Committee (6th Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee
156: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“School land and buildingsThe Secretary of State must, within one year of this Act being passed, report on—(a) the condition of all school land and buildings, and (b) the amount of capital investment that would be required to provide all pupils with access to key amenities, including but not limited to computer provision, sports fields, and science and technology laboratories.”
My Lords, it is good to be back here; I hope we can finish the last three groups this evening. I am moving our Amendment 156 on “school land and buildings”. We are very worried about what happened to the state of school buildings following the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future by the coalition Government in 2010. It is telling that a very recent former Minister has also felt the need to table what we think is a very reasonable amendment on this issue. There is clearly growing concern across your Lordships’ House and across the sector more widely.
Our amendment seeks to compel the Secretary of State to
“report on … the condition of all school land and buildings, and … the amount of capital investment that would be required to provide all pupils with access to key amenities”.
We think that, unless we require the Government to report on the condition of the school estate, the Treasury will not recognise the scale of the problem. This is probably what has landed us in the state we are in now.
My noble friend Lady Wilcox was hoping to be here this evening to speak to this. She was very keen for us to highlight the work being done in Wales on school buildings. I am very keen that the Minister should understand exactly what is happening in Wales and to know what my noble friend would have talked about if she were here. In Wales, there is a programme called 21st Century Schools, which is a collaboration between the Welsh Government and local government. It is a significant, long-term and strategic capital investment programme that has created 170 new schools or colleges so far in its first phase, with a further 43 projects already approved for the second phase, which will create schools of the right type and size and in the right place. It ensures the effective and efficient use of educational estate by the wider community.
Unfortunately, the Government’s own analysis of England’s school buildings shows that some are “a risk to life” and “crumbling”, according to internal government documents leaked to the Observer. According to the House of Commons Library, spending generally followed a downward trend between 2009-10 and 2013-14; in the years since, it has fluctuated. Overall, between 2009-10 and 2021-22, capital spending has declined by 25% in cash terms and by 29% after adjusting for inflation. We could do a lot worse than refer directly to the emails that were leaked on this issue. I will quote from an email, which is quite startling, from Department for Education officials to No. 10:
“School buildings: the deteriorating condition of the school estate continues to be a risk, with condition funding flat for FY 2022-23, some sites a risk-to-life, too many costly and energy-inefficient repairs rather than rebuilds, and rebuild demand x3 supply.”
This was on 4 April this year. Under the same heading of “Risks and opportunities”, the official repeats the warning that some school sites are a “risk to life”. The second email says:
“We would like to increase the scale of school rebuilding.”
I hope that noble Lords can see why we are quite so concerned about this issue and felt the need to table this amendment, which we hope will assist the Minister in making the case, which I am sure she can see, to her colleagues in the Treasury. If this correspondence is to be believed, and is supported by others working in schools, then it is something that we all need to be concerned about. I ask her what she is able to do and to commit today to help to alleviate some of the concerns raised. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely and I invite her to speak.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Amendments 156 and 171 address the issue of school land and buildings that may not be safe. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, outlined, Amendment 156 asks for condition reports on school buildings and land within a year of the Bill being passed. As we have heard from her, there are real worries that too many schools have major condition problems because school budgets have made it impossible to keep buildings safe and there is no money from central government.
I am particularly delighted that the noble Baroness referred to the Welsh 21st Century Schools plan. Kirsty Williams, while Lib Dem Welsh Education Secretary in the Senedd working in coalition with Labour, led with local government on this. It just shows what can be achieved when there is a will to do it. However, I am afraid that England at the moment is a different story. The Treasury is not providing funds for major structural repairs and rebuilds even when there is danger for children and staff.
One such school is Tiverton High School, which is in need of a multi-million-pound overhaul. The Environment Agency says that it is not a safe place for children, with staff having to deal with rain pouring into leaking classrooms; worse, there have been a number of incidents involving asbestos being exposed and then damaged, which is dangerous to both pupils and staff. Even worse, the school sits on a flood plain and requires flood protection. The school was promised a complete rebuild in 2009. It got planning permission and got detailed designs ready over the next four years, but the money never followed. It is vital that we know the condition of school land and buildings across England, and Amendment 171 says that, where a building is unsafe, the Secretary of State should take responsibility for it.
Under Part 1 of this Bill, the school—currently a foundation school—would become an academy. I ask the Minister: does the Secretary of State become responsible for the condition and fabric of school building and land under the extensive powers listed in Part 1 or is the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, necessary? It seems extraordinary that children are required to go to school in a building which other bodies have said is unsafe, the governors and local authority do not have resources to deal with, and central government just refuses to provide the funding for.
Amendment 167 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, calls for the Secretary of State to ensure that all schools are provided with defibrillators, in school and in sports facilities, which I support. Oliver King, who was 12, died of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome, a condition which kills 12 young people under 35 every week. The Oliver King Foundation has been campaigning for a defibrillator in every school. Last September the Secretary of State for Education announced that every school should have a defibrillator.
In an Oral Question in your Lordships’ House on 15 June, the Health Minister said in response to a question from me:
“while we require defibrillators to be purchased when a school is refurbished or built, one of the things we are looking at is how we can retrofit this policy. We are talking to different charity partners about the most appropriate way to do this. What we have to recognise is that it is not just the state that can do this; there are many civil society organisations and local charities that are willing to step up and be partners with us, and we are talking to all of them.”—[Official Report, 15/6/22; col. 1582.]
While I know that the DfE has been working with the department for health and the NHS to make this happen, including schools being able to purchase defibrillators via the DHSC at an advantageous price, only a few thousand appear to have been purchased so far. The Health Minister is clearly expecting schools to find benefactors to fund life-saving defibrillators at a time when there are many other pressures on school budgets. How do the Government plan to enable all 22,000 schools to be given defibrillators now, not just when their school is rebuilt?
It looks as if we may need to support the amendment in front of us today about defibrillators. This is urgent and I hope that the Minister will give it some good consideration.
My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendment 167 in this group, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. He was all ready to move it late last Wednesday evening with my support, but is unable to do so today as he has to be in Wales for important meetings as chair of governors at the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools. I am pleased to speak to the amendment and grateful to my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson for her support, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for what she has just said.
We have previously discussed a number of issues that should be mandatory parts of the curriculum. One of these is first aid training. As well as that, every school should have access to defibrillators. I use the plural intentionally, as does this amendment, because one may not be enough. The Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools, for example, have five defibrillators, one of which, close to the cricket nets in the pavilion, has been used to save a life at a school sporting event.
There are some 60,000 sudden out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year in the UK. Survival depends on prompt action such as CPR or defibrillation. The chances of survival decrease by 10% with every minute that passes without such action and, in fact, only one person in 10 survives.
Of course, the great majority of such cardiac arrests affect older people, most often in their homes or workplaces, but a significant minority of cases are younger people, specifically those who are fitter and more active. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, cited the fact that sudden arrhythmic death syndrome kills 12 young people under 35 every week. Young athletes are three times as likely to suffer cardiac arrests as non-athletes, so access to defibrillators is important not just in a school’s main learning areas but equally, if not more importantly, in its sports facilities.
In my recent Question on defibrillators, I mentioned that devices are beginning to appear on the market that are much smaller, lighter and cheaper than existing models—up to a 10th of the size, weight and price. A recent parliamentary drop-in featured a personal defibrillator small enough to fit in my jacket pocket, which is expected to sell for about £200. I know that exhibits are frowned on, but I actually have a training version of such a defibrillator in my jacket pocket.
Developments like this will open up new opportunities for increasing access to defibrillators and making them much more easily available and locatable in schools, workplaces and homes—indeed, wherever there are risks of cardiac arrest and where defibrillators should be easily accessible, even in sports coaches’ kit bags or in private homes.
Of course, there is limited value in increasing access to defibrillators if people are not familiar with when and how to use them. This is an area where the UK lags behind many other countries. While our overall survival rate is only one in 10—and in some parts of the UK it is a great deal lower even than that—in Denmark, where training in CPR is mandatory in schools and for anyone applying for a driving licence, the survival rate tripled within five years. Italy has introduced new laws mandating defibrillators in public buildings, on transport, at sporting events and in schools, and has a cardiac arrest awareness day every October. I will mention one other example, in the USA: Seattle has increased its survival rate to 62% through a city-wide training programme. There are many other examples to show that first aid training and access to defibrillators actually save significant numbers of lives.
Training, both in basic first aid techniques, including the use the defibrillators, and in recognising the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest, can easily be done in schools. It takes only a few hours, is readily available at a reasonable cost from organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, British Red Cross, Resuscitation Council UK, St John Ambulance and St Andrew’s First Aid in Scotland, is relatively inexpensive and is practical, enjoyable and confidence building for young people—and indeed older ones, as I can testify from having had such training here in Parliament some years ago when there was a first aid APPG. Incidentally, the intranet lists 27 locations where there are defibrillators on the Parliamentary Estate; it also says that
“Staff should familiarise themselves with where the Defibrillators are located.”
I shall not speculate on how many of us could locate one with confidence.
Amendment 167, from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, represents an important first step towards reducing the number of deaths from sudden cardiac arrests in and around schools, including at their sports facilities. Defibrillators are already required in all new or refurbished schools; it makes no sense that they should not be a mandatory part of every school’s first aid equipment. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord, Moynihan, would argue that they should be as common in public places as fire extinguishers. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment, or at least spell out firm plans to ensure that defibrillators will become mandatory for all schools—obviously with support for how they can afford them. Failing that, this is an issue that I, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and perhaps others may well wish to pursue further on Report.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Amendment 167, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and my noble friend Lord Aberdare. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests in the register, including as president of the Local Government Association.
As my noble friend Lord Aberdare, has already pointed out, sudden arhythmic death syndrome kills 12 young people under 35 in the UK every week. Possibly what is less known is that it has been estimated that up to 270 young people a year die in schools—lives that are surely worth saving. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and I have worked on this area for a number of years, but, for me, more specifically in a sports setting. However, as 40% of sports facilities in England are behind school gates, which also have increasing community use, and as there is a greater drive to open school facilities in the summer holidays, it makes sense to have defibs in every single school.
