Amendment 108

Schools Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 18th July 2022.

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Baroness Brinton:

Moved by Baroness Brinton

108: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—“Duty to report child sexual abuse(1) Where a provider of activities in a school-age educational setting has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting the commission of sexual abuse of children who are in their care, they have a duty to report their knowledge or suspicion as soon as practicable to—(a) the local authority designated officer (LADO),(b) children’s services, or(c) such other single point of contact with the local authority as designated by that authority for the purpose of reporting the knowledge or suspicion of sexual abuse of children.(2) The duty in subsection (1) applies whether the abuse has taken place in the setting of the regulated activity or elsewhere.(3) The duty under subsection (1) applies to—(a) the operators of a setting in which the activity takes place;(b) staff employed in any such setting in a managerial or general welfare role;(c) all other employed, contracted or voluntary staff and assistants only for the period of time during which they have had direct personal contact with such a child.(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) children are in the care of providers of regulated activities—(a) in the case of the operators of any setting in which the regulated activity takes place and of staff employed by the operators at any such setting in a managerial or general welfare role, for the period of time during which the operators are bound contractually or otherwise to accommodate or care for such children whenever the regulated activity is provided, and (b) in the case of all other employed or contracted staff or voluntary staff and assistants, for the period of time only in which they are personally attending such children in the capacity for which they were employed or their services were contracted for.(5) A person who fails to fulfil the duty in subsection (1) is guilty of an offence.(6) It is a defence to show that the LADO, children’s services or other single point of contact was informed by any other party of the commission or suspected commission of sexual abuse.(7) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.(8) A person who makes a report under subsection (1) in good faith, or who does any other act as required by this section, cannot by so doing be held liable in any civil or criminal or administrative proceeding, and cannot be held to have breached any code of professional etiquette or ethics, or to have departed from any acceptable form of professional conduct.(9) A person who causes or threatens to cause any detriment to a person to whom subsection (1) applies, or to another person, either wholly or partly related to the person’s actual or intended provision of a report under this Act, is guilty of an offence.(10) In subsection (9) “detriment” includes any personal, social, economic, professional, or other detriment to the person.(11) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (9) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.(12) In this section—“children” means persons who have not attained the age of 18 years;“providers of activities” has the same meaning as in section 6 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, in so far as the activity takes place in a school-age educational setting.”

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

Amendment 108 in my name is on mandatory reporting of child sex abuse. I thank the Minister for her comments at the Dispatch Box in Committee, when she said that the Government have no evidence that mandatory reporting is effective. In my contribution, I referred specifically to academic research in countries where mandatory reporting has been introduced and is working well. It is evidenced, but the Government clearly do not want to look at it.

Teachers in Australia, who were unhappy with the principle prior to its introduction, now feel it has given them more confidence in reporting suspicions and that they would not be ignored by the school or, worse, punished for reporting difficult evidence. Professor Ben Mathews from Queensland University of Technology, a world expert in mandatory reporting and how it works in practice, gave evidence in 2019 to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse. I hope that, once Ministers have read this evidence and the comments of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse victims’ group when they responded to a survey on mandatory reporting, the Government would reconsider.

I am very well aware that the IICSA will be publishing its final report in the autumn. I understand that the Government will want to wait until then and will respond in due course, but I remain concerned that there is not a will yet to understand how mandatory reporting is transforming the reporting on child sex abuse by educational professions. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, Amendment 118D would mean teachers in all schools would be

“required to have, or be enrolled on a course such that they are working towards, qualified teacher status” before September 2024. I have spoken extensively previously about teachers without QTS having less pedagogical training and less subject knowledge than their qualified colleagues, although I do note the Minister’s previous replies to this on several occasions. However, I firmly believe the Government need to match the ambition of Labour’s national excellence programme. This amendment will begin to address these current failings.

Amendment 118E would mean that, within a year of Royal Assent, the Secretary of State, whoever he or she will be, would have to ensure that

“every … school is working towards establishing a breakfast club, able to provide a free breakfast to every pupil who requests one”.

Yet again this evening, the UK Government could learn from what the Labour Government are doing in Wales: providing free breakfasts in primary schools has been an integral part of the wider work the Welsh Government have done to improve food and nutrition in schools maintained by local authorities since September 2004.

Finally, Amendment 118I would mean that, within six months of Royal Assent, the Secretary of State would have to

“consult on and launch a school children’s pandemic recovery plan”.

