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I am delighted that I have a yes for the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on her important question about these amendments. With that, I hope that noble Lords will consider supporting these government amendments.
"(4A) In considering what arrangements it is necessary to make under subsection (1) in relation to relevant young adults, a local education authority must have regard to what they are required to do under section 15ZA(1) in relation to those persons."
In making arrangements under section 508F(1) and preparing and publishing a statement under section 508G, a local education authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State under this section."
(a) a sixth form college, or
(b) a further education college
who are over compulsory school age, but under 19, with free meals.
(a) any prescribed requirements are met,
(b) a request for the provision of free college meals has been made by, or on behalf of, that person to the authority, and
(i) that person is eligible for free meals (within the meaning of section 512ZB (4) of the Education Act 1996); or
(ii) in the case of a person within subsection (1)(a), it would not be unreasonable for the authority to provide the meals.
Our amendments fall into two groups. Amendments 67 and 74 both raise issues of equity. Amendment 67 asks that young people who have been receiving free school meals should get free lunches at college. We feel that it is not right that their counterparts who stay on at school and who have been receiving free school meals remain eligible, whereas those who choose to move on to college lose their entitlement. Often those who move on to college come from more disadvantaged homes and choose to leave school and go to college to pursue different careers or because they find the college atmosphere more conducive than school.
This becomes a bigger problem with the raising of the participation age because many more young people who are now leaving school and going into work will continue within an education framework and will choose to go to college. Therefore, we will probably find a considerable increase in the number of young people who, having been eligible for free school meals when they were at school, go on to college and lose that eligibility.
In responding to a similar amendment in Committee the Minister cited the fact that these young people are entitled to educational maintenance allowances and that their families also receive child benefit and child tax credits. But so do those who stay on at school, so there is nothing to offset the inequity. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, who is not in his place, asked me in Committee how much it would cost. I promised to find out, and the estimate from the AoC is that the numbers involved would be approximately 95,000 young people at a total cost of something like £33 million. It is a not insubstantial sum, but nevertheless it is only one-third of the budget that goes to the LSIS each year. In terms of priorities, this is considerable.
We recognise that in these economic times it is a considerable sum for the Exchequer to swallow. The Government also said in their response that the issue was among those being considered in the review of the financing of 16 to 19 year-olds. We ask that the Government give a firm commitment in this review that the disparity between those attending college and those staying on at school will be specifically addressed. Per student it amounts to something like £225 a year. Why should our more disadvantaged young people not receive that advantage when they could do so? This issue must be specifically addressed within that review rather than merely being one of the items on the agenda that, in the end, fails to be considered. It is unfair to the students and unfair to the colleges which currently have to use their hardship funds to help those obviously needy young people who cannot meet their needs in any other way. The first issue of inequity is that of free meals.
Amendment 74 refers to the funding gap between the amount received by colleges per student and that received per student in sixth form. In 2005 the then Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, promised to close the gap by 2010. As the Minister pointed out when we discussed this in Committee, the Government have reduced the gap from 14 per cent to about 6 per cent. The best he could do was to promise that the gap would get no bigger. Again, we argue that this is just not good enough. The college sector takes some of the most disadvantaged young people and with the raising of the participation age it will play a crucial role in delivering that Government's skills agenda. It is totally unfair that the college sector should be expected to do this on the basis of less money per student than their counterparts-young people in sixth form in schools.
Again, we are looking for an assurance about the actual gap, as the work done for the Learning and Skills Council by KPMG, and published in March 2008, made that somewhat larger than the Minister stated. Although the gap had come down when measured in 2005 terms, it pointed out that while there was a 3 per cent difference in funding rates as such, there were additional differences relating to teacher pension grants paid to schools, equivalent to a 2.61 per cent bonus per student, and additional teacher pay grants-teachers in secondary schools are often paid more than college lecturers-worth 3.98 per cent per student. The total gap in those KPMG figures for the LSC was 9.6 per cent for the academic year 2008-09-and that conclusion did not take account of the fact that colleges
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All told, then, the Association of Colleges reckons that the gap is somewhat larger than the 6 per cent that the Minister spoke about. Nevertheless, since nobody really denies the existence of the gap, we are really looking for an assurance that by 2013, for example, when the raising of the participation age takes effect, the gap will have been closed. It is no good assuring us that the gap will not increase, because it is grossly unfair that it exists at all. We want a firm commitment that the gap will be abolished and that the funding per student, whether they are at a further education college or in a school sixth form, is equivalent.
