Schools: Children in Care - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:06 am on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Conservative 11:06 am, 7th September 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to enable more children in care to obtain places in state and independent boarding schools.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for this Question, as it is a subject close to my heart. We are very keen to encourage more local authorities to consider boarding for vulnerable children. This summer we launched the Boarding School Partnerships service, very ably chaired by Colin Morrison, the former chair of the Royal National Children’s Foundation, and this service operates jointly with the boarding schools sector and charities to help local authorities collaborate with charities to place vulnerable children in state and independent boarding schools.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that children in care can benefit greatly from a boarding education where they are suited to it? Is it not the case that many local councils once recognised this, with some 10,000 placements being arranged in the late 1960s?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree entirely with my noble friend that boarding can have great benefits for the right children, and we want to see more vulnerable children able to access it. My noble friend is quite right that boarding was more common at one time. Boarding school, with its 24/7 level of pastoral care, can be particularly suitable for vulnerable children, and that is why we are encouraging its use more widely and why we have set up the Boarding School Partnerships.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, has this scheme been evaluated, and, if so, how? Have children been asked about the success of the scheme?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

That is a very good question from the noble Baroness. The scheme was launched only a few months ago and we will be concentrating initially on promoting it with local authorities. The department recently had a very successful event with local authorities to launch it with a number of people who had been care and at boarding school speaking passionately about it. Our first step is to promote it with local authorities, but we will, when appropriate, evaluate it.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Chair, Accommodation Steering Group Committee, Chair, Services Committee

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is easy to say that this facility should be for children when it is appropriate for them? But please let us not gloss over what happened in the 1960s. Many children were sent to boarding schools where, frankly, they were out of sight, out of mind and they had some terrible experiences. Let us go for a wide range, but make sure the placement is appropriate to the child’s needs.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree entirely with the noble Lord. It is essential that the placement is appropriate and, as I have said, this is appropriate only for some children. We have moved a long way from the 1960s, but I entirely agree with everything that he says.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop

My Lords, as the Minister is aware, those who live in tied accommodation as part of their employment or the holding of an office have an unintentional structural disadvantage when it comes to their children’s schooling. This is ameliorated in the case of military families but not in the case of others, such as clergy and their children. Will Her Majesty’s Government now act to address this disadvantage by amending the code?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I will look at this and I am happy to discuss it with the right reverend Prelate in more detail. I am not briefed on it, but I am fully aware of the situation with military families and I will look at the point he makes.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, the appropriate word is “appropriate”, and we must do what is right for the individual child in care. It might be that boarding school provision is correct, but would the Minister agree that, where boarding school provision is provided, we must have the most vigorous safeguarding assessment of that provision?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with the noble Lord that that is essential, but we have moved a long way from the 1960s. It may have been, as a reaction to some of the points the noble Lord, Lord Laming, made, that we have moved too far in the other direction and there is a certain overreluctance by some local authorities. We have definitely seen that local authorities are now better informed and visit schools. If noble Lords visit the Boarding School Partnerships website—at boardingschoolpartnerships.org.uk—they will be impressed, as there is a lot of information there to help local authorities on which schools are providing this and how they might assess whether it is appropriate for a particular child.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, will local authorities retain their duty of care during term time, and what arrangements will be made during holidays to see that the children’s educational interests are not neglected during that time?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My noble friend makes a very good point, as local authorities do remain responsible. In holidays there are some facilities that may be able to keep children and we have initiatives to try to extend such arrangements, but it is certainly the case that local authorities continue to be responsible.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, is it true that this whole programme is being driven by the need to save money, as against placing children in foster care? In so far as we know that only 100 children nationally are now in such placements, surely we should fully evaluate the effect on those children before we proceed further down this route.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

It is not driven by money at all; it is driven by a passionate belief by a number of people, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and others who have been to boarding school that it can help and that we had lurched into a certain prejudice against boarding schools. We are just inviting local authorities to look more widely at the options and making much more information available to allow them to evaluate those options.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, while acknowledging the potential benefits of the Boarding School Partnerships, the noble Lord will be aware that most children in care will have experienced some kind of trauma and a high proportion have unmet mental health needs. Extending the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, I think that it is questionable whether boarding schools are equipped to provide the sort of wraparound support that these children may need. Indeed, such a placement does not necessarily address the reasons a child was taken into care in the first place. For many of the children being placed at a state or independent boarding school, that will be outside their local authority. Research by the Children’s Society demonstrates that the further children are placed from home, the more likely they are to go missing from care. Will the Minister give an assurance that, when children in care are placed in boarding schools outside their home local authorities, the placing local authority will share appropriate information with the host authority to ensure that these children are appropriately safeguarded and have their particular needs met?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Lord raises a very good point. I think that that is the situation, but I will check and write to him.