The consultation would include:

“free breakfast clubs … extra-curricular activities for every child … provision of … in-school mental health counselling staff … small group tutoring … ongoing learning and development for teachers, and … an education recovery premium”.

This may include uplifting the current premium rate by 10%, increasing the early years pupil premium to match the premium rates for primary school pupils, and expanding the secondary age pupil premium to include pupils aged 16 to 18 and children with child protection plans. There is so much to do but this amendment clearly sets out the difference between what a Labour Government would do for the children and young people of England compared with what little they are now receiving and will continue to receive under this Conservative Government.

Photo of Lord Hacking Lord Hacking Labour

My Lords, I was for a short time a governor—the noble Baroness is looking at me as if I am doing something wrong—of our local primary school. I remember at a governors’ meeting that one of the teacher-appointed members of the governing body was the English teacher. The only trouble was that he could hardly speak any grammatical English. I wondered often—and spoke to the headmistress about it—how good he was at teaching English.

Two other amendments are being considered in this group, both in the names of my two noble friends on the Front Bench. I support both of those. It is not easy to set up breakfast clubs and the like at primary schools. You have to stretch teachers to provide those services but when they can be provided, they are of enormous assistance and enable parents to go and get on with their lives—nothing could be easier. It also ensures that children start with a good breakfast.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 118L in my name and I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Although we were too late to get him on the list, this is also supported by the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead. He was the first chair of Feeding Britain, a job he passed on to me.

This is a very simple amendment which would mean that families of pupils who are eligible to receive free school meals are automatically registered rather than having to opt in. By the Government’s best estimate, 11% of children who are eligible are not registered. This could mean that up to 200,000 children in England are missing out on both a nutritious meal and the pupil premium.

We have investigated this a great deal at Feeding Britain. We know that it works. When the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead, was in the other place he attracted cross-party support from 125 Members, but that Session drew to a close before his Bill could receive a Second Reading. As well as the support, my amendment has the advantage of being proven to work. When automatic registration has been piloted, as it was under the old housing benefit regime in the Wirral, more than 600 additional children were automatically signed up.

The Children’s Commissioner, the Local Government Association and Henry Dimbleby, in the national food strategy, have all supported this, and this amendment really goes with the grain of government policy in other areas, such as the warm home discount and cost of living payments. Even my own pension arrives automatically, whether I want it or not. It seems quite extraordinary that a child has to opt in to get a meal, especially now in the cost of living crisis. This is a very simple and straightforward amendment and I urge the Government to accept it.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I am aware of the hour and will be extremely brief. I just want to speak in favour of Amendment 118L, so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I want to make two points in addition to what she said, while associating myself with what she said and noting that the noble Lord, Lord Field, has also shown his support for this.

First, the children who are the most vulnerable, from families which for whatever reason—language difficulties, other disadvantages—may find it difficult to navigate the system, are those who need those free school meals the most. If we do not have an automatic opt-out system, the people who miss out will include the most vulnerable.

The other point is that, a couple of weeks ago, a survey by LACA, the school caterers’ trade body, demonstrated that despite the number of pupils eligible for free school meals rising very significantly, more than half of the caterers surveyed were seeing the number of free school meals that they were providing going down. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, we know that so many families are struggling with the cost of living crisis. This very modest amendment would at least ensure that those who are eligible for free school meals are getting them. I would like to see free school meals expanded much further and perhaps renamed to take away some of the stigma. This would simply ensure that people who are entitled to something get it. They are not only entitled to it; people desperately need these healthy school meals.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 10:00 pm, 18th July 2022

I begin by responding to Amendment 108, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, regarding mandatory reporting. As we set out in the March 2018 government response to the reporting and acting on child abuse consultation, and as the noble Baroness quoted me as saying—though perhaps I should have been clearer—there was no clear evidence from those who responded to the consultation to show that introducing a mandatory reporting duty would help keep children safe, and therefore the case was not made for its introduction. We are keeping this under review, and we await the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which is expected in the autumn.

Schools and colleges are already under legal duties to exercise their functions to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This includes having regard to the Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 statutory guidance, which makes it clear that if staff have any concerns about a child’s welfare, they should act on them immediately, and that any concerns should be referred to local authority children’s social care. Many other settings, such as extracurricular activities or clubs, are already required to register with Ofsted and must ensure that they have the processes and policies in place to safeguard the children they look after. That includes reporting any incident or allegation of serious harm or abuse to Ofsted, or any significant event that might affect someone’s suitability to look after or be in regular contact with children.

