Education Bill

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Mr. Ivan Lewis: That is an important issue, but we must take account of the fact that we still have a responsibility to those children whom it is appropriate to exclude, even permanently, from school. In the past, children were often excluded permanently—

Mr. Willis: They were left to roam the streets.

Mr. Lewis: As the hon. Gentleman said, perhaps from his Burnley experiences, children were left to roam the streets, often with no socks—but we will not go into that.

That was the reality, and that is what happened under the Government supported by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West. That is not satisfactory for the young people concerned nor, equally importantly, for the communities in which they live. It creates all sorts of social problems. There is also a danger that the child is permanently excluded not only from school, but from society in the long term. The Government and society have a moral duty to ensure that even the most challenging and difficult young people, whom it is right to exclude from school because of their behaviour, have an education in another setting of the highest possible quality to give them the chance to get back on the right track and to have a decent life. The resources from the pot of money

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to which the amendment refers are being used specifically to fund the pupil referral units that are working well, and which we hope will work even better in the future, to ensure that challenging young people with complex, multi-faceted problems get the quality education that they deserve. I therefore reject the amendment, because the resources would not be available to ensure that we give children who have been excluded permanently from schools access to high quality, full-time education in another setting.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West made a point about the Government's general attitude towards the interests of the individual child as against the interests of the school. The Government are clear that we must have a fair and balanced approach to that extremely difficult and sensitive issue. We have a responsibility to maximise educational opportunities for every child. Most head teachers accept that they must do everything in their power for the child, who may be experiencing serious problems at home. He or she may be part of a dysfunctional family or have psychological problems. The majority of classroom and head teachers do a tremendous amount to make things work within the school. We must actively support teachers and governing bodies, and encourage them to adopt that philosophy and set of values.

However, sometimes the behaviour of an individual is so unacceptable that there is no alternative to the professional judgment that the child must be withdrawn from the school or classroom. The effect of the child's behaviour on staff or other pupils is such that it cannot be tolerated: weighed in the balance, it is too destructive and negative.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: There is common ground on the difficult judgments that it is necessary to make. There is a point at which hard decisions must be made. Does the Minister not agree that, without the inclusion of the amendment, there is a potential perverse incentive to retain the child in the school, especially if school cash flows are taken into consideration? Much of the money for the child has already been spent by the time the decision is made, and the school's budget would be seriously affected if the money were taken away.

Mr. Lewis: I sympathise to some extent with the hon. Gentleman's point. However, the money that is generated in that way is meant to help schools and LEAs deal specifically with the children who are the most disaffected and disengaged, and who are causing the most difficulty. There is no conclusive evidence that there is or is not a perverse incentive. Increasingly, the evidence suggests that head teachers and governing bodies try to make decisions that will achieve the balance that we have discussed.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. His position is perfectly respectable, and I suggest that the Opposition press the amendment to a Division if they support it. However, I do not accept his view that the pot of money forces head teachers and governing bodies to follow a particular course of action. It is to

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be used to ensure that difficult young people receive full-time education in an appropriate environment, and to tackle disengagement generally.

Mr. Willis: There were two different issues, and I was confused by the amendment. First, the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) had a target that schools had to meet for reducing the number of exclusions. If they did not achieve the target, they were penalised. Will the Minister confirm that that policy no longer exists? If so, that is fine.

I do not have a problem with the second issue, because the situation would be the same if a child moved from a school in other circumstances: the money must follow the child to the next school. Whether it comes belatedly as a retrospective payment is irrelevant. I agree with the Minister's response, but he has not answered the substantive point about whether the policy is now defunct. It would be useful for the Committee to have that on the record.

4.15 pm

Mr. Lewis: I can confirm that the targets that were set by the former Secretary of State are no longer part of our policy. Those targets no longer exist. We take the view that we need a balanced approach. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Brady: I suppose that I should start by thanking the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough for bringing the Minister back to the one point that I had made in my opening remarks. The Minister can rest reasonably easy. I said that it was a probing amendment. In that context, it is reasonable for me to take unto myself the luxury of defining the terms. As my opening remarks suggested, the use of the term ''penalty'' was not intended to imply that this would affect the flow of funds, which naturally go with the pupil, but was a reference to the application of a penalty related to particular numbers of exclusions. Perhaps rather belatedly, the Minister confirmed that the targets no longer exist. We know that. I was seeking a slightly clearer and more forceful exposition of the view that the Government have reached that not just the targets, but the application of penalties in that regard was the wrong policy to follow and that this penalty regime would not re-emerge. Given that this was a probing amendment and we have had an assurance, albeit limited, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 341, in page 33, line 5, at end insert—

    '(e) outlining specific circumstances in which an appeal panel can over-rule an exclusion'.—[Mr. Brady.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division No. 29]

Brady, Mr. Graham
Grayling, Chris
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Turner, Mr. Andrew

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Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Heppell, Mr. John
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Miliband, Mr. David
Purnell, James
Timms, Mr. Stephen
Touhig, Mr. Don
Willis, Mr. Phil

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 288, in page 33, line 26, at end insert—

    '(5A) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (4)(a) may provide for any of the provisions of sections 173 to 174 of the Local Government Act 1972 (allowances to members of local authorities and other bodies) to apply with prescribed modifications in relation to members of a panel constituted in accordance with regulations under this section.'—[Mr. Timms.]

Clause 49, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 50

Attendance targets

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

Mr. Willis: This is another example of targets being introduced and we do not quite know what will be done if schools fail to meet them. Attendance is a problem in many schools. One issue is absence for holidays, which has now become a real scourge for many schools. A significant number of youngsters take their statutory two weeks as part and parcel of their overall provision. That has a significant effect on attendance.

My main worry, however, concerns schools in the poorer areas of Britain. One of the Government's objectives, quite rightly, is social inclusion and tackling social deprivation. You will know, Mr. Pike, from your constituency—if I keep referring to it, you will feel at home—that there is proven evidence of the link between social deprivation, poor housing and ill health. Ill health is a major cause of absence from schools in some of those areas. There is also increased family ill health.

I have spent most of my time working in such areas and some hon. Members do not understand the huge pressure that is sometimes put on adolescents who are often full-time carers. We do not make enough allowances for those different groups of youngsters who are off school, often unauthorised, but for genuine reasons. Can the Minister ensure that his Department commissions some research into school attendance and looks at ways of supporting youngsters in areas where attendance is poor to attend school or provide them with alternative means of education.

Mr. Turner: I welcome the clause. Once again the Government are following in my footsteps. I will give hon. Members the evidence for that. Pupils cannot be taught if they are not in school. That is perhaps the most obvious statement that one can make but it is one that the previous Administration did not seem to understand. They did not seem to understand that the first condition of getting a child taught is for him to be sitting in a class in front of a teacher.

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When the London borough of Southwark was found to be failing and I was pleased to help advise it on how to privatise the management of that education authority—

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