Clause 40

– in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 17th March 2009.

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Education and training for persons over compulsory school age: general duty

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 250, in clause 40, page 23, leave out lines 21 to 26 and insert—

‘(1) A local education authority in England must secure the provision of proper facilities for education and training (as defined by subsection 2) suitable to the requirements of persons in their area—

(a) who are above compulsory school age and under 19, and

(b) who are aged over 19 or over but under 25 and subject to learning difficulty assessment.

(2) Facilities are proper if they are—

(a) of a quality sufficient to meet the reasonable needs of individuals, and

(b) of a quality adequate to meet those needs.’.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this we may discuss the following: amendment 251, in clause 40, page 23, line 22, leave out ‘reasonable’.

Amendment 252, in clause 40, page 23, line 31, leave out ‘to meet persons’ reasonable needs’ and insert

‘to the requirements of persons in their area.’.

Amendment 253, in clause 40, page 23, line 31, leave out ‘reasonable’.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

This group of amendments probe the apparent contradictions between the wording in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the Bill. Clauses 40 and 41 replace provisions in that Act—in particular, sections 2, 3 and 13—which will be repealed. Clauses 40 and 41 do not follow the same wording as those provisions in the Act and it is not easy to judge whether the differences are necessary, or appropriate, in view of the shift in the Education and Skills Act 2008 from the entitlement for 16 to 19-year-olds to participate in education, to a duty for them to participate in education and training.

I would like to expand on amendments 251 and 253, because they both require that the word “reasonable” be omitted. With the previous legislation, there were two qualities required for education and training: that they must be suitable and that they must be enough to meet the reasonable needs of persons in the area. From the proposed new section, 157A(3), it is not entirely clear how the criteria for suitability is to be judged; there are criteria, but there is no guide as to what meets “reasonable” needs—that is the point that I am making. In particular, it seems to be left up to local authorities to decide whether the needs claimed by persons in their area are reasonable. The clause uses the phrase

“reasonable needs of persons in their area”.

Does that refer to the reasonable needs of each person, or the reasonable needs of the collective of persons? It is a significant question. Judged by a reference to each individual, that might be entirely reasonable. However, it might be considered unreasonable to have to meet the similar needs of a large number of people all at the same time. That problem of interpretation does not appear to arise in the wording currently used in the Learning and Skills Act, which makes it clear that it is the reasonable needs of the individual that must be satisfied.

Removing the word “reasonable” from subsections 1 and 3 would not have the effect of obliging local education authorities to make absurdly over the top provision; the danger is clearly checked by subsections 4(e) and 5, which re-enact similar provisions of the Learning and Skills Act. The significance of the word “reasonable” in the Bill is very difficult to understand and could be dangerous when the Act comes to be interpreted. The amendments are probing amendments, but they reflect important concerns, particularly on whether we apply reasonable needs to individuals, or to the collective individuals in a particular community.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

It is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Chope. After a brief respite in our rigorous scrutiny of the Bill, we return to our work with renewed enthusiasm and consider the amendments that stand in the name of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends.

Amendment 250 is the key amendment in this group. As she argued, it seeks to amend subsection (1), which states that local education authorities must secure that enough education and training is provided to meet a person’s reasonable needs, by qualifying that requirement further and referring to proper facilities for suitable education and training, married to the requirements of the individual. That is further underlined by a proposed subsection (2), which stipulates that facilities are to be considered proper if they of a quality sufficient and  adequate to meet those needs. Amendments 251 and 253 follow on from that and would leave out the word “reasonable” when referring to needs. Indeed, the hon. Lady has reinforced that in her brief contribution today.

Although I entirely endorse the sentiments that lie behind the amendments, I think that the difficulty with them is that though it is not easy to define what is reasonable, equally, it is not particularly easy to define what is proper, sufficient or adequate. The risk is that we would be laying down three concepts on which local authorities have to come to a conclusion, rather than one. I have said before in earlier considerations that “reasonable” is frequently used in legislation as a catch-all for “proper, sufficient and necessary.” Although I entirely understand their purpose, my concern is that the amendments might further complicate a Bill that is complicated enough already.

If the hon. Lady wants to intervene, it might be helpful if she could say a little more on what exactly is meant by “proper, sufficient and adequate” and perhaps cite other examples of where those terms have added greater clarity to legislation than the word “reasonable.” That might be a tall order, and I emphasise that I am not trying to be difficult, but I just wonder whether the hon. Lady might say something further on that.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

The important point is that that is a cross reference to previous legislation that does express that differently. The whole point is to go back to the legislation of 2000, which, as I understand it, expresses that differently from the Bill. There are concerns that the Bill’s provisions could be inferior to how it has been expressed in the past. That might unwittingly be bringing a change we are not aware of, so we need to hear the Minister’s response.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

That was a most helpful intervention. The hon. Lady referred to that point in her earlier remarks but has now made it absolutely crystal clear. In that sense, it will be interesting to hear what the Minister will say. Far be it for me to lead him down a path he does not want to go down, or indeed to anticipate imperfectly his contribution, but he might say that such details could be enforced in guidance and that “reasonable” could be supported with a further definition of how provision is to match learner needs. He might offer us such an assurance, and that seems to be critical to the hon. Lady’s amendments. There is an argument that putting those words in the Bill would tie the hands of providers, but if they were in the guidance, that would ensure that what the hon. Lady fears, that the requirement set out in previous legislation will be diluted, are not realised.

I just wonder whether an amendment is the right way forward in regard to that concern, and whether the Minister has another way of ensuring that proper, sufficient and adequate provision is made, tied to the needs of the learner, because that is what we all desire. Perhaps he can come up with reassurances, or perhaps he will disappoint us. I hope that he does not. This is the beginning of a new week in our considerations, and I do not want him to be disappointing, but to exceed our expectations.

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)

It is a delight to welcome you back to the Chair after your week’s sojourn, Mr. Chope. Clause 40 sets out the  new central duty being placed on local authorities, as announced in last year’s White Paper, “Raising Expectations: enabling the system to deliver”. The clause inserts section 15ZA into the Education Act 1996 and requires local authorities to secure enough suitable education and training to meet the reasonable—a crucial word in this debate—needs of people in their area who are aged 16 or over but under 19, and those who are aged 19 or over but under 25 and are subject to a learning difficulty assessment.

The duty has been carefully crafted to reflect the new duty on young people to participate, for which we legislated last year. All young people will be required to participate in some form of education and training up to age 17 by 2013 and to age 18 by 2015. The Bill places local authorities in the lead for the outcomes of all young people aged 0 to 19 and those more vulnerable adults up to the age of 25. With those responsibilities, local authorities will, for the first time, be able to take a multi-agency and integrated approach to providing targeted support for the educational and wider needs of those for whom they are responsible.

At first glance, amendment 250 seems to be not much more than a stylistic change to include a reference to facilities. As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole has explained, the amendment uses the language used to express the core duties, as set out in legislation in 2000, of the Learning and Skills Council. I understand the concerns that lie behind the amendment, namely that the clause somehow imposes a lesser duty upon local authorities than that currently imposed upon the LSC, but I emphatically reassure the Committee that that is not the case. The new duty will be every bit as tough as the duty on the LSC; it is juts a different expression of that duty and one that is better focused on the needs of learners. The new duty also has the advantage of fitting better with other local authority duties under the 1996 Act into which section 15ZA has been inserted.

Local authorities will have a duty to secure enough suitable education—as opposed to facilities—and the clause applies a series of tests to ensure that that provision is of the right quality and meets the aptitudes and abilities of young people in their area. Provision of facilities implies that they would meet all learner demands locally, rather than securing provision for learners, wherever it is appropriate, which is, in effect, the core difference. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 refers to a national organisation and its requirement to secure facilities nationally for all learners; the provisions under discussion apply to the need for local authorities to secure the needs of learners, rather than securing facilities in their local area. I hope that that clarifies the issue.

We have already heard that amendments 251 to 253 would make the duty in section 15ZA an absolute duty requiring local authorities to meet the individual needs, whatever they might be, of every learner within their authority area when securing learning opportunities. I accept that these are probing amendments, and are therefore not an attempt—not at this stage, anyway—to amend the legislation so that, for example, if a learner in Northumberland wants to study a course in Cornish literature, or another in Derby wants to pursue a course in maritime engineering, a local authority would have to provide for them in its local area. I am sure that the Committee agrees that that is not a reasonable request,  but an equivalent request for either course in Cornwall, where there may be greater demand and a greater chance that at least one institution could provide such courses, would be more reasonable. Amendments 251 to 253, however, would remove any flexibility for local authorities to make a judgement as to what is reasonable.

Clause 40 contains a reasonable—I should probably use the word genuine instead—attempt to offer some guidance on how subsection (1) should be interpreted. Subsection (3) notes:

“In deciding for the purposes of subsection (1) whether education or training is suitable to meet persons’ reasonable needs, a local education authority must (in particular) have regard to” four things. Subsection (4) then states:

“In performing the duty imposed by subsection (1) a local education authority must” comply with five further things, such as acting in accordance with diversity, which effectively offer the legislation’s definition of reasonableness. As we have heard from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, reasonableness is a familiar concept to us in legislation and as a term that is ultimately interpreted in court.

