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In my short contribution, I want to pay tribute to the teachers who teach young offenders in custody. It is not easy for any worker to work in a prison and for teachers there is a need for special patience and expertise. The 2004 report by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Rethinking Crime & Punishment, contains a fascinating quotation from the Times of 1867. It asks the question:
Although I value our police force tremendously, in the context of this debate I would opt for the schoolteacher. As long as young offenders are in custody, we as a society have a major responsibility to provide the right education for them. For this, we need the expertise and specialisms of dedicated teaching staff. There can surely be no better dedication than to want to help children who are, for whatever reason, serving a custodial sentence.
I first became interested in this specialist teaching when a relative of mine left teaching in a school in Essex to teach young offenders in a nearby young persons unit. It was a bold step and she had to learn quickly about what often already damaged children were capable of and what their complex requirements were. Despite some traumas in the beginning, she ultimately found her experience both satisfying and rewarding. Some of her pupils on leaving the establishment in which she taught kept in touch with her. Some reoffended, but others did not. She took a certain satisfaction in hoping that she had helped them when they most needed it.
To find out the situation facing teachers working in custodial establishments today, I spoke to members of the National Union of Teachers who work in this area. They made two key points. First, the main aim of teachers working in secure education establishments is to ensure that they play a major role in the pupils overall progress. They want to be a key part of the throughcare that is provided by all the professionals working together. They want to ensure that they have a place in the investment and commitment that enable the young people to become stronger and less insecure, to function socially and to catch up academically. I know that your Lordships will agree that this is a worthy aim and I know that the Minister will do all that he can to help them to achieve it.
The second issue is the age of teachers working in custodial care. At present, 70 per cent of the NUT teachers working in this area are between 40 and 60 and a further 11 per cent are over 60. Younger teachers are not considering working in the secure units or the local authority childrens homes. Those already teaching there are rightly worried that their younger counterparts are not joining them. One of the main reasons appears to be that there is no career structure for those who choose to educate young people in custody, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, outlined. My noble friend the Minister may wish to consider this problem.
Providing sound education must be one of the better ways in which we as a society can help in preventing reoffending. To teach young offenders takes special, caring, talented and motivated individuals, and we should pay tribute to them.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I join those who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing the debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Coussins on her stimulating maiden speech. In that spirit, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for sending those taking part in this debate a copy of the consultation document, which I had not seen before. I read it with a sense of déjÃ -vu, because, 10 years ago, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, I started taking Ofsted with me into young offender establishments, writing reports giving all the details that I recognise here and making a whole stream of recommendations about what should happen. I find it rather galling that, 10 years later, we are saying exactly the same thing again.
The advantage of these short debates is that people have to concentrate on one subject. I hope that the aggregation of the separate subjects will add up to fuel and ammunition for the Minister to cope with and take forward. I shall concentrate on one specific issue. While this report rightly concentrates on the delivery of education and what should be there, it has to be based on assessment. As the report itself says, assessment is one of the weakest aspects in what has happened so far because it is patchy. There is not enough information about a young persons learning progress and personal educational needs.
As I have said in the House before, the only time that I discovered in any prison someone who was able to reach 100 per cent of all young offenders was when I was introduced in a young offender establishment, in Polmont, to a speech and language therapist. The governor said to me that if he had to get rid of all his staff, the last one out of the gate would be that therapist. When I asked why, he explained that she was able to unlock all the needs of all the young offendersin education, healthcare, behaviour and disciplinebecause she enabled them to communicate. Only through that communication could they tell the people what was actually required. Importantly, this communication helped them to build the relationships that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lord Listowel have mentioned as being so critical here.
I have mentioned this many times before in this House and in reports as Chief Inspector of Prisons from 2000 onwards. Lady Helen Hamlyn funded speech and language therapists in two young offender establishments for two years and it was academically evaluated by a professor from the University of Surrey. The evaluation proved conclusively that these therapists were essential to the proper understanding of what these young people needed so that resources could be deployed to best effect. Still nothing has happened. Why? Apparently primary care trusts are responsible for speech and language therapists and they have to come in health plans. The Department for Education and Skills says that it is not up to it even though communication skills are essential. The Home Office consistently refuses to fund assessment. The Minister for Social Exclusion, to whom I have spoken about this, says that nothing is more socially exclusive than the failure to communicate and that communication is the scourge of the 21st century.
Tomorrow sees the launch of a new Ministry which did not appear in the list talked about in the House: the Ministry of Justice. Could I hope that, on day one, the Ministry of Justice will realise that for several years what everyone knows is essential for so many of our young people has been denied, and get these therapists in to assess what can be done to make certain that young people who end up in custody get the education and the other things that they so badly need?
