that confronts us at present. Anyone who has been involved in home education will have a fistful of wonderful examples of parents who have made a great success of children who have been abandoned by the state, but is that the universal picture? None of us knows, but most of us suspect not. Home educators know that there are some parents who do not make a success of it.
We really need to know what is going on with all our children, so to my mind there is no justification for not putting on a register people who are not being electively home educated but who are not registered for full-time attendance at school. We should know who these children are, why they are not at school and what is being done to support them. The first thing the register should do is identify the home educators and, specifically, those who are not electively home educated and who therefore should be in the direct care of the local authority, and to pin a duty on the local authority as to why they are not in school and what is being done about it.
That is echoed in my suggestion that we should not grant local authorities an exemption for Section 19 children. To my mind, that is a disgraceful dustbin that is used by local authorities to deal with difficult children and put them out of mind. We should be focusing on them. We should know exactly who they are, where they are and what is being done about them. All that information should be easily accessible so that we can hold local authorities to account. It is really important that children who are difficult to educate should be educated well; they will only cause us much greater difficulties later on if we do not do so. We should not allow local authorities this escape hatch. We as a Government, and as people who hold the Government to account, should be able to see clearly what is going on with children who come under Section 19.
We should also have a very clear picture of what is happening in independent schools. If you try to track a child through education at the moment and they switch from state to independent, they go into a black hole: they are no longer in the national pupil database. They reappear when they take GCSEs or A-levels, but otherwise they are gone. Why? We should know what is happening; we should be able to judge the progress these children are making. We should be able to see how they are being educated and what pattern of education our children are going through. It is really important to have the data on which to base decisions about our education system.
We should have a universal pupil number that applies to every child, and we should know where every child with a UPN is; they should not be able to disappear off the system. That a child with a UPN does not appear on the register should be a cause for immediate concern; someone should be looking for them and finding out what is happening to them. At the moment, there are so many holes in the register we just cannot see. My plea in Amendments 101B, 122B, 130B and 132A, and 97E in the next group, is that the register should be complete and that this completeness should be used to make sure we know exactly what is happening by way of education to every child in the UK on at least an annual basis.
There are three small amendments in this group. On Amendment 97A, the phrase used in the Bill is that
“the child is in the authority’s area.”
Does that apply when they are on holiday? What is being “in the authority’s area”? How does this apply to Travellers’ children? What is the meaning of that phrase as it is at the moment—where is it established?
On Amendment 97B, the current wording rather sounds as if permission is needed to take a child out of school to home educate. I know that is not the case, but I just want to query the wording used in that clause.
Amendment 97C says that this is a big change as we are suddenly requiring a lot of people who have not had to register their children previously to register them now. We ought to provide them with information, support and plenty of time to get up to speed with what they need to do. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is contributing remotely.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right that we need to know about all children, whether in school or not. In this part of the Bill, the problem is the focus on a one-size-fits-all approach that is all about truants or bad children, when we have already heard about the complexity of the difficulties that many of these children are facing—often, but not only, SEND.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about a unique pupil number. We had the same debate during the passage of the Health and Care Act about a unique child identifying number, and an amendment was passed. As a result of that, there are certainly discussions going on with the DfE to have a unique children’s number because often, for the most vulnerable children, the information is not shared between different departments—health and education are the two obvious ones, but there are others as well. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response.
This group moves us on to some of the detail about how the register of children who are not in school will work, and I share many of the concerns that have already been expressed about whether this part of the Bill is ready to be enacted and whether it will actually ever really work in practice.
My Amendment 129AA picks up on the last group of amendments, where I outlined the long list of children currently being let down by schools and local authorities, many of whom are not in school for their own health reasons. I will not repeat that detail. My amendment in this group seeks to ensure not just that the local authority must have regard to the parent’s request but that it takes account of
“the advice of an independent expert familiar with the particular circumstances of the child.”
Given the focus of my remarks in the last group, noble Lords might think that we need to talk only about a doctor as the relevant expert. But, thinking about children with difficulties who are likely to end up out of school—they may be children in care; there are also young carers, who for understandable reasons may not be able to attend school for some long periods of time—the best expert to talk to the local authority about them may well be a senior social worker. It may also be the case that the youth offending team might wish to advise that a child in the criminal justice system on a community sentence might, for their own safety, not attend school for a fairly long period. It may even be that this information is confidential and, in that case, a youth offending officer would be the relevant expert.
I have signed Amendment 135 from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, too. I think there is considerable benefit in having an annual report from the Secretary of State laid before Parliament to outline the children not attending school regularly and, if our amendment in the next group, Amendment 102, is accepted, the reasons for that absence. Noble Lords have talked earlier in Committee about their concerns about the focus on the register, school attendance orders and parental fines.
The Special Educational Consortium has written to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and me to say that it supports Amendment 135 because of its concerns about the overrepresentation of children and young people with disabilities and special educational needs in the out of school figures and about the lack of focus and analysis on the reasons for children being out of school. But without information about the reason for being out of school, there is no potential for any analysis of these reasons, and without this analysis it is not possible to identify and address systematic inherent disadvantage for children and young people who share protected characteristics under the Equality Act.
There are high rates of unexplained pupil exits from school, and Ofsted has identified a rapid increase in the number of children of secondary age being educated at home. The 2019 Ofsted report found:
“As at autumn 2018, there were an estimated 58,000 children known to be educated at home, which is an increase of approximately 27% from the previous year … More children with additional needs are now being educated at home. Growing evidence suggests that, overall, a disproportionate number of children who are removed from the school roll of a secondary school and do not move to another setting have special educational needs, are from disadvantaged backgrounds or are known to social care services, or have a combination of these characteristics.”
Shockingly, Ofsted also found
“examples in our inspection evidence of schools giving parents an ultimatum—permanent exclusion or leave—or pursuing fines when a reasonable adjustment for a disability would have been more appropriate.”
It heard from one school leader who explained that vocational studies
“works for the pupils but not for the school data”.
That is absolutely appalling, and it is why the Bill needs to make sure it is absolutely clear why children are out of school, so that we can start to analyse the data and then to understand how the country and our education system can support these most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.
My Lords, this is an important set of amendments about Part 3 of the Bill, and it is our first opportunity to really debate it. It is not a part that I had time to really reflect on in my Second Reading speech. I would like to be able to set out a little bit of thinking about the right approach to home education and school attendance in that context.
I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for having done the grunt work of going through all this and putting down a swathe of amendments—I do not necessarily agree with them all, but I have put my name to some of them, and to those from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has also put in some useful amendments. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I think she made some really useful points.
First, I fundamentally support the right of parents to home educate; it is an important freedom and right. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, some of the circumstances where the parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities find that mainstream schooling does not work for their child and that special schooling and alternative provision might not be right—or might not be right for now. It is important that they have an alternative: to take responsibility themselves, as long as they are “providing a suitable education”—which I think is the phrase used in law. I also know of examples where parents have an alternative view on the values and vision set out in the national curriculum or in mainstream schooling. There are examples of really innovative, interesting practice from aggregated home schoolers who are coming together at different times of the week. Indeed, I have friends who elected to home school their daughter so that they could take off—literally—and travel and circumnavigate the globe with their child who was, I think, nine years old at the time. He is a primary school teacher and took responsibility for educating her while she went around the globe. I would hate for us to pass any kind of legislation which would criminalise someone for providing such a rich educational experience for their child. I must say that it would not be my choice to home educate; the experience of Covid meant that many parents had suddenly to educate an eight year-old or nine year-old—depending on at what point in the pandemic they were. I had to home educate only one child, and that was enough—thank you. So it would not be my choice, but I respect the rights of others who want to do it.
