Amendment 175

Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 10th February 2021.

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Baroness Burt of Solihull:

Moved by Baroness Burt of Solihull

175: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—“School admissions code: duty of Secretary of State(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months after this section comes into force, secure that the school admissions code issued for England under section 84 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“1998 Act”) contains such provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary to achieve the objective set out in subsection (5).(2) The Secretary of State must secure that the Commissioner is consulted about any proposed provision under subsection (1).(3) The Welsh Ministers must, within six months after this section comes into force, secure that the Welsh Government school admissions code issued under section 84 of the 1998 Act contains such provision as the Welsh Ministers consider necessary to achieve the objective set out in subsection (5).(4) The Welsh Ministers must secure that the Commissioner is consulted about any proposed provision under subsection (3).(5) The objective is that—(a) oversubscription criteria for admission to any school to which the school admissions code applies give the same priority to children falling within subsection (6) as to looked-after children (within the meaning of section 22(1) of the Children Act 1989), and(b) the Code contains appropriate guidance about admission of children who have moved home to avoid domestic abuse or who are otherwise affected by domestic abuse.(6) A child falls within this subsection if the child—(a) is in the care of, or provided with accommodation by, a body exercising a function which, if the body were a local authority, would be a social services function of the kind mentioned in section 22(1)(b) of the Children Act 1989, or(b) has moved home as a result of being affected by domestic abuse.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would extend the duty on local authorities to provide school places for “looked after children” to children who are forced to change schools as a result of domestic abuse.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment 175 does the equivalent for school places as my Amendment 52 does for NHS waiting lists. Both look to ensure that children fleeing with a parent from their abuser should not be further disadvantaged in terms of health and education. Specifically, Amendment 175 requires the school admissions code for England to be changed to give children fleeing domestic abuse in a refuge or other similar accommodation, or who have moved home because of domestic abuse, the same priority as looked-after children when there is a waiting list for school places. The equivalent actions should be afforded in Wales and an equivalent amendment provides for that.

I know that in some areas there is huge demand for places in popular schools. Nevertheless, after all they have been through, if these children need to be settled in school, they should not be disadvantaged even further by going to the back of the queue. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 7:30 pm, 10th February 2021

Amendment 175, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, would extend the duty on local authorities to provide school places for looked-after children to children who are forced to change schools as a result of domestic abuse. We support this amendment and its objective, which was raised by Jess Phillips MP, the shadow Minister, during the Commons proceedings on the Bill.

The average wait for children who move to obtain a new school place is between four and six months in cases of domestic abuse. That is four to six months away from their peers, without the routine and safety of school, while living in an unfamiliar house or refuge. The alternative would be to continue to attend the school, which is quite possibly an impossible distance away in a location deemed too dangerous for that child to live in. Many parents of such children do not have the required resources or technology to home-school their children—particularly not when they are in a domestic abuse situation, living in temporary accommodation, where children of varying ages and needs can be sharing one room, as may well be the case in a hotel, for example.

The impact of Covid-19 has also demonstrated the importance of schools for not only education, but the provision of food. It is estimated that some 1.3 million children are now dependent on food parcels from their school. Children not enrolled in school cannot access the food parcels provided by them. Schools have remained open for children with special educational needs and those with an education, health and care plan. Schools are integral to referring those with special education needs to the local authority so that they can receive an EHC plan. However, children who are not enrolled in a school do not have access to that safety net and the support that can be provided by schools.

Children who are impacted by domestic abuse and have to move because of it already face enough trauma without also losing out on their education or the safety and security of being in school. I hope we will find from their response that the Government agree.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for taking part in this short but important debate. We firmly believe that all vulnerable children, including those who have been affected by domestic abuse and are currently receiving care or who have had to move home as a result of domestic abuse, should be able to access a school place quickly. We believe that any gaps in their education must be kept to an absolute minimum.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, previously raised the issue of NHS waiting lists where children are compelled to move area as a result of domestic abuse. Amendment 175 seeks to address the issue of changing schools by focusing on the application process for a school place in the normal admissions round—for instance, at the start of reception or year 7. However, children fleeing domestic abuse are more likely to be applying at other times, which, in the current drafting—with the usual caveats about this being a Committee amendment—Amendment 175 does not currently provide for.

The Department for Education has recently consulted on changes to the School Admissions Code to improve the in-year admissions process and fair access protocols to ensure that vulnerable children, specifically including children on a child in need plan or a child protection plan, and those in refuges or safe accommodation, can secure a school place quickly and keep the disruption to their education to an absolute minimum. The new School Admissions Code will provide detailed requirements and guidance for all, particularly vulnerable children moving in-year. The Department for Education proposes to publish this new guidance on fair access protocols, which provide a safety net for the most vulnerable children moving in-year.

We think that these changes and this action, rather than giving joint-highest admission priority alongside looked-after children for the main admission round, will have the greatest impact in achieving what I think lies behind the amendment: ensuring that all vulnerable children can access a school place as quickly as possible, including those who have been affected by domestic abuse. Given the work being undertaken in this area, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for rounding out some of the information as to why we need this small amendment. The average waiting time of four to six months for a child who has fled with a parent from domestic abuse is not acceptable. He outlined very clearly all the reasons why that is the case.

I was quite pleased with what the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, said regarding the new School Admissions Code on fair access protocols. I think he is reasonably confident that this will have the required effect; I very much hope so too. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 175 withdrawn.

Amendments 176 and 177 not moved.

Sitting suspended.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:50 pm, 10th February 2021

My Lords, we now come to Amendment 177A. Once again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.