I know that if the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, were here, he would say that noble Lords on all sides of this Chamber have made the case for ensuring that defibrillators are not just a voluntary addition to a school’s first aid equipment and should not just be required in new or refurbished schools, as is currently the policy. There should not be differentiation between new schools and older schools. Surely all lives are equally important. However, looking at the data from NHS Supply Chain, its website says that there are 23,000 eligible schools in the UK that could have access to defibs through its scheme to make use of bulk purchasing. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, would have pointed out, the Government need to go further and ensure that there are defibs in all 32,163 schools in the UK. I wonder if the noble Baroness the Minister is able to say how many schools in the UK have defibs and how many do not. Last year, Gavin Williamson, when Secretary of State for Education, was on record in another place as saying that the Government would be looking at
“changing the regulations, which are underpinned by secondary legislation, to ensure that all schools have defibrillators in the future and hopefully prevent such a tragedy visiting more families.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/9/21; col. 19.]
As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out, the Oliver King Foundation has done a tremendous job in getting 5,500 defibrillators into schools, saving 56 lives. The Joe Humphries Memorial Trust has done a huge amount to get them in to use. I was at an event in the north-east of England yesterday with Rotary North East, and its One Life initiative is amazing. In the last two years, a small team of three people has worked with community groups, individuals and local councillors in the north-east to offer advice and guidance on the subject and to promote the installation of further public access defibrillators across the region. It is fantastic that these groups are doing so much good work, but it is far too ad hoc.
Should this amendment be passed, secondary legislation could be introduced to focus on the types of AEDs; their siting; training requirements; how many should be in our schools; and where should they be placed for easy access. I have read too many cases of lives that potentially could have been saved. This should be an open door in terms of protecting and supporting everyone in the school setting. Would the noble Baroness the Minister agree to undertake a meeting with me, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, my noble friend Lord Aberdare and other interested Peers to discuss what steps we can take to keep the door open on this conversation?
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 171 in my name. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and her officials for taking the time to meet with me.
Although I immediately concede that there may be drafting issues—in particular, the scenario that I am going to outline may not be dealt with as swiftly as it would need to be by the use of regulations—the amendment is a vehicle to explore with Her Majesty’s Government the legal powers that the Secretary of State has, or does not have, if there should be a failure of a building material within the school estate.
The estate comprises nearly 64,000 teaching blocks and its condition, as noble Lords have mentioned, is an issue that is beginning to be discussed more publicly. Many noble Lords spoke to the issue at Second Reading. While I know that my noble friend will not be able to comment on the recent alleged government leak to the media that some issues in the school estate pose a “threat to life”, there are a number of specific issues in the public domain. For example, reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete is found in hospitals in Norfolk and Suffolk; the BBC reported on it on 16 August 2021 and, when I checked, it had made the news again on 27 April 2022. It is a material also found in schools. In the news report from 2021, the NHS foundation trust was taking legal advice on potential liability for corporate manslaughter.
The question that I am asking Her Majesty’s Government to consider is whether the Secretary of State needs a legal power to be able to bring certain school buildings into their ownership or control—usually that would be by way of a power to direct—if there were a failure in such a building material. To try to avoid the risk of this sounding like a law examination paper, there are, I think, four brief steps to consider to get to the scenario where the Secretary of State might need such a power of direction. First, school buildings and virtually all land are not owned by the Secretary of State. Land and buildings are leased to the academy trust—in that scenario, from the landowner, usually the local authority, a diocesan trust, other charitable trusts, occasionally a university or FE college or, in a very small number of cases, from the DfE when it is a free school. The academy trust is, in law, the “responsible body” in charge of the land and buildings. For maintained schools, the responsible body is the local authority and, for maintained church schools, it is the relevant diocesan authority. Responsible bodies are legally responsible for the building.
Secondly, obviously, if there is a building material failure, it could be present in other school buildings. In such a situation, responsible bodies—here I must put on record the excellent capital team of the Department for Education—would of course spring into action. They would be inspecting, sending out surveyors and providing reassurance on the safety of buildings.
However, to move to step 3, if a responsible body says “No, we disagree with the Department for Education and the assessment of our buildings; we are closing them”, the DfE may maintain until the cows come home that the buildings are safe, but it is not the decision-maker.
Fourthly, noble Lords might say to me, “All these responsible bodies and schools are insured.” That is correct, but insurance or the DfE risk assurance protection are irrelevant to the liability that a responsible body, and possibly its trustees, might believe they face under the Health and Safety Executive powers or any criminal liability. The department of course faced similar issues to this when dealing with health and safety during Covid but, under the Coronavirus Act, the Secretary of State did have a power to direct a school to open or close. The political realities of using that power were another matter of course. That power to direct has gone.
I accept that the risk of this occurring is very low but, if it does materialise, there could again be disruption to the education of hundreds, if not thousands, of pupils. I believe this is a legal question that parents and schools should know has been considered in your Lordships’ House if, God forbid, this eventuality ever arises—even if the DfE says to noble Lords, “No, we do not want such a power to direct the ownership or control of school buildings to the department.”
When one of noble Lords’ main criticisms of this Bill is the scope of the powers that the Secretary of State is taking in Part 1, it would be ironic if, by way of this amendment, I have discovered the only power that the Secretary of State does not think he wants. While I appreciate that my noble friend the Minister might not have an answer today, I reserve the right to bring back this important issue on Report.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Moynihan, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for having on two occasions said that I must sign an amendment and then failing to do it. I must also declare an interest here; although young people may fall down occasionally, it is usually older, occasional sportsmen who do so, and I am certainly in that category.
As was mentioned before, many sporting facilities are on school grounds. If we want people playing sport, and playing it as safely as possible, we should really make sure that, at the very least, school sports grounds—which have more structure and over which we have more control—have access to defib. It is a pretty common practice now. Most people say that, if you follow the instructions, you will be able to use it correctly, although extra training cannot hurt. Indeed, it sounds like the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is a man to be beside when you are under any stress at all if he has the thing with him. If we can put something in the Bill that says we will have better coverage of defib capacity and some training on how to use it, or at least make it more common, that will be a definite step forward.
I live in a village designed for horseracing, and on the high street there is a nice big yellow defibrillator, because if people fall off horses and get injured, defib might be required. This is something we can do easily and in a straightforward manner that will make people’s lives that little bit safer. I recommend that we embrace this and go forward with it, if not in this exact form then, I hope, something very like it.
I will briefly cast my eye over the other two amendments in this group. On the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, I like the idea in proposed new paragraph (b) of having a list, including sports fields, to make sure that we know how they are doing. I have a Private Member’s Bill that puts a little more emphasis on this, so possibly I am biased.
I do not have to tell the noble Baroness who will be responding for the Government just how important is the capacity of computers to help many people in their educational process, and making sure they are up to date. These are two good examples of why the idea within the amendment should probably be brought further forward. It would be a good thing.
As for the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, I had not really considered what she has brought forward but it does sound sensible. I look forward to hearing the answer. It occurs to me that there is a certain degree of irony here; we often argue against overregulation, but this sounds like one they have missed that might be very useful.
My Lords, we support all three amendments in this group. I declare my interest as vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I start by telling the Committee that every single school on Merseyside has a defibrillator. Why? As we have heard, at the school that my daughter attended at the time, a young boy called Oliver King had a tragic sudden cardiac arrest in the swimming pool and died. As noble Lords can imagine, the school was grief-stricken; the pupils and the staff needed counselling. However, from that awful tragedy something wonderful happened, in that Mark King established a charity in his son’s name, the Oliver King Foundation, with the simple aim of putting a defibrillator in every school on Merseyside. As noble Lords can imagine, the community rallied round—the local press, benefactors, et cetera—and it happened. As we have heard from other noble Lords, Mark has continued his mission, not just for Merseyside but for schools throughout the UK. He was a frequent visitor to Parliament, trying to encourage MPs and Peers to get behind his campaign. I have to single out former Education Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, for whom I managed to arrange meetings with Mark King. The noble Lord had planned to celebrate, so that when we reached the target of, say, 1,000 defibrillators in schools, we would have a party. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, was reshuffled, or decided to leave, and that never happened, but he was very helpful and supportive in that campaign.
I mention that it is not going to be expensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, rightly said. We are not allowed to use props or visual aids in the Chamber, but an Australian and a Canadian—noble Lords have probably met them as well—have come up with something, because most cardiac arrests actually happen in the home. They do not happen in public places, at schools or sporting events; most happen in the home and it is too expensive to spend several thousand pounds to have a defibrillator in your house unless you are very wealthy. These two people—one is an inventor and the other a salesperson—have invented a defibrillator which is about the size of a notebook. They are very simple to use and they cost, I think, just under £200. If you cannot afford that, there is a monthly subscription of a few pounds, and there is no reason why everybody should not have one in their home. For those who cannot afford one, there should be some mechanism of support. I gave mine to my noble friend Lady Walmsley and she promised me she would show it to the Health Minister. Maybe she will show it to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, as well, or I will get it back off my noble friend. It is a real way forward.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, when he rightly says that this is about protecting young lives. There are various other things we can do. Defibrillators should be available in every school, but so too, for example, should an EpiPen—it should be mandatory for every school to have one. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, puts his finger on it when he says that every school should include first aid training as part of its curriculum. It does not take long. There is a gap when year 6 pupils have finished their SATs and are kicking their heels before they go to secondary school. That is an ideal time to do first aid training. It could be four or five sessions, and St John Ambulance or the Red Cross are only too willing to help out. There are wonderful schemes whereby they can provide lesson notes and all the rest.
Similarly, another area that should be mandated—by the way, I have a Private Member’s Bill on this—is water safety. We could prevent young people drowning if people knew proper water safety. This is about preserving lives, so it is hugely important. I am sorry that I have repeated the points that others have made.