It also true that this right can be abused to hide children from the authorities that we ask to keep children safe. Here, I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lord Soley, whom I am glad to see in his place, and others in this House and the other House who have been working to bring in a requirement for parents to register their children with the local authority if they are not in school. I absolutely agree with that, alongside the right to home educate. I am pleased that the Government, in this part of the Bill, are bringing that in. Indeed, it is logical that, if we are mandating parents, there are consequences for those who flout that mandation. This is why penalties are being introduced, and fines are probably right. I am concerned by feedback I have received from correspondents that the Government have not consulted with home schoolers on the monetary penalties. I know that there have been various consultations around changes to home education, registration of home education and so on, but this move to criminalise parents through the use of the single justice procedure—given the specific way in which that works—is causing some significant concern which I ask the Minister to look at.
Of course, most local authorities already operate a register, so this ought to be an incremental measure that could be introduced without too much controversy. Sadly, however, that is not the case; huge concern has arisen, and these amendments allow us to debate some of them. Indeed—surprise, surprise—it feels a little bit like the Government have rushed to take overweening powers in this Bill—as with other parts of the Bill—rather than think it through and win the argument on the detail of how they want to implement it. There is a concern that much of this has been written with a mindset that all parents who choose not to send their children to school are colluding in some kind of truancy—and that is informing quite a lot of the concern we need to explore.
I understand some of the concern. When I read new Section 436C(1)(c)—
“details of the means by which the child is being educated”—
I thought that was maybe okay. I could see some over-intrusion in it. I know of examples of people providing services to home schoolers, among others, who have had Ofsted inspectors using powers of entry and filming themselves entering premises in a way that even the police are not allowed to do. There are examples of people using their powers in ways that are over the top. However, when I read new Section 436C(1)(d)—“any other information” as required—the alarm bells then ring about taking on excessive powers, and I understand why parents worry. I remember, for example, the case in 2009 of the local authority in Poole, not far from the South Dorset constituency I used to represent, using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to implement surveillance on some parents who were living in an area in order to be within the school catchment area of the Lilliput school, which is very popular in Poole. In the end, that was thrown out as an unreasonable use of RIPA powers by that local authority. I also read the Square Peg briefing that was helpfully supplied, and of the anger that some parents feel towards local authorities about the way they are already being dealt with—before these powers are even brought in.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right to want to define what data is collected in the register, and some of that comes up in the next group. I am slightly concerned by his comments about tracking and how that feels. I do not self-identify as an overly libertarian sort of politician, but it raised some concerns about tracking individual children. If he is talking about aggregation and anonymisation in the context of tracking so that we understand the general trends, I feel somewhat calmer about some of the privacy concerns around children’s data that might flow from where he was going. I was very happy to add my name to Amendment 97A on the main address; it is important to establish the principal address, rather than penalising people when they are on holiday—as the noble Lord said.
In the next group, we have Amendment 97D, where my noble friend Lady Whitaker and I question why we would not add gender and ethnicity to the data collection. It is important, as in Amendment 101B, that we should establish the reason for not being registered in school, and specifically to identify home education, and people electing to home educate, so that it is properly acknowledged and that a proportionate response from the local authority, and a proportionate relationship between it and the parent, follow. It is also right that these regulations—particularly if they remain as wide-ranging as “any other information” as required—should be brought in by the affirmative procedure. My noble friend Lord Hunt was not able to stay to speak to his Amendments 131 and 132, but I have signed my name to Amendment 131 and support Amendment 132, which would give Parliament more oversight over the regulations.
This data collection should then be the basis of some kind of annual check by the local authority; it should be able to see the child to fulfil its child safety duties, but in a reasonable and proportionate way that respects the right of parents to home educate their children. I had a very interesting conversation with Professor Eileen Munro of the London School of Economics, who is opposed to any of these measures. She made a really important point that, if we had properly funded child social care workers who could go around and do the human business of working with the children in their area, things would be a lot easier, and it would take a lot of the heat out of this debate. At the moment, the worry is that this is all going to be done by algorithms, registration and data collection—an inhuman approach. I also put it to your Lordships that this whole regime will become easier as and when local authorities are no longer providers of schools. That is because if they are no longer running schools and we get to a position where all schools are academies—as is the policy direction of travel—they no longer have a vested interest in the funding that goes with getting pupils into school; they can become a more independent advocate for children and families. I think that being their voice first and foremost—unfettered by any of those other interests—could make a difference to this regime.
My Amendment 97BA in this group questions the need to double register pupils. New Section 436B(5)(b) at the top of page 41 concerns children already registered as pupils at a relevant school, and then opens up powers for them to also be required to be registered with the local authority. I would just like to know why that is, because schools, although they might not do it very well sometimes, should have responsibility for the safeguarding and education of all pupils who are registered with them, even if they have—to use a pejorative term—parked them in alternative provision. If they are registered with the school, it should know where they are, and it should have a responsibility towards their well-being. I do not really understand why those children then need also to be subsequently registered with a local authority. That then raises the question of how parents with children they know are registered in a school will know when they are suddenly mandated to register them with a local authority. What is the trigger? Of course, if they get that wrong, they are subject to a criminal penalty and a criminal record. That is a serious part of the regime we are debating.
I ask the Minister to reflect on this regime she is bringing in. I am pleased to see that she has ministerial responsibility for home education, so I am not just talking to the person responsible for taking the Bill through—this is also in her policy brief. I remember as a Minister that you would make the basic, principled decision about the policy and then have to trust officials to draft the legislation accordingly. I know that she is a listening Minister. I hope that, as part of her reflections on how regulation is being used generally in the Bill, she can include whether regulation is being used too liberally and whether the Secretary of State is taking on too many powers, which in the end they would pass on to local authorities, some of whom—a minority—might use them in a draconian fashion.
If I may come in at this stage, I first thank the Government for putting in this Bill my original Private Member’s Bill, as they said they would. It was brought before this House in 2017—a mere five years ago—and went through with support on all sides and the key bit of it, of course, was to create a register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, for this, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, the first Minister I dealt with, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, who also understood my argument and supported it. I also thank the clerk to the House who helped me draft it in the first instance, even though I have forgotten some of the things they drafted. It was well drafted and I was pleased about that. I see that most of it is in the Bill, which is great. I also thank my noble friends Lady Morris and Lord Knight, who have been very supportive on this, and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who came up to me the other day and said, “Clive, you’ve won”. I thought that was some sort of accolade. I am not sure I have won yet—I want to see the Bill on the statute book before I leave this place. That is what I am after.