On the fundamental question that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole raised about whether reasonableness applies to the individual or the collective, there is a duty to look at the needs of all young people in the area. The needs of every individual in the area need to be addressed by the local authority. That is fundamental to making a success of raising the participation age, which we legislated on in the 2008 Act.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 10:45 am, 17th March 2009

Given that the duty is pervasive in the way that the Minister has just described, how would it deal with the needs of particularly disadvantaged groups of young people or individual young people with particular needs? I am thinking specifically of young people with learning difficulties, an issue that was raised last week both on the Floor of the House and in this Committee. The test of reasonableness would have to be sufficiently robust and flexible to deal with all kinds of challenges.

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)

It would. I am sure that you understand, Mr. Chope, that the next group of amendments specifically addresses that issue. Therefore, to aid the efficiency of the Committee, with the hon. Gentleman’s indulgence I would prefer to discuss it then. I hope that on the basis of my assurances the hon. Lady will feel free to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for that clear explanation. His clarification about focusing on the individual learner was helpful and incredibly important, and I take the point. Our next group of amendments considers further conditions for being reasonable, and I look forward to that debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 40, page 23, line 37, at end insert—

‘(e) barriers to their participation, including caring for a child or a sick family member, being homeless, experiencing mental health problems or being a young offender.’.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this we may discuss amendment 257, in clause 40, page 23, line 37, at end insert—

‘( ) the opportunities for inclusion for learners, taking account of their needs and wishes.’.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

Our discussion leads rather neatly on to proposed new subsection (3). We have already specified the person’s age, abilities and attitudes, learning difficulties, the quality of education and training, and locations and times at which the education or training is provided. We touched on the Cornish example, which might fall under proposed new subsection (3)(d). These amendments highlight two further important points. Barriers to participation are a great concern, and an example dear to my heart is that of young carers, homeless people, people experiencing mental health problems and so on. Mentioning barriers to participation could be very important because we need to give particular attention to that group of people. They are more likely to have to return to education at a slightly older age.

Amendment 257 arose from a representation made by the Special Educational Needs Consortium and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. I have rewritten it and so I am sure that the Minister will tell me that it is technically incorrect, however I will explain what is behind it. There is genuine concern among organisations that represent the interests of people with special educational needs that perhaps one obvious route is for local education authorities to commission specialist provision for learners with more complex needs. That provision might correspond to the wishes and needs of individuals. However, I do not want us to lose opportunities. For example, it might be appropriate for a young person to spend so many days a week in one setting and so many in a more inclusive setting, or somebody could be placed in an entirely inclusive setting. It is important not to start being dictatorial about inclusion but a genuine wish which fits with needs can flag up something useful in this respect. In Dorset, we are lucky to have the Victoria school. Many pupils spend so many days a week within the highly specialist unit but also have time in other settings. For some young people, such an outcome is a win-win situation. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration especially to the amendment that I wrote myself.

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)

In speaking to these two amendments, I remind the Committee of what I just said about the four tests set out in clause 40 for considering whether a person’s reasonable needs are being met, including taking into account age, abilities, aptitudes, whether they have learning difficulties, the quality of education and training and the location and times at which it is provided. These amendments have the signature of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole all over them in terms of the concerns she regularly expresses, particularly around young carers. Amendment 4 would require local authorities when securing education and training also to have regard to particular barriers to participation. Obviously we fully support the intention behind this. There are many young people who face barriers to participation in education or training and this amendment lists some but not all. In many ways that is why I would resist the amendment, as I do not want local authorities to focus on just some rather than all barriers.

As drafted, the duty in section 15ZA requires local authorities to ensure suitable education and training is secured to meet the reasonable needs of all those they are responsible for. Subsection (3) provides a broad framework for local authorities to work within but it is not necessary, nor helpful, to prescribe all possible considerations in relation to particular groups of vulnerable people. We are committed to ensuring that all young people have access to education and training opportunities that will enable them to thrive and succeed. Supporting participation and removing barriers is particularly relevant in the context of last year’s legislation to raise the participation age. We are doing much to support and benefit young people in this respect. I have various reams of information on what we are doing and plan to do in respect of young carers, young people estranged from their families, young people in custody, care leavers and teenage parents. I do not propose to delay the Committee by going into detail on all of them. For example, we are extending the September guarantee, expanding the education maintenance allowance and apprenticeship programmes, reforming the 14 to 19 curriculum, while also ensuring that we provide funds—currently through the learning and skills council but that will migrate over—in respect of people with learning difficulties. This was £35 million in 2007-08 and £16 million in 2008-09, ensuring that we can further invest in that provision. We are making good progress in removing barriers for everyone.

Amendment 257 would require local authorities when securing education and training to have regard to

“the opportunities for inclusion for learners, taking account of their needs and wishes.”

Again, we support the intention of this. We would expect the vast majority of learners with a learning difficulty to be enrolled on mainstream further education courses and we will continue to make available the additional learner support funds that I have just referred to. We recognise the benefits to both the learner and the wider community that mainstreaming can bring. Ultimately, though, we want learner decisions to drive the system. So in addition to the requirements in subsection (3) we have made the specific provision in subsection (4) for local authorities to act with a view to increasing diversity in the education and training options available and increasing opportunities for people to exercise choice.

I hope that the Committee will agree that the clause, alongside the wider strategic role that we have given local authorities, will ensure that best provision will continue to be secured and is also responsive, increases learner choice and meets the needs of all young people in their areas. The changes we made in the Education and Skills Act to local authorities’ duties to assess people with learning difficulties post-16 were good steps forward in this area. Collectively, I hope that these provisions will address the particular barriers to participation that we have been debating. I was about to sit down, but both hon. Members wish to intervene. I will go with the proposer of the amendment first.

S

That helps some but not others.My daughter needs one to one. There is no help for her.

Submitted by Simone Farrugia Meiszner

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister has put some useful words in Hansard for us, but I am not sure that they will necessarily be accessible to those who will be implementing this policy. Will guidance be issued to local authorities on this?

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 would find it very surprising, given the behaviour that I have witnessed and signed off over the last few years, if guidance did not accompany such legislation. Indeed, I can assure the hon. Lady that we would certainly issue guidance to set out the inclusive nature that we want to achieve and how the local authorities should carry out the duties that we have set out in the Bill.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

That deals with the first part of my intervention. The second part is about how the application of learning support funds is measured and monitored. As the Minister of course knows, extra money is made available to FE and HE institutions to support students with particular difficulties and disabilities. But there is some evidence to suggest that the way that that is applied varies immensely from one institution to another. What view do the Government take on that and how are those things monitored?

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)

Given that we shall issue guidance, I expect that we will address that. This is part of a much wider set of changes that are going on. Connexions is being transferred to local authority responsibility, so the commissioning of education and how local authorities fulfil the duties that we have been discussing will be informed by their Connexions work. They have wider commissioning responsibilities to ensure that they look after the needs of young people from 0 to 19, unless they have learning difficulties in which case it is to 25. We will need to ensure that all these things, including the use of learner support funds, integrate in a way that will achieve the maximum participation that we set out in legislation last year. On that basis I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

Certainly, I will be happy to do so. We will reflect on the Minister’s words. He has put some very important points on the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

I beg to move amendment 285, in clause 40, page 24, line 8, leave out from ‘resources’ to end of line 10.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this we may discuss amendment 286, in clause 40, page 24, line 11, leave out subsection (5).

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

These are probing amendments which I hope will give the Minister the opportunity to explain how LEAs’ performance of this duty towards learners with learning difficulties will be audited. I am sorry Mr. Chope. I am using the wrong notes. I shall start again. I fully welcome the duty on LEAs to secure a sufficient supply of post-16 provision and to have regard to the needs of learners with learning difficulties. In doing so, however, the duty as laid down in the clause is currently qualified with a potentially unhelpful requirement not to give rise to disproportionate expenditure.

The duty placed here on local authorities was only to secure “suitable education and training” to meet the “reasonable needs” of people in their areas, so, is this qualification entirely necessary? Without these small  amendments the clause could potentially provide a get-out for poor performing local authorities to avoid meeting their duties towards learners with more complex needs. I hope that the relevant words and subsection, as set out in my amendments, can be deleted or that the Minister can clarify why they are needed.

People with SEN face serious challenges finding and retaining paid work, and, therefore, we need to ensure that they have the best possible start to access training and educational support to equip them for the labour market. That will not be possible if clause 40 potentially provides a get-out for poor performing local authorities. We know that young people with SEN can be more expensive but that should not give local authorities the excuse to say that they cannot afford to provide for them or that such costs are disproportionate.

I shall give one example, based on the situation for deaf people, which illustrates the importance of the issue. RNID research shows that one in five deaf people are unemployed and looking for work, compared to one in 20 of the UK labour market. When the research was carried out, 57 per cent. of deaf people had been looking for work for more than 12 months, compared to only 20 per cent. of the unemployed as a whole. Is that because they had not had the same opportunities to train and acquire the skills that employers seek? That is why I am speaking to these amendments, and I should make clear that they probing amendments.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Sorry, Mr. Chope, I was slow getting to my feet—it is early in the day, so there we are.