The amendments on school buildings are absolutely right. At Second Reading I mentioned the internal memos, which the Minister will know about, outlining real concerns about the safety of our school buildings. This has gone on for a while—the coalition time was mentioned; I am not sure if that is true but perhaps it is. Of course, the Building Schools for the Future programme was excellent, but many of the buildings were very shoddily built and had a life expectancy of 20 or 25 years. Never mind the whole business of PFIs and whether they were good value for money—we will not go there—but I know from personal experience that many of the buildings, certainly the ones I have seen, are quite shoddy in my opinion; they are well past their proper use. These two amendments are hugely important and I hope that, between now and Report, we can look at them carefully and see what support we can give.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for Amendment 156. Well-maintained and safe buildings and facilities are essential to support high-quality education, and they remain a priority for this Government. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be very kind and pass on my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her update on the Welsh strategy.
As my noble friend Lady Berridge pointed out, responsibility for school buildings lies with the relevant local authority, academy trust or voluntary-aided school body. Those organisations are best placed to prioritise available resources to keep schools safe and in good working order, based on their local knowledge. We provide significant annual capital funding, major rebuilding programmes, and extensive guidance and support to the sector. We have allocated more than £13 billion to improve the condition of schools since 2015, including £1.8 billion committed this year.
In addition, our school rebuilding programme will transform 500 schools over the next decade, prioritising schools where evidence of significant issues has been submitted. As I have mentioned to your Lordships before, we hope to announce the next 50 or so schools in the programme shortly but also plan to announce the following 250 before the end of the year so that schools can plan and local authorities and other responsible bodies can plan their capital expenditure.
Turning to the first part of Amendment 156, we have significantly improved our understanding of the condition of the estate through our condition data collection programmes. I assure the noble Baroness that we have already published a report on our overall findings on school conditions, in May 2021, as I think she may have referred to, and have shared individual reports with the school sector. We plan to publish more detailed condition data at school level this year and will publish information from our new survey, the condition data collection 2 programme, in due course.
On the second part of the amendment, our view is that schools and those responsible for school buildings are best placed to assess the needs of their pupils and the provision of suitable equipment, ICT and other facilities. The department continues to prioritise its resources, and those of the sector, on data collection to support local authorities to deliver sufficient school places, and to help bodies responsible for schools keep those schools safe and operational.
It would be resource intensive for the department and the sector to collect data on amenities and equipment down to classroom level; we are concerned that it would quickly become out of date. Defining and agreeing the scope of what equipment and facilities are appropriate for very different settings and pupils across all schools would also be challenging and open to interpretation. The department has, however, recently piloted central delivery of net capacity assessments; these assess teaching space, including size, type and use of rooms. We are planning to roll out assessments across secondary and special schools from next year. This will improve our intelligence on the quality of provision across the school estate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to Tiverton High School in Devon. The department has met local representatives from the school to discuss the buildings and the flood risk. As she knows, Devon County Council is responsible for the school and receives an annual school condition allocation to keep its schools safe and in good working order, including £3.8 million for the financial year 2022-23. As I mentioned, we are currently in the process of assessing nominations for the rebuilding programme, which will be announced shortly.
On my noble friend Lady Berridge’s Amendment 171, our view is that there are sufficient mechanisms and powers in place to support the sector to keep school buildings safe and open. It is important that schools and responsible bodies have clear responsibility for their buildings and meet their wider legal duties for the safety of their pupils and staff, based on up-to-date local knowledge.
The safety of pupils and staff is paramount. However, we expect schools, trusts and local authorities to make decisions proportionate to the level of risk, and to minimise disruption. School buildings should close only where there are significant safety issues that cannot immediately be mitigated, typically based on professional advice. The department has also published advice on emergency planning to support the sector in preparing for rare events.
When schools alert us to significant safety concerns with their buildings, the department will always consider additional advice and give support on a case-by-case basis to help ensure that closures are only ever a last resort and that any disruption is minimised. In some cases, this may include commissioning a project directly in conjunction with the relevant parties, including the governing body. We also work closely with relevant regulators, such as the Health and Safety Executive, as appropriate.
My noble friend referred to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete; she knows very well, as she was responsible for it, that we published guidance in February 2021 on identifying RAAC and, where necessary, taking action to address it. We also stay informed about systemic risk so that appropriate support, guidance and programmes can be provided to support the sector in meeting its duties to ensure that schools can stay safe and open.
Where system-wide challenges have been identified, for example with the safe management of asbestos or risks from certain types of building construction, we have provided additional guidance or collected further information on the estate to help us understand and respond effectively to these issues. As I mentioned, we are rolling out a capital advisers programme, which will offer the sector best-practice recommendations from a team of experienced technical advisers.
Our view is that the current arrangements allow the department to take action proportionate to the level of risk and support schools with advice and funding when needed, but without abrogating the responsibilities and legal duties of the sector. We do not think that additional powers to compel schools to open when they have safety concerns are required at this time. The department taking on direct responsibility for school buildings, or compelling schools to open when they have safety concerns, 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.
The amendment is not saying that we should compel schools, for that reason. My noble friend may need to come back to this, but what happens in a scenario where there is no agreement between the department and the responsible body about what should happen to a building? That is the key issue in the amendment: transferring the responsibility to the department. Although I appreciate the detailed case-by-case examples, it is a very different scenario if you have a building material fail across thousands of schools and risk going across the system. Can my noble friend say what happens if there is disagreement in that kind of scenario?
It might be most helpful to the Committee if I come back to my noble friend. She is right to insist to have this point discussed on public record but it would be more useful to take a real example that we can quantify in some way.
On Amendment 167 in the names of my noble friend Lord Moynihan, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, we absolutely recognise the importance of defibrillators. That is why our guidance for building new schools has included the provision of defibrillators since 2019. As noble Lords referred to, we have also worked with NHS England to establish a framework for schools to purchase defibrillators at a reduced rate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his update on the latest in defibrillator technology, and I would of course be delighted to meet with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and colleagues.
I was touched by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, to the tragic death of Oliver King; a friend of my children died in a school local to us, so I am all too aware of the tragedy involved in such cases. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has committed to working with the Oliver King Foundation to ensure that all schools have access to defibrillators. We are currently working on options to deliver these life-saving devices, and I look forward to being able to update noble Lords on that before too long.
I am told, for your Lordships’ benefit, that there is a defibrillator in Black Rod’s box, so we are all now informed.
I therefore ask the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to withdraw her Amendment 156 and ask other noble Lords not to move the amendments in their names.
I am very pleased to hear what the Minister has just said about defibrillators. I was waiting to hear what noble Lords said on that amendment before responding, and I have to say that the case is overwhelming, given the tragic cases of Oliver King and a young person who was a friend of the Minister’s family, as she said. It is very strange that whether these devices are accessible to you largely depends on when your school was built. That does not seem to make any sense. They are not expensive and the benefits are incredible. I am encouraged by the Minister’s last sentence about wanting to come back to us, I hope on Report, with something more on that.
On the amendments on school land and buildings, I think I followed what the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, was arguing. Had she not tabled her amendment, that issue probably would not have come to the attention of noble Lords. Again, we need to hear what the Minister has to say on that. If she is intending to write to the noble Baroness, could that letter be shared so that we can all appreciate and understand how the Government intend to answer that question?
On the amendment I tabled alongside my noble friend Lady Wilcox, we remain concerned about the condition of school buildings. I understand the points made from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench about BSF, but I gently point out that if you were a governor at a school who had put a lot of time and effort into their BSF bid—as I did at the time—and then had that cancelled, you would much rather have what the noble Lord describes as a less than gold-plated building to learn in than what we were presented with: a leaky, cold, not particularly safe building that dated back to the 1970s. I would have bitten Michael Gove’s hand off at the time to get that bid agreed. It was not as if BSF was replaced with something less bureaucratic, which I can accept may have been needed. That did not happen and the investment was not forthcoming. I understand that the Minister does not want to comment on leaked documents, but we find ourselves now in a situation where, as a parent, you read that there is great concern that buildings are deemed a risk to life. That is something we need to continue to press Ministers on and may well return to on Report. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 156 withdrawn.
Amendments 157 to 171G not moved.
171H: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“Education partnership boards(1) Within two years of the passing of this Act, local authorities must begin to work with schools within their area of authority to establish an education partnership organisation for every local authority in England.(2) Education partnership organisations may offer services including—(a) promoting the needs and strengths of schools in their area,(b) supporting at-risk schools,(c) brokering support with external professionals, (d) offering specialised events, and(e) facilitating collaboration and partnerships between schools.”
Our Amendment 171H would require the Government to ask local authorities to work with schools in their area to establish an education partnership organisation. I want to say a little about why that is a good idea in the context of all our schools becoming academies. Partnerships are an excellent way to support schools and to tackle some of the area-wide issues that are difficult for schools to address by themselves. This could include music, theatre or sport; brokering support with external providers; sharing facilities; or, in the spirit of the Bill, doing anything else they can come up with when they get around to thinking about it. Our amendment is very similar to that tabled by my noble friend Lady Morris. I am sure she will share her experience with the Birmingham Education Partnership and the benefits that has brought to children in Birmingham.
The thinking behind this approach is that it takes a village—or a town or a city—to raise a child. The whole community has a stake in making sure that we do the best job possible to support and encourage our young people. My experience of this approach comes from chairing the Darlington Children’s Trust, where we were very keen on partnerships to tackle the trickiest issues. We would apply this approach to just about anything, including long-term health concerns, growing older, anti-social behaviour and school exclusions. We think that anything that needs a joined-up, place-based approach is best tackled with multidisciplinary partnership thinking.
Now that local authorities have a much-diminished role in education, with youth services and early intervention and prevention unrecognisably altered for the worse, we need an approach that encourages public services and schools to pull together—to agree priorities, share strategies and even pool budgets to support children and young people. All the secondary schools in Darlington are academies and, although they no longer have to do it, there is definitely a culture of collaboration. However, that is being increasingly tested the more time moves on and as some join MATs based in other parts of the country.
My amendment and that tabled by my noble friend Lady Morris would be a helpful step in the right direction. Her amendment would enable partnerships to bid for resources and be part of the school system, which is an incredibly good idea and something that we would like to see encouraged in other areas of the country. If the Government take the view that these partnerships should be a coming together of the willing, as opposed to compelling organisations to work together—I can kind of see an argument for that—they could at least be more proactive in encouraging them to work more closely together. It might be that we want to discuss ways that this could be achieved.
