Clause 9

Part of Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:00 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2010.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education) 4:00, 2 Chwefror 2010

I will keep my comments succinct.

The amendments are focused on the first aspect of clause 9, which I generally welcome. I have long been interested in the education provision for children with long-term illnesses, probably because I spent seven months in hospital as a teenager. I have also carried out quite a lot of constituency work relating to the issue, so I have been thinking about what could be improved. Clearly, the requirement for full-time education up to 16, as it stands, is a great improvement. However, I am concerned about the statutory guidance, which will have to be revised because, as I am aware from case work, parents are not always told about their rights when they apply for home tuition and perhaps have no knowledge about the choice of alternative education. I know of children with long-term illnesses who have been placed in pupil referral units that were not what I would say was suitable education. The statutory guidance will be important.

I am grateful to the Minister for enabling me to talk to some of his officials because that clarified what was troubling me about the clause. It became apparent that the compulsory school age was one matter, but that we would change the participation age in the near future. By the time it is raised to 18, my second concern will have been addressed. However, I feel that the Bill should say “participation” rather than “compulsory school” age, because people should have the right to participate in school along with their peers and be supported in alternative forms of education, should that be appropriate.

Amendment 168 is more direct than amendment 166. I do not want to make legislation on the basis of one case, but I would like to refer briefly to a constituency case that relates to the background of the amendment. The daughter of one of my constituents has ME. She eventually had home tuition and got five good GCSEs. She wished to do some time at home and some time at  school in the sixth form to pursue her A-levels, but that turned out to be a nightmare. At the time there was the triangle of the Learning and Skills Council, Connexions and the local authority, and we could not obtain a promise of funding for home tuition. She has gone back to school but, with ME, is finding it difficult to cope with full-time study in the sixth form.

The clause retains the position whereby it is effectively up to the local authority’s discretion to provide post-16 education, but that is wrong. When we have young people who wish to pursue A-levels or other courses of their choice, there should still be a duty on the local authority. I realise that the Minister might want to add conditions to such a policy to ensure that students follow appropriate courses, so with great help from the Bill team, I have tabled amendment 168, which states:

“In relation to England, each local education authority shall make arrangements for the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise than at school for 16-19 students pursuing such examination courses as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State”.

I hope that the provision is expressed in a way that the Minister considers acceptable.

When parents have a very sick child, they are so busy sorting out their health needs that a battle with the education authority is just one too many things to cope with. My constituent has had a difficult time. We know that quite a lot of young people have ME, and I am sure that we can think of other health conditions that make it difficult for young people to attend school full time, yet from which they might well recover. I hope that my constituent’s daughter will attend university in due course. I will be very grateful if the Minister will consider the amendments. I tabled them not to oppose the Government, but to close the loophole.