I have just a couple of points. I will want to return to this issue, probably on Amendment 112A in my noble friend’s name, because there is the question about the appeal process which we need to look at. I will perhaps speak on that when we come to that amendment. On this group, the important point, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made very well, is that there is a right to home educate. I have never had any doubt about that; I have supported it fully, and that right is clear. Again, the fact that this is in the Bill is one of its positives. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was keen on that too. I want to make clear that it is very important that we see this as a supportive measure, not a punitive one—supportive of parents who are home educating either by choice or because of necessity.
One of the things I learned in promoting my Bill back in 2017 and 2018, when I consulted very widely—with remote meetings on Zoom and other things, meetings in this House and individual meetings with people who are home educating—is that I would put home educators broadly into three, very rough groups. There are a group who do it extremely well, are very keen on doing it and, frankly, are likely to give their children a better education than you get almost anywhere else. Then there are probably the biggest group, who are doing it either because they want to try it out and see if they can do it or—this is very common—because they have special problems of one type or another. They are not necessarily the child’s problem; it may be a problem with the school or the local authority, which parents feel, rightly or wrongly, cannot deliver the education they think their child needs. They are a very big group. Then there are this thankfully very small, but profoundly worrying, group who do it for all the wrong reasons. One reason might be radicalisation. I want to emphasise here that it is not just Islam, which people tend to think of; I have been given examples in the Christian and Jewish faiths of unreasonable behaviour or radicalisation. We perhaps need to remember something I have said to people a number of times about religion: God is an idea, and there either is or is not one, but religion is more like an ideology. Of course, with ideology, people have different interpretations. As I say, in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, I have seen examples of abuse and radicalisation. It is important that we look at it in that way and not just at one particular religious group.
In the course of that consultation, I had other letters which were very deeply moving. I remember one man who wrote to me, who I think was in his 30s or 40s. He said, “I don’t want to criticise my parents. They home educated me and they really meant well, but it meant I never mixed with other children and I ended up profoundly lonely. I’m still a very shy person and I find it difficult to hold down jobs and mix in company.” There are all sorts of things to consider, and that is why I say the provisions on home education have to be supportive in a way. If the parents are trying to do it well but are missing out on certain opportunities that might be available, it is the child who loses as well. The support aspect of this, which we might spend more time on later, is very important. One thing that education authorities have to be much better at is finding out what level of support the parent and the child need and providing that. It might be some of the obvious things, such as support in more complex subjects such as physics or maths, but it might also be simply having a way for the child to mix with others who are learning and dealing with the problems of isolation and loneliness.
However, in that more extreme group, there are people who sadly take the child out of school for abuse reasons, either sexual or physical. The Minister will know that a couple of children have been starved to death under the guise of home education, and that the parents are not necessarily caught until it is too late. The views of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on this are well worth listening to, having chaired the Climbié report and others. We might well come back to this when we touch on Amendment 112A, but it is important to remember that there will be examples where the parents try to deny the education authority access to the child, yet if it does not have access to the child it not only cannot tell how much education is being delivered to enable the child to survive in modern society—basics such as reading, writing, arithmetic and so on—but cannot tell whether the child is physically well. I do not in any way want to imply that this is a social welfare measure. It is not; it is an education measure. But just as in health, where we make sure that parents of newborn children can be seen to ensure that the child is developing properly, in education this role for the local authority is essential in modern society. The local authority needs to be able to make sure that the child is getting their education. Some of the examples I had were particularly tragic; the child was being abused, radicalised, used virtually for slave labour, or in some cases trafficked. It is for that reason that we need this register.
I got quite a few strong criticisms from people who felt I was being unnecessarily authoritarian by insisting on a register, but I ask those people to understand that there is a balance between the rights of the child and the rights of the parent. At the end of the day, the rights of the child should always triumph. The parent who insists that the local authority is somehow or other abusing its powers if it asks to see how the child’s education is progressing is missing the point about the welfare of the child. That is extremely important. I do not wish to say much more on this at this point.
I agree with the point made by my noble friend Lord Knight and with quite a few made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as well. However, before I speak again, on Amendment 112A, I emphasise on this group: please can we make sure that this is done as a supportive measure—supportive of the children and of the parent—to make sure that the child is getting a good education and is properly able to develop while enabling those parents, many of whom want to do this well but who struggle to do it as well as they can? One of the other ways they need help is that if you have three or four home-educated children sitting exams, it is an expensive business, whereas if we could bring them into a system where they were able to sit exams under local authority procedures, or whatever, the costs for those families who are not so well off would not be such a major factor.
The Minister will be grateful for a few thanks here, but thanks go to the Government for bringing this in. I will not go away until I have seen it on the statute book so I will stick around for a bit, but after that I will be glad to say that this was a good bit of legislation with regard to home educators—and a necessary bit that we should have done long ago.
I end by saying that one of the reasons I have some knowledge of this is nothing to do with my knowledge of education generally, which, frankly, is very poor. However, many years ago, before I came into the House of Commons, I was a probation officer, and one of the things I learned was that if you took a child out of school you could hide abuse. When you have seen cigarette burns on a child, you know that this is a serious matter.
My Lords, I rise with some trepidation because schools and education are not my areas, and when I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lords, Lord Soley and Lord Knight, saying something and I do not quite agree, I pause. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on getting something close to his original Bill through. I hope I have the same success with my clean air Bill, which will come up in July. It is good to see such a broad coalition of Peers with concerns about this part of the Bill on the so-called children not in school register, who are bringing so many amendments to this part of the Bill.
I disagree slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Soley; no, in fact I probably do not. He talked about the three groups, but part of the problem is that the Government are trying to fix all three with one piece of legislation, and they are extremely different. We should be trying to find children who will receive no education or a dangerously poor education. However, the net is cast far too wide and it risks trapping many home-educating families within a web of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. I am standing up to speak on this only because some of my grandchildren were home educated and it has served them extremely well, so I feel that I have a voice in this.
A great many families are worried about this prospect in the Bill, and I am sure that they have contacted many noble Lords about their concerns. Some concerns are fairly simple, such as the time limits being too short and the registration requirements being unclear. However, others are much deeper, such as the breadth of discretion granted to local authorities to decide whether a child is receiving an adequate home education or should be subjected to a school attendance order. If the Government’s intention is to extend the grasp of the state into the lives of home-educating families, they should be explicit about it, but so far the Government justify this policy as being about helping children who are not receiving any education. If that really is the policy intent, there must be a better way of legislating for it than this bureaucratic mess.
I am sorry—I should have thanked the Minister for meeting me and two concerned people. I have not seen any letters in return but I am sure that they are winging their way.
It does not make sense to foist these powers and duties on to local authorities when the rest of the Government’s education policy is so focused on removing powers and duties from local authorities. Far from perhaps giving them more time to do this work, in fact it might mean that they lose those skills because they are not involved any more. Schools are becoming academies to supposedly free them from the bureaucracy of local authority control, but home-schooling families are having their freedom constrained by bringing them under local authority control. It does not add up. I would like to hear from the Minister about how this will have some sort of coherence.
The finances will not add up either. Ever-stretched local authorities are being lumbered with new duties but no new funding. They already struggle to provide their statutory special education and disability functions, and adding a whole new layer of registering, investigating and prosecuting home-educating families will give a lot of opportunities for grievance and mistakes.
