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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, has the department taken note of the provision in the Act that economic factors should not govern the allocation of money to sixth forms, particularly in rural schools? Can she guarantee that rural sixth formers will be protected in any allocation of grants?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Learning and Skills Council is required to look at elements of disadvantage, and that includes issues such as free school meals eligibility. It is unusual to have a
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend Lord Pilkington was talking about disadvantage. I thought that his point was that sixth forms in rural areas are likely to be smaller.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I did not mean to suggest that rural communities are disadvantaged per se, but there have been issues of disadvantage because of pupils requiring to travel and so on and the need to support and protect small sixth forms, as your Lordships made very clear during the passage of the Bill. Part of the purpose of the Learning and Skills Council is to ensure that those sixth forms thrive and work collaboratively and co-operatively with others to ensure that a broad range of A-levels are available to pupils across rural communities.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we must balance the two needs of young carersto receive a good education, and to receive support in caring for those for whom they have responsibilities. Current policies on school attendance aim to ensure that young people attend school. Additional support is available to those, including young carers, who may face barriers to learning. These include the Connexions service, learning mentors in Excellence in Cities areas and support services provided by educational welfare officers.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that constructive Answer. Is she aware that the Young Carers Research Group at Loughborough University is producing guidelines and recommendations on education policy for young carers? When those recommendations are ready, would she think it useful for her department to produce guidelines that summarise the recommendations and give examples of good practice? There is tremendous inconsistency in that area.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am aware that the Young Carers Research Group at Loughborough University is conducting a study on education policy. I can confirm to the noble Baroness that we would like to produce a leaflet summarising guidance. My honourable friend the Parliamentary
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that a system will be put in place to ensure that young carers are given an assessment of their needs and that the services they require will be provided? Can she further assure us that as regards the continual professional development of teachers courses will be available so that teachers' awareness of the problems of young carers can be raised and they can spot problems, even if the young people do not themselves come forward to ask for help?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness as regards the importance of that matter. We have some research available on what young carers say they would like. The first thing they would like is to have someone available who will listen to themsomeone to whom they can talk and who will believe them. They also want recognition of their role as carers. It may interest noble Lords to hear the following statistic of which I was not aware until last week; namely, that the average age of a young carer is 12. We are alive to the problems they face. They often perform all domestic duties and caring tasks, including the personal care of the relative for whom they care. It is important that teachers support them. I am seeking to find ways in which we can enhance that provision.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, can the Minister confirm the number of young carers? Is it about 51,000? When a young carer addressed parliamentarians she expressed the deep concern and distress she felt when her teacher announced to her class that she was a young carer. I believe that in her case her mother had a mental illness. She was concerned about the confidentiality of her position being maintained. I believe that that is a widespread concern. What is being done to address that concern?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there are about 51,000 young carers, many of whom receive no support from statutory or voluntary services. The Office for National Statistics provided the figure of 51,000, but I guess that there are many more we simply do not know about. The issue that the young carer raised is common. One of the anxieties we have concerns the amount of bullying that we believe young carers suffer in schools. Many of those young carers look after a relative with mental health problems. In small communities that can constitute a particular difficulty. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining confidentiality, which is so important, and ensuring that we offer young carers the right kind of support.
Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, as several noble Lords have already stated, one of the great difficulties with young carers is getting them to identify themselves in a way which is
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness with her many years of experience raises an important point. There are real disincentives within our society against self-identification and against parents identifying their children as young carers. The first is a fear of being taken into care. Parental illness is the third most common reason for children entering the public care system. They also fear bullying. As I said, we believe that 71 per cent of young carers are bullied in school. Some 33 per cent believe that their teachers are not aware that they may be looking after someone at home.
We have issued guidance on how to support young carers within school inclusion. We have asked the Connexions service to offer advice to young carers and to be aware of them and, in Excellence in Cities areas, for learning mentors to offer a single point of contact. But I believe that we need to do more. As a direct result of the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I intend to set up a group within the department to consider what more can be done. I invite the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Pitkeathley, or any other noble Lord who is interested, to join those discussions.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, in order to identify those many young carers who shoulder the terrible burden of looking after parents with mental illness, will the Minister ensure that her department looks carefully once again at the systems for and extent of information sharing between education, social services and health so that the educational and other needs of those young carers are properly met?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I believe that that is an area where we need to think in, dare I say, a joined-up manner. As noble Lords know, I am an advocate of joined-up thinking between education, health and social care. For the pupils we are discussing it is particularly important that we do that.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, does the noble Baroness have any figure for the amount of money which the taxpayer saves through young carers caring for people who would otherwise have to be looked after by social services or the National Health Service?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it will not surprise the noble Lord to hear that I do not, although I can imagine that it is a huge amount of money. However, I do not wish to consider only the economic aspect. The role these young carers play is fantastic. As
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, given that there is no support in law for young people to carry out paid work, would the noble Baroness say that there ought to be an obligation on social services to intervene to make sure that those young people are not put in the position where they are having to do almost a professional job unpaid and unrecognised?
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