Report (2nd Day) (Continued)
Relevant documents: 2nd and 8th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
104: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—
“Provision of defibrillators in schools and AcademiesThe Secretary of State must ensure that all schools and Academies are provided with sufficient numbers of defibrillators so that the defibrillators are easily accessible from each classroom and sports facility.”
My Lords, Amendment 104 concerns the provision of defibrillators in schools and academies. My purpose in proposing this amendment requires me to declare my interest as chair of the board of governors of the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools, where we educate over 1,100 children, and place the highest priority on safeguarding their interests in every activity in which they participate. In this we are led by an outstanding governor, Jo Booth.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who cannot be with us this evening, sadly; to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thomson, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for putting their names to this amendment, for offering my apologies in Committee when I was hosting a key meeting at the Monmouth Schools that Monday evening, and for their subsequent support; and to my noble friend the Minister, who has been active and diligent in listening to our case and, I hope, will respond positively this evening.
The Monmouth case was particularly important to me. The schools form a close-knit society, and from governor to ground staff there is pride in our schools and a strong sense of community. So it was that one of our popular and talented students joined his friends in the cricket nets at the idyllic sports grounds in the Wye Valley, shortly before last term’s half-term, for an evening’s practice session. There he was taken ill and, realising the seriousness of his condition, the master in charge gave him CPR twice. After the second time, he regained consciousness, and by the time the ambulance took him to hospital, his mum and dad were with him. I pay tribute to the staff who cared for him throughout. Had it not been for their professional care and devotion to the well-being of the students, it is more than likely that he would not have been with his parents at the end. Later that evening, he passed away, leaving family, teaching staff and all who knew him reflecting with a heavy heart on the tragedy, which continues to be felt by us all.
Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome kills 12 young people under 35 every week. Callum Stonier, a remarkable cricket coach and committed teacher on duty that evening, had decided that if our young, outstanding student had not come round from CPR, we would have used one of the five defibrillators in the school—the nearest, rightly, being close to the cricket nets in the pavilion. A defibrillator at the sports centre nearby had previously saved a life at one of our school sporting events.
Many noble Lords on all sides of this Chamber have made the case for ensuring that defibrillators are not a voluntary addition to a school’s first aid equipment and required just in new or refurbished schools, as is currently the policy, but a mandatory part of the first aid equipment in all our schools. In fact, if there is a strong enough argument that they should be a legal requirement for refurbished or new schools, there is an equally strong legal argument for the compulsory purchase of defibrillators in every school, as there should be. We should not and cannot differentiate between two groups of children; all their lives are equally important, and I am glad that the Government recognise that.
The announcement yesterday by the Government that they intend to do exactly what we have been campaigning for is exceptionally welcome. No doubt we will hear more detail in a moment. It is not just we in this House who have been campaigning. The Oliver King Foundation has for much longer been exceptionally active in this context. It has done outstanding and important work in lobbying to ensure that all schools have a defibrillator. It appears that the Government are now building on their current open-ended policy of engaging with civil society to ensure that there are defibrillators in all our 32,163 schools in the UK. A statutory duty will save lives, and the important relationships with civil society are the vehicle to ensure that this is done.
I hope my noble friend the Minister will confirm what we heard yesterday on the radio. I heard it at 6 am when I was driving to St Andrews for the final day of the golf, and I was absolutely delighted to hear the news that the Government intended to follow the spirit of the amendment before the House. No doubt it was because the Government were more than aware that there would be an overwhelming cross-party vote in favour of the legislation this evening, and I am delighted if that was the case. They acted first and deserve the credit for doing so, because their being in favour of the objectives behind such a long-running campaign is critical.
We owe my noble friend the Minister a great debt of gratitude and our warmest thanks for her personal commitment to this subject, without which I really do not believe this would have happened. Maybe I am being too optimistic; we will need to hear from other noble Lords this evening, and whether the announcement on the radio and from the Government yesterday is accurate, and potentially receive more details from my noble friend the Minister. If it was accurate, we should celebrate this evening. As far as I was concerned, it was great news from the Government and made an outstanding day’s golf all the more memorable, because it was even more important than the opportunity I had yesterday. It will allow us, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, my noble friend in sport, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and many others in this Chamber, to take this forward from schools and to really look at the importance of making sure that defibrillators are available in community sports fields and sports grounds and throughout the sporting world.
