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I would not encourage the hon. Gentleman to become too worried about the arithmetic of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)he might get into troublesome areas. The hon. Gentleman is talking about
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the cost of this work. Much evidence shows that the youth service is an equally effective but much cheaper way of intervening in many young people's lives. How does he think the youth service can work effectively with the education system to improve the lot of some of those young people?
Dr. Pugh: There is a crying need for outreach youth work right across the land, and the youth service is certainly as creative as anyone in coming up with solutions for children whose behaviour is fundamentally antisocial and needs correcting and directing in a different and better direction.
I have to go back to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, because his solution reminds me of Lord Whitelaw's detention centres, which were intended to deliver short, sharp shocks and solve the whole problem of crime, but which, in effect, did an enormous amount to improve the fitness level of burglars. Unlike the detention centres though, it is anticipated that the stay in turnaround schools, if we can call them that, will not be short. The whole approach smacks of the darkest pessimism, as does the figure of 24,000 placestwice the number of currently excluded pupils, on any estimation. Clearly, it is anticipated that indiscipline will get substantially worse under any future Tory Government.
I shall pass over the problems already mentioned of capital cost, planning difficulties and so on, and conclude by saying that throwing £500 million or morewe are talking about adding to the cost of existing PRUsat those who cannot or will not behave themselves is an expensive philosophy of despair.
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): If we do not provide special support to improve behaviour among that group of people, the cost will be borne not in our schools, but in our criminal justice system and communities, when those children go on to cause greater social problems later in life. We must improve their behaviour at school, where we have a chance, rather than leaving the criminal justice system to take its toll.
Mr. Andrew Turner : The Minister admitted that 10 per cent. of pupils are educated in schools in which Ofsted feels that discipline is inadequatehe said that Ofsted feels that discipline is adequate in 90 per cent. of schools, and the reverse must therefore be true. He also said that 13 per cent. of head teachers believe that discipline is declining. Is it not the case that it is better to provide places for those who are not excluded at the moment, but who would be, were the places available?
May I respond from a professional perspective? If the only remedy for the poor discipline of pupils in a school is to expel them and they can be corrected in no other way, either the system is failing or the pupils are very difficult. I do not think that the system contains 24,000 unmanageable pupils, if good practice and good standards are upheld.
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A cheaper solution than that offered by the Conservative party is available. I shall use the example of the LEA of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), which I took off the Department for Education and Skills website. Cumbria LEA has introduced school re-integration officers. As far as Conservative Members are concerned, "re-integration" is a bad word, but employing those people reduced exclusions and decreased the cost of prolonged replacements by nine tenths, with no obvious downside. The Conservative policy would cost a lot of money and is an uneconomical solution to a serious problem. Early intervention would save a great deal of money. Early intervention and the spreading of good practice have been proved to work. Throwing people in a sin bin for a long time is expensive, and one must believe that it is the right solution before one uses it.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Wales will be spared the Conservative policy of turnaround schools, because education is a devolved matter. How would turnaround schools function in rural areas, where children would have to travel for many miles, which would take them out of their community and the support that it provides?
Dr. Pugh: My hon. Friend has made an acute point. Later this week, we will debate the School Transport Bill, and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale will have to come clean and admit that his policy would add appreciably to the cost of school transport, which would be required in order to get pupils to turnaround schools.
Finally, Liberal Democrat Members take a different view on accused teachers from that of the Government. The issue of anonymity has been a leading story on the BBCI heard the Minister on the "Today" programme this morning, and I have seen the press release from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. The story is not newthe Minister and I discussed it at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference almost 12 months ago, and the Minister has followed a fairly consistent line on itbut it is serious.
I was not convinced by the Minister's response on the radio this morning. He can correct me if I am wrong, but he seemed to say that malicious accusations could be dealt with by relying on press protocols and attempting to speed up the inquiry process rapidly to dispose of groundless complaints. I support press protocols and speeding up the inquiry process, which is a sensible reaction, but it is a fair objection that there has never been a press protocol that has not been breached on occasions. However fast the inquiry process goes, it is never as fast as the publication of tomorrow's newspaper, and one ill-directed headline can ruin a teacher's professional and personal life. Given that fact, there needs to be a substantive legal reason for opposing the suggestion, and it is not clear that there is one.
Mr. Stephen Twigg:
The hon. Gentleman expresses concerns that all hon. Members would share. Clearly, press protocols do not in practice prevent such cases from going forward as they have in the pastthat is why those protocols have been strengthened. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although there is a strong
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argument for teachers, there is an equally strong argument for youth workers, residential care home workers and social workers, and that it would be difficult in practice to know where to draw the line?
Dr. Pugh: The Minister makes a valid point. A case has been made for teachers and one could make a parallel case for other groups. The Government need to explore that in the round, because they must face up to the consequences of any legislation that they introduce. I think that the Minister would agree that his arguments do not automatically knock down those advanced by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale or by my hon. Friends. I hope that he will reconsider, because there are good arguments for dealing with this problem for the teaching profession.
When I practised as a solicitor before I entered the House, I acted for members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers who were in that position. To echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said about care workers, anonymity, which I would support legislatively, could apply only up to the point of formal criminal charges being brought, because subsequently other victims might come out of the woodwork, and that would assist in the protection of the children, which is what we all want.
Dr. Pugh: I am familiar with that issue, having been approached by care workers in my constituency who have had their careers ruined by wrongful accusations. To some extent, publicity can facilitate further legitimate complaints against the individual, but can in turn encourage other people with malice against that individual to make complaints. We all know the sad history of accusations of trawling by police bodies and the like, which I do not have time to go into today.
It is hard to be completely dogmatic about the efficacy of educational systems, and I am particularly disinclined to be so. In the past two months, I have encountered and conversed with two ex-pupils from my time at a Bootle comprehensive. One was a haggard, toothless drug addict sitting on the floor of Liverpool Central station; the other was an upstanding policeman who now works in this building. I suppose that proves that Liberal Democrats can be all things to all people. Uncannily, both were appreciative of the education that they had received.
There are no simple solutions to the problems of schools, but there are solutions. Zero tolerance can be a reality and need not cost a fortune. It requires early intervention, a sound educational framework, proper support and the will to guarantee undisrupted education for every child.
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