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Clause 12

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 7th February 2008.

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Duty to make arrangements to identify persons not fulfilling duty imposed by section 2

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Clause 12 is a rather frightening clause. I know that local authorities need to know which children are resident in their area so that they can enforce compulsory education, and I realise that they need data that they can use to promote participation post-16. I also realise that much of those data are already collected by Connexions so it can fulfil its function, However, the wording of the Green Paper is rather alarming in paragraph 7.3, which states:

“In every area of the country, considerable effort is being put into identifying where young people currently are and what they are doing”.

The duty imposed by clause 12, similarly, requires local authorities to

“make arrangements to enable it to establish...the identities of persons belonging to its area ... who are failing to fulfil the duty imposed by section 2.”

Those sorts of powers and duties are always introduced with good intent, but it would be helpful if the Minister, for the record, spelt out the extent to which the duty in the clause is new, why it is necessary and why the clause is needed?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The duty on local authorities is, as I think the hon. Member understands, fundamental. As he says, it is clear that for the local authority to fulfil its duty of promoting participation, and to ensure that everyone benefits from staying on, it will need to know who is not participating and what is being done to re-engage them. That information is necessary so that personal advisers from Connexions can contact the young person and offer them support in finding or accessing provision.

The Connexions service already uses a tracking system, so as far as I am aware, the clause simply restates the existing arrangements, taking into account the transfer of Connexions to local authorities. When Connexions makes the transfer, if the database is not maintained, it will be impossible to track young people and, therefore, to intervene effectively and provide support that is timely and appropriate to their needs. The clause simply strengthens the legal basis for the tracking system, and in so doing, it sets a legal imperative to ensure that, by 2013, local authorities are fully equipped to carry out those functions and to ensure that those young people who are in most need are identified promptly and provided with timely support.

Technically the duty is a new one, but the clause is very similar to section 436A of the Education Act 1996, which deals with pre-16s, so we are only reinforcing an existing system and extending the legal duty from pre-16 to post-16 in line with the Bill. I hope that that is clear enough to enable the Committee to approve the clause.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I shall not detain the Committee long, but we tabled an amendment to delete the clause, so I need at least to register my concerns, which are broadly in line with those expressed by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. The Minister said, quite rightly, that there is a similar duty now covering pre-16s, as one would expect. However, the clause sets out a new duty, which presumably will have large costs associated with it and is completely tied in to the duties regarding compulsion in the Bill. That is why we tabled our amendment to delete the clause, which is one of the parts of the Bill that we oppose.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Yeovil. Given that we are opposed to the concept of compulsion, we wish to divide the Committee on clause stand part.

Question put, that the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5.

Division number 11 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 12

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.