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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, my name is attached to this amendment and Amendment No. 44 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. It is an alternative format for the same issue.
Briefly, I shall explain why we support one and propose the other amendment as a possible alternative. Section 21 of the Education Act 2002 requires each school governing body to conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement within the school. Governors already have a responsibility under Section 317 of the Education Act 1996 to make special educational provision available for students with special educational needs. That includes a duty to ensure that teachers in a school are aware of the importance of identifying and providing for pupils with special educational needs.
Recently governors have acquired a new duty under Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 which requires them to safeguard and to promote the welfare of children. Amendment No. 43, which we support, seeks to enhance that power in relation to children in public care because, as the noble Earl has explained, schools often fail to recognise their responsibilities to looked-after children under this section of the 2002 Education Act.
Amendment No. 44 goes one step further and asks that schools take account of the social needs of pupils by providing a non-inclusive list of social needs. An amendment similar to Amendment No. 43 was tabled at Report stage. The Minister correctly pointed out that children in public care come with a continuum of need and, therefore, the amendment could require schools to do something for children when at least some of them did not need such attention.
"our concern is to ensure that we recognise that looked-after children in schools need additional support; that they get the support appropriate to their needs, not their category; and that we support all of our schools in developing, for their own governing bodies, the kind of policies appropriate to the population of children that they have".[Official Report, 22/6/04; col. 1215.]
It is likely that children in public care who achieve the highest academic qualifications do so with a great deal of understanding and support from their schools. Most schools will attempt to provide that support without being told to. This amendment makes it clear that the few schools that do not do that will be told to do so.
The Minister also pointed out that it would be wrong to single out children in public care as in need of special attention. The amendment attempts to meet those concerns by including this non-inclusive list of social needs of which schools should take account. The Government claim to have brought together various support services to help children under the overall objective stated as follows in last week's five-year plan:
Has Parliament, through legislation, backed that admirable objective? The amendment is needed to ensure that schools recognise all the needs, including the social needs of children. It would ask schools to recognise that a pupil's educational achievement can be affected not only by his special educational needs but by his special social needs.
Children often come to school frightened because they do not know when they are going to see their parents again. They come to school having just lost a beloved grandparent. They come to school from an overcrowded house. They come to school after having been in the country only a couple of weeks. Those children are not going to fulfil their potential. Schools can do much to help them, not least because they have more contact with the school than any other agency. Schools which are fully participating in the co-operation arrangements under Clause 7 will know how to get the additional services required to help those young people achieve and lead fulfilling lives. Those are the reasons why one or other of the two amendments is needed.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Listowel is almost in the same category as my noble friend Lord Northbourne in his dedication to looking after children. Many of us in your Lordships' House would pay great tribute to him for that.
In addition to supporting his amendment, I have great sympathy also with the more broadly based Amendment No. 44. Although I understand fully the concerns that have been expressed about overloading the teachers and the governing bodies, in the specific case of looked-after children, an important extra point should be made. In such cases, the local authority is the corporate parent of such children. Whether the children are in residential care or are looked after by a foster parent, it is still the local authority which is the parent. Therefore, since the children spend a great deal of their time in the school environment, a special, extra duty should be placed on the governors of that school to see that teaching and support bring the best out of such children and unleash their real talents.
We should not forget the appalling figures. Twenty-seven per cent of looked-after children have special education needs, in contrast to only 3 per cent of all other children. Only one in 100 children goes on to university, whereas one in three of the rest of the child population does so. That is a clear indication of the need for extra support for the emotional well-being of children who are inevitably under stress because of a broken home background or whatever.
There is great support for the amendment from the Local Government Association. It regards the issue as vital. Alison King, who chairs the social affairs and health executive of the Local Government Association, supports the amendment and regards the whole issue as vital. Although I gather that the National Governors' Council was a little concerned about over-burdening governors, it too acknowledges that many governors perhaps did not know about the lack of achievement of looked-after children.
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For all those reasons, I hope that it will be possible to do rather more. I fully acknowledge that the Government have the issue very much in mind and have set a number of initiatives well under way. However, to extend the duty to governors would spread the burden a little and move the process more quickly on.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I shall be brief. We should ask two questions: first, is it right to single out children in care? In spite of the seductive reasons for including all kinds of other children, it probably is right that they are a very special case. The other question is whether schools wish to have that job imposed on them. My point is that responsibility for children in care lies with local authorities. Yes, they should work through schools but, yes, they should jolly well pay for it.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I have a different view. I pay real tribute to my noble friend Lord Listowel, who spoke so well for children in care. I want to make three brief points. First, talking to the director of children's services in CSCI has made it clear that not all children want to be identified in school as being in public care. If we are ascertaining the wishes and feelings of children, we must listen. I am rather concerned that this is a blanket arrangement.
On assessments, it is crucial that when a child is in need, the local authority should take proper actionit should currently be doing thatto talk to the school about the child's needs and to ensure that the proper, designated teacher takes the appropriate action. I understand absolutely what my noble friend Lord Listowel said.
A real issue is involved with Amendment No. 44; that is, how one would specify which children would be brought forward. Procedures are already in place but I am unsure whether they are being properly carried out. Will the Minister consider whether there are other ways in which that could be done? I have tremendous sympathy with the general thrust of the proposal but I am concerned that it will gather in children who would prefer not to be gathered in.
Lord Elton: My Lords, proposed new subsection (2) in Amendment No. 44 returns us to asylum seekers. I still have difficulty accepting the most unfortunate decision that the House made on Amendment No. 21 on the inclusion of the children of asylum seekers in the protection of certain parts of the legislation. Anything that we can extend to them at a later stage is to be welcomed.
I also want to leave a thought in the Minister's mind for her journey to the other end of the corridor, although it may not be a complete remedy to what we have so far decided in this regard. The Minister is looking very puzzled. I hope that when she reads Hansard she will understand what I am driving at. The exclusion could be limited. The argument that she advanced against the proposal of my noble friend Lord Howe was that judicial review under the provisions could be used by the parents of children to
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delay orders for their own repatriation. I want her to consider the possibility of making such proceedings subordinate, if that is the right word, to repatriation proceedings so that they could not be used in that case.
I see from the Minister's face that there will be no reply to that from the Dispatch Box this evening. I am quite content for her to reply later. I wanted to utter a friendly word on the amendments and I will leave that thought with her.
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