My Lords, I declare my interests as a former chairman of the Local Government Association and a current LGA vice-president. As a former teacher, I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to speak in today’s important debate, and I thank the most reverend Primate for initiating it.
The importance of education in providing our young people with the skills they need to flourish and ultimately to lead challenging and rewarding lives is something I am sure we can all agree upon. I am pleased to note the Government’s achievements in education over the past seven years, which are giving millions of children a better start in life than they could have expected a decade ago. Thanks to the school reforms such as the establishment of free schools and academies, and changes to ensure a more rigorous curriculum, there are now more good and outstanding schools today than ever before. Indeed, there are now 1.8 million more children in schools rated good and outstanding than in 2010, while the proportion of pupils taking core academic subjects at GCSE has almost doubled.
However, too many children are still not receiving the start in life that they deserve. In order to ensure that ours is a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and hard work will allow, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, can have a world-class education. There is a wealth of evidence to show that what really determines a person’s life chances is the opportunities they are offered very early on. Early years learning and targeted support for families are two areas of education policy that I am therefore particularly passionate about, due to the transformative impact they can have on young lives.
As a former leader of Bradford Council and a vice-president of the Local Government Association, I am delighted that local government is leading the way in these areas. To highlight just one example that I am familiar with, North Yorkshire County Council became the first local authority in the country to take the national troubled families model and introduce it as a mainstream approach for its children and young people’s services, with one plan and a dedicated social worker for each family in need. Prevention teams provide highly targeted support at times when families are most in need in order to stop problems escalating, and in doing so they are backed up by support from a variety of external agencies. This programme builds on the successful “developing stronger families” scheme which helped 850 families and resulted in significant reductions in truancy and exclusions, youth crime, anti-social behaviour and youth unemployment in the most challenging households. The current programme is also making a real difference to the lives of people living in troubled families, as evidenced by a 20% reduction in the social care population. I believe that if we are to give our young people the best possible start in life, it is programmes such as these, delivered at a local level and tailored to individual families and their individual circumstances, that truly have a transformative impact.
Moving on to formal education, if we are to have a system that works for everyone it is important that the way funding is distributed to schools is fair. This is currently not the case, since across the country children with the same needs and expectations receive markedly different rates of funding for their school places. The Government are addressing this through the introduction of the new national funding formula, which I welcome. Of course, a reform such as this is complex and will inevitably produce winners and losers. That is why I join the LGA in welcoming the Government’s announcement of £1.3 billion in funding to ensure that no school will lose out under the national funding formula in 2018-19 and 2019-20. I am also pleased that the Government are committed to protecting the pupil premium, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, to ensure that children and young people who need the most support receive it. I am sure that Ministers are aware of the LGA’s current lobbying on the funding of children’s services and the pressures that council budgets are facing; no doubt they will be carefully considering this in the run-up to the local government finance settlement, which is expected shortly.
I have spoken about early years education and formal education, and I will conclude by highlighting the importance of offering real opportunities to the 200,000 young people who chose to enter full-time vocational study after their GCSEs. Apprenticeships provide a great opportunity for young people who are keen to enter the world of work, and I am delighted that councils are playing an active role in promoting them. For example, Kent County Council offers a range of apprenticeships to help local young people start their careers. As part of the comprehensive offer, apprentices supported by the council receive £140 per week during their apprenticeships, support for all the qualifications they are required to study for, access to a mentor and to the council’s training schemes, and support in looking for a job when the apprenticeship is finished. The council also offers support, advice and access to relevant funding to local businesses that are interested in taking on apprentices. Apprenticeships represent a potential transformation in the life chances of the young people who participate by boosting their self-esteem and giving them the skills they need to enter the world of work.
In conclusion, a good education and a decent start in life are not luxuries; they are rights that should be enjoyed by everyone. I am delighted to have taken part in this debate and I look forward to hearing from the remaining speakers.