If this is true, I very much hope that it will be a first, important step in that direction. On that rather happier note than in many of the other debates in this House today, I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the president of the Local Government Association, and I have a number of other interests in this area. I know that my noble friend Lord Aberdare is disappointed that he is not able to be in his place tonight; he is actively involved in the Procurement Bill. As I have previously talked about, 40% of sports facilities in England are behind school gates, so this is not only about protecting children, it is about all those people who use sports facilities.
I am disappointed that I was not going to St Andrews when I heard the news yesterday; I was merely out with a friend and we saw it on the television. I was absolutely delighted to read the social media post by the Department for Education, which said:
“We’re making sure every school in the country has a defibrillator. These life-saving devices increase the chance of survival from a cardiac arrest, and will help keep children, staff and local communities as safe as possible.”
I was even more delighted when I saw that it had been reposted by the Minister. I thank her for recognising the Oliver King Foundation, because its work in this space has been absolutely tireless.
The only question I have tonight is about the process and timescale for this announcement, because it is so incredibly important that we do this. I am sure that my noble friends will be coming back for more because, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, we need to be looking at community centres and at widening this, but this is a really important step forward.
My Lords, it is now my job to hang on to the coattails of the people who did the real work on this and say thank you to the Minister. I do not know whether the fact that this amendment to the Bill is not to be accepted says something about confidence in the future of the Bill or the timescale involved. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us roughly the timescale on which this part of the coverage will be brought in.
Schools are an important factor; they predominantly deal with most of the sporting activity of the very young. However, while the correct terminology totally escapes me—the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, had it earlier—other heart problems will occur in middle-aged men running around trying to lose a few pounds; a group which I am probably waving goodbye to even now. We are setting down that other people will have heart conditions, which is helpful.
Getting this into other sports facilities is a fairly cheap, easy way of avoiding early death. If the Government could give us some idea of the plan for the future, after this provision—I am basically asking about the timescale, implementation and future development—that would be very helpful.
I say thank you to the Minister for this one, and to the Government, but hope it is just part of ensuring that we have universal coverage for those places where sport is usually played. It is a good start but is not the end of this story.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 109 in my name. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I am grateful to the Public Bill Office for its assistance in redrafting this amendment and for a meeting with the Minister and her officials. This is very much a last-resort power.
The amendment is not about compelling schools to open when there is a dispute about their safety, which is a welcome clarification since Committee. I will not rehearse the details of the scenario I outlined in Committee but I do not believe that noble Lords have had a clear answer from my noble friend the Minister as to how, in the scenario of a serious failure in the school estate, where the Department for Education says that a school building is safe but the responsible body says it has an expert report to say that it is not, that stalemate is resolved. In those circumstances, the building would be closed as the responsible body makes the decision.
In addition to this scenario, it could be that although the expert report tells the responsible body that a school building is safe, it is extremely risk averse and refuses to open it. My noble friend the Minister said in Committee:
“However, we expect schools, trusts and local authorities to make decisions proportionate to the level of risk, and to minimise disruption”.—[Official Report, 27/6/22; col. 503.]
I think this is the nub of the issue. Some responsible bodies might not, in the Department for Education’s view, be acting proportionately because they have come to a different decision about the level of risk of opening that building. Some responsible bodies are very small charitable trusts or may even, unfortunately, be a local authority in great difficulty, and those responsible might rightly fear becoming personally liable under health and safety law for anything that then occurs in the building.
Such fear may be irrational, in the judicial review definition of that word. I have mused that without such a power to direct a responsible body to open, the Government are leaving themselves with only that remedy: they themselves would have to judicially review a responsible body and say that its decision was irrational or unreasonable in order to force that school to reopen. Would it really be irrational, in the ordinary view of that term, if there had been serious injuries caused by building materials in another part of the estate, for a responsible body to err on the side of caution—perhaps due to an ambiguous phrase in its own expert’s report—causing it to make such a decision?
