Schedule 4 - Contracting out secure colleges

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 20 March 2014.

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Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member) 12:30, 20 March 2014

We now come to schedule 4 and amendment 38, which has already been debated. Mr Jarvis to move formally?

Dan Jarvis indicated assent.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

The Question is that the amendment be made. As many as are of that opinion say, “Aye”.

To the contrary, “No”.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

On a point of order, Sir Roger. I apologise; I thought that we had clause 19 to move before we came to the schedule, which is why we hesitated. We did not believe that we had reached that point.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

If the hon. Lady looks at the selection list, she will find that clauses 19 to 23 come after schedule 4.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

You do not need to apologise. The way in which these items are grouped may be arcane and archaic, but it is designed to accommodate subject matter. Sometimes, things do not entirely appear in the sequence that might be expected. Given that this is a bit of a learning curve for some people, let me try again. It is a learning curve for me, as well.

Amendment proposed: 38, in schedule 4, page 73, line 25, at end insert—

‘(1A) Where the Secretary of State enters into a contract with another person under paragraph 1(1), and that person is not a public authority for the purposes of section 3 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, that person shall be designated by the Secretary of State as a public authority for the purposes of that section in relation to that contract.’.—(Dan Jarvis.)

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Division number 2 Decision Time — Schedule 4 - Contracting out secure colleges

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham 12:45, 20 March 2014

I beg to move amendment 61, in schedule 4, page 74, line 17, at end insert—


4A (2) All staff employed as teachers, counsellors or nurses at a secure unit must hold qualifications as one of the following—

(a) qualified teachers;

(b) accredited member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists;

(c) registered nurse (children).’.

I assure the Committee that I will not be including any cartoon references when speaking to the amendment, although it would amuse me enormously if hon. Members chose to do that in their speeches.

Under the Bill, the Government plan to put into place a giant prison for children. Like every witness, I am hugely concerned about that. Personally, I think that the Minister should see sense and throw it out, for  all the reasons given by my hon. Friends today and, more importantly, by people who work in the area, all of whom had the strongest of reservations.

Unfortunately, I am resigned to the fact that the Minister will probably push ahead with the proposal, which is why I have tabled amendment 61. I have strong concerns regarding the standard of teaching and care in the somewhat euphemistically named “secure colleges”.

My concerns about the nature of such colleges arose when I read schedule 4. While the principal and security staff are detailed—the schedule goes into some depth—the teaching, care and psychological support staff are not. If the Minister truly believes that this is the best chance for children to be educated and rehabilitated, why has he not specified the best people to do that job in schedule 4?

If the Minister wants a secure college to act as a genuine college, he must ensure that he has properly qualified staff in place. The problems associated with having unqualified teaching staff in place can manifest themselves in a number of ways, and I want to take this opportunity to address the potential problems.

To give some background, the Opposition have long warned of the dangers of the Government’s policy that allows unqualified teachers to teach in free schools and academies, and the inevitable watering down of teaching standards that that will lead to. Ask almost anyone, regardless of their background or political persuasion, and most will agree that every child deserves to be taught by a qualified teacher. To back that up, I am sure that most would also agree that every child deserves to be taught by an appropriately qualified teacher.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I take the hon. Lady’s point, and it is a good one. I want to ask her gently about Doncaster prison. It was set up in 1994, has been championed by the Leader of the Opposition—rightly so—and is run by Serco. Organisations such as Doncaster Rovers football club, Featherstone Rovers rugby league club, Yorkshire cricket club and the Royal Central school of speech and drama are all going in, running academy-style work in the prison and having tremendous success. Does she accept that those august institutions are providing a huge service in that successful prison?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

I absolutely agree with that. In a past life, I ran art education workshops. However, I do not think that those organisations should be running maths classes or dealing with learning difficulties. I absolutely agree that bringing specialists in is a good thing, and I will come on to that later, but I do not think that they should be the primary teaching personnel; I think we require qualified teaching personnel.

Whether referring to young children in society at large or young offenders in a secure college, our children should be taught by someone who has the appropriate skills and knowledge to teach them to a high standard. It should not be more difficult to get a job at McDonald’s than it is to get a job as a teacher in a taxpayer-funded school.

The logic is clear: teaching is a skilled profession that is conducted in a sensitive environment, and as such we need standards in place that ensure that the teaching delivered to young people is delivered at the  level, standard and quality that we expect as a society. To deliver that, teaching qualifications offer the easiest option to ensure professional rigour.

We live in a society where we hold high expectations of what teaching professionals will deliver, and if such professionals fail to meet those standards, then society is not delivering education at the level it is capable of. To me, that is even more important in a secure college, not less. The young people there often have been driven to offending through difficult backgrounds and, as the Minister identified himself, a lack of education.

A secure college, if delivered in the right way, is an opportunity to rectify the balance and get that young person’s education right. Getting it right in a way that inspires and motivates young people might well lead to a full and productive life that does not involve reoffending. Getting it wrong could send them back to prison in the future, at a cost both to society’s purse and to the young offender’s life.

Why give young offenders a second-rate education? If the Minister is right in his establishment of the principle that a lack of education or quality education is at the heart of why a young person offends, then it is more important than anything to give young people a strong, engaging and high-quality education. Education on that level can surely be delivered only by qualified teaching professionals who have put time and commitment into their craft and learned from best practice as they qualified. Any downgrading of the teaching profession risks lowering the standards of education delivered in secure colleges and, as such, risks more young people reoffending due to poor education. Allowing unqualified individuals to teach young offenders without needing to acquire teaching qualifications is not a risk that we should be willing to take.