The hon. Lady’s amendments appear to remove the emphasis on local education authorities to prove value for money in provision. I appreciate that she is anxious that the training provided is appropriate and fits local need, and that local authority provision responds to local circumstances, which vary immensely from area to area, as she mentioned.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Chair, South West Regional Select Committee

Would the hon. Gentleman also acknowledge that needs vary significantly from individual to individual? One person may need a ratio of one to four, another may need one on one.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Of course, which is why, a few moments ago, I emphasised the importance of tailoring provision to meet the needs of people who face particular challenges or have particular learning difficulties. Yes, provision absolutely needs to be tailored to meet individual requirements. However, it is also true that the economic profile and the sociology of different areas impact on the local skills set and the needs of learners and potential learners. I understand why the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West wants to amend the legislation to create greater local responsiveness, although I appreciate that these are probing amendments.

I will be interested in what the Minister has to say, but Government are also required to ensure that resources are allocated cost effectively. A different amendment may emphasise that. We heard in the debate a few moments ago that a good deal of discretion will be left with LEAs to define “reasonable”. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole attempted to strengthen  the legislation to ensure that what was “reasonable” in provision was more precisely defined. We heard that the Minister felt that that was unnecessary at this stage.

I am not absolutely sure that the amendments would square with a test to meet taxpayers’ proper insistence for money to be spent appropriately and wisely. We have the National Audit Office report from only a week or so ago about the failure of children’s services. It might be appropriate for the Minister to mention that report in this short debate because, after all, I have no doubt that he is as concerned as every member of this Committee and the wider public about these failures. However, he will be concerned not just about value for money, because it is the welfare of the young people that we hold close to our hearts.

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 have, of course, been looking forward to being gently probed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West.

Amendment 285 seeks to remove the provision that requires local authorities, in fulfilling their commissioning role, to avoid disproportionate expenditure and amendment 286 seeks to remove subsection (5), and it also makes it clear that provision is not to be considered as giving rise to disproportionate expenditure only because it is more expensive than comparable provision from new section 15ZA.

Let me say at the outset, for the avoidance of any doubt and very much in common with what the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has said, that we remain completely committed to increasing choice and opportunity for all young people, including those with learning difficulties. So we have a continued commitment to invest in provision for those young people, which we have clearly said will remain a priority when responsibilities transfer to local authorities. I just want to remind the Committee that funding for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, or LLDD, support and provision has increased from £1.1 billion in 2000 to £1.5 billion in 2006-7, which has been a very significant increase.

Furthermore, this clause specifically requires local authorities, when they are securing provision, to act with a view to encouraging diversity in the education and training available, and increasing the opportunities for young people to exercise choice. Those opportunities are particularly important for this group of young people. We will ensure that funding criteria are as flexible as possible, to enable young people with learning difficulties and disabilities to access a course that is appropriate, engaging and that allows them to progress. In the end, those are the most important tests for those young people.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Could the Minister explain how the addition of the word “disproportionate” clarifies the behaviour that would be suitable for local authorities? I am not clear that it adds anything. The Bill seems clear on saying what “disproportionate” is not, rather than saying what it is.

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)

To help the hon. Gentleman, my interpretation of the use of the word “disproportionate” is similar to the use of the word “reasonable” in legislation.  Ultimately, the court would decide what is “reasonable” in these matters. In the end, it is a judgment that ultimately can be made by a court, as to what is “disproportionate”. However, putting the word in legislation is important. Along the way, others will make their own interpretation of what “disproportionate” means, but ultimately, as with so much that we legislate on, a court would decide.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

I just want to press the Minister and probe a little further on this point, because if my amendments were accepted—as I have said, they are probing amendments, but they could be accepted—the word “reasonable” would still be there in the clause. I worry that the words “reasonable” and “disproportionate” would be used as a get-out clause. I just want to receive assurances from him that no local authority could use both “reasonable” and “disproportionate” to the detriment of people with SEN.

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)

Let me try to address that point in my comments.

When meeting their duties under the Bill towards learners, it is important that local authorities make best use of their resources; I am sure that we all agree on that point. Although I am sympathetic to the intention to ensure that no young person, particularly those with learning difficulties or disabilities, is unable to access suitable provision because it has been deemed too expensive, we simply cannot accept amendments that would provide such an open-ended financial exposure to the public purse, which is just one of the other responsibilities that we have to weigh up.

One rationale for the transfer of responsibilities that we are making, which we are debating in considering this clause, is that a local authority, as the commissioner for all services from 0 to 19 and in this case from 19 to 25, can take a much more holistic approach to the needs of those learners. That would enable the local authority to ensure that the specific needs of learners with learning difficulties and disabilities can be met more effectively throughout their period of learning. However, the local authority must be mindful of its other duties in respect of value for money, which this clause reminds people of.

New section 15ZA ensures that local authorities commission provision that provides value for money and can therefore guarantee the best outcomes for all learners while maintaining overall budgetary control. The provisions in subsection (4) ensure that, in making its commissioning decisions, a local authority acts with a view not only to encouraging diversity but to increasing opportunities for learners to exercise choice of provision. There are good safeguards in that subsection in respect of the hon. Lady’s concerns. Those learners have some assurance that if a local authority decides not to spend the money, it is challengeable on whether it has met the criteria in that subsection.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful to the Minister. He makes the case about value for money at greater length than I did. I have always liked the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West, and I am coming to like her amendment more. Will the Minister consider changing “disproportionate” to “proportionate” at a later stage in the Bill? “Proportionate” would not have the pejorative implications that the hon. Lady inferred the Bill currently has, and would ensure the kind of test of reasonableness  in respect of expenditure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and I both feel necessary.

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 feel suitably chastised that I have gone on at greater length than the hon. Gentleman did, but I do not want to raise his hopes too high. Obviously, I always reflect on Committee debates and consider whether we need to do more at later stages, but the combination of people’s ability to complain, the inspection regimes for local authorities—which ensure that they fulfil their legal duties—and the fact that we have made it clear in new subsection 15ZA(5) that provision is not to be viewed as giving rise to disproportionate expense just because it is more expensive than something comparable, provides all the necessary assurance that we will have the right balance. As part of its role to ensure coherence and budgetary control when agreeing local authority commissioning plans, the Young People’s Learning Agency will be able to use its knowledge in this area to ensure that the local authority has not refused to commission any specialist provision for learners with learning difficulties just because it was too expensive, and more so than comparable provision.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Subsection (5) seems to suggest that decisions will not be based on cost alone. If the cost were six times that of provision in a neighbouring local authority, surely that would be precisely the grounds on which a local authority might reasonably expect the cost to be seen as disproportionate. The hon. Lady would agree that that was disproportionate. It is not clear to me how including “disproportionate” gives clear guidance to local authorities on what they should and should not do, and I do not think that the Minister has addressed the central point and concerns of the hon. Lady.

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 apologise if I have not made it clear, but, as we have discussed, we will issue guidance. Local authorities are accountable and will make some judgments. Subsection (5) is important because it makes clear that provision is not to be considered as giving rise to disproportionate expenditure only because it is more expensive than comparable provision. However, there are clearly limits to that. It will be hugely important for the local authority to look at learners’ individual needs. It is important that it does not dismiss alternative provision because it is more expensive, but as a public body the local authority has to balance value for money and accountability for its use of the public purse. The local authority will be accountable locally for those things, and also through inspection and the work of organisations such as the Audit Commission. I hope that on the basis of all that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West will withdraw her excellent amendment.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

If the Minister is assuring me that anybody would be able to appeal and have recourse under subsection (5) if they felt that training was being refused only on the grounds of it being more expensive, and that clear guidance will be given to local authorities, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 11:15 am, 17th March 2009

I beg to move amendment 260, in clause 40, page 24, line 10, at end insert—

‘(f) ensure that all sixth form provision offers, as a minimum, A level courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography and at least two modern foreign languages.’.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 261, in clause 40, page 24, line 10, at end insert—

‘(4A) In performing the duty imposed by subsection (4)(a) a local authority is required to fund sixth form provision of—

(a) an existing academy without a sixth form which intends to establish a sixth form; or

(b) a new academy with a sixth form.’.

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

The amendment seeks to ensure some minimum standards of educational provision in sixth forms. It adds to subsection (4) an additional duty that local education authorities must perform for post-16 education, which is that all sixth form provision must, as a minimum, offer A-level courses in English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography and at least two modern foreign languages. Nothing in the amendment prevents subjects from being offered to suit the needs and demands of local sixth form students, but those core academic subjects should be taught in all sixth forms as a matter of course.

Indeed, the Minister might be forgiven for responding that the amendment is unnecessary because all sixth forms do offer those subjects. Alas, that is not the case. A parliamentary answer makes it clear that in 2006-07, the latest year for which figures are available, 145 schools with a sixth form did not enter any students for A-level history; 96 schools did not enter any students for A-level maths; 115 schools entered no one for A-level biology; 187 schools did not offer A-level chemistry; 247 schools entered no one for A-level physics and 264 schools failed to enter any student for A-level geography.