The amendment has highlighted that the Department for Education understandably assumes that responsible bodies will behave in this scenario as they have done in the past, with the current level of risk that we know about on the school estate. In the scenario, the department’s excellent capital team comes alongside to give its additional expertise and a negotiated solution is reached—sometimes, sadly, including the temporary closure of buildings. However, if a serious incident has taken place, could it not be that some of the approximately 2,500 responsible bodies might justifiably now behave differently? What looks irrational now might not have then.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for agreeing to reach out to the, for me, newly-discovered disaster relief experts whose profession has gained a higher profile since the pandemic, and since Professor Lucy Easthope’s recent book When the Dust Settles was published. There may be other experts who can aid the department in assessing more accurately how responsible bodies might behave in this scenario.
One has only to look at the Grenfell tragedy to know that building managers and a whole host of other professionals are behaving very differently now. I am sure the department will be watching carefully the Health and Safety Executive inspections that are beginning, looking at schools’ ability to manage the asbestos within the school estate. If those inspections lead to any of the scenarios that I have outlined, the Secretary of State is powerless to act.
Further, my noble friend the Minister stated in Committee:
“The department taking on direct responsibility for school buildings, or compelling schools to open when they have safety concerns”—
the latter point has been dealt with—
“could actually reduce safety overall as it could undermine the incentive to maintain buildings effectively and obscure the currently clear responsibilities for the safety of pupils and staff in our schools.”—[Official Report, 27/6/22; col. 504.]
Again, that is quite an assumption by the Department for Education about responsible bodies’ behaviour. I am not sure on what evidence it is based, especially since what is in the amendment is a last-resort power. I hope the experts that the DfE meets are able to help my noble friend assess whether this assumption of how responsible bodies would behave is correct, as I am afraid it strikes me as rather unfair on responsible bodies to make such an assumption.
I understand that the Minister will be taking steps to ensure that responsible bodies are rigorous in undertaking checks and more detailed surveys as necessary where they have buildings in which the specific material reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, which we spoke about in Committee, could potentially be present. I am keen to hear more on that.
As I stated in Committee, in a Bill that attempts to take so many powers, I have managed to achieve that the Secretary of State has decided that they do not need this one. I sincerely hope, as I am sure other noble Lords do, that the scenario I have outlined never arises. I will not be asking for the opinion of your Lordships’ House today; this is a case of wait and see. I am sure noble Lords are with me in saying that we hope it is not a case of saying, “We told you so”.
Our Amendment 118F would require the Government to publish a report detailing the condition of school buildings by category of fault, whether it is boilers and pipe work, electrical services, lighting or IT. We would like to know their assessment of risk to children and staff, the geographical breakdown and the cost. We have not been able to glean all the information that we have been looking for from the Condition of School Buildings Survey from May 2021, and we think the problem is getting worse following years of neglect. We know that the total condition need is estimated to be £11.4 billion.
We have been alarmed, as have many others, at being made aware of leaked emails at the department describing school buildings as posing a “risk to life”. Schools have been fined for failing to tackle issues from disturbed asbestos to heavy lockers not attached to walls falling on to children. We have not been able to find a record of the number of school days lost due to building failure, whether that is snow days or, as we are seeing today, closures due to excessive heat.
Bad school buildings risk lost education and physical harm to children. Will the condition data collection 2 programme enable local MPs, for example, or councillors and parents to know the condition of school buildings in their area, the estimated costs and the assessment of risk? Will the number of days of education lost due to problems with buildings be published?
This is an important amendment to try to get some additional information. We may not divide the House tonight, but it will be returned to as the Bill progresses. It really should not take an amendment to do this; perhaps one of the noble Lords opposite could ask the candidates for Prime Minister where they stand on this issue, because I predict it will become of greater and greater political interest in the coming months.
I also place on record our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and others, especially the Oliver King Foundation, for their incredible work on defibrillators over many years. Let us hope the Minister can confirm what we think we know. This is such an important step and we all hope it will save lives.