All these factors feed into my Amendment 172, which would require the Government to review their home-education policy and consider what less intrusive measures would achieve it. This legislation is clearly the wrong way to do it. I do not really understand why the Government are trying to bring these measures in when they have not done their homework.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on his work in the area of home education. I would have thought that the duty of society is to ensure that its children and young people are educated or have the opportunities to be educated, and that we keep them as safe as we possibly can. I will be disappointed if anyone disagrees with that. Yet, in our desire to have everybody educated, we have arrived at a situation where, if you ask any Government, “How many children are missing from school?”, they would not be able to tell us. They would not know the number of children who are not in school. How is it that we as a society are trying to ensure that every child is educated and safeguarded?
We have unregistered schools, and over the years we have tried to discourage them and to close them down. We have had some success—I pay tribute to the Government in that regard. If you hear the stories of some of the pupils in those unregistered schools—a boy who was locked in a cupboard because he admitted that he was gay, for example—you would be absolutely horrified. This has gone on in some radical religious schools, and it is just not acceptable. We have had our hands tied behind our backs and have not been able to do anything about it.
Because of the fear of getting a poor Ofsted or poor examination results, our maintained sector has off-rolled children—it has taken children off the registers at a stroke. If you tried to find out where those children had gone, you would not know. Then we have home education. Home educators do an absolutely fantastic job and I praise them for the work they do. I remember that during the passage of the Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, I met a number of home educators and I was just so impressed. For example, did noble Lords know that in the London area they have an annual weekend camp of all home educators and get specialists in to come and talk to those children and young people? It is fantastic.
But there are some very poor home educators as well, and some situations where children are not being safeguarded. It may be that a parent cannot adequately cope with a situation, so they take the child out of school and say that they are going to be home educated—and that is not happening at all. They are just being left at home, maybe in front of the television, if they have one. That is just not acceptable. We cannot allow that to happen in the 21st-century UK.
Noble Lords will all have received a very good campaign from some sectors of the home education lobby. I have also received some different emails, so let me try to balance that a little. One says: “Home educating parents are having views put forward by a small minority that they do not agree with. Most home educators are too busy home educating children and are not concerned with the proposals that are being made”. Here is another one: “I would like the people who will be making the decisions related to the Schools Bill to be aware of this handful of people who appear to speak for the majority of home educating parents … They encourage an aggressive stance towards local authorities, advise parents against face-to-face contact and encourage them to write reports instead”—and it just goes on.
The fear that has been put into genuine home educators is frightening. I am happy to share these emails with the Minister so that we can see the other side of what has been going on. I will not read any more of them but it is not a very good situation to be in, so what are we going to do about it? Are we just going to leave it as it currently is? No—we cannot go on like this.
We need to ensure that we know where every pupil is. That is why the sorts of measures we have heard about on registration are important. That is why it is important to close down unregistered schools. By the way, one of the ways in which unregistered schools get around being closed down is suddenly to transform themselves into home educators as well. That is what happens, so we need to tackle unregistered schools as well. There is a third issue that we have talked about, and I think we have dealt with it: the off-rolling of pupils must not continue.
I congratulate the Government on having the integrity to grasp this difficult situation. Some of the issues that we have heard about perhaps need to be thought through a little more carefully between Committee and Report, given how they relate to each other. Some of the amendments bring a bit of realism to this issue, but I thank the Minister for, at long last, tackling what has been an appalling situation.
This has been an interesting debate and I suppose I am a bit nervous about speaking, inasmuch as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, assures us that he sees this register, in his work, as supportive and not punitive for home schoolers. But if that is the intention they have not got the message, because there is great concern at the moment. In the previous contribution, the noble Lord said that not all the emails that one receives represent all home schoolers. That is true, but there is sufficient anxiety created by the Bill that it would be wrong for the Government not to take note of it.
Personally, I am with Professor Eileen Munro, who has been raised already. I am opposed to a large amount of Part 3 but, in trying to intervene more specifically on this section of amendments, it is important to keep stressing the key point that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, raised: that parents have a right to home education. They do not have to apologise or explain in a free society. It is not something to be ashamed of. It might be a minority pursuit and a lot of us might think it a bit quirky, but in a free society, unless the Government are changing that, it is their free right. I think they feel as though they are being told that they have to explain why they are doing it and are going to be intruded upon—and, in the course of it, are being demonised as well.
That is why I supported a lot of the qualms that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, raised. It is also why I support Amendment 172 in this group from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, as a review of home education would at least give us an opportunity to look at it in the round a bit more. It feels as though there might be some dangerous unintended consequences here.
I am afraid that, despite the assurances of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, his first and second groups feel as though they are being punished for fears that are concentrated on the third group, as it were. He described one part of that small group who might not be in schools as being radicalised. We had some images and we all know what we are talking about in terms of madrassas and fundamentalists of Christian, Jewish or Islamic faiths, which is no reflection on those faiths per se. But there is a danger here that this small group is then used to attack the reputations of everybody else.
Even in relation to those groups, we have to be careful about using the term “religious fundamentalist” as a dismissive and dangerous model as well. As an atheist, I happen to stand for religious freedom. We have to be careful that we do not just dismiss that. It is also the case that “fundamentalism” is used promiscuously these days to describe people with a different set of values or ideology, whether religious, political or philosophical. They are the kinds of things that I am concerned about.
My greatest fear, which I talked about in my Second Reading speech, is of an unintended slur: that this is all about safeguarding and the welfare of children. In some of the contributions so far, we have gone from loneliness to physical abuse and cigarette burns, and the idea that there are children being kept at home so that they can be abused and will not be seen by social services. We have to be careful not to simply make safeguarding a matter of the children who are not in school, because many children who are in school and in plain sight are missed by social services and the authorities in terms of their abuse. This seems to be the greater problem.
There is an irony that some children are being withdrawn from schools precisely for safeguarding reasons. The parents, for whatever reason, feel that their children are not safe in school because of bullying or particular ideas of how they are taught—things that we are familiar with. I am no fan of de-schooling. I do not like the de-schooling movement and have argued against it many times. School is a hugely vibrant and important part of socialising children and our passing over to the generations but, in a free society, we have to be careful.
Finally, while a register sounds sensible it is right that we raise concerns about data tracking and surveillance. There are those who have indicated that we cannot just allow data collection to happen without asking some questions about why it is needed and how it will be used. I know that the obsession with data collection in schools themselves—turning people into data points and often replacing actual professional judgment with data collection—drives lots of teachers mad. I do not think it necessarily always helps. I also feel that in the name of the autonomy of home education, we have to be careful that this does not become yet another centralising part of the Bill with unintended consequences.
My Lords, I will briefly come in here. My interest in home education has been based around special educational needs. It is a fact that in the past—I hope that this is decreasing—many people have not felt that their needs were met by the school system. The child, because they are having a bad time, reacts badly. We have gone through all this before. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to let us know what the Government’s vision is for supporting people who are occasionally outwith special educational needs and how the local authorities will give that support to them. How will they allow parents who are doing it to ask for that support?