Those 264 schools comprise 15 per cent. of all secondary schools with a sixth form. I do not believe that no one living in the catchment area of those secondary schools wanted to study those subjects. Our concern is that fundamentally important academic subjects are increasingly becoming the preserve of the independent sector.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I seek some clarification. Clearly sixth forms operate in formal or informal federations. In my constituency pupils access a number of subjects at the grammar school but study A-levels at their own base. It would not be practical for our community schools to offer a full range of subjects. Is it not more important that the pupil or learner has access to the full range of subjects?

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

The hon. Lady raises an important point, which applies to more obscure and specialist subjects that would fit into the pattern that she describes. But I do not think that basic academic subjects should be subject to a federation, with children having to move, for example, to one sixth form to do A-level French while doing A-level Spanish in their own sixth form.

Cambridge Assessment recently published an alarming analysis of A-level grades and subjects from the 2006 statistics. They show that while the independent sector educated just 14 per cent. of all sixth form students, those students comprised 36 per cent. of candidates achieving three or more A grades at A-level; 38 per cent. of all candidates with maths and further maths; 39 per cent. of all candidates with maths, further maths and physics; 37 per cent. of all candidates with history; 38 per cent. of all candidates with geography and, most alarming of all, 53 per cent. of all candidates with a language. Those figures are for 2006. I believe that the trend, particularly in languages, is set to continue. When the 164 grammar schools are included, 15 per cent. can be added to each of those figures.

The amendments therefore seek to ensure that all sixth forms in the state sector offer those basic academic subjects so that young people who want to study them, wherever they happen to live, will have the opportunity to do so.

Amendment 261 reflects the real concerns of academies that once funding of sixth forms returns to local authorities, those authorities that are ideologically opposed to sixth forms and to academies might do all they can to frustrate an academy from having a sixth form, whether that be a new sixth form for an existing 11-16 academy or a new 11-18 academy. In one of our evidence sessions, Dr. Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation academy group said:

“In one local authority, we were told by a different body from the Learning and Skills Council that we could not open sixth forms in two of our academies. It was a particularly poor part of London in terms of the staying-on rate, and the reason why we were told that was that it did not fit with the plan. Four years later we have 400 sixth-formers and an outstanding sixth form, but nothing else has changed in the area.”——[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 44, Q108.]

The amendment would prevent any such discrimination against academies by requiring local authorities to fund academy sixth forms that academies propose to establish.

Mike Butler, the principal of Djanogly city academy in Nottingham and chairman of the Independent Academies Association, stated in his letter of 23 February to the Minister:

“Given the force of numbers likely to be brought to bear in many debates regarding Post-16 commissioning, particularly where the commissioning power rests with groups of LAs and/or there is a strong FE sector contingent, there is genuine anxiety that Academy Sixth Forms will lose out.”

Incidentally, that would also help to ensure that subsection (4) of proposed section 15ZA of the Education Act 1996, which is set out in clause 40, is complied with. Subsection (4) states:

“In performing the duty imposed by subsection (1) a local education authority must...act with a view to encouraging diversity in the education and training available to persons”.

The provision should mean that local authorities do all they can to encourage new academies to be established. Given that it might be a duty more honoured in the breach than in the observance for some local authorities, amendment 261 may well be important to help fulfil that duty for more diversity. As Mike Butler said in his important letter to the Minister:

“The presumption for Academy Sixth Forms is based on a sound rationale, namely that of raising student aspirations and being able to recruit the best teachers. New Academy Sixth Forms  need time to build up and are critical to developing academic work throughout the Academy and thus to raising community aspirations and contributing to regeneration and community cohesion. Furthermore, Academies have a key responsibility to increase participation in post-16 provision in areas where it has traditionally been low. Make us vulnerable to the possible self-interest of other local organisations through legislation and we shall be powerless to deliver on the mission your government had us all sign up to.”

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 amendment proposes that sixth form provision, which I take to mean school sixth forms as well as sixth-form colleges, should offer a specified list of A-level subjects as a minimum. This is an attempt by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton to tempt me into a long and interesting debate on the future of the A-level, but I hope to be relatively brief and disciplined about that.

Although it will be appropriate for many sixth forms to offer that combination of subjects, decisions about what courses should be offered should be determined locally, taking into account the needs and demands of young people and the skills needs of local employers. We have made it clear through the qualifications strategy we published last year that we want all young people aged 14 to 19 to follow a broad and coherent learning programme and that we expect the majority of young people to follow qualifications that fall within one of the four national learning routes—apprenticeships, diplomas, GCSEs and A-levels and the foundation learning tier progression pathways.

We have also said that it will not be possible for an individual school or college to deliver the full 14-19 entitlement in isolation. They would have to do so in partnership, and the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole made a useful intervention on that point earlier. There will be a presumption in favour of funding qualifications that fall within the four national routes, and that will provide the framework for sixth forms to take local decisions about provision.

Of course, sixth-form colleges are generally renowned for their A-level provision, but it is worth recognising that provision in sixth-form colleges has generally become broader and more diverse as colleges adapt to meet the changing needs of young people. We therefore leave it to them to judge the learning programme that best serves the needs of young people in their area.

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

Does the Minister think it acceptable, therefore, for the sixth form of a state comprehensive school not to offer either A-level English or Maths?

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 hon. Gentleman has a slightly outdated vision of the world. He is not properly accounting for the nature of 14 to 19 partnerships and the point that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole raised with him, where excellent providers of post-16 education are working together. In some cases, the offer will be there for all pupils in all sixth forms in state-maintained schools and it is right that it should be made. The hon. Gentleman reeled out a long list of schools regardless of whether they entered pupils for certain subjects. There is a difference between offering and entering for examinations, according to how learners exercise their choice.

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

As I was citing the right hon. Gentleman’s ministerial answer, perhaps he could write and tell me which of the schools that did not offer or enter any students for those subjects offered the subject but no students took it up? I would be happy to have that information.

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 would be delighted to help the hon. Gentleman and the whole House in giving that information but I suspect that we do not have it in the Department.

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

Then do not make that assertion.

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)

There is a limit to the amount of data that we wish to require schools to collect. As the hon. Gentleman will know from his observation of proceedings at this weekend’s ASCL conference—not the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning conference but the Association of School and College Leaders—head teachers have a lot of concern about the amount of data collection and bureaucracy attached to schools at the moment. We could go on and on trying to acquire such information. I suspect that if the hon. Gentleman asked the question differently in a parliamentary question we might reply that the answer could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The amendment is designed to ensure that provision of basic subjects is available in the sixth form. It is not ancient Greek or Latin or ancient history; they are pretty basic subjects. One of the purposes is to ensure there is no shrivelling of the offer available to young people, particularly in low-income areas and where educational outcomes may not be at their greatest. Does the Minister not share our fears that, whether or not offers are theoretically available, the basic subjects that allow people to go on to high-quality higher education are actually not available?

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 agree that there is a shrivelling—to use the hon. Gentleman’s word. A bigger range of qualifications is studied, and that is of value to individual learners and their ambitions. When I look across the piece I see A-level entries for physics starting to increase after a period of decline and a huge increase in the number studying further maths. Those are just two examples of the sort of subjects that I am sure we all want to see studied in order to deliver on the agenda on science, technology and maths.

I understand the calls for an A-level entitlement. That is something we have agreed to review in 2013. In the meantime, I believe A-levels are in a strong position and they seem to be thriving without the formal entitlement that the amendment suggests.

Amendment 261 is also concerned with sixth form provision and, as we have heard, proposes that a local authority be required to fund newly established sixth forms for existing and new academies. I welcome the amendment because it gives me the opportunity to give the assurance that I think the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton wants.

As hon. Members will recall from the oral evidence sessions, all the Bill does is pave the way for the Secretary of State to ask the young people’s learning agency to undertake on his behalf certain largely administrative functions in respect of academies. The nature and funding  of academies will not be affected by the changes. They will continue to be funded by the Secretary of State but the YPLA will carry out the calculation of grant and payment on his behalf. That applies equally to sixth form funding. The Secretary of State will retain responsibility for negotiating and signing academy funding agreements, which means—in direct response to the hon. Gentleman’s citation of Dan Moynihan’s comments—that he will make decisions about whether a new academy should have a sixth form and how many places it should have. The YPLA will act on behalf of the Secretary of State on funding agreements for open academies, including their sixth forms.

When considering adding a sixth form to an existing academy that does not already have one, it will be necessary to determine a local area’s need. That will be discussed and negotiated by the local 14-to-19 partnership and the academy, but if an agreement is not reached, the decision will ultimately be made by the Secretary of State, who will take into account the views of the academy, the 14-to-19 partnership and the local authority. The Secretary of State may also ask the YPLA to carry out that function on his behalf, or advise him, as it will have the regional knowledge of existing provision in the area, but the decision will still lie with the Secretary of State. In essence, nothing changes in respect of the point that the amendment is trying to make. I hope that, on the basis of that reassurance, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 11:30 am, 17th March 2009

I am disappointed by the Minister’s response to amendment 260, because I do not think that it is old-fashioned to require sixth forms to offer very basic subjects as A-levels. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness said, the amendment would not require sixth forms to offer Latin, ancient Greek or the classics; it would simply require them to offer core subjects, which are essential for entry into the Russell group of universities. Cambridge in particular has cited A-levels that it accepts and those that it does not. A school that does not offer core subjects restricts its students’ chances of attending a Russell group university. I am concerned that there is an increasing trend towards such a situation. If the Minister believes, as I do, in comprehensive education, all schools must offer basic core subjects. They can offer alternatives in relation to 14-to-19 entitlements, but academic subjects should form the core of what schools have to offer.