In all such cases Ofsted will pass the information to the relevant police or local authority and take appropriate action to ensure the safety of children cared for at the registered provider. Where settings are not registered with Ofsted, our guidance is clear that these settings should have clear escalation routes to manage concerns and allegations against staff and volunteers that might pose a risk of harm to children.

I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, for Amendments 118D, 118I and 118E regarding qualified teacher status, education recovery and breakfast clubs. Amendment 118D would restrict the flexibility that school leaders in academies currently have to recruit unqualified teachers and goes further than the restrictions currently imposed on maintained schools via the Education Act 2002. The current scheme allows maintained schools to employ teachers without qualified teacher status in several circumstances beyond those where a teacher is working towards qualified teacher status. This amendment would also remove those limited freedoms for maintained schools.

On Amendment 118I, we know that the impacts of the pandemic have been significant for all children, especially those who are disadvantaged, which is why we are targeting our support at those most in need. The latest evidence suggests that recovery is under way following the Government’s almost £5 billion investment for a comprehensive recovery package. Since spring 2021, primary pupils had recovered around two-thirds of progress lost in reading and around half of progress lost in maths. By May 2022, 1.5 million courses had already been started by children across England through the National Tutoring Programme. I can confirm that the latest data is due to be published imminently, and we expect to see a further significant increase.

Through the catch-up and recovery premium, we have provided £950 million of direct funding to schools, to help them deliver evidence-based approaches for those pupils most in need. The Government are providing an additional £1 billion to extend the recovery premium over the next two academic years. Additionally, this year, through the national funding formula, we are allocating £6.7 billion towards additional needs, including deprivation. The Government are also increasing pupil premium funding to £2.6 billion this year, and allocating £200 million a year to support disadvantaged pupils as part of the holiday activities and food programme over the next three years. Altogether, we are allocating £9.7 billion this year for pupils with additional needs, including deprivation.

On Amendment 118E, the Government recognise that a healthy breakfast can play an important role in ensuring that children from all backgrounds have a healthy start to their day, so that they enhance their learning potential. We are committed to supporting school breakfasts, and our approach has always been to support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are most in need of that provision. We are investing up to £24 million in the national school breakfast programme for 2021-23, and will support up to 2,500 schools in disadvantaged areas, which will be targeted by the programme. Alongside our national programme, schools can also consider using their pupil premium funding to support their financial contribution to breakfast club provision, as endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation’s pupil premium guide. Overall, the Government are investing significantly to support children from low-income families, and it is right that we are targeting investment towards those who are most in need.

Finally, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Bennett, for Amendment 118L regarding free school meals. We want to make sure that as many eligible pupils as possible are claiming their free school meals, and to make it as simple as possible for schools and local authorities to determine eligibility. We provide an eligibility checking system to make the checking process as quick and straightforward as possible, and we continue to use and refine a model registration form to help schools encourage parents to sign up for free school meals.

We are also continuing to explore the options and delivery feasibility of introducing auto-enrolment functionality. However, there are complex data, systems and legal implications of such a change, which require careful consideration. Therefore, we think it is premature to change this through primary legislation at the moment, but I would be happy to meet both noble Baronesses to discuss how we can move this forward. For the reasons outlined, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, Amendment 118D in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Chapman, talks about the importance of ensuring that all trainee teachers are working towards qualified teacher status. Amendment 118E outlines the important way that breakfast club arrangements work well in Wales, and Amendment 118I focuses on a recovery plan of pupil premiums. We are so delighted that Labour is as keen as the Lib Dems on the pupil premium, which we brought in during the coalition, and which we have pushed the Conservatives to expand since those days. I hope the Government will now consider it.

Amendment 188L from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on free school meals is simple—ensuring an auto opt-in and a voluntary opt-out, so that no child will slip through the net—and probably virtually without cost.

I am grateful to the Minister for her response to my Amendment 108. I am relieved that she clarified things by saying that there was no evidence of mandatory reporting working from a survey, which is rather different from the strong body of academic research from around the world that now shows that mandatory reporting makes a big difference. I hope the Government will look at that research—IICSA certainly has. I am very much looking forward to seeing the IICSA report in the autumn. I hope that it will make clear recommendations on mandatory reporting. I will not press this to a vote this evening so, with that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 108.

Amendment 108 withdrawn.

Amendments 109 and 110 not moved.

Amendment 111 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendments 112 to 118M not moved.

Clause 70: Commencement

Amendment 119 not moved.

House adjourned at 10.11 pm.