I do not think that we can do this without a register. We need to make it more viable. That is something that we have to do. If we can get some indication on that, not only would it put my mind at rest, more importantly, some of the people who are worried by this would probably feel much more comfortable. If the Minister cannot answer me now, I hope the information can be put out afterwards. A group of people has done home educating for the best possible reasons, not because their child has failed or is not getting the right support. How will the local education authority—indeed the state—support them in this? That is all I want to say on this.
As my noble friend Lord Knight expressed, we support the fundamental right for home education. Interesting practice is evident in a variety of settings. However, checks and balances need to be present in the system. I echo what others have said in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Soley, who told me earlier today that he began this work in 2017.
I also echo the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about local authorities having to assume these extra responsibilities without appropriate funding, and remind the Government that local government finances are paper-thin and cannot continually absorb extra responsibilities.
Eventually, the Government have acted on concerns around the increasing number of children receiving an education outside the classroom. We have talked about them missing out on the many benefits that a school environment brings. An old education professor of mine once said that education is “caught not taught”. I eventually got to understand what that meant, because learning and socialising with other children is very important, as are safeguarding issues.
For some children, home schooling can be a positive experience. The calls for a register for all home educators, as my noble friend Lord Soley pointed out earlier, have been around for at least the last five years, to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education in a safe environment, as well as the tools and flexibilities that that register would bring to check on a child’s home schooling.
I cannot see how we can argue with the fact that these are vital safeguards in helping to ensure that children are not being taught in unsuitable or dangerous environments. We support these school register measures in general, but we also recognise, as has been discussed in the debate, that there is a need to balance the concerns of some stakeholders.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and acknowledge particularly the work of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, in making sure that the issue of children who are not in school is addressed effectively. I thank him very much for his remarks.
Before addressing your Lordships’ amendments, perhaps I might say something about the tone of the debate. It is absolutely the right of the House to challenge what the Government are doing, but, as a number of your Lordships pointed out, there are parents who are incredibly anxious about their children and the implications of these measures. The approach of the Government is as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said and as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, suggested: we are there to support parents. I wrote down terms such as “criminalisation”, “colluding”, “demonised” and “attacking”. The Government are doing none of those things. I just ask your Lordships, out of respect for the parents who listen to this debate, who are worried about their children, to be fair in the challenge that is put to the Government and not to suggest that any of those things are in the Government’s mind, because I can absolutely assure noble Lords that they are not.
Amendment 172 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, seeks to require the Government to complete a review of their policy on children not in school, considering less intrusive measures and the financial cost of implementation. We believe that this is an area that is long overdue for reform to ensure that the rights of children are upheld.
We have had many reforms to the school system over recent years but home education has not been addressed. The registers are not just about those who are being home educated. They are for all those children who are not in school full-time. I think that the noble Baroness was unfair when she suggested—my words, not hers—that this is a one-size-fits-all process. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey said, once local authorities know where children who are not in school full-time are and what kind of education they are getting, they can then focus their attention on those who are not receiving suitable home education and who are missing out in a range of different ways. It will mean that in future local authorities will know this information for all children.
It is important that it is a fundamental right of a child to have a good education, which is in their best interests. The rights of parents to choose how to educate their children are upheld by the Government, but the right of the child for their parents to operate in the child’s best interests are paramount, as set out in the law. If the noble Lord, Lord Laming, were here, I am sure that he would put that point more eloquently than I can. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, we know, not least from correspondence cases, whether from parents or teachers, that there are instances where some children who are not in school have not had a proper education.
I absolutely recognise the three groups that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, described and that is how we are approaching this. But our problem is that we do not know how widespread the situation is of children who are not getting a proper education. That is the problem that these clauses seek to address. We do not even know how many children are in home education; how many are ostensibly in home education but are not receiving a proper education; or how many are not receiving anything at all. That is not acceptable and as a nation we need a better grip on this, for the good of the children themselves and to make sure they all receive the education that is their right.
The measures in the Bill were consulted on in 2019 as part of the Children Not in School consultation, which received nearly 5,000 responses from parents, local authorities and other interested groups, so we do not believe that a further review would be beneficial. Our published response to this consultation and our policy statement outlined why the legislation is needed to promote the welfare and education of children not in school. The consultation also considered the financial implications, since we used the consultation to ask local authorities about the costs.
We know that registers are not a panacea, but they will help us to identify the children who are missing out, and the process of addressing that and getting them a proper education can then begin, while, of course, upholding the principle of choice for parents in the education that they feel is best for their child. I thank the noble Baroness for having arranged for me to meet parents the other day and I hope we can work across the House to reassure those parents who are concerned.
With Amendments 97A and 97B, my noble friend Lord Lucas raises important clarification points about eligibility for inclusion in the register, as well as parents’ ability to withdraw their children from school to home educate should they choose. I reassure my noble friend that the Bill already ensures that only those children ordinarily resident in an area would be eligible for registration within a local authority register. It remains the case that parents do not normally need the permission of the school or local authority to home educate. Agreement needs to be sought only in exceptional circumstances, such as when a school attendance order is in force.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, proposes in Amendment 97BA that no child who is registered at a school should be included on a local authority register. It is critical for the registers to include those children who are not receiving education full-time as a registered pupil. The main exception to this, which we intend to provide for in regulations, is where a registered pupil is receiving some education outside of the school, at a non-school setting but arranged by the school. In that case, the school is still responsible and accountable for the provision, but in other cases, where the provision is arranged by third parties, it is important that the children are included on the register so that the local authority can be assured that, taken together, the provision for the child adds up to a suitable full-time education. This should ensure that children do not fall through the cracks and miss education when not attending school. We will set out further exceptions in regulations so that children who are regularly absent from school for short amounts of time are not included in local authority registers.
My noble friend Lord Lucas raised valuable points with Amendment 97C around the importance of parents having sufficient notice to understand what is expected of them in relation to the registers. The Bill already includes a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out how local authorities are to maintain their registers and how they will publicise them. This will be supported by statutory guidance, setting out operational details on how they should implement their registers, which could also include guidance on assistance to parents.
Amendments 122B and 130B, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, are about the importance of ensuring that children who are entitled to receive alternative provision are within scope of the parental duty to provide information for the registers, as well as the support duty. These children will be excepted from the parental duty if they are receiving full-time education through a Section 19 arrangement, as local authorities will already have the required information available to them. Otherwise, it is important that these children should be on the register; for example, where they are in receipt of some part-time alternative provision which is supplemented by home education. The local authority will need to assure itself that, taken together, the provision for the child adds up to suitable full-time education. Similarly, local authorities have existing obligations to ensure that these children are receiving adequate support to promote their education. I hope that this reassures my noble friend that there is not an escape hatch, as he described it.
Amendment 129AA, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would require a local authority to consider any views expressed by an independent expert when considering how to respond to a request for support. It is already the case that, when taking its decisions, a local authority must consider all relevant information that is before it, including information from independent experts. Our statutory guidance will add further clarity as to what factors local authorities should take into account when discharging their duty to provide support. We will be consulting with local authorities and other interested parties, certainly including home educators, prior to the issuing of the guidance.