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)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the most important thing is that all pupils are offered those subjects, rather than all schools offering them? The learner is more important than the institution.

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

That is the great theory: students can travel around town, study French in one school and do a diploma in another. I am afraid that the reality is that most sixth-form students will attend one institution, preferring to spend their time studying rather than travelling. There is also an additional concern about allowing core subjects to drift out of some state comprehensives—namely, that it is difficult to recruit  teachers in particular subjects if those subjects are not widely available. All the subjects listed in the amendment are core subjects as far as GCSEs are concerned, and if schools wish to recruit chemistry, physics and maths teachers, they have to offer those subjects at A-level as well as at GCSE.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the cost of implementing the measures set out in the amendment would destroy small sixth forms in community schools in my constituency that offer a very limited range of subjects? It would be wrong to divert resources from such schools. Typically, some students go to the local college to study or to the grammar school to take an A-level. Community schools are vital for young people who need to build their confidence and stay within a smaller setting while having access to a wider range of subjects. Such schools work very well and I would be unhappy to see them destroyed.

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

I do not accept that argument. The amendment does not include subjects such as economics, but does contain subjects that are an entitlement for children up to 16 in the pre-sixth-form stages of secondary school. If maths, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, a modern language or English are not offered in a school as a whole, it is not complying with the law. It should therefore be a minimum requirement for such subjects to be offered in the sixth form. If we believe in spreading opportunity across all social classes and all income backgrounds, we have to give people in the state sector the same opportunities as those offered to students in the independent sector.

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 want to prolong this debate, but the implication of what the hon. Gentleman says is that he thinks that all schools should have a sixth form so that they can recruit great teachers to teach those core subjects. That would result in a lot of small sixth forms proliferating across the country: sixth-form colleges would cease to be, A-level provision in further education colleges would wither on the vine and there would be a huge cost to the expansion of sixth-form provision in all of those maintained schools. Has he costed that and has he had it agreed by the shadow Chancellor?

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

There is nothing in the amendment that suggests any of that; it just states that those schools that have sixth forms should offer core, basic academic subjects. I am disappointed by the Minister’s response, and responses throughout the debate, because I expected him to say that he was concerned about how many schools are not entering students for core subjects. For example, 15 per cent. of state secondary schools are not entering any student for A-level geography. I expected him try to persuade the Committee that the Government are tackling the problem and have it in hand.

My concern is that this is just one snapshot set of figures. If we look at the trend, it is moving away from academic subjects in state sixth forms. The consequence of that will be a narrowing of opportunities for sixth-form students in the state sector. That is a concern that we, as a party, want to address, because it narrows opportunities and widens the gap between students from wealthier backgrounds and those from poorer backgrounds, which is unacceptable.

I was partially reassured by the Minister’s response to amendment 261. He repeated the point that the Secretary of State will continue to negotiate funding agreements and will ultimately determine whether an academy sixth form is established, but he did use the phrase that “they will determine the need in the local area.” The Conservatives’ view is that that determination should be made by the provider. If an academy believes that there is a need for a sixth form in a locality, then that is the need established. The concern of people, such as Dr. Moynihan, is that in some local authority areas where there are surplus places in schools—because the quality is very poor and parents are unhappy—it could be argued that there is no need. My concern is that the Secretary of State will make the decision that there is no need for sixth forms in those particular areas. I am reassured by his answer, but only if the Secretary of State believes that the need should be determined by the providers, and not by some arbitrary means such as surplus places.

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)

Given that this Secretary of State has agreed to the opening of more than 100 academies since he became Secretary of State and that the vast majority of those have a sixth form, what evidence has the hon. Gentleman got to suggest that this Secretary of State is unwilling for academies to open sixth forms?

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

The Secretary of State has reduced the freedoms of academies, so they are not the same creature that they used to be. I can cite evidence from people such as Dr. Moynihan who have experienced problems of discrimination in localities when they have tried to establish sixth forms. Under previous Secretaries of State they have managed to establish those sixth forms despite that opposition. Given the ambivalent views of the Secretary of State when he was an adviser, there is more concern about whether the academies will go ahead in the face of belligerent opposition.

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 hon. Gentleman should judge the Secretary of State on his actions. I spoke to Dr. Moynihan yesterday to discuss the latest academies opening in Croydon and to agree to further measures that he wanted. They will open with sixth forms. The Harris academies, along with others, are also opening new sixth forms under this Secretary of State.

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

We will see; the proof will be in the pudding.

As far as the amendments are concerned, I do not intend to press amendment 261 to a vote. I will, however, test the views of the Committee on amendment 260, because we believe that those core academic subjects should be available in all parts of the country and to all students, regardless of their background.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 213, in clause 40, page 24, line 16, leave out from ‘(1)’ to end of line 19 and insert

‘defer to the Chief Executive of Skills Funding.’.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this we may discuss the following: amendment 112, in clause 40, page 24, line 44, leave out subsection (b).

Amendment 215, in clause 41, page 25, line 30, leave out subsections (a) and (b) and insert

‘a contract of employment other than an apprenticeship agreement with which training is provided.’.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The amendment would move responsibility for apprenticeships for under-19s from local authorities to the Skills Funding Agency. The arrangements set up by clause 40(6) are, in our judgment, entirely inconsistent with the overall purpose of the Bill. The subsection leaves provision for under-19s in the control of LEAs, yet later clauses in part 4 say that LEAs must work with the Skills Funding Agency and its discrete body, the National Apprenticeship Service. Surely the Minister and members of the Committee can see that it is an entirely confusing system. Such aspects of the Bill led to it being described by the British Chambers of Commerce as a “bureaucratic muddle”, by the CBI as a “mixed bag” and by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education as a “missed opportunity”.

The Bill did not receive a happy response from the expert witnesses when we discussed these matters at the first stage of our considerations, and this is part of the reason why. We are establishing a convoluted, complex, confusing and opaque system, yet the Government’s stated intention is to make the system more responsive, easier to understand, clearer and more cost effective. The Bill will do none of those things. Indeed, witnesses to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee

“stressed that procedures for the administration of government funding of apprenticeship had the effect of marginalising employers”.

That was partly due to the very confusion that I describe this Bill as worsening. The Committee concluded:

“In the case of apprenticeship funding, the administrative chain separating policy from practice on the ground is...long and, we would argue, dysfunctional”.

Does this Bill, in its current state, improve that situation? I contest that it does not. Introducing LEAs, the Skills Funding Agency and the NAS into the equation risks making it even more dysfunctional. I would be surprised if the Minister could argue the contrary convincingly.

There are issues about employer engagement throughout the Bill. Employers get scant mention. Sector skills councils, although mentioned at length in the explanatory notes, are not detailed in any meaningful way in the Bill, as they complained—once again—in a critical analysis in an evidence session.

If we are deconstructing the current arrangements—namely, the Learning and Skills Council—we have a responsibility to put in place something that is more effective in engaging employers and inspiring learners to train and gain skills for their own benefit and the benefit of our economy. I am simply not sure that the Bill, in its current unamended form, does that, which is the reason for the amendments.

When I asked about local authorities, the witnesses—in particular John Lucas of the British Chambers of Commerce—were highly sceptical about the capacity of local authorities to respond to the challenges with which they would be confronted as a result of this legislation. I asked Mr. Lucas whether he was confident that local authorities could perform better than the LSC in the short term, because worries have already been raised that local authorities are doing little on the ground at present. He replied:

“In terms of funding and its distribution, I do not think that local authorities have a track record of employer engagement and of ensuring that the system post-16 is focused towards equipping young people coming out of the system with skills and vocational qualifications that enable them to work. They certainly do not have a track record of successfully engaging with business”.——[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 6, Q3.]

There are real doubts about the inconsistency at the heart of this part of the Bill and the amendment tries to deal with that. It attempts to cut through the over-regulation and bureaucracy of the system, and instead looks to ensure that employers and educators have a more streamlined and light-touch regulatory system. It seems to me that the Government’s one desire, in reinvigorating the apprenticeship system, is that the system is more responsive to need. We must remove at least some of the confusion that results from both local authorities and the Skills Funding Agency being responsible for the provision of apprenticeships for different age groups.

Furthermore, if the Minister is unwilling to accept the amendment, as I rather suspect he might be, will he at the very least tell the Committee how the lines of accountability and the details of communication will work in practice? It seems to me that this new system will be a leap in the dark unless we can be absolutely clear how it might function. Frankly, I suppose that there are as many versions of how it might function as there are local authorities, and without greater clarity, the fears of the CBI, the BCC and a range of other organisations will be realised.

The LSC, for all its faults—it was immensely bureaucratic, extraordinarily costly and, in many people’s eyes, extremely insensitive—was at least, rather like the red army, predictable. The system that we are putting in its place is just as bureaucratic and costly, but it is probably even more convoluted. Also, unlike the red army, it is not likely to be predictable. The amendment seeks to add just a degree of predictability and consistency to an extremely convoluted set of arrangements.

