Clause 21
Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]
4:30 pm

Entitlement to payment in respect of higher education

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Annette Brooke (Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Children, Schools and Families; Mid Dorset and North Poole, Liberal Democrat)

I beg to move amendment No. 31, in clause 21, page 17, line 3, after ‘higher education’, insert

‘or further education and training, including apprenticeships’.

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Hywel Williams (Spokesperson (Children, Schools & Families; Health; International Development; Treasury; Work and Pensions); Caernarfon, Plaid Cymru)

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 32, in clause 21, page 17, line 8, after ‘higher education’, insert

‘or further education and training, including apprenticeships’.

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Annette Brooke (Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Children, Schools and Families; Mid Dorset and North Poole, Liberal Democrat)

I had better say at the outset that this is a probing amendment because I rather suspect that I have applied my thoughts to the wrong clause. However, I hope that the Minister will accept the argument that I put forward even if the amendment is tabled in a highly technically inefficient way.

The amendment is about parity of treatment for care leavers in their future education. I welcome the support that is offered in the clause to previously looked-after people who decide to go to university. Ministers have pointed out that only 6 per cent. of looked-after children go on to university. There is a massive discrepancy between that figure and that for the rest of the population. I therefore appreciate the bursary. However, it is also important to appreciate that 30 per cent. of care leavers aged 19 are not in education, employment or training. While the gap is not quite as large as with the university figure, it is still highly significant that a third of care leavers are not in education, employment or training. When the Children, Schools and Families Committee looked at this issue, it recommended that a broader bursary system be introduced for looked-after children in post-16 education and training.

I recognise that the Government are putting forward support in clause 22 in the way of a personal adviser in certain circumstances. The Government have responded in other arenas by saying that they have measures to support young people who are not in education, employment or training, such as by not charging fees for courses. If we want to ensure that we put as much emphasis on carrying on in training as on going to university, we must give a little more financial assistance to care leavers. I have deliberately included apprenticeships in the amendment because that could be an area where just that little bit of extra support is needed.

I hope that the Minister will respond to the general principle rather than the adequacy of the amendment and say why there should not be more assistance for the important proportion of care leavers who are not in education, employment or training and will not immediately take a university route, but who need support at this vital time.

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Kevin Brennan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Cardiff West, Labour)

The hon. Lady is as candid as ever in her charming way on the amendments. I will try to answer in the spirit in which she has invited me to respond. “Care Matters” set out an ambitious and wide-ranging programme of work to support the education and training of looked-after children and to ensure that they are supported in making a successful transition into adult life. Ensuring that they are able to pursue their chosen path post-18 depends on high quality support earlier on. To ensure that they have the best quality education possible, we have given them the highest priority in school admissions, we have put the role of the designated teacher—I am happy to say that again on the record—for looked-after children on a statutory footing, we have introduced an annual personal allowance of up to £500 for looked-after children at risk of not reaching the expected national targets and we are changing the way that local authorities support the education of looked-after children by piloting virtual school heads. There are therefore a lot of initiatives.

Support to enable looked-after children and care leavers to thrive in education goes wider than schools, as the hon. Lady said. That is why we have had the right to be cared for pilots, which give looked-after children greater involvement in deciding when they move to independence. Similarly, as we debated earlier, the “Staying Put” 18-plus family placement pilots give young adults the chance to remain with their former foster carers post-18 to provide additional stability.

We will come to provisions of the Bill that extend the entitlement to a personal adviser up to the age of 25 for all care leavers in education or training, or who want to return to education or training. That will be defined in the widest possible way. Access to a personal adviser will mean that care leavers have access to a pathway plan to set out their education and training needs and how they will be met. The support of the local authority will enable them to meet their ambitions.

We are committed across the piece to enable all care leavers, not just those going to university, to make the choices about education and training that are right for them, as we are for all young people. Leaving care services should ensure that young people are supported in the choices that they make and should help them to maximise the assistance that is available to support their learning, particularly through the provision of the personal adviser and the maintenance of the pathway plan.

The Government have also introduced a range of other support to help young people entering education, including care leavers. It includes fee remission and help with other costs, such as books and travel, for all young people. Tuition costs for first level 2 or 3 qualifications will be met in full for all young people up to the age of 25. Financial help is available through adult learning grants, and learner support is offered based on the needs of the individual. Priority is given to the most disadvantaged, and those in care are identified as one of the priority groups for that learner support. In addition, where a former relevant child is in full-time further or higher education, sections 23C and 24B of the Children Act 1989 enable local authorities to provide suitable accommodation during the vacation or pay the young person enough to enable them to secure their own accommodation.

I understand and appreciate the hon. Lady’s concerns and the sentiment behind the amendments. I hope that the Committee will understand that the Government are committed to providing support for care leavers in a range of education and training, but we must also recognise the situation regarding care leavers’ access to higher education. Only 6 per cent. of care leavers aged 19, as the hon. Lady said, are in higher education, and that figure has remained largely unchanged for a number of years. I think that we would all agree that that is not acceptable.

The work undertaken on the “Care Matters” Green and White Papers revealed clear evidence that looked-after children face significant additional barriers to higher education. For example, they finish higher education with an average of £2,000 more debt than their peers. During the consultation, children and young people said that many care leavers are put off higher education by the belief that they will not be able to meet the additional costs involved. Some 83 per cent. of young  people at consultation events for the National Children’s Bureau “What Makes the Difference?” Green Paper thought that the £2,000 bursary for higher education was a very good idea, and I am sure that Committee members agree. Some 73 per cent. thought that it would encourage more young people in care to go on to higher education.

Although I understand the hon. Lady’s motivation, I hope that she will accept my reassurance that we are committed to supporting care leavers in further education and training, including apprenticeships; and that that she will recognise that the clause acknowledges the unique position of care leavers who enter higher education. The evidence is clear about the specific support that they need to encourage them to take up higher education without incurring additional debt. I hope that she will agree to withdraw her amendment and support the clause.

5:00 pm
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Annette Brooke (Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Children, Schools and Families; Mid Dorset and North Poole, Liberal Democrat)

I certainly support the clause. It is important. I am, of course, rather disappointed by the Minister’s reply, because it is important to identify additional areas where care leavers need support. I appreciate the point about the personal adviser. We hope that the many measures to support young people as they go through school will help to improve the situation, and that the percentage of looked-after children who are not in education, employment or training will be monitored. With that comment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 22 and 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.