Amendment 132A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, would require non-maintained special schools and independent schools to provide information prescribed in regulations to the Secretary of State, and for this information to be added to the national pupil database. Existing legislation already allows for regulations requiring non-maintained special schools and independent schools to provide information to the Secretary of State, and already enables the collection of information from all non-maintained special schools. This is done via the termly pupil level school census.
Additionally, independent schools, like state-funded schools, are required to notify their local authority when new pupils are admitted, and to provide all the information that is held on their admissions register to the local authority. They are also required to notify the local authority when a pupil’s name is deleted from the admissions register and of details including information that they hold about the pupil’s current address and destination school. Therefore, local authorities already have access to the pupil-level data about those at independent schools that they need to maintain a children not in school register. Data from non-maintained special schools and from independent schools, where collected, is also already included, and made available from the national pupil database.
I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for Amendments 101B and 135, which respectively would require local authorities to record further information in their registers and to make an annual report to Parliament with an assessment based on this information. The current powers allow regulations to require local authorities to record further types of information in their registers. This could include the reasons parents choose to educate otherwise than at school, details of any persons providing some or all of the education, where this is being provided, and the proportion of time that may be being spent at particular settings. Regulations will provide flexibility to adjust information requirements over time in response to further evaluation of the registration system. I agree with my noble friend that transparency in these matters is important and, where local authorities will be required to submit data returns from their registers to my department, this data will be analysed and published.
With this, I ask my noble friend to withdraw his Amendment 97A. I ask other noble Lords not to move the amendments in their names.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for her answers to my amendment. By and large, she has answered extremely well, and I thank her for that.
I would like to press her a bit further on the business of identifying people who identify themselves as elective home education. There is a real importance in making that distinction, because elective home educators are taking responsibility for educating their children and the local authority has only a supervisory duty. If a child is not in education and is not being electively home educated, the local authority needs to take a very different kind of action. It is therefore very important that, in this register, we should differentiate between the two so that we can focus on what local authorities need to be doing. I am delighted to see my noble friend shaking her head on that.
I have been a user of the national pupil database for a very long time and, in the annual school census, I have never found information on independent schools. The pupils appear for the first time in the data when they take GCSEs—if they take GCSEs. I am puzzled by my noble friend’s response that the data is there. I will write to her, if I may, to see if we can solve that problem.
I am grateful for what my noble friend has said about Section 19. At the moment, some children under Section 19 get five hours of education a week. My understanding is that those children would have to be on the register because that would not qualify as full-time. If I am wrong about that, I would be grateful if my noble friend could let me know, because I am comforted that, where a child is not being provided with full-time education, it must get noticed, and that there are no circumstances under which five hours of education counts as full-time for the purposes of the conversation that we have just had.
I am attracted by the idea from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of a unique children’s number—a crossover between the medical and teaching professions—and getting some integration there. It really helps to know where and how children are, particularly when it comes to supporting children well. Knowing that the information is available to professionals when appropriate and required in an integrated way seems sensible. But then I am very much a data person so perhaps I am pushing further there than the noble Lord, Lord Knight, would do.
In the interests of time, I will be brief. My noble friend may be aware that the recent Health and Social Care Act commits the department to report to Parliament in the summer of 2023 on the feasibility of using a consistent child identifier. I will of course include more information on that in my letter to your Lordships.
My Lords, I am grateful for that. Perhaps we will get to the stage when there is a single identifier for a school. At least three different numbers are used by the Department for Education, as far as I know. It would be nice to have consistency. There is a fourth number, too—universities—so it all gets extremely confusing when one is trying to understand which school the data is talking about. I am all in favour of identifiable numbers. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for saying that he sees this proposal as a supportive measure. That is good and is, I hope, absolutely the basis on which we are all going forward on this.
When we come to later groups, my focus will be on: how do we make this a Bill whereby it is advantageous to be a supportive local authority and harder to be one that is not supportive? At the moment, I have big worries about the Bill making things easy for an abusive local authority, without giving any incentives to supportive local authorities. There are some wonderfully supportive local authorities. I come back to what the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said. There are local authorities that are just hymned by the home educators in their patch, who say what a wonderful experience they have had and how supported they feel, how good the relationship is and how good the authority is at picking up cases where home education is not working because everyone feels like telling the local authority about it and because they know that the parent will be treated well and the child will be looked after.
I therefore approach the rest of the discussion on this part of the Bill with optimism—but possibly after supper. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 97A withdrawn.
Amendments 97B to 97C not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.52 pm.
Industrial Action on the Railways
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Transport Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on rail strikes. We are now less than eight hours away from the biggest railway strike since 1989—a strike orchestrated by some of the best-paid union barons, representing some of the better-paid workers in the country, which will cause misery and chaos to millions of commuters.
This weekend we have seen union leaders use all the tricks in the book to confuse, to obfuscate and to mislead the public. Not only do they wish to drag the railway back to the 1970s but they are employing the tactics of bygone unions: deflecting accountability for their strikes on to others; attempting to shift the blame for action that will cause massive disruption and damage to millions of people; and claiming that others are somehow preventing an agreement to their negotiation.
But I do not think the public will be hoodwinked: the families who will be unable to visit their relations; music fans hoping to go to Glastonbury; the students unable to get to their exams—their GCSEs and A-levels; businesses just beginning to recover from Covid; and people who will miss out on medical treatment because of these strikes. That is what they are supporting. They know that this week’s rail strike—created by the unions, organised by the unions—is the full responsibility of the unions, too.
Of course, we are doing our utmost to get the unions and the rail industry to agree a way forward and call off the strikes. This is because in discussions such as this, it is always the employer and unions who need to get together and negotiate. In this case, that is the train operating companies, Network Rail and union representatives. We are not the employer and we will not undermine the process. I hear the calls of the Labour leadership opposite saying that we should somehow get involved and perhaps invite the unions for beer and sandwiches to discuss the situation. Well, we all know that the Labour leader thinks that beer and a curry is a work meeting but we will be leaving this to the employers, who are the right people to negotiate with the unions. Indeed, the unions are in daily talks with the employers—or at least they were until they walked out an hour ago to go and hold a press conference saying that the strikes would be on.
We are doing everything can, despite these strikes, to minimise the disruption throughout the entire network. We are working with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, the Government’s emergency planning team, to keep critical supply chains open wherever possible. Operators will keep as many passenger trains as possible running, although, of course, with much disruption to the timetable, that will be very difficult on strike days. It is estimated that around 20% of planned services will operate, focused on key workers, main population centres and critical freight routes. But there will be mass disruption, and we advise passengers to avoid travelling unless absolutely necessary, which, of course, for many it will be.
The National Rail Enquiries website will be kept up to date with the latest travel information to ensure that passengers can make informed decisions about their travel. Passengers are strongly advised to check before they travel and encouraged to look for alternative means of transportation if their journey is affected, including on the days between strikes.
We are looking at different options for the railways in order to maintain services amid disruption in both the medium and longer term. We can no longer tolerate a position where rail workers exercising their right to strike can do it without any regard for how the rights of others are affected. Nurses, teachers and other working people who rely upon the railway must be able to travel.
Minimum service legislation is just one part of that. Minimum service levels are a government manifesto commitment and will require train operators to run a base number of services, even in the event of future strike actions. It is a system which works well in other countries, including Belgium and France. So we will be bringing in legislation to protect the travelling public if agreement cannot be reached when major disruption, as with the strikes this week, is expected.