The noble Lords, Lord Davies of Brixton and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, have tabled amendments to extend the role of the Local Government Ombudsman. We particularly support this in relation to admissions, where parents are relatively powerless to challenge in any meaningful way. We think that there should be an independent process; that would be incredibly helpful.
I do not have a strong view whether that should be through the Local Government Ombudsman: there might be other locally based, more user-friendly ways to approach it, but I absolutely agree with my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Davies that with so many schools now academies, it is not fair to deny parents the ability to challenge decisions through an independent process. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendment 171U in my name in this group. I support the other three amendments, but I shall not comment on those that have not yet been moved. I declare my interest as the chair and a trustee of the Birmingham Education Partnership and a member of the Association of Education Partnerships. I also acknowledge that the Minister has already given me and my colleagues some time to discuss this issue, for which we are grateful, but I have come back in this setting because some legislative change could help the work we do.
I emphasise the differences between this amendment and that just moved. I do not have a problem with children’s trusts: if they develop in that way, that is great and they can be a partnership for all services, but my thinking and experience has been of partnerships for school improvement, hence my amendment today, but I am not against taking that wider to the children’s trust idea. The problem my amendment solves is this. The thrust of the Bill into multi-academy trusts is an acknowledgement that schools need to work together: isolated schools are free to fail as well as free to thrive. In schools that are working together, you add capacity to the system.
At the moment, in any geographical area, we have church schools, maintained schools, academies and schools in multi-academy trusts—in one area or beyond. Even if every school in a group is a member of a family, the problem is still not solved because there are still gaps between the groups. Whereas we worried about the fragmentation of individual schools going it alone, even when every school was in a multi-academy trust in 2010, they could fall between the cracks of different groups in any geographical area. At the moment, the problem is worse, because some schools are in multi-academy trusts and some are still maintained, some are still relating to the regional schools commissioner, some to the local authority and some to the diocese.
In an area as big as Birmingham, with more than 400 schools—and it is not the biggest local authority area in the country—that fragmentation is writ large, even if no school is a stand-alone school unconnected to anybody else. Even if we get everybody into a multi-academy trust by 2030, we will still have the gaps between the trusts. That is a problem, in my mind. It is a built-in weakness of the system, in two ways.
Schools have responsibility, first and foremost, for the children in their school. That is what teachers get up and go to work for, and that is where their prime responsibility lies. I have always thought that every teacher accepts a second responsibility, and that is for the children in the area where they teach. They want their children to be best, but they do not want them to be best at the expense of the failure of children in the neighbouring school. They want to accept both those professional responsibilities: primarily, to the children in the school but, secondarily, to the children in their area.
I taught in a Coventry school. If someone asks, “What were you?”, I say, “A teacher in a Coventry school.” It meant something to me. I was educated in a school in Manchester, and that means something to me. That notion of place defined, in part, my experience as a pupil and defined, in a larger part, my experience as a teacher. We have knocked that out of the system.
Even if we get where the Government want us to go, where everyone is in a multi-academy trust, we will have solved the problem of isolated schools but there will be nothing at all that acknowledges place. Who holds the ring for education in Birmingham as a common good, a common endeavour? That is so important: it is what pupils, parents and teachers feel. All the partnership does is act as an umbrella under which every school can come together to recognise their joint endeavour as delivering a local education service. That is not being part of the local education authority; it is an acknowledgement that they, together, deliver the local education service—call it what you want.
Nothing in any of this legislation will allow that to happen. I am aware of more than 30 geographical areas—usually based on a local authority, because that makes sense to people—where schools have, by their own will, because they know it is needed, formed a partnership to deliver their second professional responsibility, which is to act in the interests of every child in that area. You can say, “That’s great: get on with it, go and do a good job, you do not need government to tell you what to do or give you permission to do it”, and indeed you do not and indeed they will. What is missing is a government acknowledgement that they are a player in the system. That is the important thing.
I can give a number of examples. The Government will put out a request for a bid or initiative, ask for volunteers or seek partnerships, but they only do so with the multi-academy trusts, which means that the partnership cannot collectively, on behalf of all its members, bid for the money, try to be a partner or try to be a player in the game. They have to read between the lines to make sure their local area is not deprived of resources.
That is what is missing. I look to the Government to say, “Yes, there is a need in our education system to acknowledge place and deliver for it, and that schools want responsibility for that that goes beyond the children in their class—they want to accept the wider responsibility for children in the area.” At the moment, as we know, every measurement—every accountability structure—militates against that happening. Even in the bidding arrangements, MAT has to bid against MAT in Birmingham for resource for Birmingham children. That does not make sense. Why would you want one MAT to fragment and bid against another to get resource for Birmingham children? If the partnership could bid and the bid go through the MAT—the partnership is no more than the MATs, it is no more than all the groups within the city of Birmingham—that would focus on school improvement and acknowledge the notion of place.
I very much take the point made by my noble friend Lady Chapman about working with other organisations. If a museum in a geographical area, a sports club, the local orchestra, the drama club or a local employer wants to work with the school, because of the demise of the local authority, there is no one to whom they can go to make those links. They end up either just finding a school and working with it because it is easier—that is great, but no one else gets a look in—or they give up because there is no one door through which they can go to say, “I am now working with all the schools in Coventry”. Partnerships are a one-stop shop for any of those essential partners in educating our children to knock on the door to say, “I want to work with Darlington schools.” We could say, “Right, we are the place that can make the introduction.”
For lots of reasons—and now in particular because the system is fragmented, but even when it is as the Government want it to be; I have my own views on that, but I am not going into them now—there is still the need to work in partnership, to recognise place and to mind the gaps between smaller groups that have been reconstructed into local authority areas.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group and support my noble friends Lady Chapman and Lady Morris in their Amendments 171H and 171U. I have seen at first hand the huge value of the Birmingham Education Partnership, which my noble friend Lady Morris has led, and the impact that it has had on schools. On this issue of who in education can talk to some of the other sectors, the Minister will know that my principal interest is in health. I have mentioned a couple of times, particularly in relation to mental health, the need for the education sector to have a strong voice around the table of the new integrated care partnerships and integrated care boards that the health service has now established. I do not know who in education in Birmingham will do that, unless we have my noble friend, and have the Government recognising that it has a very valuable role to play. I hope that the Minister will consider this between now and Report, whenever that is—perhaps she will say when Report will be, though I am not hopeful of that.
Turning to my Amendments 171T and 171W, earlier in Committee we had a lot of debate about academisation and the role of parents in schools. Many noble Lords referred to what I can only describe as the chaotic nature of the admissions system to secondary schools, particularly when it comes to academies, where parents are faced with multiple application forms and details of schools. This is bewildering to them and not in the best interests of children. My amendments are an opportunity to strengthen the rights of parents and to increase the public accountability of schools by setting out straightforward, practical changes, to simplify the confusing system of redress that is currently faced by parents and carers if they raise concerns about their child’s education. I am very grateful to my noble friends Lord Davies and Lady Blower for their support, and to my noble friend Lady Chapman for what she said in her introductory remarks, particularly in relation to the admissions system.
The changes that I am proposing can be delivered easily and at low cost, through the logical extensions to the existing remit of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. My noble friend Lady Morris has said that the principle is important and that who does it is a secondary consideration. I accept that, but the Local Government Ombudsman has an important role to play, having had a tried and tested mechanism to remedy public complaints and to improve local services for nearly 50 years. The ombudsman’s remit already includes many education and school-related matters.
My Amendment 171T would enable parents to seek an independent investigation into complaints about admissions to academies if they think that their child has been wrongly denied access to their preferred choice of school. Prior to the introduction of academies, parents had the right to bring complaints about defects in school admissions processes to the local ombudsman. Over many years, this has been a robust system. Indeed, the ombudsman published one of its regular reports just last week, highlighting shortcomings in the admissions process at a popular and oversubscribed school in Surrey. Its intervention resulted in a fresh appeal for the pupil involved and an undertaking from the school to review and improve its system for others in future. It is a practical, transparent and proportionate system that has been proven to work well for parents, pupils, and schools.
However, since the introduction of academies—and we are on a pathway to full academisation by 2030—the complaints process for school admissions has become increasingly disjointed. Although complaints about admissions to maintained and voluntary-aided schools continue to be investigated by the ombudsman, complaints about academy admissions must be addressed to the Education and Skills Funding Agency, a body which does not have the same powers, purpose or independence as the ombudsman. This means that, in practice, parents with concerns about one of their most important decisions regarding their child’s education are potentially faced with navigating two entirely different complaints systems through two entirely different bodies. This amendment will remove this needless complexity by bringing academy and free-school admissions within the single scope of the ombudsman, and we can restore the previous one-stop arrangements for parents and carers.
Amendment 171W proposes an equally practical but perhaps an even more important extension to the rights of parents and pupils: the right to complain about what goes on within the school itself. It is remarkable that schools are one of the only public services in this country for which there is no completely independent right of complaint and redress. People have a statutory right of access to an independent investigation into complaints about their local council, the police, the Armed Forces, the health service, universities, and central government departments, but not about schools.
There is an in-house schools investigation service that operates within the Minister’s department, and which looks at complaints about local authority-maintained schools. There is also a separate academy complaints service run by the ESFA. However, these services are limited in their scope. They are mainly responsible for checking whether schools have followed the required complaints procedure. They do not carry out a fresh investigation into the substance of the issue that was complained about. They do not come to an independent view on whether there has been fault, and they cannot provide a remedy for parents or pupils.
I am not critical of the staff who carry out the current arrangements. However, those arrangements fall a long way short of the rights and redress available in most comparable sectors. My amendment would provide a comprehensive and genuinely independent schools complaints service simply by extending the functions of the ombudsman. It is important to note that this is not a novel or untried proposition. This is a role that the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman already performs with great success. It is a duty that was previously piloted by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in England under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. Unfortunately, the 2010 election intervened, and the function was not implemented, but it was thoroughly tested at that time in schools across 14 local authority areas.
There is support from the Commons Education Committee for an extension to the ombudsman’s remit so that it might look more effectively at the support given in schools to children with special educational needs. If that is right, and if the committee is right, if it makes sense to extend that to SEND children, then surely it makes sense to extend it to all children in all schools, whatever category. I very much hope that the Minister can consider this.