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for introducing this important debate and in particular for her unequivocal statements about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I think that all noble Lords who have spoken are agreed that one of the major factors that can be used to keep young people out of trouble is a good education. As we have heard, another major factor that young offenders have in common is their poor level of educational attainment. Many noble Lords have given us the horrifying statistics about attainment, and my noble friend Lord Dholakia has given us the horrible reality of education in prison. These are not the easiest of pupils to educate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, emphasised. Many of them are in poor health due to
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Another problem facing those who try to raise the educational and skills level of young offenders is their inability to concentrate for long. These are young people who have not been used to working hard at intellectual tasks; they need to learn to listen, speak and express their feelings just like a young child does. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, speech therapy is one of the things that these young people desperately need. The inability to express oneself leads to frustration and anger which often manifests itself in antisocial behaviour or criminality.
I have read the Next Steps document that follows on from Reducing Reoffending Through Skills and Employment. It contains much that is good and desirable. However, I detect a failing which I find rather concerning. Naturally, there is an emphasis on basic skills, which is right and understandable because no one can progress to other qualifications without basic literacy and numeracy. However, beyond that, I detect an emphasis entirely on skills which I believe is wrong. Of course the country needs a skilled workforce, and we have heard about the high percentage of jobs in the future that need skills. However, there is a tendency to assume that young offenders are fit for nothing but skilled labour. In fact, many young offenders are very bright with high IQs. They have been bored at school because the curriculum did not challenge or inspire them; so being bright and curious, they got into trouble. If only these young people could be inspired and challenged by a curriculum that met their needs in a learning environment that took account of their disadvantaged backgrounds, what might they achieve, not just in the direction of skills but, for some, academically?
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, many of these young people lack the social skills needed to work in groups. Many of them are emotionally very immature and have no idea how to resolve conflict by discussion and persuasion. In fact, many have been persuaded to do what their parents wanted through violent beatings, so they see violence as normal. Their backgrounds were not as enriched as those lucky cared-for children who were surrounded by books and toys from which they could learn, taken on trips to places of interest and had sports coaching and music lessonsthe sorts of things that enrich all of our lives. In the short time allowed by the majority of sentences served by young offenders, it is impossible to address these problems. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, rapid diagnosis of need is essential, as is an action plan which can be commenced in custody and followed through in the community, at college and other places, after release.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this important topic. I also thank the Minister for sending copies of the Green Paper.
The debate has been marked by expert contributions and graced by the impressive maiden speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. There is no doubt that reoffending rates are increased by the insufficient provision of education and skills training for young people in custody. Although 46 per cent of the 150,000 children and young people under the age of 18 who enter the youth justice system each year are of compulsory school age, the average number of hours of education undertaken by prisoners held in young offender institutions is only 7.6 hours per prisoner per week.
We are not talking about well adjusted children in classes with other well adjusted children, who would probably make the most of a meagre 7.6 hours per week of teaching. When we talk about young people and children in custody, we are talking about some of the most disadvantaged in the countrythe damaged children of whom the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, spoke so powerfully. Eighty-five per cent of them have mental health problems. More than half of them are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Half have spent time in care or under the supervision of social services and many have special educational needs. That is a bleak scene and I ask the Minister whether he considers that an acceptable level of educational provision for those children.
It is devastating that nine out of 10 juvenile offenders on the intensive supervision and surveillance programme are re-offenders. That can be due in no small part to the disruption caused to education in custody by custodial transfers. I was struck by the words of Ann Creighton of the Prisoners Education Trust, who said:
It is surprising that the Government have so far failed to implement their recommendation that there should be an electronic transfer of individual learning records. That would at least ensure continuity. In the interests of future planning, can the Minister inform us how many young offenders of compulsory school age are transferred each year?
One of the pleasures of my enforced rest during the past three weeks has been watching daytime television. Last week, I was moved by an interview with Mark Johnson. Mark is a drug addict who has been in prison and lived rough on the streets. His history is heart-rending and heart-warming. With the help of the Princes Trust and great inner strength, he has turned his life around and is now helping others. He has written a book. But for every Mark Johnson, there are countless others who slip through the system.
The education of young people in custody is an essential component of their rehabilitation. It is vital to the prevention of re-offending. The provision of
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, I think that I speak on behalf of the House when I say how delighted we are that the noble Baroness is back in her place this evening. I also say how grateful we are to my noble friend Lady Massey for securing the debate on education for young people in custody and for introducing it with her customary insight and legitimate concern. We were especially glad to hear the impressive maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. She brings to the House great expertisein particular, on alcohol abuse and educationand we look forward to her future participation in our debates.