I thank my noble friend Lady Berridge for her Amendment 109 and for raising the important issue of building safety. I valued the opportunity to speak to her about her concerns last week. We absolutely agree with her about the importance of minimising disruption to education from closed buildings.
Our priority is the safety of pupils and staff. The most effective way of ensuring this is for those with day-to-day control of sites to be responsible. Only they have direct knowledge of the buildings, changes in their condition and how they are being used. As I set out in detail in Committee, the department provides significant capital funding, rebuilding programmes and guidance and support to help the sector deliver its responsibilities. I will say more shortly about how we provide more targeted programmes for specific risks across an estate of approximately 22,000 schools, with buildings of different ages and construction types.
We have carefully considered the scenario my noble friend set out. Our view remains that there are sufficient mechanisms in place to support the sector to keep buildings safe and open. Even if the department took on this role, a power as suggested in the amendment would not in practice speed up the decision-making process for buildings that closed on a precautionary basis. Decisions about whether it is appropriate to close school buildings on safety grounds should, as my noble friend stressed when we met, be based on advice from qualified surveyors. That would remain the case whether the department or a body responsible for school buildings was taking the decisions. We think it is very unlikely that schools would ignore professional advice that they have commissioned which says their buildings are safe; we think they would not want to disrupt education unnecessarily. Where surveys demonstrated issues, appropriate support would of course be available.
A power for the department to make directions about the safety of buildings could undermine incentives to maintain buildings effectively and to carry out appropriate checks, which could reduce safety for pupils and staff. Such a power could also risk some responsible bodies abdicating the decision on whether to keep schools open or reopen them, insisting that the department issue such directions. This could lead to an increased and avoidable loss in education, which I know all noble Lords are keen to prevent.
My noble friend has highlighted the issue of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, or RAAC, in some buildings. We published guidance on identifying and managing RAAC last year and continue to work across government to understand the issues relating to it better. We recently contacted responsible bodies to ask about their knowledge of RAAC, its presence in their buildings and how they are managing it. I reassure the House that we will follow up rigorously to ensure as complete a response as possible to help inform next steps.
I can also make a commitment today to continue to engage with responsible bodies so that they are clear that carrying out checks on buildings and undertaking more detailed surveys where necessary are an essential part of fulfilling their broader duties. The department continues to consider carefully what support may be helpful, such as clarifying for responsible bodies the qualifications that surveyors who are undertaking these surveys should have. I am grateful to my noble friend for her suggestion that we engage with experts on managing serious incidents and disaster situations. We plan to do this, and it will inform our response on both a practical and, as my noble friend rightly points out, a human level.
I turn to Amendment 118F, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. As set out in Committee, the department already publishes data on the condition of the school estate and is committed to publishing detailed data at school level later this year. We are also collecting updated data through to 2026. I know that the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office take a close interest in how we are improving the condition of the estate.
The condition data collection programme helps us understand the overall and relative condition of schools in order to inform capital funding policy and programmes. However, we recognise that it does not replace the need for local management of risk. To ensure safety, many aspects of school buildings need to be checked in greater detail at appropriate and differing intervals by qualified professionals, including condition, asbestos, fire safety, and structural surveys; as well as regular gas, electrical and water safety checks. These risks need to be assessed and managed on an ongoing basis at local level, taking into account how buildings are used. Therefore, any necessarily incomplete and time-limited assessment of risk carried out at national level would not only place significant burdens on the sector but could be misleading and reduce the focus on ensuring safety and carrying out checks locally, undermining its purpose.
However, we provide more targeted support when broader issues are identified; for example, we ran the asbestos management assurance process to understand its management across schools, and we ran checks to identify and replace cladding of concern on a small number of buildings following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. More recently, we have prioritised for replacement all known Laingspan and Intergrid design buildings through the school rebuilding programme, as they are coming to the end of their life. Following a successful pilot, we plan to roll out a targeted capital advisers’ programme to increase estate management capability by offering best practice recommendations, tools and improvement support from experienced technical advisers.
