Clause 58

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 26th February 2008.

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Educational institutions: access and facilities

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I beg to move amendment No. 98, in clause 58, page 31, line 32, after ‘56(1)(b)’, insert

‘and subject to the consent of the pupil or student.’.

As you will have noticed, Mr. Bayley, after his arduous work over recent weeks, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton is having a rather quieter time this morning than he has had thus far. The burden has fallen heavily on me. None the less, he has been useful and supportive, as always in our team, in reminding me of the substance of the amendment. According to the explanatory notes:

“Clause 58 places a duty on the responsible persons for educational institutions to allow Connexions service providers reasonable access to pupils and students and to provide reasonable facilities on the institution’s premises for providing services.”

The amendment is straightforward, and it simply says that the powers that Connexions service providers are given should be

“subject to the consent of the pupil or student.”

That is important, because it underpins the approach that we have taken throughout our considerations that the Bill must be about engaging young people by encouraging them to make a positive commitment, rather than obliging them in a way that is likely to exacerbate their detachment from learning and skilling. We have relentlessly championed the cause of those young people, particularly the most vulnerable, and I make no apologies for doing so. It is my mission in politics to speak most loudly for those least able to speak for themselves. In that spirit, I am proud to have moved the amendment that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, who has given me such assistance in making this short peroration.

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)

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings and his scriptwriter, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, on that peroration. The effect of the amendment would be to prevent Connexions services from having access to students and available facilities in their place of learning, unless consent was given by the student. That would make it much more difficult for the Connexions service to provide support to young people, and it would also create an unhelpful, complicated and confusing layer of bureaucracy for schools and colleges.

Learning providers already enable all students to access Connexions, so that the service can offer them support. As local authorities are going to take responsibility for providing the Connexions service, the present arrangements should continue. If that were not the case, it would significantly jeopardise the effectiveness of the Connexions service. If accepted, the amendment would mean that the Connexions service would be unable to access in their place of learning young people who failed or refused to give their consent. Very often, those young people are the most vulnerable ones, and include individuals with behavioural problems or chaotic lifestyles—the very  people whom the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has told us it is his mission in politics to represent.

The amendment would effectively bar Connexions services from helping the young people who need their support the most. I do not believe that that is the hon. Gentleman’s intention. I believe it is rather to ensure that if learning providers provide Connexions services access to their students, the students are under no obligation to accept the offer of Connexions support unless they choose to do so. That is existing practice, particularly in the case of one-to-one support, where the student has actively to engage with the Connexions personal adviser of their own volition.

The clause, as drafted, will continue to facilitate the existing arrangements, which are vital to the successful operations of Connexions services. There is no question of a young person being put in detention so that they can be forced to have a meeting with the personal adviser. It would remain a voluntary activity on the part of the young person. I would not want Connexions to be unable to go on to a school site without a specific piece of consent from a specific pupil.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

One of the problems that arises at some further education colleges is that popular courses are oversubscribed. If there is a hairdressing suite, for example, it can only take so many hairdressers. Would the provision interfere with that in any way? Would it enable a Connexions adviser to force somebody on to a hairdressing course if there was not really room for them?

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)

No, it would not interfere with that at all. There is no question of personal advisers forcing individuals on to particular courses. It is important that young people are motivated to take courses.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I did not mean forcing an individual to do a course, but forcing the institution to take an extra individual when that course is full.

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)

I do not believe that the service would have the power to force institutions to take individuals on to certain courses. The only powers of which I am aware are those that require institutions to accept individuals of compulsory school age. Those matters are dealt with in the admissions code, which has statutory force. The change that we made in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 means that a local authority can require an institution to take a looked-after child if it is in the best interests of that child’s education. I hope that in the light of my response to those interventions and my reasoning the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I shall not press the amendment, although I want to re-emphasise my point: the system will work only if it inspires young people to make their own commitment to be advised and trained. It will not work if young people are dragged grudgingly, kicking and screaming, towards the Connexions adviser, then forced on to a training course that they do not want to take.  That will simply not work. During the passage of the Bill, we have made that point repeatedly—amplified beautifully by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton in particular—but I am not sure that it has been heard clearly by Ministers. Although I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, I suspect that we will return to the matter time and again in the continuing passage of the legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.