There are examples from the world of teaching. The damning Ofsted report on the Al-Madinah free school in Derby, which catalogued a series of failures relating to unqualified staff, should teach us a bitter lesson of the price that will be paid if we recruit unqualified teachers.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham

I take the hon. Lady’s point on maths teachers having to be properly qualified, but in the prison context does she agree with the arguments of various mentoring organisations that, for example, former offenders—who I hasten to add would not necessarily be qualified—are often the best mentors and trainers and that there must be a place in such institutions for people who have turned their life around so that they can assist those who are attempting to do the same?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. Such people can inspire young children, but from the key stages onwards, I believe that we need qualified teachers. Additionally, is this a college or is it a prison? If it is a college, I want those young people to have the best qualified staff available. If it is a prison, and all the staff detailed in schedule 4 are related to prisons, we should ’fess up, stop calling it a college and accept it for what it is. I hear what he is saying, but I do not think it detracts from my argument about qualified teachers.

In the Al-Madinah school, 400 children were left without schooling for an entire week while an emergency Ofsted inspection took place. Beyond that, I find myself  wondering how much learning time those children lost in school due to such poor-quality teaching. At the start of the school year, one third of teachers were unqualified, which does not surprise me, as I have seen the school’s Ofsted report. There is a clear link between the policy of allowing unqualified teachers into our schools and the poor standard of education at Al-Madinah. Ofsted even spelled that out, highlighting the unqualified teaching work force as the school’s main failing. In addition to other desperate failings, the inspector commented that:

“Teaching is inadequate. Many teachers are inexperienced and have not received the training and support they need.”

The large number of unqualified teaching staff was also noted, with the inspector reporting that the teachers were in

“desperate need of better support and training”.

Such situations should not happen. The Secretary of State for Education’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings, said publicly that failure due to “disastrous teaching” was an inevitable feature of the free school programme.

The risks of using unqualified teachers are further illustrated by the report on events at the Kings science academy, a free school in Bradford. The school was visited, and even lauded, by the Secretary of State for Education and the Prime Minister. Around the time of their visit, falsified invoices were being submitted by staff. Again, the report shows the danger of employing unqualified staff.

Right now there seems to be a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the policy of allowing unqualified teachers to be permanently employed damages standards in schools. We should commit to reversing that downgrading of teaching standards, rather than leaping to defend a policy that is consistently being picked out by Ofsted as causing failures in schools. If the policy is already seen to be unsuccessful and to deliver a second-rate education to our children in the mainstream, what will happen if it is applied to a secure college that is inevitably a more demanding and challenging teaching environment?

I am not trying to discourage excellent people from teaching. All political parties want to encourage excellent people into the teaching profession, of that I am sure. But a policy of allowing unqualified teachers to teach without harnessing their expertise and giving them the teaching skills they need will not help.

In education debates, we often look to the experience of other countries. I have heard the Scandinavian model referenced more often than not—indeed, it has been referenced in this debate. In particular, Finland is often cited as a model of excellence. In Finland, however, every teacher must hold at least a master’s degree in teaching before they set foot in a classroom. Finnish teachers spend five to six years training and learning their profession before they are considered good enough to teach children.

To allow unqualified teachers into classrooms in secure colleges—as happens already in academies and free schools—without providing them with any pathway to achieve qualified teacher status would set a dangerous precedent, particularly given that the Bill provides that secure colleges may be outsourced. A private company running a secure college would have a vested interest in driving down costs and would therefore be more likely to employ unqualified teachers. With that approach, all evidence suggests that standards would be driven down.  We simply cannot afford to offer young offenders a teaching experience that is anything other than high quality. It is not easy to assume control of a classroom in normal circumstances and, in a secure college, the children will have serious emotional, behavioural and psychological issues. To allow unqualified teachers into secure colleges will undermine the profession.

The great thing about qualified teachers is that they can be both qualified and inspirational. The Education Secretary’s White Paper from 2010 sums it up well:

“The first, and most important, lesson is that no education system can be better than the quality of its teachers. The most successful countries…are those where teaching has the highest status as a profession”.

In an environment as sensitive as a secure college, professionalism should be valued over deregulation. We should be bringing teachers up the value chain rather than deskilling.

I would like to mention briefly the inclusion of registered children’s nurses and accredited counsellors and psychologists. Most nurses qualify as either children’s or adult nurses; few have dual qualifications. Children’s nurses are in the minority and are highly prized. It is vital that the Minister specifies that the health care staff on site are children’s nurses. Children present very differently from adults: the medication and doses are very different, as are the methods of administration. Equally, children’s nurses are skilled in how to communicate with children and pick up on subtle signs. They are also aware of consent and safeguarding issues, both of which are vital in a prison environment. Unless a registered children’s nurse is specified in the legislation, I fear that the  provider will just go for the cheapest and most readily available health care provision, but these children need and deserve the best.

Finally, I wish to speak about psychological provision. The Committee heard at length from witnesses how psychologically damaged these children are likely to be. Will the Minister provide assurances that psychological support, provided by a professional who is accredited—not just registered—with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, will be guaranteed to each inmate?

I am a big fan of voucher sites, but I am appalled by offers of online or one-day counselling courses. People with no recognised qualifications set themselves up as counsellors even though they may have no experience, no accreditation or, perhaps most importantly, no supervision. Counsellors in secure colleges work with complex, damaged children and it fills me with dread to think that some incredibly well meaning—but unqualified—individual who genuinely thinks that they can help will be the only sort of psychological support that those young people may get unless the Minister specifies “an accredited counsellor” in the Bill.

If the Minister is to go ahead with his plans, I ask him to consider seriously the amendments I have tabled. Like him, I want to ensure that when these young people come out of the facility, they can go on and lead a productive life. Unless he puts some standards in place for their teaching, health care and psychological support, I am anxious that those might get dumbed down and these children will not get the best chance.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.— (Mr Evennett.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.