Amendment 75 asks, again, that the functions of the YPLA as explained in the briefing papers that have been issued to us should be written into the Bill. This amendment differs in two respects from that discussed in Committee. First, paragraph (b) of the proposed new clause refers to the development of a regional skills strategy, and for the need for the YPLA to,
in helping to develop analyses and plans to meet local needs. That arises directly from the discussions that we have had relating to the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, at the end of July to Jim Brathwaite at SEEDA. In that letter, it became clear that it was intended that the RDA would lead the development of the regional skills strategy, which,
Any regional skills strategy has to consider 16 to 19 year-olds, not just those over 19, whether at school, in college, in apprenticeships or working and training. Will the regional skills strategy be binding on the YPLA, and what role will the YPLA play in helping to formulate that strategy? Originally, the idea was that the YPLA would be just a light-touch authority, distributing funds to local authorities and working with them and their sub-regional groupings to ensure that they had appropriate data, and so forth, on which to plan. Now, it seems that the RDA has usurped that role. Is that really so? What role are the RDAs going to play in relation to the YPLA?
The other difference in this amendment is proposed new paragraph (e), its final one, which gives the Secretary of State the power to change the functions of the YPLA as he may direct. This meets the objection which I know always arises from parliamentary counsel that detailed functions written into a Bill make it impossible to change the functions of an organisation. Perhaps I might reiterate: the functions as described in this proposed new clause are taken almost word for word from the briefing papers that we have received about the YPLA. Essentially, we feel that if this is what they are going to do, it ought to be stated in the Bill.
Finally, Amendment 80 is at the request of the AoC, representing its attempt to provide for itself a means of short-cutting the bureaucracy and appealing directly to the YPLA, should the complex machinery for agreeing grants between colleges and LEAs break
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Government Amendments 69, 70, 71 and 72 all apply to Schedule 3 and meet our request in Committee that the YPLA should have a minimum of 10, not six, members, and in particular should have members representing the full range of the YPLA responsibilities. Amendments 71 and 72 relate to the appointment of the chief executive of the YPLA. We had asked that after the first appointment, the CEO should be appointed by the board itself on conditions set by the YPLA, although those should all be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. These amendments meet precisely these demands and we are very grateful to the Government for listening to our requests. I beg to move.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, as regards the funding gap. That was a useful concept when the gap was much larger and it could be seen that it was so substantially unfair that that crude measure could be accepted. Now that it is much closer, we have to move to something finer. We ought to base our assessment not on fairness to colleges, or indeed anyone else, but fairness to students. We ought to assess the student experience of doing the same course in a school or in a college. There should be no reason why a student doing an A-level in a college should suffer markedly worse conditions than a student doing an A-level at school. That is a subtler measure and takes into account-as school funding does-the fact that colleges have economies of scale and the factors that the noble Baroness mentioned about their having to provide for their own capital funding. It would be a better way of approaching this than to say that the unit of funding should be equivalent everywhere. That is not true anywhere else in the education system where the funding takes account of the circumstances of the provider. That is correct elsewhere and in this case.
My amendment in this group addresses the logic of Clause 65. It seems to me that the way the subsections of that clause combine means that a large FE college providing a substantial amount of free education to people under 18 but substantially the same education on commercial terms to people who want their workforce trained, would find, particularly given the wording of subsection (4) but also by the way all the subsections mesh together, that the YPLA was constrained to exercise its funding functions so as to secure that the work that the FE college was doing commercially had to be provided for free. I will go through the logic of that if the noble Lord wishes but I have had the opportunity to sit down with his officials and do that, and they understand what I am on about. Therefore, I am content not to spend the next five minutes trying inadequately to educate your Lordships about that.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, this group of amendments responds mainly to concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in particular, and by others around the Chamber in Committee. We on these Benches object to the Young People's Learning Agency on a more fundamental level, as we have said before. We are concerned that by devolving responsibility for education of 16 to 19 year-olds to local authorities, headed by the YPLA, we are in danger of creating a confusing, bureaucratic and ultimately non-functional system of education. The lines of reporting, responsibility and funding appear to us to be tangled in such a way as to ensure that no one will be quite sure what they are or how they work. I very much fear that the nature of what my noble friend Lord Baker called a Byzantine structure will make it very difficult for the Government to put into practice the good intentions that I have no doubt they are trying to achieve. The Minister will doubtless assure us that this will not be the case. However, some concerns remain around the House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has tabled her Amendment 75 in a quest for clarity. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a response that will satisfy her. The amendments that the Government have tabled in response to concerns expressed about the YPLA do not answer our concerns about this structure and do not provide sufficient clarity to reassure us that this will function in a way that will implement the objectives effectively.
Furthermore, the amendments do not address the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Eccles in Committee. How, for example, will the YPLA be expected to interact and work with the SFA when they have such very differently constitutional bases? The SFA, as an agency, will be under the aegis of the Secretary of State. The YPLA, as an NDPB, will be supposedly independent. The Minister has not yet addressed these concerns sufficiently well and I hope that he will elaborate further. The bodies are very differently constituted, but we are constantly being told that they will find it easy to share information, to share back-office staff and functions and to provide an easy pathway for those under 19 who are involved in education to progress to adult education. I am looking to the Minister for further explanation.