Turning to Amendment 104 in the names of my noble friend Lord Moynihan, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Addington, I am delighted to confirm again that on 17 July we announced that defibrillators will be provided at state-funded schools in England over the next academic year. I hope that answers the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about timing. I acknowledge the extraordinary work of the Oliver King Foundation and thank all noble Lords who put their names to the amendment for their tenacity in continuing to make the case for defibrillators so persuasively.
As I said, the first deliveries will take place before the end of this year and will boost the number of defibrillators accessible across England, helping to protect pupils, staff and visitors to schools, and local communities which use school facilities. We will set out further details of the programme later in the autumn term, which will ensure access to this life-saving equipment. I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 104 withdrawn.
Amendment 105 not moved.
106: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—
“Local authorities: strategic education functions(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, provide that a local authority in England must perform the functions listed in subsection (2) on behalf of all state-funded schools in its authority area.(2) The functions are—(a) to ensure that every child of compulsory school age living in the local authority area has a school place;(b) to coordinate the provision of education to children who are at risk of exclusion from school;(c) to coordinate the provision of support to children with special educational needs or disabilities;(d) to act as the admissions authority for all state-funded schools in the local authority area, including by managing in-year admissions;(e) to manage the appeals process against individual admissions decisions;(f) to prevent pupils from being removed from the pupil roll of a school unlawfully;(g) to monitor the performance of schools; and(h) to monitor how schools engage with their local community.(3) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, provide that a local authority in England is given such powers as are reasonably necessary to perform the functions listed in subsection (2).(4) The powers conferred by regulations under subsection (3) must include, but not be limited to—(a) the power to request that the Secretary of State directs an Academy school to increase or reduce the number of pupils it admits; and(b) the power to require the proprietor of an Academy school to appear before a committee of the local authority to answer questions about the performance of the school or about how the school engages with the local community.(5) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, impose a duty on schools not maintained by the local authority to cooperate with the local authority in the performance of the functions listed in subsection (2).(6) The duty under subsection (5) must include, but not be limited to—(a) a requirement to inform the local authority of any plans that the school has to increase the number of pupils it admits; and(b) a requirement to provide pupil attendance data to the local authority when requested. (7) In this section—“local authority in England” has the same meaning as in section 579 of the Education Act 1996 (general interpretation);“state funded school” means a school in England funded wholly or mainly from public funds, including, but not limited to—(a) an Academy school, an alternative provision Academy or a 16 to 19 Academy established under the Academies Act 2010;(b) community, foundation and voluntary schools (within the meaning of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998).”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment gives local authorities new strategic functions in relation to all schools in their area.
My Lords, I spoke to this in Committee and on the first day on Report. I just want to say that I welcome the Minister’s commitment on the first day on Report to developing a collaborative standard between trusts, local authorities and third sector organisations. It is an approach to be welcomed.
Amendment 106 not moved.
Amendment 107 not moved.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be taking part in the next group remotely, and I invite her to move her amendment.