My Lords, I support these amendments, particularly Amendments 171T and 171W, to which I have added my name. The case has been set out extremely clearly by my noble friend Lord Hunt, but it is worth emphasising the logic of the proposed change.
To a parent faced with one of the most difficult decisions in relation to their child—choosing a secondary school—it is incumbent on us to make that process as simple and as clear as possible. Unfortunately, because of how the system has developed, that is currently not the case. We have the extraordinary circumstances that in some local authorities the appeals system for academies is run jointly with the local authority. A parent may have applied to a maintained school and to an academy and been dissatisfied with the result but then discover that there is one system of appeal for the maintained school and another system of appeal for the academy, which cannot make sense.
It is reasonable to propose that the ombudsman has considerable experience in the tried and tested process of reviewing problems with school choice. My noble friend said that who should do the job is not an issue of principle, but the ombudsman is there and has been doing this work. It would be wrong to make the system of appealing against school decisions out of line with the generality. If people have a complaint, they should know where to go and should not have the barrier of figuring out which is the appropriate appeal body. There is considerable justification for allocating it to the ombudsman but, if another proposal were to come forward from the Government, we would have to consider it seriously.
The point has been made that the ombudsman currently cannot make judgments on issues within the school gates: it can if it is a local authority issue but, if it is within the school gates, it has no right to pursue an issue on behalf of concerned parents. Again, this cannot make sense. This is a public service. We need a proper system of review by an independent body.
I spent a bit of time trying to discover the argument behind dropping the provision in the 2009 Act, which provided for the ombudsman. Could the Minister enlighten us and explain why it was taken out in the Education Act 2011? It appeared to be a case of the Minister wanting not to lose power to an ombudsman. On balance, I think that the Committee would prefer the ombudsman to make this sort of decision as opposed to it being a matter for the Minister. I am sure that parents would prefer to have an independent expert body looking at the issue, whether the ombudsman or some other body.
I strongly support the amendments and hope that the Minister can give a helpful response.
My Lords, I will make a brief intervention. I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Davies, said about the ombudsman. A process is being proposed; if you extend the ombudsman’s remit, you have the advantage of a process that is understandable to those who might wish to make a complaint. I very much hope that the Minister might be willing to look at how an amendment could be phrased, perhaps by the Government or by all-party agreement, on Report. That might bring us to a solution on how those who want to make a complaint can be assisted because, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, just said, it would be better if this were done by someone who is perceived to be independent than by the Minister.
The other half of the group relates to partnership boards. Noble Lords explained why there are two amendments, Amendments 171H and 171U. When I read the amendments, I much preferred the one from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, partly because it is quicker: it would force the Government to do something practical very quickly, which is to produce the guidance. The truth is that the two amendments could be brought together. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said, we should have a culture of partnership rather than competition and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, we need a one-stop shop to fill the gap between the groups of schools. All that seems eminently logical and would therefore have my support.
Previously in Committee, I talked about partnerships between schools and FE. Of course, there is the potential for greater partnership working with the independent sector as well. How all that is brought together seems to be of fundamental importance. The whole concept of working education partnership boards is very important to a local area. Again, I hope that the Minister will be agreeable to finding ways in which this could all be brought together through all-party agreement to ensure that there is this local focus created by education partnership boards.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for Amendment 171H and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for Amendment 171U, both on local education partnerships. I very much enjoyed my meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, a few months ago to discuss her important work chairing the Area-Based Education Partnerships Association. I absolutely agree with both noble Baronesses and other noble Lords about the importance of local coherence and collaboration between different parts of our schools system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, talked about the importance of school improvement in part underpinning her amendment. She will be aware that, in the schools White Paper, we set out a specific plank of the strong trust framework focused on school improvement. We absolutely support the spirit of her amendment but, as she knows, we believe that this is best done through strong multi-academy trusts.
However, as all of your Lordships have said, it is vital that trusts, local authorities and other actors in the school system work together effectively. The schools White Paper sets out our commitment to ensure that this is the case, and the special educational needs and disability and alternative provision Green Paper outlines proposals to enable statutory local SEND partnerships. We are also establishing local partnership boards in the 24 priority education investment areas that bring together local authorities and strong trusts to help identify local priorities and drive improvement at key stage 2 and key stage 4.
However, we do not believe that either of these amendments is necessary. We have already committed to developing a collaborative standard, which will facilitate effective partnerships between trusts, local authorities and third sector organisations to impact their communities positively in the way your Lordships have described. We will work with the sector to develop the detail of this standard as part of the regulatory review.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, talked about the importance of place. Again, we agree with her. She will be well aware of our work previously on the opportunity areas and, more recently, on the education investment areas.
What the Minister just said is very interesting. I was going to intervene to ask what mechanism the Government will use to bring them together. Am I right in interpreting what she said as that the mechanism might be something the Government will look at in the regulatory review? If so, at that point, would she consider partnerships as one of the mechanisms that might bring it about?
I am sure that the noble Baroness would not allow me to get away with prejudging the findings of the regulatory review. In all seriousness, the point of the review is to engage intensively with the sector and partners. I was going to invite her to meet to talk about some of these points in more detail as the review progresses. The review will also develop not just the collaborative standard that both noble Baronesses pointed towards but the area-based approach to commissioning, which we articulated in the guidance we released in May on implementing school system reform.
I also point to the work done by the Confederation of School Trusts, which represents many in the sector. It has done a lot of work on public benefit and civic duty, which speaks to the spirit of what is behind both noble Baronesses’ amendments and which we support very strongly. Although we continue to emphasise the importance of local partnerships, we do not believe it is for government to mandate a particular form in every area, and we believe that local partners are best placed to determine the arrangements that are right for their areas.
I now turn to Amendments 171T and 171W, both tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which seek to extend the role of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to include complaints about academy admissions. There is already a strong and effective route for complaints by anyone, including parents, about academy admission arrangements, including oversubscription criteria, through the independent Office of the Schools Adjudicator, whose decisions are binding and enforceable. Forgive me: I am not sure I heard the noble Lord refer to that, but we believe that system works very well.
Where an individual child is refused a place at a school they have applied to, the parent always has the right to an independent appeal. We made changes to the School Admissions Code last year to improve the process for managing in-year admissions and to improve the effectiveness of the fair access protocols, the mechanism to find places for vulnerable and unplaced children in-year. The local authority can direct a maintained school to admit a child and the Secretary of State has the power to direct an academy to admit a child. Looking forward, the schools White Paper confirmed that the Government will consult on a new statutory framework for pupil movements between schools and a back-up power to enable local authorities to direct an academy trust to admit a child. More broadly, there is a requirement that every academy trust has a published complaints procedure and, in turn, that this must include an opportunity for the complaint to be heard by a panel containing members not involved in the subject of the complaint and one person not involved in the management or running of the school.
As noble Lords have rightly said, it is important that parents have access to a strong and effective appeals process. The department currently provides a route for independent consideration of complaints about maladministration of appeals in relation to academy schools. To put this in perspective, we received 374 complaints about maladministration by independent appeal panels between 1 April and 31 December 2020. Of these, 123 complaints were in scope and were considered further. However, that is a tiny number compared to the total number of appeals that year, which was 41,000 for academies and maintained schools. We are aware that the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has made proposal in its triennial review, similar to the one supported by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, that it should include maladministration of academy appeals. We are considering its proposals and will publish a response in due course. Therefore, we believe that there are sufficient measures in place for academy complaints and that these amendments are not necessary. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to withdraw Amendment 171H and other noble Lords not to move theirs.
I am very grateful to the Minister for her response. The amendments that my noble friend Lady Morris and I tabled are different, but they come from the same place, if I may put it like that. My experience is more about getting anyone who has any interest whatever in the life of young people in a particular place together, and I found that useful, but I completely understand and support the idea of getting a focus on school improvement. There is a lot to be said for that and it is pleasing that the Government are, I think, starting to recognise the value that brings and the need to allow for a place-based approach. Children live in a particular area and a particular community, and it is a problem when schools do not work together.
As an example, we had a problem with transition between primary and secondary school. We were able to get all the schools to work together and to agree that they would have one week that primary schoolchildren spent in their secondary school and the secondary schoolkids spent at work experience or in their sixth form or FE college nearby. Everyone did it together, it made life a lot easier and it made the experience far more beneficial for the children involved. There are practical things but it needs somebody to hold the ring and to organise and broker that agreement. If you do not have that, these things just do not get done. That is all we are trying to get at.
The other thing it does is to make head teachers and subject leaders, and perhaps a PHSE group in primary schools, accountable to one another. That is so valuable. My noble friend Lady Morris said that she felt she was a teacher in Coventry and had a responsibility to that place in which she had an identity. Mutual accountability brings out the best in school leaders. We are very pleased to hear that the Government are looking at it. I will go away and have a look at the things the Minister referred to, but I wonder whether the approach she outlined is strong or energetic enough to inspire that collaboration at a local level everywhere that needs it. It is interesting that EIAs will be asked to work on that. I would have thought that if it is beneficial to areas with that kind of problem, it would be beneficial to areas that fall just outside the criteria for them. I cannot think of a place that would not benefit from having school leaders and others working together.
On the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, we need to look at the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, but having said what I said initially and having listened to my noble friend make an incredibly good case, perhaps I have to look again at my experience of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, at how user-friendly or not it might be and at whether there is something that could be done quite straightforwardly along the lines outlined by my noble friend that would improve the situation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 171H withdrawn.
Amendment 171I not moved.
171J: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to report on spoken language and communicationThe Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament each year during the period of five years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, setting out—(a) the overall level of school pupils’ spoken language and communication ability in academies, independent educational institutions and maintained schools;(b) the provision available to develop pupils’ spoken language and communication skills in academies, independent educational institutions and maintained schools;(c) the provision available to support pupils with speech, language and communication needs in academies, independent educational institutions and maintained schools.”
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendments 171J and 171 K in my name, and I should declare an interest as a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy. I want to acknowledge the support I have received from I CAN, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and Voice 21, just three of the 39 organisations which have circulated a comprehensive briefing on these amendments to noble Lords.