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) 11:45 am, 17th March 2009

As ever, the hon. Gentleman started with selective quotes. I just want to remind him that there were many happy responses from other witnesses to the proposed changes and local authority transfers, apart from the ones that he chose to mention. The Association of Colleges publicly acknowledged that the current systems for managing publicly funded education and  training for those over 16 are “confusing and expensive”. The ADCS, the LGA, the National Union of Teachers, the Association of School and College Leaders and a raft of witnesses from other organisations welcomed the transfers of local authority functions and with them the transfers that are necessary in local authority capacity and the transfer of LSC staff. We already have the capacity in place for 14-19 partnerships. We have the support of the Young People’s Learning Agency, and the local authorities, through the LGA and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, have established the React programme to build those partnerships and to make those arrangements work. They are working with the CBI and others to make that happen.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Before the Minister gets going, I do not think he would want to mislead the Committee about the view of the AOC or the 157Group. The Association of Colleges also said:

“We suggested in our response to the White Paper that there should be one rather than two national agencies. We also suggested that the Government were not ambitious enough in the savings they were making through the process. There are 3,300 staff in the Learning and Skills Council and we understand they will all be transferred somewhere else. It might have made more sense to look at a streamlined structure.”

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Order. That is a long enough intervention, otherwise it will be a speech.

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)

Thank you, Mr. Chope. The AOC is clear that in the context of raising the participation age it is right to transfer these functions to local authorities.

Amendment 213 seeks to amend section 15ZA and place the responsibility for determining the number of apprenticeship places needed by each local authority with the chief executive of Skills Funding, rather than their working together toward this aim. Let me restate our policy intent about this transfer: we want local authorities to be the single point of accountability for the strategic leadership and thus the commissioning for their young people. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question about accountability, we have made it absolutely clear that it is the local authority that is accountable. That should include all avenues of learning, and in this context it includes apprenticeships.

While I understand what might lie behind the amendments—the need to make the National Apprenticeship Service solely accountable for apprenticeships—there surely has to be joint responsibility. Local authorities will not be expected to have expertise in securing apprenticeship places, but they will have overall responsibility for commissioning provision for 16 to 19-year-olds in their area, and they will anticipate how many young people want apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Service will have the expertise in securing apprenticeship places, but will not know the level of demand. They have to work together to match supply with demand.

It may help the Committee if I try to set out how the system will work. In the autumn term preceding the September in which learners would start learning, local authorities will use their understanding of both historic patterns of learning and their intelligence through the 14-19 partnerships to understand their local supply of provision. They will then match that up and, on the basis of historic demand, the information that they get  through the Connexions service for which they will now be responsible, the softer intelligence that they will get through Pupil Voice and others, they will assess the likely demand from their area.

The Young People’s Learning Agency will then collate that supply and demand information so that at the turn of the year it can be supplied to local authorities so that they can then have a negotiation or single conversation with post-16 providers. That in essence is how the system will work. As for matching supply and demand, co-operation will then be necessary for the apprenticeship form of learning.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The National Apprenticeship Service will report both to the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and it will be obliged to work with LEAs in the way that the Minister has described in defining the type and nature of apprenticeships, but what role will there be for employers? What statutory duty will there be on LEAs to involve employers in that process? Surely the sector skills council can provide the same function in predicting demand and ensuring that the product is tailored to need.

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)

That latter comment displays a certain misunderstanding about how the prediction of demand will work. I do not believe that the sector skills councils are best placed to predict demand locally. Local authorities will make the provision from 0 to 16 in respect of learners, as they are ideally placed to ascertain what demand there will be from those learners. That is all part of trying to make this a more learner-focused system.

With regard to the relationship with employers, that is something local authorities are starting to improve. There is some way to go, but the National Apprenticeship Service and local business partnerships will certainly perform a critical role in ensuring that local authorities are aware of the skills needs of employers in their locality and are able to offer good information, advice and guidance to learners on what the demands are from employers. We are currently working on a policy paper on information, advice and guidance that will set out some of that relationship with employers more clearly.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Why cannot the National Apprenticeship Service specify standards, as it deals with everything else in apprenticeships? I understand that the skills funding agency specifies standards. The Minister has said that LEAs will be well placed to predict learner demand, but I am not certain about predictions of employer demand, despite his assurances. Why cannot the National Apprenticeship Service define standards?

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)

We had a good debate last week on how that will work, and I have nothing to add to the wise words of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, who responded to the hon. Gentleman in that long debate. It is worth reminding the hon. Gentleman in this context that, under clause 41, local authorities will have a duty to encourage employers to participate in training. The chief executive of Skills Funding has a duty to encourage employers to participate in training. There are various  measures that will encourage the relationship between employers and local authorities, and between employers and the Skills Funding Agency.

Clause 80 gives the chief executive of Skills Funding the power to secure apprenticeship places for young people, which in practice means contracting with employers and training providers. In exercising that power, the chief executive will have to have regard to the overarching duty on local authorities, as set out in clause 40. In fulfilling his duty to secure the apprenticeship entitlement to all suitably qualified young people, as set out in clause 83, one of the tools he will have at his disposal is the development of that collaborative working relationship with local authorities.

Amendments 112 and 215, which seek to limit the types of training that local authorities can secure and encourage employers to participate in providing for young people. Amendment 112 would amend the definition of apprenticeship training to remove training connected with any other contract of employment, meaning that local authorities could only secure training connected with employment for young people if it is was connected with an apprenticeship agreement or the kind of working described in subsection (10)(c). As the Committee has already discussed on the debate on part 1, subsection (10)(b) is in part intended for transitional purposes to ensure that those apprentices who are working under an existing contract of employment when the provisions are commenced are not disadvantaged. As my hon. Friend indicated, the provision might be required for other groups in future.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

In the previous discussion on that point, it occurred to me that in the past we had schemes in which positions were taken by friends of the employer and sons and daughters of other friends and that there was not necessarily any real training, although I am recalling that from several years ago. If the Minister does not accept this vital amendment, can he guarantee that it will be a genuine position and not just an opportunity perhaps to take on board the responsibilities but in reality do nothing?

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 hon. Lady makes an important point, and I want to reassure her that it is not at all our intention that that would offer people a way of avoiding proper training provisions as part of apprenticeships. That is something that my hon. Friend and I have asked officials to look at further in relation to the formulation in the Bill and in another provision that we will debate later today. If necessary, we will table an amendment on Report to tighten this up—we are exploring that with officials.

Amendment 215 to clause 41 would have the opposite effect to amendment 112. It would remove the requirement on local authorities to encourage employers to participate in apprenticeship agreements. Clause 41 requires local authorities to encourage employers to participate in the provision of education and training for those young people and young adults for whom they are responsible. That includes participating by entering into apprenticeship agreements or any other contract of employment in connection with which training is provided.

Amendment 215 might be a probing amendment, seeking further explanation of the reason why we have made provisions for securing and encouraging contracts of apprenticeship—I have just sought to address that—or it might contend that we are giving local authorities the role of the National Apprenticeship Service, which could be construed as unnecessary duplication. That is not the case. As we have explained, we see the delivery of apprenticeship opportunities as a matter for co-operation. Local authorities should know their local businesses and co-operate—many already do—with them in identifying opportunities for work experience and work-based training for young people in their area. It is important that local authorities use that local knowledge to assist in the delivery of the apprenticeship entitlement. I am sure that Conservative Members do not want to limit opportunities or engagement and I hope that on the basis of my explanation the hon. Gentleman is prepared not to press the amendments.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 12:00 pm, 17th March 2009

The Minister has defended the existing arrangements, but there has been no real defence against the criticisms presented by the expert witnesses, who said that employers have criticised the system as too complex, because it involves their dealing with different agencies. In last week’s debate on apprenticeships, which the Minister described as long and interesting, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills made it clear that the Government had considered establishing the National Apprenticeship Service as a discrete organisation, with the competences that I advocate. The problem is that the Government have ended up doing the opposite, creating a National Apprenticeship Service with responsibilities that overlap with those of the Skills Funding Agency. I have mentioned the problems of the definition of frameworks. The Government have created circumstances in which employers will be contacted by both the NAS and local authorities, and employer representatives have already told us that local authorities have a patchy track record in engaging employers.

I did not say much about amendment 215 at the outset, but the Minister has helpfully dealt with it. It seeks to establish a contract between the NAS and employers. Rather than weakening employer engagement as the Minister implied, it takes local authorities out of the frame and puts the NAS into it in a way that the Bill does not do.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that not just employers but the 157 Group, which consists of 26 of the largest and best further education colleges in the country, have questioned the local authority role. The 157 Group stated in its written evidence:

“The Local Authority is in some ways the least well set up to find these places”.

From its excellent vantage position, it can see that the legislation has the weakest possible agency for ensuring that the promise of apprenticeship places for all can be delivered.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. In your wisdom, Mr. Chope, you shortened the intervention in which I intended to make  that precise point on the back of my remarks about the Association of Colleges. Contrary to the Minister’s assertions, the 157 Group was critical, not supportive, of the changes. It said in its verbal evidence:

“We feel, as I am sure most colleges feel, very involved in the local community already, irrespective of the fact that we are not part of the local authority structure.”——[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Leaning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 28, Q76.]