The rhetoric we have seen from union leaders and the Opposition Benches this weekend seems to be focused on widening the division rather than bridging the gap. The whole point of the railway reforms based on the Williams review, which engaged with unions very extensively, is to unite and modernise the industry. Just as we cannot reform the railway with obsolete technology, we cannot do it by clinging on to obsolete working practices. For example, leisure travel at weekends has huge growth potential at the moment. After Covid, people are coming back and travelling at weekends more than before. But on most of the railway, under an agreement that dates back to 1919, Sunday working is voluntary. So the industry cannot do what everyone else does—what other businesses and organisations do—and service its customers. Instead, it has to appeal for people to come and work. Sometimes that is simply unavailable, as happened with large football matches such as the Euro finals, when 170 trains were cancelled. So the industry needs to change.
Unions claim that this strike is about a pay freeze, but this is factually incorrect. We are not imposing a pay freeze. The whole point of these reforms is to build a sustainable, growing railway, where every rail worker receives a decent annual pay rise. Let me be clear: for modernisation and reform to work, we have to have unions that are prepared to modernise, otherwise there can be no deal. This strike is not about pay, but about outdated unions opposing progress—progress that will secure the railway’s future. These strikes are not only a bid to stop reforms; they are critical to the network’s future. If these reforms are not carried out, the strikes will threaten the very jobs of the people who are striking now, because they will not allow the railways to operate properly and attract back customers.
The railway is in a fight. It is in a fight for its life, not just against other forms of public and private transport but competing with Teams, Zoom and other forms of remote working. Today, many commuters who three years ago had no alternative but to travel by train have other options, including the option of not travelling at all. Rail has lost a fifth of its passengers and a fifth of its revenue.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Government have committed £16 billion of emergency taxpayer support—we all know the numbers; that is £600 for every single household in the country—so that not a single rail worker lost their job. We have invested £16 billion to keep trains running and ensure that no one at Network Rail or DFT-contracted train operating companies was furloughed. Now, as we recover and people start to travel again, the industry needs to grow its revenues. It needs to attract passengers back, and make the reforms that are necessary for it to compete. The very last thing that it should be doing now is alienating passengers and freight customers with a long and damaging strike. So my message to the workforce is straightforward: “Your union bosses have got you striking under false pretences, and rather than protecting your jobs, they are actually endangering them and the railways’ future.”
We have a platform for change. We want the unions to work with the industry and the Government to bring a much brighter future to our railways, and that means building an agile and flexible workforce, not one that strikes every time someone suggests an improvement to our railway. Strikes should be the last resort, not the first. They will stop customers choosing rail, they will put jobs at risk, they will cause misery across the country, they will hit businesses that are trying to recover from covid, and they will hurt railway workers themselves. So please, let us stop dividing the railway industry, and let us start working for a brighter future.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Secretary of State’s words, but I have to say that they did not get any better on the second time of hearing, and I listened to the Statement with increasing despair.
When such a serious dispute is going to cause huge disruption and misery across the country, there are two approaches that a Government and a Secretary of State can take. The first is that they can sit back and do nothing—except perhaps a few media interviews where they blame everyone else and take no responsibility—but that negligent approach makes it even harder to tackle the issue. There is another approach: they can recognise the responsibilities that come with being in government. They can recognise the social and economic cost of strike action and then roll up their sleeves, show some leadership and do everything they possibly can to ensure that there are urgent, meaningful discussions and official talks. That is the job that Governments are elected to do. Even now, at the 11th hour, it is possible. Some of us think it is an essential government duty to facilitate and hold last-minute talks to avert strike action that will be devastating for workers and passengers alike and damaging to an already fragile economy. I heard the noble Baroness trivialising the meetings, talking about beer and sandwiches; I do not care what they eat and drink at these meetings, as long as the meetings take place.
We all know that it is better and probably easier to prevent industrial action than to try to resolve it once the workers have gone out on strike. If these strikes go ahead, it is obvious that there is only one way they can conclude: by negotiation and discussion. Even the Government’s own MPs know that that is the case. This Secretary of State’s former PPS, Jake Berry, expressed his frustration with the Government over the weekend. Pointing out that he was a lawyer, he said:
“I can tell you that the only way out of a dispute is via negotiation.”
He called on all parties—and explicitly named the Government—to get round the table and sort it out.
Can the noble Baroness give me one example—just one will do, even if it is a very small one—where the Government have convened any discussions at all between the employers and the employees in this dispute to find a way through? Unfortunately, I suspect that she cannot. I suspect that there has been no attempt whatever, and yet surely that is a basic requirement of government. If the Minister and the Secretary of State are not prepared to get a grip and do their jobs then they should move over, because there are plenty of others on this side of the House who would be happy to ensure that there are negotiations, rise to the occasion and show some real leadership.
This is worse than just a failure of leadership. The Government have not only stepped back when they should have stepped up but they have tied the hands of those charged with resolving the situation. It has been revealed that the train operating companies have no mandate from the Government with which to negotiate, so when they do have meetings there is nothing to discuss. That information has come from a source inside the train operating companies. Then we have the Secretary of State, as partly repeated by the noble Baroness today, accusing union negotiators of leaving talks to go to a rally. When those talks ended on Friday, the understanding was that further discussions were scheduled for Sunday, after the rail bosses had engaged with the Department for Transport on what they might be able to discuss with the unions. And yet no talks were convened. Why?
When a rail manager said in a radio interview this morning that there would be no compulsory redundancies, the union’s response was that this was the first it had heard of that and how significant it would be for going forward with the negotiations, yet the Secretary of State appeared to refuse to rule out any such job losses on TV. Which is true?
It is really hard to escape the conclusion that government Ministers are content for strikes to take place as long as they are not their fault and they do not have to take any responsibility for them. I have a couple of questions for the noble Baroness.
First, could she say something about how withholding a negotiating mandate from the train operating companies means there can be any meaningful progress? Secondly, given that safety is a key issue, what assessment has been undertaken by the Government regarding the cuts to the maintenance workers? Thirdly, as I came into the Chamber I was given information about a letter written by Steve Barclay, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, to Rishi Sunak. The Government’s message has been very clear on how important it is that we have wage restraint, and they have been very clear on that in this dispute and others. But tonight, this letter reveals that the Government apparently want to remove curbs on bankers’ bonuses to attract more people into the City. On the one hand, we are telling people who are working that they must have wage restraint, so does it not seem somewhat hypocritical to say that the constraints and curbs that have been in place are to be removed in the City? I am grateful to Paul Waugh and the i newspaper for that information.
It comes back to the Government seeming to think that the rules are for other people but not them and their friends. I hope the noble Baroness can say something about this; she must realise how deeply it will affect those who do not want to go on strike and who are trying to negotiate if they find that the Government are using two sets of rules—one for those in the City on high incomes with large bonuses and another for those who are working.