I begin by stating unequivocally that custody should always be a last resort for children and young people. The criminal justice system is intended to do all that it can to keep young people from custody whenever there is a viable alternative.
The best antidote to youth crime is, of course, a caring family home and a good education. Better family support and better schools are at the heart of government policy. Sure Start childrens centres have steadily increased the support available for disadvantaged families, assisting parents with children in their early education, and we have recently announced a £30 million grant to create a new National Academy for Parenting Practitioners.
Extended schools are offering a broader range of services, including after-school provision for older children. A new and better relationship is being built up between crime prevention agencies and schools. Safer Schools Partnerships, for example, place specially trained police officers in schools in areas of high crime to promote respect, responsibility and a safer learning environment. I have visited many such schools and have been very impressed with the work and the warm welcome that the schools give to those specially trained police officers. Evaluations show that those partnerships have had a beneficial impact, improving behaviour and attendance and building a better understanding about the role of the police and better links between the police and community. Since January, local authorities have been required to provide positive activities for young people, including those at risk of social exclusion, throughout the school year.
In terms of criminal justice, the police and the courts deal with approximately 150,000 young people each year, of which only 3 to 4 per cent receive a custodial sentence lasting an average of four months. It is the Governments duty to ensure that young offender institutions provide appropriate support to meet these young peoples needs, which are often
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Education plays a critical role in both rehabilitation and reducing re-offending, not least by making young offenders employable after release. Our aim is to give young people the practical and social skills to pursue crime-free lives at the end of their sentences. Yet, unsurprisingly, many in custody have had poor experiences of school. Young offenders are 20 times more likely to be regular truants than the general school-age populationhence often the failure to diagnose and address special educational needs. Forty-two per cent of young offenders underachieve in school; most lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills.
When we created the Youth Justice Board in 1998, one of its main aims was to ensure that young offenders receive a good education in custody. The same aim underpinned our decision to transfer responsibility for offender education from the Home Office to the DfES in 2001 and our subsequent decisions dramatically to increase both spending and minimum standards. I am glad to tell the House that the current chairman of the Youth Justice Board, Graham Robb, is a former head teacher and passionately committed to improving education for young offenders.
I was glad to hear the positive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the YJBs work. Although I fully accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said, much remains to be done. However, I think that he would accept that the position is better than when he was writing his powerful reports a decade ago.
Since the creation of the Youth Justice Board, we have seen significant improvements in educational provision. During 2005-06, the 17 young offender institutions delivered an average of 28.2 hours of education, training and personal development activity per individual per week. That is a fourfold increase compared to 2002. In the 15 secure childrens homes and the four secure training centres, the percentage of young people receiving 30 hours or more education and training was 79.9 per centand 99.4 per centrespectively.
Government spending on young offender custodial educationin my experience, spending is always the prime indicator of whether a Government are committed to something or notrose from £5 million to £20 million, a fourfold increase between 2002 and 2005, which has meant that more institutions can employ far more teachers. I echo the tribute that my noble friend Lady Gibson paid to the work of teachers in young offender institutions. That also means that they can employ more learning support assistants and arrange additional specialist services for young people under their care.
From 31 July last year, all young offender institutions became part of the new Offender Learning and Skills Service, whereby their education and training programmes
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One of the Learning and Skills Councils duties is to monitor the qualifications achieved by all young offenders. In 2005-06, 42.5 per cent of those in young offender institutions improved by one skill level in literacy and numeracy. The fact that we now have this kind of data responds to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. There is far better tracking of individual offenders than used to be the case. Given the Learning and Skills Councils more recent involvement in this area, we would hope to see this figure rise in the next set of results and to see much better and consistent tracking of individual young people.
From 2007-08, we have also improved access to education maintenance allowances for young people in custody. With immediate effect, young people can apply for EMAs while in custody, without the need to submit evidence of financial income. That means that they will receive the EMA when they enrol on a valid learning programme. Such measures are simplifying the application process for offenders and are a vital incentive to engage in education or training immediately upon release. Another step we are taking is to review the local authority funding formula for Connexions services aimed at young people in custody, to help ease their transition back into community life. So we are making progress.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked if we are satisfied with the status quo. I can tell her absolutely straightforwardly that we are not. We believe that much more needs to be done, while accepting that transforming the prospects of young offenders is extremely difficult, not least when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, so rightly noted, some have serious behavioural problems, refuse to attend classes, or are distracted by other worries. Our concern is systematically to raise the availability and quality of provision, to reduce variations in the quality of teaching and support between institutions, and to gain a more accurate picture of performance in each as a spur to further improvements.
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