108: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to report child sexual abuse(1) Where a provider of activities in a school-age educational setting has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting the commission of sexual abuse of children who are in their care, they have a duty to report their knowledge or suspicion as soon as practicable to—(a) the local authority designated officer (LADO),(b) children’s services, or(c) such other single point of contact with the local authority as designated by that authority for the purpose of reporting the knowledge or suspicion of sexual abuse of children.(2) The duty in subsection (1) applies whether the abuse has taken place in the setting of the regulated activity or elsewhere.(3) The duty under subsection (1) applies to—(a) the operators of a setting in which the activity takes place;(b) staff employed in any such setting in a managerial or general welfare role;(c) all other employed, contracted or voluntary staff and assistants only for the period of time during which they have had direct personal contact with such a child.(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) children are in the care of providers of regulated activities—(a) in the case of the operators of any setting in which the regulated activity takes place and of staff employed by the operators at any such setting in a managerial or general welfare role, for the period of time during which the operators are bound contractually or otherwise to accommodate or care for such children whenever the regulated activity is provided, and (b) in the case of all other employed or contracted staff or voluntary staff and assistants, for the period of time only in which they are personally attending such children in the capacity for which they were employed or their services were contracted for.(5) A person who fails to fulfil the duty in subsection (1) is guilty of an offence.(6) It is a defence to show that the LADO, children’s services or other single point of contact was informed by any other party of the commission or suspected commission of sexual abuse.(7) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.(8) A person who makes a report under subsection (1) in good faith, or who does any other act as required by this section, cannot by so doing be held liable in any civil or criminal or administrative proceeding, and cannot be held to have breached any code of professional etiquette or ethics, or to have departed from any acceptable form of professional conduct.(9) A person who causes or threatens to cause any detriment to a person to whom subsection (1) applies, or to another person, either wholly or partly related to the person’s actual or intended provision of a report under this Act, is guilty of an offence.(10) In subsection (9) “detriment” includes any personal, social, economic, professional, or other detriment to the person.(11) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (9) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.(12) In this section—“children” means persons who have not attained the age of 18 years;“providers of activities” has the same meaning as in section 6 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, in so far as the activity takes place in a school-age educational setting.”
Amendment 108 in my name is on mandatory reporting of child sex abuse. I thank the Minister for her comments at the Dispatch Box in Committee, when she said that the Government have no evidence that mandatory reporting is effective. In my contribution, I referred specifically to academic research in countries where mandatory reporting has been introduced and is working well. It is evidenced, but the Government clearly do not want to look at it.
Teachers in Australia, who were unhappy with the principle prior to its introduction, now feel it has given them more confidence in reporting suspicions and that they would not be ignored by the school or, worse, punished for reporting difficult evidence. Professor Ben Mathews from Queensland University of Technology, a world expert in mandatory reporting and how it works in practice, gave evidence in 2019 to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse. I hope that, once Ministers have read this evidence and the comments of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse victims’ group when they responded to a survey on mandatory reporting, the Government would reconsider.
I am very well aware that the IICSA will be publishing its final report in the autumn. I understand that the Government will want to wait until then and will respond in due course, but I remain concerned that there is not a will yet to understand how mandatory reporting is transforming the reporting on child sex abuse by educational professions. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 118D would mean teachers in all schools would be
“required to have, or be enrolled on a course such that they are working towards, qualified teacher status”
before September 2024. I have spoken extensively previously about teachers without QTS having less pedagogical training and less subject knowledge than their qualified colleagues, although I do note the Minister’s previous replies to this on several occasions. However, I firmly believe the Government need to match the ambition of Labour’s national excellence programme. This amendment will begin to address these current failings.
Amendment 118E would mean that, within a year of Royal Assent, the Secretary of State, whoever he or she will be, would have to ensure that
“every … school is working towards establishing a breakfast club, able to provide a free breakfast to every pupil who requests one”.
Yet again this evening, the UK Government could learn from what the Labour Government are doing in Wales: providing free breakfasts in primary schools has been an integral part of the wider work the Welsh Government have done to improve food and nutrition in schools maintained by local authorities since September 2004.
Finally, Amendment 118I would mean that, within six months of Royal Assent, the Secretary of State would have to
“consult on and launch a school children’s pandemic recovery plan”.
The consultation would include:
“free breakfast clubs … extra-curricular activities for every child … provision of … in-school mental health counselling staff … small group tutoring … ongoing learning and development for teachers, and … an education recovery premium”.
This may include uplifting the current premium rate by 10%, increasing the early years pupil premium to match the premium rates for primary school pupils, and expanding the secondary age pupil premium to include pupils aged 16 to 18 and children with child protection plans. There is so much to do but this amendment clearly sets out the difference between what a Labour Government would do for the children and young people of England compared with what little they are now receiving and will continue to receive under this Conservative Government.
My Lords, I was for a short time a governor—the noble Baroness is looking at me as if I am doing something wrong—of our local primary school. I remember at a governors’ meeting that one of the teacher-appointed members of the governing body was the English teacher. The only trouble was that he could hardly speak any grammatical English. I wondered often—and spoke to the headmistress about it—how good he was at teaching English.