That message is crystal clear. Local colleges are highly responsive to their local communities and are engaged in their towns and cities. Frankly, most of the college principals to whom I have spoken see local authority involvement as a retrograde step. They look back with a degree of horror to the pre-incorporation days when they were under local authority control and they suspect that the Bill will return them to that unhappy past.

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)

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills asked:

“But is a single account structure for colleges a positive thing?”——[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 31, Q84.],

Julian Gravatt replied, “Yes it is”?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I have Julian Gravatt’s evidence in front of me and he also said that it would have “made sense” for the Government to have moved to a “streamlined structure”, that colleges really wanted self-regulation and that

“a key thing would be how these different agencies and the local authorities behave in the future. We do not think that the argument is lost but, in the short term, there will be a slightly more complex structure that will be difficult to navigate.”

A structure that is difficult to navigate is a mild way of saying what I will put more bluntly: this system is going to be confusing and not merely “difficult to navigate”, but likely to leave people sinking. During the consideration of the Bill so far, the Minister and his compatriot, the Under-Secretary, have not given me comfort that those witnesses are wrong about the difficulties in navigating this extremely complex structure. I fear not only for employers but for learners and providers.

I am afraid that the amendments do not go as far as I would like in order to make things more straightforward, because that would involve rewriting the whole Bill. However, they do go some way towards achieving that end: by reducing the number of organisations that employers are obliged to deal with; by changing the competences for apprenticeships; and by creating a National Apprenticeship Service which is just that—a national service with competence for the whole subject—as well as obliging it to contract with employers to ensure that teaching and testing meets employer need and economic requirements The amendments are measured and modest, and seek to get the Government out of the mire. I am surprised that the Minister does not recognise that.

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 shall have one final go. All that we are seeking is co-operation between the local authorities and the National Apprenticeship Service to match local knowledge with a national service. Is that not a sensible approach? Far from getting us out of the mire, the hon. Gentleman’s proposals would be a rigid straightjacket landing us firmly in that mire with no way of getting out.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The most flexible approach of all would be deregulated further education colleges that respond to local circumstances and which can innovate, and therefore excel, in a diverse system, with a slim, streamlined funding agency—a kind of Further Education Funding Council—providing the resources that they need. Frankly, we would not need most of the proposals if we moved to that model. It is precisely the one outlined by Andrew Foster, who, by the way, is trying to sort out how the Government made such a mess of capital funding in further education. We await, with great interest, his report on that subject.

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)

How does the hon. Gentleman’s model include other post-16 providers, such as sixth forms, which we have just been debating? The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton wants to impose ever more regulation on them.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

It is not about imposing additional regulation; it is about establishing a framework, which, of course, ensures both quality and probity across all providers. However, in the end, it relies on people’s competence to do their jobs. It is extraordinary that we have accepted the argument in higher education, and increasingly in schools, that deregulation, more independence, and giving the leaders of those institutions more power and competences are likely to drive up standards, yet in further education we take exactly the opposite view.

Further education is stuck in a kind of Stalinist world in which it dances to the tune of Ministers. It is constricted and restricted in all it does. Its competence is not something in which Ministers appear to have faith and it now faces an ever more complicated system for management and funding. Why can we simply not do what the Foster report advocated and strip away some of the 17 regulatory bodies that so bedevil further education colleges and their senior managers? Why can we not create a more cost-effective system, rather than have countless overlapping agencies with confused lines of accountability for different Departments? Why can we not seize the nettle and follow through the logic of what we have already concluded about higher education and schools into further education?

We want an employer-engaged and highly responsive system. We want a system where what is taught and tested delivers real competency to individuals, increasing their employability and matching economic need. We do not think that the Bill, in its current form, satisfies any of those requirements. That is why it is my intention to press amendment 213 to a vote, so that we add some light to the darkness that is the Minister’s perspective on how we should fund and manage skills.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

This amendment is consequent on amendment 282.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this we may discuss the following: amendment 231, in clause 40, page 24, line 37, at end insert—

‘(9A) Every local education authority shall record the number of learners with learning difficulties in its area for whom suitable education has not been provided and report this information annually to the Secretary of State, who may require any local education authority to provide information on the measures it is taking, if any, to ensure that the number of learners in this situation reduces over time.’.

Government amendments 265, 268, 269, 273, 281 to 284, 274 to 279 and 350.

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)

Amendment 350 is a technical drafting amendment, consequential on amendments to clause 47. Amendments 281 and 282 ensure that the general duty on local authorities in section 13 of the Education Act 1996 Act applies to those young persons subject to detention in relevant youth accommodation. Amendment 282 also clarifies that young persons subject to a detention order will be regarded as part of the population of the local education authority area in which they are detained, for the purposes of section 13 of the 1996 Act. Those amendments will move the definition of

“subject to a learning difficulty assessment” from proposed new section 15ZA to section 13 of the 1996 Act. The other Government amendments in the group are consequential on that change.

I understand the intention behind amendment 231. I have placed on the record our commitment to ensuring that the needs of all learners, including those with learning difficulties and disabilities, are met by local authorities. A range of measures is in place to ensure that the needs of that group of learners and the provision provided to them are tracked. The client case load information system that local authorities maintain as part of Connexions enables local areas to track the activity and offers made to young people in their area, including those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.

All 16 and 17-year-olds who wish to continue their learning are guaranteed an offer by the end of September that meets their needs. Information is collected by my Department on the number of suitable offers that are made. We also collect information on the number of 16 and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training, the number of young people attaining level 2 by 16 and 18, and the number attaining level 3 by 19. That supports the delivery of our public service agreement targets. Public service agreement 16 is separate and focuses on socially excluded groups and improving the employment rate for people with moderate to severe learning difficulties.

National PSAs are reflected in local areas as a series of local area agreements. The structures are therefore already in place to ensure that local authorities can be held to account for the delivery of their new duties under the Bill. As local authorities assume the new duties, they will become part of the existing outcomes-focused performance management system supported by Government offices. They will be assessed and inspected by Ofsted and other inspectorates to check on local authority performance.

Amendment 231 proposes that the Secretary of State requires local authorities to set out and submit how they intend to reduce gaps in provision. As I have said, that power is not necessary because local authorities working within their children’s trust partnerships, which are being strengthened by the Bill, already have a duty to publish a children and young people’s plan. Subject to the successful passage of the Bill, the plan will have to encompass the provision of education and training to young people. On the basis of those reassurances, I hope not only that the Committee will agree to the Government amendments, but that amendment 231 will not be pressed to a vote.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 12:15 pm, 17th March 2009

I think that I can be fairly brief on this subject, although it deals with important matters. As the Minister implied, it concerns eligibility for learning difficulty assessments, and we spoke about the importance of engaging people with learning difficulties who are not currently engaged.

The Committee took evidence from Clare Tickell of Action for Children and Anne Longfield from 4Children, who said that the Bill would not go far enough in examining the needs of disadvantaged and disabled young people. My question to the Minister is threefold. Do these proposals go far enough on eligibility and engagement? Are they clear enough about implementation? What are the “arrangements” that are talked about in the proposals?

I am mindful of the amendments we discussed earlier, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. I am concerned about whether the needs of disabled learners and those with learning difficulties will be defined clearly enough and early enough, and whether the provision—how it is quantified and specified—will meet those demands. The Minister should say something more about that.

Will enough be done to ensure that assessments are updated? The Minister knows that I have said repeatedly in Committee and on the Floor of the House that these needs are often dynamic and, because of that, there must be dynamic provision. Responsiveness is critical. Is he satisfied with the state of play in this area? We must be careful how we proceed on the basis of existing good practice and less good practice. How do other educational institutions that may require learning difficulty assessments fit in with these provisions? We heard the witnesses I mentioned questioned by Members from all parts of the Committee and I have details of that but for the sake of brevity I will not go further. I hope the Minister will be able to offer assurances on the matters I have raised.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I want to make a few brief comments on amendment 231, which is important. I am not clear whether, as a consequence of other amendments, the  number of learners with learning difficulties will be recorded when adequate and suitable education has not been provided. I would have thought it vital to collate this information because I suspect that some local authorities perform better than others and this would facilitate the spreading of good practice. I am not advocating an increased level of bureaucracy or dictation from the centre, but it would be useful information and compatible with the Bill of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West on special educational needs information, which we wholeheartedly supported last year.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

I, too, tabled amendment 231 intending that it would be a probing one. I hope it gives the Minister the opportunity to explain how LEAs will perform their duty towards learners with difficulties and how that performance will be audited, especially in relation to failure to provide suitable education to learners with more complex needs and how that will that be monitored and addressed. It is all very well making sure that the onus is on LEAs to perform but we have to be able to measure that performance for all children especially those with the most complex needs. My private Member’s Bill—now the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act 2008—places a duty on the Secretary of State to collect and publish better information from local authorities on all children with SEN and to monitor their outcomes. That legislation applies to children of school age, so this amendment fits nicely with it, extending the duty to young people over compulsory school age to ensure that when children with SEN leave school they and their needs do not just drop off a precipice into a ravine of unmet need, which can lead to a bleak and rather unfulfilled future.

