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Clause 1

Part of Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 31st January 2008.

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Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 3:00 pm, 31st January 2008

Thank you. Under the duvet is a much more modern way of staying in bed.

The fourth or third option, or whatever it may be, would give to young people the very intensive medical and social support that many of the hardest-to-reach core might need. The Minister must accept that those individuals might not remotely count as being in  education and training because the support they receive from the agencies may look nothing like education and training in the first instance. That might be a very good thing, because some of the youngsters that I referred to earlier seem to be at a stage where the prospects of them engaging with anything that looks like educational training are so remote as to be close to zero.

It is possible—in many cases it would not be difficult—that other services could engage with those young people. Local authorities would have to budget to fund those services—often the budgets are not there for the young people who need support. If the Government were to allow a third or fourth option of support that might ultimately lead to education and training, without education and training being the obligation throughout that process, we would have considerably fewer concerns about that practical element of the Bill. It might ensure that many vulnerable young people who experienced a wide range of problems in their early life can suddenly access the type of care and support at the ages of 16 and 17 that they are currently unable to get.

The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton made a good point when he said that it was sad that we have to pass legislation with threats of criminalisation and fines in order to encourage other agencies to embrace their obligations. If the Government are insistent on pushing the measure through, we might as well ensure that the support that young people will receive is as relevant as possible to their needs.

I hope that the Minister will give us a little more information about the categories of people who may be considered to have a reasonable excuse not to be in education and training. Furthermore, does he have an open mind on the obligations on young people not being restricted to education and training, but taking in their support needs; and, in particular, those support needs not being conditional on being in education and training at the same time, but in some cases preceding the ability to go into education and training?

On how the opt-out would operate and whether there should be a waiver certificate, it is worth touching on a couple of other categories of people with whom there might be problems. In her evidence, Alison Wolf referred to people who might have left a course, as many young people over the age of 16 do. We assume that that would be dealt with by interpreting in a reasonable way the potential to opt out through a reasonable excuse.

We have not even begun to touch on the wider issue of all those young people who disengage from the education service before the age of 16. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings referred to the latest available figure of 10.5 per cent. of the year 11 cohort. Although that figure may be broken down to trim off some who are merely going on exotic holidays—not to Bognor Regis—we will still find that a large core group has disengaged well beyond the age of 16. It remains a serious concern that those young people, who might not have some of the justifications that I have described, may still be determined not to engage; they may be determined to avoid the process of local authority scrutiny and obligation and may, as a consequence of being criminalised, be even less likely to engage with some of the services they need and to go into employment. However, that is a wider issue, which relates to the Government’s decision to go down the compulsion route.