Two other amendments are being considered in this group, both in the names of my two noble friends on the Front Bench. I support both of those. It is not easy to set up breakfast clubs and the like at primary schools. You have to stretch teachers to provide those services but when they can be provided, they are of enormous assistance and enable parents to go and get on with their lives—nothing could be easier. It also ensures that children start with a good breakfast.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 118L in my name and I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Although we were too late to get him on the list, this is also supported by the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead. He was the first chair of Feeding Britain, a job he passed on to me.
This is a very simple amendment which would mean that families of pupils who are eligible to receive free school meals are automatically registered rather than having to opt in. By the Government’s best estimate, 11% of children who are eligible are not registered. This could mean that up to 200,000 children in England are missing out on both a nutritious meal and the pupil premium.
We have investigated this a great deal at Feeding Britain. We know that it works. When the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead, was in the other place he attracted cross-party support from 125 Members, but that Session drew to a close before his Bill could receive a Second Reading. As well as the support, my amendment has the advantage of being proven to work. When automatic registration has been piloted, as it was under the old housing benefit regime in the Wirral, more than 600 additional children were automatically signed up.
The Children’s Commissioner, the Local Government Association and Henry Dimbleby, in the national food strategy, have all supported this, and this amendment really goes with the grain of government policy in other areas, such as the warm home discount and cost of living payments. Even my own pension arrives automatically, whether I want it or not. It seems quite extraordinary that a child has to opt in to get a meal, especially now in the cost of living crisis. This is a very simple and straightforward amendment and I urge the Government to accept it.
My Lords, I am aware of the hour and will be extremely brief. I just want to speak in favour of Amendment 118L, so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I want to make two points in addition to what she said, while associating myself with what she said and noting that the noble Lord, Lord Field, has also shown his support for this.
First, the children who are the most vulnerable, from families which for whatever reason—language difficulties, other disadvantages—may find it difficult to navigate the system, are those who need those free school meals the most. If we do not have an automatic opt-out system, the people who miss out will include the most vulnerable.
The other point is that, a couple of weeks ago, a survey by LACA, the school caterers’ trade body, demonstrated that despite the number of pupils eligible for free school meals rising very significantly, more than half of the caterers surveyed were seeing the number of free school meals that they were providing going down. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, we know that so many families are struggling with the cost of living crisis. This very modest amendment would at least ensure that those who are eligible for free school meals are getting them. I would like to see free school meals expanded much further and perhaps renamed to take away some of the stigma. This would simply ensure that people who are entitled to something get it. They are not only entitled to it; people desperately need these healthy school meals.
I begin by responding to Amendment 108, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, regarding mandatory reporting. As we set out in the March 2018 government response to the reporting and acting on child abuse consultation, and as the noble Baroness quoted me as saying—though perhaps I should have been clearer—there was no clear evidence from those who responded to the consultation to show that introducing a mandatory reporting duty would help keep children safe, and therefore the case was not made for its introduction. We are keeping this under review, and we await the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which is expected in the autumn.
Schools and colleges are already under legal duties to exercise their functions to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This includes having regard to the Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 statutory guidance, which makes it clear that if staff have any concerns about a child’s welfare, they should act on them immediately, and that any concerns should be referred to local authority children’s social care. Many other settings, such as extracurricular activities or clubs, are already required to register with Ofsted and must ensure that they have the processes and policies in place to safeguard the children they look after. That includes reporting any incident or allegation of serious harm or abuse to Ofsted, or any significant event that might affect someone’s suitability to look after or be in regular contact with children.
In all such cases Ofsted will pass the information to the relevant police or local authority and take appropriate action to ensure the safety of children cared for at the registered provider. Where settings are not registered with Ofsted, our guidance is clear that these settings should have clear escalation routes to manage concerns and allegations against staff and volunteers that might pose a risk of harm to children.
