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Education Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

As I hope noble Lords would expect, we are entirely sympathetic with the main thrust of the amendment. It is a very important matter. The noble Baroness moved the amendment most eloquently and brought some new and powerful research to our considerations.

By way of preface, everything that the noble Baroness said fits in with what we are trying to do in government—that is, we are trying to be much more responsive to the voice of the child, no matter in what context and no matter what is said and how it is heard. In 2002, we started with Listening to Learn—an action plan for involving children and young people. That was updated in July 2004. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, pointed out, the whole thrust of the Children Act, not least thanks to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was to amplify the voice and the role of the child in helping us to inform our policies in the interests of children. Therefore, we are very much moving towards that agenda. During debate on this Bill, for example, we have already discussed how pupils receive their own feedback as part of the inspection process. They will have their own letter describing what the inspector has found, tailored to their needs.

However, one point that we must bear in mind is the process of exclusion. It is a serious process which, as noble Lords have said, has a very serious impact on young people. We also have to ensure that the balance of interests is satisfied. The welfare of individual pupils is vital, and responsible bodies dealing with exclusions must also consider the welfare of others in the school community. So we are talking very much about getting the balance right. Placing a duty on responsible bodies to have regard only to the welfare and education of an individual child could result in decisions which may adversely affect their overall duty to be able to deliver the welfare and education of the wider school community. We had similar debates earlier in Committee and we should be aware of that matter in context.

Regarding excluded pupils missing out on education, since September 2002 all local authorities have made a commitment to provide full-time education for all permanently excluded pupils and the vast majority of authorities are doing this. We are working with those that are finding it more difficult.

Guidance is issued both in England and Wales, which goes to appeal panels and governing bodies. That certainly advises that if they wish to do so and the parent agrees, young people would be allowed to speak and to give their accounts of events at each stage of the exclusions process. Schools which are not doing that are not following the guidance. A message should be sent to those schools. We agree with the spirit of the amendment, but since our guidance makes it clear that head teachers and reviewing bodies should involve pupils, we do not believe that legislation is necessary. That will disappoint my noble friend and other noble Lords who have spoken.

However, we would like to reflect on the research that she has mentioned and the arguments that she has made. In the light of my assurance regarding the guidance that we use, especially regarding some of the arguments put about the importance of the child speaking when sometimes the parent is either unwilling or reluctant to come forward, perhaps the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment and allow us to consider what she and other noble Lords have said.