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 hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings asked three questions. The answer to the first two is yes. In respect of the third—who will be eligible for a learning difficulty assessment—local authorities have a duty to arrange for a learning difficulty assessment for a young person who has a statement of special educational needs and who the LEA believes will leave school at the end of his or her last year of compulsory schooling and will go on to post-16 education or training or higher education. Local authorities also have a duty to arrange a learning difficulty assessment for a young person who is over compulsory school age and has a statement of special educational needs and whom the local authority believes will leave school to receive post-16 education or training of higher education. Local authorities have the power to arrange for learning difficulty assessments where a young person has a learning difficulty but does not have a statement. Clearly there are many instances where an assessment is appropriate for that last group and local authorities could be legally challenged if there is an unreasonable failure to exercise their power. Statutory guidance, which we will be publishing shortly for consultation, will make it clear that where a young person would benefit from an assessment they should get one.

I pay tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West through her private Member’s Bill and other campaigning in respect of information relating to special educational needs. Thanks to her Act, we plan to publish in September  and at least annually thereafter information in respect of SEN. In the first year, we will rely heavily upon existing sources of information and relevant resource findings, but they will be packaged in ways that will make them much more accessible and useful to those interested in SEN.

This year’s work will include developing ways in which information will be made more available. Professionals and partners are advising us on how best to use a range of media, but over the long term we plan to develop and make available much greater ranges of information. Those ranges will perhaps include information on areas where children live; regular data on attainment at national and local level; indicators of parents’ experience of the services that they receive; and how children with SEN feel about various aspects of their lives. Much can be obtained by adapting existing surveys and by merging databases while paying strict attention to data protection, confidentiality issues and so on. On the basis of those reassurances, I hope that the Government’s amendments will be approved.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

There are two other matters that the Minister either forgot or avoided. The first relates to existing practice on the issue and the possibility of developing better practice; the other matter centres on the provision’s consistency in relation to schools and other education providers. Will the Minister comment on those points?

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 have responded once already and have set out the existing practice in terms of information and legislation on assessment. The assessment and its implementation will inform the young person’s action plan, which will continue to be refined and is outlined in the draft statutory guidance on which we will be consulting. Many of the answers to any outstanding questions that the hon. Gentleman may have will be found in that guidance once it is published.

Amendment 264 agreed to.

Amendment made: 265, in clause 40, page 25, leave out lines 1 to 3.—(Jim Knight.)

This amendment is consequent on amendment 282.

This amendment is consequent on amendment 271.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments 270, 271 and 280.

Amendment 266 agreed to.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 118, in clause 40, page 25, line 15, after ‘other’, insert

‘, further education colleges, sixth form colleges, schools with sixth forms and academies with sixth forms,’.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 119, in clause 40, page 25, line 16, at end add—

‘( ) The Secretary of State must specifiy areas into which England is to be divided for the purposes of section 15ZA, and must publish any specification or revised specification under this section.’.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

The two amendments, of which amendment 118 is the most specific in terms of the Bill’s content, seek clarification on how sub-regional groups work. Under the new system as we understand it, local authorities will directly fund and commission education in sixth-form colleges. Approximately 43 sub-regional groups of local authorities will be established to commission the 16-to-19 education and training in further education colleges, although the funding will still come directly from the local authority. It has been suggested that that model could create complications and the possibility of duplication and conflict between different agencies. That could potentially absorb management time and take resources away from teaching and learning. There is also a perceived risk that different levels of commissioning will create a two-tier relationship in some areas, with the local authority favouring one group of institutions over another. Therefore, the institutions involved in this system are really seeking some reassurance about how it is intended to work and indeed how it will work in practice.

I just want to make some general points about the sub-regional groupings of local authorities, and I believe that meetings on this subject have already commenced. Clearly, these groupings could potentially perform a very helpful role in areas where there is significant travel across local authority boundaries and where the local authorities are prepared to work together to achieve economies of scale, which is particularly true for my part of the world, in fact.

It is also important that local authorities consider their plans collectively and that the regional forum will actually be useful. Decisions must be made about specialist provision, courses for students with learning difficulties and capital projects. One can see the point of the regional focus. The concern is that the regional layer must add value to the system by acting quickly and the problem that is perceived is that it will be too bureaucratic and that the regional manager will start trying to micro-manage, in the same way that we perhaps have central Government micro-managing at the moment. So there are genuine concerns.

Furthermore, in relation to amendment 119, it will be very difficult to get the sub-regional boundaries right first time. In fact, I have already had representations from people saying that it is perceived that the sub-regional boundary is not really a sensible boundary and that it does not fit with travel to study. So it is rather important to establish that the boundaries are not written in stone and that they have got to be changed to meet with the reality on the ground. I would suggest that it is very, very difficult to draw those boundaries up in Westminster.

Having made those comments, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and reassurances.

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) 12:30 pm, 17th March 2009

I will seek to give the reassurances that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole seeks by providing a more detailed explanation of how the proposed sub-regional groupings of local authorities will function.

It is widely recognised that young people travel across local authority boundaries when they are accessing post-16 provision. Young people in Christchurch may  regularly travel over the border into Bournemouth, for example, to access some of the excellent provision at the Bournemouth and Poole college. Therefore, it is clear that local authorities will need to work together to secure the best provision across an area for their resident learners. That is why we are introducing a requirement in new section 15ZB, which will be inserted by this clause, for local authorities to

“co-operate with each other in performing their duties”.

In fulfilling that requirement, local authorities will come together in these sub-regional groupings, which will broadly reflect the travel to learn patterns of young people and represent a strong correlation with the way that learners move around the country.

The hon. Lady is right that we do not want to impose this system from Whitehall; we want authorities to come together willingly to help to create the system. In her area, which is also my area and indeed your area, Mr. Chope, the authorities of Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole have come together themselves because they want to form a sub-regional grouping, and that seems to be extremely sensible.

There are 41 such groupings that have emerged and we are discussing some of them. As I say, we do not want to impose things; we expect sub-regional groups to govern themselves, but not so rigidly that changes cannot happen. So we are scrutinising these proposals with local authorities, but we do not want to create instability by saying that they will not happen as they are currently drawn up and that there might be some necessary changes right on the margins.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I think that I may be about to ask a question that has some relevance to Christchurch. Of course, Brockenhurst college serves the Christchurch area and part of the Bournemouth area, but it would fall into the Hampshire grouping. Perhaps, therefore, the Minister could just explain how that would work. It would be very helpful for us locally if he could do so.

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)

Brockenhurst college is a particularly interesting example, as it is in not only a different sub-regional group, but a different regional group. That is where the role of the YPLA can have some importance: as a national agency it has the ability, if it is not possible to have a discussion between local authorities, to broker that so that Brockenhurst college can continue to have a single conversation. One would assume that that conversation would be with officials in Winchester, because they are in the Hampshire authority area, and about the commissioning needs. That will have taken into account the needs of learners in the east of Dorset and those few who might be in the Bournemouth and Poole area. Their local authority would anticipate the demand that would need to be commissioned from Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole.

With regard to those who want to go to Brockenhurst college, that would be understood by the YPLA, which can then feed those needs into the discussion within the sub-regional groups of Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Southampton and Portsmouth about the commissioning required from Brockenhurst. Once all of that has been agreed and crunched through, facilitated by the YPLA,  it will be like a serene swan: on the surface there will be one nice conversation between Hampshire and Brockenhurst college, but beneath the surface there will be a certain amount of activity between the various authorities that have learners who want to learn in that college.

I am absolutely confident that the delivery mechanism that was set out, which is not so radically different from that which we have at the moment, will be much more receptive in meeting the demands of learners and anticipating those demands so that this planned approach is more accurate than the current system, which is very much based on history, rather than a good understanding of local demand.

Amendment 118 would extend the requirement on local authorities to co-operate with providers as well as each other. Local authorities will ultimately be responsible for taking provider mutual decisions on what provision will best meet the needs of its learners, and sub-regional groupings will then have a role in ensuring that individual local authority commissioning decisions reflect the full needs of learners across local authority areas and are well planned at a sub-regional level.

We are clear that colleges and other providers will have an important role to play by entering into ongoing dialogue with local authorities through the commissioning cycle, but as I have said, it will be a question of local authorities being able to understand the supply of provision, anticipating and planning demand well. All of that must be informed by history and by other intelligence that only local authorities will have, and that will be a step forward from our current position. That brokering will then be carried out at a sub-regional basis, facilitated by the YPLA.

Amendment 119 would require the Secretary of State legally to designate the sub-regional groupings. We do not think that it is necessary to do so, because of all the flexibility we have set out. I hope that that reassures the hon. Lady on how local authorities will come together and that she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I am certainly enthusiastic about the principle of local authorities taking on extra responsibilities, but the proof will be in the pudding, as it is quite complex, and there are a few fears about people falling through the gaps. I appreciate what the Minister said in his response, but I want to place on the record my concerns, because it will be important to promote that co-operation beneath the surface, as the Minister suggested. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 41 and 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.