Specifically, in this instance, we express our opposition to government Amendments 71 and 72. These would allow the YPLA the power to appoint its own chief executive, albeit subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. If the YPLA is to exist, it should be held to account in the same way that the SFA as an agency should be held to account. The principle of democratic accountability must hold fast here. Noble Lords will be aware that we are of the opinion that this structure, as it is, will not work.
In an ideal world, we would want to start from the very beginning to reformulate the Bill in an entirely different way. However, we recognise that we are nearing the end of its passage through your Lordships' House and, instead, the power of revision, rather than fundamental restructuring, must be the path. Indeed, the Government have already started to dismantle the Learning and Skills Council and have created their shadow YPLA and SFA structures. We must, therefore, work with what we have in the Bill, as unsatisfactory
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, this group encompasses a fairly wide range of amendments. I only want to discuss Amendment 67, which addresses free college meals, because, certainly, what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the treatment for the individual student being important and being clearly seen to be on an even keel wherever your education is taking place must be the right course to follow. I have to admit that it is not something that I had thought about before but, on free college meals, it is very pertinent that if you are to continue in education, exactly the same conditions should apply throughout the educational system. So I very much support those amendments.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, first, I apologise for the length of my contribution, which is due, in part, to the fact that I am addressing a wide range of amendments and because there is quite a lot that I need to read into the record to try to reassure noble Lords that we have listened, and listened carefully.
We understand the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the supportive role that the Young People's Learning Agency will play in relation to local authorities is not sufficiently represented in the Bill. Taken together, Amendments 69, 71, 72, 77, 78, 79, 82 and 87, which I shall move, make explicit our vision for a collaborative and supportive YPLA.
These amendments fulfil commitments that we made in Committee to enhance the YPLA board and to require it, in carrying out its commissioning functions, to have regard to what local authorities are doing. Importantly, Amendment 78 requires the YPLA to secure the Secretary of State's approval before exercising its direction-making powers under Clause 67.
I hope that, given these assurances, the noble Baroness will agree that it is not necessary to specify in the Bill the operational detail set out in Amendment 75. This detail is best set out elsewhere, such as in the YPLA's remit letter. However, for the record, I am happy to confirm that the design and structure of the YPLA is geared to do what the amendment sets out: to operate the current national funding formula and to issue guidance that will be known as the national commissioning framework; to ensure that where cross-regional or national commissioning is required, it happens smoothly and in a non-bureaucratic way-this will be particularly important for specialist provision, such as that for learners with learning difficulties or land-based colleges that offer courses such as animal husbandry and agricultural studies-crucially, to ensure that local authorities and providers have access to and are using the very latest and accurate information as they develop their commissioning plans to meet the needs of young people; and to play a crucial role in convening the regional planning groups, providing data and analysis on educational and economic trends in a region or nationally.
On Amendment 80, I am happy to assure the House that we have been working closely with the Association of Colleges and other partners to address
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Our intention is that in the first instance any questions about local commissioning will be resolved through informal discussion between the decision-making body, usually the local authority, and the provider. If this does not resolve the issue, it will be escalated to a different level within the local authority-higher than where the original decision was taken. This escalation and decision should take place within 14 days of receipt of the complaint. We expect the YPLA to be aware of this and, in the spirit of the amendment, want the YPLA to take a proactive stance in ensuring that the commissioning process is working effectively. If a school, college or other provider had any concerns, I would be surprised if they did not communicate those to both the local authority and the YPLA. Again, we shall set this out in the national commissioning framework.
There may be a few instances when agreement is not reached by this local resolution process. In these circumstances, the complaint will be escalated, again with escalation and decision within 14 days, to a sub-committee of the regional planning group. We expect that the YPLA will convene and administer that sub-committee and, with the agreement of all parties, chair it. Where the YPLA is not chairing, we expect that the chair should be independent of the commissioning local authority-perhaps another local authority with no vested interest in the outcome. The sub-committee would then make its recommendation to the commissioning local authority. Crucially, to ensure that the process is not held up, we would expect these complaints to be heard and dealt with as quickly as possible, but certainly within 14 days of the complaint being raised.
Regarding Amendment 74, the current funding is historical, dating back to pre-incorporation days when the rates for courses and colleges were set locally. We have moved a long way from that position to having a single funding formula, a national process for commissioning and greater stability in the FE sector. We have been tackling the funding gap as fast as resources allow. Since the academic year 2004-05, we have reduced the gap by eight percentage points.
I have received some further advice. The latest available figures show that we are on target to achieve a reduction of more than 8 per cent by 2008-09. The percentage difference has been measured by KPMG for each year since 2004, and the figures show a total change of minus 8.6 per cent. Perhaps we can pursue
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