These are probing amendments to clarify how the Government intend to ensure that children are adequately supported in schools to develop proficiency in spoken language, or “oracy”. In framing these amendments, the aim was to ask questions of the Minister, specifically on how the Government will raise the status of spoken language in the education system to reflect its importance to children and young people’s outcomes in education, as per evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation, how they will support schools to address the ongoing impact of school closures on children’s spoken language across all ages, and how they will ensure that every teacher is equipped to understand how to develop children’s spoken language skills and ability and are trained to identify those who struggle with their speech, language and communication and are thus in need of further support.
Spoken language underpins literacy skills and vocabulary development. As such, it is central to learning across the curriculum. It should not be necessary to state that the ability to communicate effectively and articulate well is an essential ingredient to success in both school and beyond. Oral communication skills are required in almost every job and in every walk of life, yet we expect children just to pick them up rather than explicitly teaching them as we do reading and writing.
This puts many children at a significant disadvantage if they do not live in a language-rich home where conversation and discussion is the norm. All too often that is the case, which underlines the necessity for children to be able to access these experiences and develop their oracy at school as a key part of the curriculum. For some children, this will be their only chance to develop their confidence and competence in spoken language.
As noble Lords will be aware, two weeks ago the Times Education Commission published its final report. It included a paragraph that in itself speaks to the content of these two amendments, as follows:
“The independent sector has long understood the importance of the spoken as well as the written word. Communication skills—‘oracy’—should become mainstream in state schools too. Pupils need to learn to converse, to debate, to present, to persuade, to justify and to challenge. These tools are highly valued by employers, but they are not systematically taught in school.”
The final point will resonate with business leaders and recruiters, who continually raise the importance of oral communication skills, which are rated one of the key transferable skills—yet they are also among the workforce skills gaps most identified by employers.
The Education Endowment Foundation’s teaching and learning toolkit demonstrates that oral language interventions—teaching and learning with an emphasis on spoken language—enable an average of six months’ additional academic progress over the course of a year, and are listed as one of the highest-impact and lowest-cost interventions that can be made in the classroom. We have seen a significant focus on tuition and extending the school day within the Government’s programme for education recovery, yet the foundation highlights that these approaches enable four months’ and three months’ additional progress respectively at secondary and primary level. This is not an either/or solution, but it is legitimate to question whether the strength of the evidence on oracy is being acknowledged as it should be by the DfE.
Last year, the Oracy All-Party Group undertook a comprehensive review of the evidence in relation to the impact of oracy on children’s education and their lives. We heard from leading academics, education experts both here and abroad, school leaders, teachers and, most importantly, children and young people. The inquiry found that oracy has been a Cinderella discipline compared to reading, writing or numeracy and that a lack of a shared understanding and expectations for oracy in schools feeds the inconsistent, sporadic and, too often, inadequate focus on oracy. The inquiry demonstrated beyond doubt that oracy in schools cannot be viewed as an extracurricular activity for a self-selecting few—the preserve of those with the inclination or opportunity to be taught it or something only valued at the beginning of a child’s educational journey, rather than a golden thread running through it.
If that is not enough evidence for the Minister, there is more, this time from your Lordships’ House. The Youth Unemployment Committee report published seven months ago highlighted what it termed
“compelling evidence on the value of oracy, the skill of oral communication”,
and identified the detrimental impacts of the current lack of oracy provision in education on young people’s opportunities to progress into employment.
Amendment 171K refers to Ofsted inspections; on that we appear to be pushing at an open door because last month Ofsted published its review of the English curriculum, which gave spoken language significant prominence. It focused on raising standards in reading, writing and spoken language and said:
“Opportunities for pupils to develop their proficiency in spoken language require explicit teaching of the knowledge, for example vocabulary, and ideas necessary for effective communication. These opportunities should be planned carefully, both in English lessons and across other subjects.”
Given such unequivocal remarks, surely the Minister would agree that it would be neither responsible nor fair if a school found not to be offering such opportunities were to be graded either good or outstanding.
None of the emphasis in the various sources that I have referenced is currently reflected in our education system, which leans heavily towards reading and writing. There should be parity of esteem between literacy, numeracy and oracy, as in the new curriculum for Wales. Oracy in children’s education has always mattered, but it matters now more than ever. The Covid-19 pandemic has widened the already stubborn language gap and exacerbated the inequities facing children in our school system. In years gone by educationists would stress the importance of young people being taught the three Rs, stretching alliteration close to breaking point. In narrower terms, I suggest that English should comprise a slightly different three Rs: reading, ‘riting and ‘rticulation.
I hope that in her reply the Minister will indicate that DfE Ministers and officials now accept the strong evidence base for spoken language to be given equal prominence to reading and writing—and that they will do more than talk the talk, so to speak. I beg to move.
I would also like to say a few words—this is the only opportunity I have to do so—on Amendment 171L in the names of my noble friends Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. I do so not just because I fully support the amendment but because there are clear links with the two amendments that I have tabled, particularly in relation to the children’s Covid-19 recovery plan. There are calls within the amendment for
“extra-curricular activities for every child”,
including book clubs and drama clubs, which are clearly appropriate for oracy, as well as
“small group tutoring, with no more than six pupils in a group, … ongoing learning and development for teachers”,
to which I referred, and an education recovery premium, to include
“increasing the Early Years Pupil Premium to match the premium rates for primary school pupils”.
This is very important because if children who show from an early age that they are behind in their speech development can be given additional support, a significant barrier can be crossed and dealt with before the child enters formal schooling.
On the education recovery premium, it is exactly a year since Sir Kevan Collins resigned as the Government’s education recovery tsar over what he called the lack of a credible recovery plan, due to the Government providing just 10% of the £15 billion that he had calculated was necessary. I know that more resources have been made available since then, but I think most noble Lords will agree with me when I say that it is still well short of what is required. The past year has seen that the Government’s attempts at helping children who have lost out on their education during the pandemic to make up some of the deficit has been characterised more by failure than by success. I offer just one word on that: Randstad.
I will not labour that point but finish by saying that the recovery plan outlined in Amendment 171L shows what could be done to make a real difference. It is of course not all that needs to be done and I would not expect the Government to adopt it all. It is clearly badged as Labour Party policy—I do not think there is any need to disguise that fact—but there are some very strong points in there that I ask the Minister to take account of. Having said that, I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a patron of the Traveller Movement, a member of the All-Party Group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma and a founding chair of the All-Party Group on Bullying. The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, has introduced his probing Amendments 171J and 171K, ensuring that the Secretary of State reports on spoken language, or oracy, and communication, and that Ofsted
“must assess the provision available to develop pupils’ spoken language and communication skills”.
I support these amendments, and not just because of the problems that very young pupils have had with lockdown during the pandemic. He laid out very clearly why oracy is absolutely critical for children right from the very start, and certainly in their early years once they get to school.
In some areas it can be extremely difficult for children with speech and language difficulties to get any appointment at all, let alone a speedy appointment, with speech and language therapists, who, frankly, are among the unsung heroes of the NHS and the education system. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, in its response to the Health and Social Care Select Committee inquiry into clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic, has identified that a minimum increase is needed in the speech and language therapist workforce of 15%, but year-on-year increases in recent times have been around 1/10th tenth of that, at 1.7%. Then there are delays while newly qualified speech and language therapists gain the expertise they need. Meanwhile, the schools White Paper—Opportunity for All, which was published in March—is silent on how to reduce the ever-widening language gap for disadvantaged or disabled schoolchildren.
I know from my granddaughter’s experience of SLT support almost from birth—because she frequently used an oxygen mask and had a feeding tube down her throat for the first three years of her life—that SLTs can perform miracles with babies, toddlers and children who literally cannot use their voice for large parts of the day. Without more staff, though, they cannot work with more children. I absolutely support the aims of the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, but, frankly, we have to tackle the workforce issue too. I hope the Minister will tell the House how the increasing speech and language workload can be managed without a corresponding increase in therapists.
Amendment 171L, on a children’s Covid-19 recovery plan, looks extremely sensible. I have one question for the Minister. Last week, an employment tribunal confirmed that an employee suffering from symptoms of long Covid was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010—by the way, more cases are in the pipeline and lawyers are saying we will shortly have a considerable amount of case law history. In addition to that, academic studies in the UK, Europe and the USA now recognise that a small number of children get long Covid, and get it badly. Can the Minister say if the advice to head teachers about long Covid, for both staff and pupils, will be updated to reflect that some may have long Covid so badly that they are to be regarded as disabled, with consequences for employment and for SEND?
I have signed Amendments 171N, 171O, 171P and 171Q, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on the creation of a duty to register protected-characteristic-based bullying, and I am very much looking forward to hearing the noble Baroness. She is an outstanding advocate for our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma.
I think it might be helpful to quote from the statutory guidance for schools on pupils with medical conditions. Paragraph 3 says:
“In addition to the educational impacts, there are social and emotional implications associated with medical conditions. Children may be self-conscious about their condition and some may be bullied or develop emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression around their medical condition.”
Many schools now have effective anti-bullying policies and practices but that is not universal, and still too many children suffer immensely from bullying.
I am a co-founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying, and we have had joint meetings with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, of which I am also a member, to take evidence about how GRT children are treated in and out of school. Our last session, which was pre pandemic, was eye-opening. Perhaps the most shocking evidence was of the number of racist incidents to GRT children in schools by their teachers that were then copied by other children. The use of derogatory names, assumptions about their lifestyles and the lack of interest in their academic progress all breached the Equality Act 2010, but very rarely could families take them up, as head teachers or governors were not interested. As a contrast to that, we also had evidence from schools that were doing an exceptional job with the same sort of children, and you could not recognise that this was the same community at all.
However, I am afraid that the same challenges were faced by other children who look or sound different. The wonderful charity Changing Faces continues to fight for ending appearance-related discrimination, but it has told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying that, for many children with a visible deformity, school is not the welcoming place that we all assume it should be.
