Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: Let me take this opportunity to correct an impression given by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough a moment ago about the movements of the chief inspector, Mike Tomlinson. Under a mechanism that we agreed and developed with Hackney council, he will take up the position of chair of the new trust that is to be set up in Hackney. He is not moving into the private sector, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. Willis: The Minister is always helpful.

Mr. Timms: Clause 174 amends the rights of entry for inspectors and for anyone assisting them. At present, inspectors have rights of entry only to the premises of the local education authority and the schools that it maintains, but the scope of inspections extends to educational provision beyond such premises. The need for clause 174 is clear.

Among the LEA functions that are scrutinised in inspections are arrangements for education away from school for children who, for a variety of reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education. The clause extends the right of entry to any premises, other than private houses, on which such education is provided under arrangements made by the LEA. Some of our most troubled and vulnerable children receive education other than at school under arrangements of an obvious nature, and it is right that inspectors should be able to inspect such premises to ensure that LEAs are making appropriate arrangements for the education of those children. The clause brings inspectors' rights of entry for LEA inspections fully into line with those for other inspections.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the distinction in law between the premises of the LEA and the premises of the local authority. There is no such distinction. The two are the same body, and it is not possible to make a distinction between their premises. The clause covers both, so I am able to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.

Mr. Turner: I thank the Minister for that reassurance. Would he take it one step further and consider a local education authority that had privatised the management of its payroll system through an organisation such as Capita? Would the

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inspector have the right of access to Capita's premises, which are certainly not covered by proposed new section 40(2), but may be covered elsewhere in the Bill?

Mr. Timms: I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to subsection (3), which provides:

    ''The inspector . . . shall also have at all reasonable times a right to inspect and take copies of . . . any records kept by, and any other documents containing information relating to, the local education authority or any school maintained by the authority''.

The ability to examine the record, which would be required in the circumstances that he envisaged, is covered by that wording. It will cover every need of which I can think, and I hope that he will be reassured by that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 174 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 175

Allowances in respect of education or training

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): I beg to move amendment No. 536, in page 104, line 10, after 'allowance', insert

    '(this determination may relate to the personal circumstances of the person but not to the locality where that person resides).'.

I add my welcome to you, Mr. Pike.

The amendment would provide that when allowances are paid to individuals in respect of education or training, the regulations that specify the criteria for approving payments may relate to the personal circumstances of the individual concerned, but not the locality in which he or she resides. By way of brief background, the Committee should consider the several schemes that have been promoted by the Government. Their purpose—to improve the opportunities of people in an underprivileged position who may have little access to information technology equipment or find it harder to afford to remain in full-time education—was commendable, and in many instances they were welcomed by the individuals involved.

However, in schemes such as those that provide education maintenance allowances or assist in the purchase of computer equipment for individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford it, the criteria were framed around the local government ward in which the person resided. I have some experience of those schemes in my constituency, which ranges from one or two of the most affluent wards in north England to Manchester overspill council estates on the Sale, West side. I have seen real injustice arising through that approach. People whose circumstances were clearly difficult enough for any reasonable person to think that they would warrant inclusion in such a scheme were denied access purely because of their address, not their circumstances.

This is a simple point. If a scheme is avowedly intended to help individuals who are in difficulty, it is a manifest injustice for people to be prevented from benefiting because of their locality. I hope that Ministers will accept the principle that lies behind amendment No. 536 and realise that this is not a fair way of deciding the distribution of funds.

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Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman will know that we introduced education maintenance allowances on a pilot basis in September 1999, initially in 15 local authorities and in a further 41 a year later. We will be evaluating the impact of those allowances on participation in post-16 education. The indications so far have been encouraging, with a typical five percentage point higher level of participation in areas where the allowances have been introduced, compared with other areas. It is important to emphasise that it is a pilot scheme. Before we go further we want to ensure that we are confident about its impact and that the substantial funding involved is warranted by the benefits in terms of higher participation.

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If, on the basis of that evaluation, a decision is made to extend the availability of the allowances, we will consider national entitlement. However, at this stage we cannot rule out targeting pockets of disadvantage through the scheme. It is more likely that a difficulty with the amendment may arise in the possible phasing of a national roll-out. Any such arrangement, including the current one, inevitably causes difficulty at the boundary, for the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman. Education maintenance allowances are available on a local authority basis, not a separate ward basis. Nevertheless, boundary issues arise. Any phased roll-out with introduction dates at different times for different areas would inevitably involve awkwardness. However, we would not want to rule out its possibility in legislation. The amendment would remove that option and the flexibility that it affords us.

I agree that partial geographic coverage is difficult. Once it has been properly evaluated, we want the pilot to come to a conclusion so that we can make a decision about the allowances on a national basis. I hope that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will feel that the constraint that the amendment would introduce might be unhelpful in some circumstances, and that he will withdraw it.

Mr. Brady: I suppose that I was flying a kite with the amendment, but it is a worthwhile kite that I am pleased to have flown. I am grateful to the Minister for his guarded comments, which went a little way towards agreeing with my point. I leave him to consider, as he contemplates—without wishing to go too far into new Labour jargon—a phased roll-out of the programme to tackle social exclusion, that the social exclusion of a single mother living on benefits and supporting three children in a relatively prosperous, affluent area may be at least as great as, and possibly greater than that of a person in comparable circumstances in a less affluent area.

From the perspective of a constituent of mine who lives yards away from the local authority border, where Manchester city council is the local authority, it would appear to be grossly unjust to see an allowance made available to support the child of a neighbour down the road in continuing his education where that same benefit was not available to her child.

Mr. Turner: My hon. Friend has made a good case. If the Government will not accept the amendment, it

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would be helpful if they provided objective criteria for the selection of areas that would benefit under the scheme.

Mr. Brady: That would be helpful. I do not intend to press the point any further, but I would be grateful if the Minister considered our points and provided clearer guidance on the circumstances in which the provisions may be used. I hope that he will take on board my concerns. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I have not sought to table an amendment to subsection (2), but I would draw the Minister's attention to its apparent incongruity. He will be aware that many institutions offer a mix of education to a variety of young people. I cite the examples of North East Surrey college of technology in my constituency, and Merton college, where I was a governor. NESCOT offers higher education courses, as part of an affiliation to Surrey university, and it offers a wide range of vocational courses, some of which fall under the umbrella of further education. It also offers a diverse range of vocational training courses connected to different professions, careers and opportunities. The clause could create a financial division in such institutions.

The Government may press ahead with an allowance system for 16 to 19-year-olds in vocational training. However, those in higher education could end up paying for their courses and subsistence costs, while those in the next classroom were being paid to be in that institution. The Government must think carefully before developing a system of allowances. Although they are rightly keen to stress the importance of inclusion in our education system, we must not include financial support for one group at the expense of another.

The Government are focused on increasing the number of people in higher education from 33 per cent. to 50 per cent. Much of that increase will not come by admitting extra students into Oxford, Cambridge, Durham or Bristol, or any mainstream universities. It is more likely to come through the expansion of higher education courses in local colleges such as NESCOT. It will come through the provision of varied higher education courses that meet the needs of local employers and populations. Through that process, the dividing line between further education and higher education will become increasingly blurred. The Government need to think carefully before they stipulate that the relevant educational training must not be higher education. If they plan to increase the number of students in higher education to 50 per cent., they will not be able to make such clear distinctions. The Minister should be cautious about that.

 
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