No one wants to see these strikes go ahead; they will be devastating and they will hit hard. But if the Minister thinks that government means not lifting a finger other than to point the blame at others, that is not a way forward. It is a gross dereliction of duty that fails every single test of leadership. The public deserve better from this Government, who want to sit back and do nothing to try to resolve this position.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which opens with a list of those affected by the strikes. I should say that my plans have had to change for the latter part of this week. Potential revellers in Glastonbury have had their plans ruined and people going on holiday have had their plans upset. But it is workers, school and university students, and patients who will be most affected, and whose lives will be most impacted in the longer term by these strikes.
I would take the ministerial hand-wringing about this issue much more at face value if the Government had moved heaven and earth to solve this strike, but they have not. They have not lifted a finger and are making a virtue of this inactivity. Perhaps the Minister could update your Lordships’ House on when the Government last discussed this issue properly with union representatives. What does “doing our utmost” mean in terms of actually doing things? What is the Government’s utmost when it comes to stopping this strike?
This would be bad enough if the railway was being organised under the old franchise system, but as the Minister knows, the Government “took back control” of railways during Covid and essentially imposed a TfL-style service contract system. They are the real employer, and not to negotiate is a dereliction of duty. The Government hide behind the “we are not the employer” excuse, but with the formation of Great British Railways the Government are in charge. They have effectively nationalised the railways. The Government cannot expect this power of owning the railway without responsibility. Their responsibility is to negotiate.
The unions should not be inflicting this misery and should not be in a position to, but Grant Shapps is just as much to blame for failing to have acted to stop it from happening. We should look at the facts. As the Minister said, the railways have suffered throughout the pandemic and passenger numbers are yet to bounce back. This huge interruption will only hurt the recovery of passenger confidence in the railways. Here I agree with the Minister. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that the Government need to understand that and get everybody around the table and thrash this out. Until that happens, we will not get resolution. Can the Minister please explain why her Secretary of State for Transport is more willing to step into the media and try to save the Prime Minister’s neck than he is to sit around the table and save rail passengers from the problems we are seeing?
Meanwhile, we have seen sabre-rattling about agency workers from the Business Secretary of State, Kwasi Kwarteng. Can the Minister please tell your Lordships’ House when we might expect a statutory instrument to be laid here so we can find out what his plans are? On the face of it, it looks like a political gimmick which is actually deeply impractical. This is a tight labour market; it is a tighter labour market than we have ever known. Agency workers are in really high demand. They can pick and choose the jobs that they take. Agency staff are unlikely to choose a role that causes them to have to cross a picket line rather than a job that does not. Where are these people coming from?
Even if the Government manage to find workers, it will not fundamentally address the underlying issues causing the strike actions and it will not save many of the services. For example, train drivers are trained for weeks to learn a new route. We saw this complication during the Covid crisis. You cannot just swap one driver for another, even if they know how to drive the train. What this looks like is the Government seeking to pour petrol on an already incendiary situation. The tone of this Statement adds to my suspicion that this is what is happening. Inserting third-party agency workers into this scenario is likely to inflame tensions and elongate strike action.
For my part, I think the Government think this is putting pressure on Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition and are not intending to solve the dispute. That is wrong. The Statement laughably urges divisions to end, but the Government’s language is inherently very divisive. It is the people of Britain who will suffer: the cancer patient who misses an appointment, the student who fluffs an exam after having to take a much longer journey to school, and the zero-hours worker who misses a whole week’s wages because they cannot get to work. These are the lives the Government are using to fuel their narrow political aims. Does the Minister agree with me that this is beyond reprehensible?
I am grateful to both noble Lords for their contributions on this Statement. I have listened carefully to what they had to say today, and nothing that they said convinced me that there was an alternative way of bringing this dispute to a resolution, because:
“I do not negotiate with a Tory Government.”
Who said that? Mick Lynch. He does not negotiate with a Tory Government. He said that on 23 May. When we are dealing with that sort of attitude—one might say—it is all very well to turn round and say, “Well, have a meeting”. Have a meeting with who, about what? The Government are not the employer here.
Well, that is marvellous; I have only just started my response, so if the noble Baroness could just hold her horses, that would be brilliant. Let us get back to the questions that she asked and indeed to the Government’s Statement. At face value, it is indeed the case that the current Rail Minister and her predecessor have met the unions in the past to press the need for reforms, and to outline the reforms set out in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail about the establishment of Great British Railways, changes to terms and conditions, modernising railway and creating this fantastic thing that we all want. But this was not part of the negotiations, because the negotiations are between the employer and the unions, as they have always been. That does not mean that the Government do not take great interest in the negotiations—we want to see an increase in pay—but it has to be done fairly, between the passengers, the taxpayer and the workers.
There are working practices that need to change. I am sure that all noble Lords will have heard of some of them, and I suspect that some have thought, “Yeah, it does need to change”. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about job losses. Over the course of the Covid pandemic, any job losses that have happened to date have been voluntary. A very successful voluntary severance scheme was launched in October 2021. There were 5,000 applications for that scheme—I am sorry, would the noble Baroness like to intervene?
I am trying to answer the questions that the noble Baroness asked. As I was about to go on to say, it is clear that the industry will do whatever it can to avoid job losses. There will be voluntary schemes, and we expect them to be popular. But of course each train operating company, and indeed Network Rail, has a vision for how we will put the reforms into practice, and there will be different ways that each organisation will do that, with the human resources available to it. We will have to see how that all pans out because, obviously, different organisations will require a different number of people to carry our different levels of service.
I turn to some of the other questions that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised. She mentioned that there is no mandate. There is a mandate for both Network Rail and the train operating companies. However, even so—I will say this again and again and no doubt I will be at the Dispatch Box many times talking about it—this is not just about pay; this is about terms and conditions, and we have known about changes to those for a very long time. We need to think about how we get to a stage where we manage to operate a seven-day railway in circumstances where, at the moment, you simply cannot. Southeastern’s high-speed operation, which has been in place since 2009, is incredibly successful. It is a great service, and that is the level of customer offer that we really should be giving to our customers on a modern railway, particularly as leisure travel is so important.
The noble Baroness also mentioned safety. Safety is, of course, the Government’s top priority. We have one of the safest railways in Europe, and there is an enormous uptick in the amount of advanced technology used for safety on railways—such as drones to check rail lines, which is much more effective than doing that by eye, and all sorts of machines that check for internal cracks in the rails. So, yes, there is an increased use of technology, and sometimes that means that people’s roles will necessarily have to change. The noble Baroness said that this will deeply affect the workers, and I agree. I feel very sorry for that, because at the end of the day we need those workers, and we want them to create these railways of the future. We do not want them to go on strike; we do not want them to damage their own livelihoods, which is what striking will do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said that the Government are apparently not lifting a finger. I can absolutely reassure them both that the Government have been working on this all through the weekend. Obviously, at the moment, this is the biggest priority for my department. It is taking up an enormous amount of time in the department—rightly so—because you cannot build a modern railway on poor foundations. That is what we run the risk of doing. We must make sure that we have reforms, particularly to working practices, such that we can create the modern railway that we all want. At the moment, we are not there.
The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked about agency workers, and we are looking at all options for them, because we do not want future strikes to punish the travelling public. When I have more information, I will of course bring it back to your Lordships’ House. In the meantime, I believe I have answered all the questions.