One six year-old girl I know well has a large birthmark on her leg. She is already being teased—let us call it that—about it. She feels uncomfortable, wants to wear a uniform that means it cannot ever be seen, and is worried about days when she has to wear a swimsuit. Her parents have raised the issue with teachers, but it is only one step on, if that teasing continues and increases, to the pupil getting worried about going to school. That is the experience of children who are now looked after by Changing Faces. The targeting can escalate all too easily. It may be only a small disability, but PHSE at school should be managing the practical examples that pupils face in their own lives.
The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, would ensure that the bullying of children of all protected characteristics, including race and disability among others, did not go unreported. They would provide a suite of techniques for recording and reporting, which would provide important data for schools, local authorities and, at a national level, Ministers. I am delighted to have added my name to them and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I add my support for Amendments 171J and 171K in the names of my noble friends Lord Watson of Invergowrie and Lady Blower.
As a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, patron of the British Stammering Association and a stammerer myself, I emphasise the importance of fluency for all aspects of education. My noble friends’ amendments would raise the profile of the subject and lodge it more decisively in schools’ responsibilities, to the benefit of the very many children who suffer from speech and language defects. That is apart from the fact that oracy development has been generally underestimated as a life skill in the maintained system, as my noble friend Lord Watson so eloquently set out.
Now that we are at the end of Committee, I will not detain your Lordships with a detailed explanation of Amendments 171N to 171Q in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for whose expert and committed support I am most grateful—they are self-explanatory. They are there because current anti-bullying policies are simply not achieving the eradication of bullying in school cultures, with all its damaging effects on well-being, mental health and education itself.
Bullying is particularly harmful when it is on the basis of an attribute which is part of the child’s identity—a protected characteristic such as race, for example—and so we have focused on that, as a means of reinforcing the public sector equality duty. Bullying is ascribed as the cause of a large proportion of the drop-out from secondary school of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children, among others, although there is a regrettable absence of targeted data. It is relevant that 76% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children surveyed felt a need to hide their identity. That is a shameful admission.
Many anecdotes testify to inaction on the part of teachers when faced with complaints of bullying. In some cases, they may simply not know what to do. I draw the Committee’s attention to a letter from the chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, to the Minister for School Standards, where he says:
“witnesses repeatedly raised incidents of bullying and racism faced by children, from both their peers and teachers. Many ethnic minority groups experience bullying, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils however, there are no official statistics which break these cases down by ethnicity. We believe that, to understand the scale of the issue and the impact it has upon educational outcomes, local authorities should work with schools to better understand the extent of the problem”.
Incidentally, how surprised and disappointed would Robert Halfon be to see a Report stage of the Bill ahead of the regulatory review? Following the Select Committee, we think the incidence of bullying must be made more salient in local authority records, with a register of incidents and necessary information about them. Our amendments also require parents to be fully informed, if the child consents, soon after the incident. We think the prevalence of bullying in local authority areas must be made known to the Secretary of State, so that remedial action can be taken if this violence against children is getting out of control. These amendments would go far to really make bullying on the grounds of identity unacceptable, and I hope the Minister will agree.
My Lords, I will say a few brief words on these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, undersold the point he is making slightly, because for many people the disparity between verbal skills and written skills is actually a sign of special educational needs. Dyslexia is the classic example of this, and often dyspraxia as well. It is also the coping mechanism—the primary coping mechanism—by which people handle this. I put my hand up as an example of that. If people can explain their case verbally, they stand a chance of getting some form of accommodation on a casual basis. If you have the ability to come forward and explain yourself to a new teacher in a classroom—this was drummed into me from an early age—the teacher then has the chance of making some response that is appropriate. If you are terrified of doing this, or not told how to do so, then you have another problem. The ability to talk coherently is incredibly important, as it underpins just about everything else that goes through.
I know this is not exactly what the noble Lord was driving at, given the tone of all the discussion so far, but I hope that when the Minister responds she will have some idea of how disparities between expected verbal communication are going to figure in the Government’s thinking when it comes to things such as the new version of special educational needs. The Government must have a little guidance on this already. I know they are having a review; there must be some undertaking of what is going to happen. The interventions we have spoken about, with a speech and language facility and support, are incredibly important, because the whole thing is underpinned by the ability to talk. Very few people master good written language if they cannot at least talk coherently. Can the Minister give us some idea of how they are planning to bring these two together? If they do not, they are missing a trick, and also the identification of a need that is very important for dealing with many problems in our education system.
These amendments are hugely important. There is a rhyme, is there not?
“Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words can never harm me.”
But how wrong that is. Words are very harmful and are often used by bullies. However, it is not just the person being bullied who needs support; it is also the bully themselves. Many of the bullies have real problems, and we must not forget that.
Secondly, we have made tremendous strides on bullying issues at schools. I pay tribute to the work that schools have done over the past decade or so on the issue of bullying there. I was quite shocked when my noble friend Lady Brinton said that many—or some— schools still do not have anti-bullying policies, as I thought they were a requirement. I thought that this was one of the things Ofsted looks at when it inspects schools, particularly for safeguarding reasons. My noble friend Lord Addington is absolutely right that it should be part of teacher training—it is not because of time constraints—as dealing with incidents of bullying is quite a complex issue. Teachers need to feel supported and equipped to be able to deal with it.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for putting down his probing amendment on oracy in schools. I think that we have forgotten the importance of oracy or the spoken word. I always remember my education tutor saying to us that the three most important things for developing children in the early years were good toilet training, play, and talking and speaking. Our national curriculum and SATs do not give teachers the time and space they should have to develop the spoken word.
Many schools do things as part of the school day. Remember how we used to have children reading aloud? When I go into schools, if you suggest that children should read aloud, people look at you as though you are a bit barmy. We should go back to some of those practices, such as school class assemblies where children can perform and talk in front of their peers; school drama productions are really good for that too. There is a whole list of things we can do but, looking back, I just get the feeling that we were so focused on the literacy hour and all its ingredients that the spoken word—oracy—was somehow sidelined and lost. No doubt the Minister will give us chapter and verse in her reply about all the things we are doing but I want all those things to happen in every school; I get the feeling that that is not the case.
To reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, there are four things. We want to raise the status and priority of spoken language in education. We want to equip teachers in schools to develop their students’ spoken language. We want to make children’s spoken language a key pillar of education recovery after Covid, which we will hear about in a minute. We want to ensure that children with speech, language and communication needs are adequately supported, as in the point that my noble friend Lady Brinton made.
First, I want to say a few words about Amendment 171J in the name of my noble friends Lord Watson of Invergowrie and Lady Blower. It is such an important amendment because it highlights the need for the Government to report on the level of spoken language and communication ability in academies, independent schools and maintained schools. I do not know whether I need to declare an interest but my husband is a former director of campaigns at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, so I am very familiar with some of the issues.
My noble friend Lord Watson did a fantastic job of explaining why this issue matters. I pay tribute to his work, not just on this amendment but in this area more generally. He made the case very powerfully and both his amendments raise a vital issue. We would like to see it properly considered by the Government and look forward to the Minister’s response. We are hopeful that she can say something positive.
Amendments 171N, 171O and 171Q, in the names of my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would require the reporting and recording of bullying based on protected characteristics, the provision of information to parents and the sharing of that information in the interests of the welfare of the child. We support my noble friend and the noble Baroness in their amendments and feel that they would assist us in tracking what is going on and enabling us to do something about it. Their amendments would go a long way to help address and prevent bullying, especially that directed against minority groups and particularly, as they said, the GRT community. That is probably now the least well recognised form of racism that we see, sadly, in schools.
Our Amendment 171L would require the Government to consult on and launch a children’s recovery plan, including breakfast clubs, music and drama, small group tutoring and other measures that I will not bore the Committee by reading out; they are all there in the amendment. So far, the catch-up measures that the Government have introduced have either not worked in the places where they are needed most, such as the tutoring programme in the north of England, or have been so far short of the scale of intervention needed that they have resulted, as my noble friend Lord Watson said, in the resignation of the expert brought in to advise the Government.
If I could highlight just one set of measures in our amendment, it would be paragraph (f), which is on how the pupil premium should be used to target support at the pupils most severely affected by loss of education, especially the very youngest children. I pay tribute to and thank Teach First, the IFS and others for the substantial and impressive work they have done on this in recent months. We would like the Government to raise the current premium rate by 10%, increase the early years pupil premium to match the premium rates for primary school pupils, expand the secondary age pupil premium to pupils aged 16 to 18 and expand the secondary age pupil premium to include children with child protection plans.
We know the Government have not been great at targeting resources at schools serving the most disadvantaged pupils in recent years. Unless the Government act quickly, the increased inequality in education that we have seen since Covid is going to scar a whole generation of children for the rest of their lives. Sadly, without this additional support, we will be failing to do what is necessary to support children who need it the very most.
The amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson and my amendments work very well together because we know that early spoken language skills are the most significant predictor of literacy levels at age 16. Children with language difficulties fall behind their typically developing peers in academic attainment at every stage of education. It is well understood that children with poor vocabulary skills at age five are more likely to have reading difficulties as an adult.
Lockdowns have hit the very youngest children the hardest. Ofsted has provided evidence that young children are increasingly unable to recognise and respond appropriately even to facial expressions, with potentially lifelong consequences for their learning and development. We think that early years pupil premium, currently worth £302 per year per pupil, should be increased to match the amount each pupil would receive once they reach primary school. The reason we think this is that investing that money earlier would allow the maximum benefit to children at the point at which they need it most. Waiting until they start primary school is too late.
It is very concerning that the number of children aged under four with an EHCP or SEN support with a primary reason of speech, language and communication needs has risen since 2019 by 7%. It is also concerning that the survey data collected both in a study conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation and Ofsted suggests that parents and nursery school leaders share important concerns that whole cohorts of children starting school during the pandemic were far less ready for school than previous cohorts.
The Government have a goal of 90% of children leaving primary school reaching expected standards in reading, writing and maths. That is an excellent goal; we absolutely support it. It is great that the Government have that aspiration for our children. But in 2019, that figure was just 65%. Given what we now know about the disproportionate harm that has been done to the youngest children during lockdown, this pupil premium is a really good, targeted way to get that support where it is needed most and quickly.