I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, for Amendments 118D, 118I and 118E regarding qualified teacher status, education recovery and breakfast clubs. Amendment 118D would restrict the flexibility that school leaders in academies currently have to recruit unqualified teachers and goes further than the restrictions currently imposed on maintained schools via the Education Act 2002. The current scheme allows maintained schools to employ teachers without qualified teacher status in several circumstances beyond those where a teacher is working towards qualified teacher status. This amendment would also remove those limited freedoms for maintained schools.
On Amendment 118I, we know that the impacts of the pandemic have been significant for all children, especially those who are disadvantaged, which is why we are targeting our support at those most in need. The latest evidence suggests that recovery is under way following the Government’s almost £5 billion investment for a comprehensive recovery package. Since spring 2021, primary pupils had recovered around two-thirds of progress lost in reading and around half of progress lost in maths. By May 2022, 1.5 million courses had already been started by children across England through the National Tutoring Programme. I can confirm that the latest data is due to be published imminently, and we expect to see a further significant increase.
Through the catch-up and recovery premium, we have provided £950 million of direct funding to schools, to help them deliver evidence-based approaches for those pupils most in need. The Government are providing an additional £1 billion to extend the recovery premium over the next two academic years. Additionally, this year, through the national funding formula, we are allocating £6.7 billion towards additional needs, including deprivation. The Government are also increasing pupil premium funding to £2.6 billion this year, and allocating £200 million a year to support disadvantaged pupils as part of the holiday activities and food programme over the next three years. Altogether, we are allocating £9.7 billion this year for pupils with additional needs, including deprivation.
On Amendment 118E, the Government recognise that a healthy breakfast can play an important role in ensuring that children from all backgrounds have a healthy start to their day, so that they enhance their learning potential. We are committed to supporting school breakfasts, and our approach has always been to support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are most in need of that provision. We are investing up to £24 million in the national school breakfast programme for 2021-23, and will support up to 2,500 schools in disadvantaged areas, which will be targeted by the programme. Alongside our national programme, schools can also consider using their pupil premium funding to support their financial contribution to breakfast club provision, as endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation’s pupil premium guide. Overall, the Government are investing significantly to support children from low-income families, and it is right that we are targeting investment towards those who are most in need.
Finally, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Bennett, for Amendment 118L regarding free school meals. We want to make sure that as many eligible pupils as possible are claiming their free school meals, and to make it as simple as possible for schools and local authorities to determine eligibility. We provide an eligibility checking system to make the checking process as quick and straightforward as possible, and we continue to use and refine a model registration form to help schools encourage parents to sign up for free school meals.
We are also continuing to explore the options and delivery feasibility of introducing auto-enrolment functionality. However, there are complex data, systems and legal implications of such a change, which require careful consideration. Therefore, we think it is premature to change this through primary legislation at the moment, but I would be happy to meet both noble Baronesses to discuss how we can move this forward. For the reasons outlined, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, Amendment 118D in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Chapman, talks about the importance of ensuring that all trainee teachers are working towards qualified teacher status. Amendment 118E outlines the important way that breakfast club arrangements work well in Wales, and Amendment 118I focuses on a recovery plan of pupil premiums. We are so delighted that Labour is as keen as the Lib Dems on the pupil premium, which we brought in during the coalition, and which we have pushed the Conservatives to expand since those days. I hope the Government will now consider it.
Amendment 188L from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on free school meals is simple—ensuring an auto opt-in and a voluntary opt-out, so that no child will slip through the net—and probably virtually without cost.
I am grateful to the Minister for her response to my Amendment 108. I am relieved that she clarified things by saying that there was no evidence of mandatory reporting working from a survey, which is rather different from the strong body of academic research from around the world that now shows that mandatory reporting makes a big difference. I hope the Government will look at that research—IICSA certainly has. I am very much looking forward to seeing the IICSA report in the autumn. I hope that it will make clear recommendations on mandatory reporting. I will not press this to a vote this evening so, with that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 108.
Amendment 108 withdrawn.
Amendments 109 and 110 not moved.
Amendment 111 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 112 to 118M not moved.
Clause 70: Commencement
Amendment 119 not moved.
House adjourned at 10.11 pm.