Our amendment does everything the Bill does not do, and I urge the Government to engage with us positively on this so that we can find areas of agreement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for highlighting the importance of spoken language and communication in his Amendments 171J and 171K. I pay tribute to him for his work in advocating for the importance of oracy, and I thank the APPG for its work. I mentioned to the noble Lord the other day that, certainly in the schools I visit, oracy is often mentioned as an absolutely key skill and tool in a child’s development and the way in which they approach and understand the world. However, I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that it is about not anecdotes but a systematic approach.
Children’s spoken language levels are assessed during their time at school, including as part of the early years foundation stage profile, which happens as children leave reception year and again in GCSE English language. Last year, the Government published non-statutory guidance aimed at improving the teaching of the foundations of reading in primary schools, including guidance on developing spoken language. As the noble Lord mentioned, Ofsted recently published its English research review, which contains guidance on the importance of high-quality spoken language. However, it is hard to envisage how the Government would report on the overall level of pupils’ spoken language and communication without a new statutory national assessment. After a period of disruption in education due to the pandemic, new assessments monitored by the Government would place pressure on teachers and school leaders.
On the specific matter of Ofsted inspection, raised in Amendment 171K, Ofsted’s methodology is designed to ensure a holistic assessment of the quality of education provided. Inspectors undertake deep-dive explorations of a sample of curriculum subjects in each inspection to help build an understanding of the school’s curriculum. When English language is included, inspectors will expect to see pupils developing effective spoken language and communication skills as part of a strong English curriculum. All inspectors are trained in how to evaluate children’s language development, which includes their spoken English skills. The Government do not wish to limit a school’s inspection outcome based on one specific factor—although we absolutely understand the spirit of the noble Lord’s amendment—but, of course, the job of an inspector is to weigh up a range of evidence to reach a balanced assessment.
Finally, Ofsted is planning a subject report on English, which will include specific consideration of the quality of spoken language education in English schools. I hope that that addresses some of the concerns behind the noble Lord’s amendments. This will report next year.
I move to Amendment 171L, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. Getting students back in face-to-face education has obviously been one of the Government’s top priorities. Since June 2020, we have committed nearly £5 billion to fund a recovery package prioritising the most disadvantaged and those with the least time left in education. I note the noble Baroness’s emphasis on early years but I know that she will also acknowledge the pressures on children who have little time left at school and have missed a big chunk of their education. Our investment will provide 500,000 training opportunities for early years practitioners and teachers and up to 100 million tutoring hours for five to 19 year-olds by 2024.
We are great believers in the added value that undergraduates and graduates can offer to schools. We have spoken to universities about how their undergraduates may become National Tutoring Programme tutors, and we welcome other programmes that enable undergraduates and graduates to work in schools. The Government are providing an additional £1 billion to extend the recovery premium over the next two academic years to support the most disadvantaged pupils. If I followed her correctly, the noble Baroness focused particularly on the importance of the recovery premium and the pupil premium more broadly.
Primary schools will continue to benefit from an additional £145 per eligible pupil, and secondary schools will receive £276 per eligible pupil. For special schools and alternative provision, there will be an additional £290 at primary level and £552 at secondary. The noble Baroness makes very sound points regarding the importance of early years; the Government understand those points and have focused, particularly through our family hubs, to ensure that support is there for the youngest children and their families. We also stress the point that older children have little time left, hence the choices we have made, as we have almost doubled the secondary rate—also to reflect the greater learning loss that has been seen in secondary pupils. We are always reviewing and assessing our approach to targeting funding towards deprivation. That includes not only the pupil premium funding but the national funding formula. We are allocating £6.7 billion this financial year through the national funding formula towards additional needs, which includes deprivation. This is one-sixth of all our available funding.
Many of our recovery programmes can be used to tackle problems with attendance and behaviour, deliver social and emotional support and provide enrichment elements, in relation to both physical and mental health and well-being. The Committee will be aware that we published the national plan for music education on 25 June, together with the Department for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which sets out our vision to enable all children and young people to learn to sing, play an instrument, create music together and have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents.
We are also supporting free breakfast provision by investing up to £24 million for 2021 to 2023, supporting up to 2,500 schools in the most disadvantaged areas. We are also considering ways to collect further data on the provision of breakfasts in schools; we are aware of a number of organisations that do great work in this area.
I now turn to Amendments 171N, 171O, 171P and 171Q in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. Of course, all types of bullying are unacceptable and schools play a vital role in preventing and tackling bullying. We believe that the basis for addressing bullying starts with a strong culture regarding behaviour in schools to support pupils, prevent all forms of bullying and ensure that there is a calm environment in each school to do well. All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy that aims not only to encourage good behaviour but to prevent bullying among pupils. Schools are also required to have regard to the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance, which will be relevant where there is a safeguarding risk to a child.
The Government are providing over £2 million of funding between 2021 and 2023 to anti-bullying organisations targeting the bullying of children and young people with protected characteristics. Part of our funding has gone to resources specifically on the bullying of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, such as an e-learning course on that subject that is now available to all schools in England.
Our Preventing and Tackling Bullying guidance sets out that schools should develop a consistent approach to monitoring bullying and evaluating their approaches. Schools are accountable to Ofsted, which will look at how effectively they prevent or deal with bullying incidents, including whether they have recorded incidents of bullying. We know, anecdotally, that formal reporting of incidents can act as a disincentive to record, which is why we worked with Ofsted to make its position on recording bullying very clear in guidance. The Government will continue to support the current school-level approach to recording, supporting schools to meet their duties to take action to tackle bullying.
It is right that parents should be informed about bullying. In developing behavioural policies, schools should take account of the need to liaise with parents and other agencies. They should judge when to inform parents about bullying, considering additional factors such as safeguarding. We believe this is best done at a school level. The Government already collect information on these matters. We have the pupil, parent and learner panel, the ONS’s children’s Crime Survey for England and Wales, and the new national behaviour survey, which all collect information about the types of bullying and how often they occur. I heard the noble Baroness say that she did not feel that all those policies were working well in practice. If it would be of interest for her to meet me and colleagues in the department to discuss that in more detail, we would be delighted to do so.
I am also aware that I failed to answer the question about long Covid guidance from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. If I may, I will write to the noble Baroness on that.
With that, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Watson, will withdraw his amendment and that other noble Lords will not move theirs.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this group. Before I come specifically to the two amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Blower I would just like to say, on the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that bullying is one of those issues that if you do not measure it, you cannot improve it. The Minister has just said that Ofsted has issued guidance on schools recording bullying. That is all right for those schools which are doing that, but the point is that it is guidance. What about those instances where it is not recorded, for whatever reason—the school may wish to protect its reputation or whatever?
The noble Baroness talked about local authorities having a register. I think it is important to go beyond the individual school. We are moving away from a situation in this Bill where we thought academies were a law unto themselves; we are now finding that perhaps that is not the case after all. I think it is important to broaden that.
I will give some examples of bullying. Noble Lords have highlighted issues, and I would like to mention some more. One is that it is not just those you might think are obvious targets for bullying. Children who are adopted often suffer very badly from being bullied, if the fact that they are adopted becomes known. Noble Lords may remember that, following the MacAlister report on the children’s social care review, a day of action was organised here on Wednesday last week by a number of children’s charities. They brought along a lot of children in care and, in speaking to them, I was very disappointed to hear some of them say that they are stigmatised in school because they are in care. They said that some teachers will ask, “What do your mum and dad think of this?” Of course, a child in care can find that most distressing. That is not bullying—I am not suggesting that teachers bully—but it allows it to emerge, and children can then be subject to bullying by their peers. It takes so many forms and it has to be more carefully recorded, and schools held to account if they are not acting appropriately.
On Amendments 171J and 171K, I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about young people with dyslexia and dyspraxia. I should at least have referred to the fact that the amendment was as broad as possible and covered all children who, for whatever reason, need assistance with developing their speech and communication skills.
I hear what the Minister said about the guidance that is available. Again, the point is the same as with bullying: it is guidance. For those schools that abide by it, fine; but those that do not are the problem, and these are the areas where it has to be strengthened. That is why I think that a statutory position is necessary.
The Minister contradicted herself, because she said at one point, “We cannot really have statutory assessment at this stage”, in relation to the need to check on spoken and communication skills because, post-pandemic, that would put undue stress on teachers and school staff. That is basically saying, “It is a good idea, but this is not the time to do it”. If we say that, that means that the older children—the ones who will have moved on in three or four years, or however long it takes for us to be in a proper post-pandemic situation—have not benefited. Then the Minister said, in relation to my noble friend Lady Chapman’s amendment, that we need to concentrate funding now because the older pupils will have moved on by the time the funding reaches them. I understand her point about needing to make sure that older pupils get that consideration, but you cannot on the one hand say, “We cannot do it now” for one reason, but then say that older pupils have to get that consideration now in terms of the funding. I do not think it is an either/or situation.
I apologise if I was not clear. What I was saying was that to introduce an additional assessment early on would put greater resource strain on the system. What I was saying in relation to investment in older children was not about assessment; it was just making sure that we prioritise them for greater funding because they have less time left in school, so we want to give them as much support as possible.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. I accept what she says about the differences as well, but I was drawing attention to the fact that older children, by definition, do not have much longer in school, so we need to ensure that they get every support that we can give them, either financial or through encouragement to improve their speaking skills. I also note what the Minister says about the current situation, so I invite her to bring forward an amendment on Report which might have a time-limited introduction of the sort of resources necessary for the suggestion I made in Amendment 171J.
I hope I have covered the points. I am not suggesting that the Minister is not taking these issues seriously—I know her well enough to know that she is and does—but there has to be some kind of step change, because the views and surveys I referred to earlier have pointed out that, however well meant things are, there are too many children who are not getting the assistance they need to make sure they have the skills that we discussed for many hours on the skills Bill not so long ago. To bring young people on to the jobs market, they need these skills—that is the key. There is no point in having a bit of paper that says “So-and-so has passed this qualification” if he or she is not really able to make the most of it by articulating in a way that helps them to do that job effectively. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 171J withdrawn.
Amendments 171K to 171Z not moved.
Clauses 66 and 67 agreed.
Clause 68: Commencement
Amendments 172 and 173 not moved.
Clause 68 agreed.
Clause 69 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
House adjourned at 8.56 pm.