HL Deb 18 July 2000 vol 615 cc821-6

10B.—(1)Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England—

  1. (a) shall advise the Secretary of State on request about matters relating to services provided in England in pursuance of section 8 or 9,
  2. (b) may give the Secretary of State other advice about those matters,
  3. (c) shall, when requested to do so by the Secretary of State, inspect and report on the provision of those services by any person or institution, and
  4. (d) may undertake such other inspections of the provision of those services by persons or institutions as he thinks fit.

(2) A request under subsection (1)(c)—

  1. (a) may be general or in relation to specific matters,
  2. (b) may relate to a specific person or institution providing services, or to a specific class of person or institution, and
  3. (c) may relate to a specific area.

(3) An inspection under subsection (1)(c) or (d) may not relate to services provided for persons who have attained the age of 20.

(4) A reference in subsection (1) to the provision of services includes a reference to the management and use of resources in providing services.

(5) Subsections (6) to (8) apply to an inspection under subsection (1)(c) or (d) of services provided in pursuance of arrangements under section 10(1) of this Act.

(6) A person carrying out or participating in the inspection shall have the same powers as an Inspector of Schools under the following provisions of the School Inspections Act 1996

  1. (a) section 3(3)(a) and (b) (right of access), and
  2. (b) section 42 (computer records).

(7) Section 42A of the 1996 Act (publication of reports) shall apply.

(8) A person who wilfully obstructs a person in carrying out or participating in the inspection—

  1. (a) shall be guilty of an offence, and
  2. (b) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale."").

Lord Bach

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 138 to 154.

With the exception of Amendment No. 138 and amendments in respect of the inspection of the Connexions Service, to which I shall turn in due course, the majority of these amendments are minor technical adjustments, which will not, I believe, take up much of our time. For example, Amendments Nos. 139, 140, 150 and 151 add primary care trusts to the lists of statutory bodies in Clause 104 which must be consulted about and collaborate in Connexions provision; and in Clause 109 which are empowered to disclose relevant information to the Connexions Service. As new bodies involved in providing local medical services—including services for young people with special educational needs, they will clearly be important statutory Connexions partners.

So too will chief officers of police, who have responsibilities not only for young people in trouble in their areas, but for the protection of all young people, including the victims of crime. They will have relevant information which is unavailable to the other bodies listed in Clause 109. It is therefore important that they are empowered to disclose such information to the Connexions Service. Amendment No. 148 makes provision for that. It was prompted by work undertaken following, and is indeed identical to, the amendment tabled by the honourable gentleman, the Member for Daventry, in another place. We are grateful to him for his help in this matter.

Amendment No. 144 changes the reference in Clause 108 from age to date of birth as that corresponds more accurately to the data that is kept on the child benefit register and will be supplied to the Connexions Service under that clause.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 142, 143 and 154. Together these amendments replace the existing Clauses 107 and 112 in respect of the inspection of the Connexions Service, including careers service provision for young people, in order to make three changes. First, they give Ofsted the independent power to inspect and advise on provision, in addition to its duty to inspect and advise on the service when asked to do so by the Secretary of State.

Secondly, the amendments put beyond doubt that the scope of inspections may extend to the management and use of resources by providers. Finally, they introduce a criminal sanction against any person wilfully obstructing inspections. This last part is entirely in line with provisions in the Bill and elsewhere in respect of other inspections by both Ofsted and ALI.

I turn finally to Amendment No. 138. This deletes two additions which were made to Clause 103 in respect of careers provision by the successful amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, at Third Reading in this House. As the Government explained in another place, our intention with Amendment No. 138 is to remove wording which we believe could inhibit the Connexions Service's ability to improve the quality and delivery of careers provision and to remove a superfluous provision which simply repeats existing statutory duties on the Secretary of State.

I do not believe any more needs to be said about the technical defects of the provisions which Amendment No. 138 seeks to reverse; rather, the debates it gave rise to both here and in another place helpfully aired the concerns which underlay the provisions. I am happy to provide further reassurances about those matters now.

We fully recognise that all young people, including those in the average and higher ability ranges and from stable backgrounds, need information, advice and guidance to progress in appropriate learning, particularly at key decision stages in their lives. Failure to provide such support may result in inappropriate decisions which will result in more serious problems, such as dropping out of training or further or higher education. We are determined that all young people should get the help that they need to identify the right path for them and to stay on it. That is why careers advice will be a core element of the Connexions service. We consider it vitally important that all young people receive information and advice on the full range of post-16 opportunities, including opportunities in further and higher education and in work-based learning.

We are also aware of concerns about the continuing impartiality of careers advice in schools. We have made clear that the Connexions personal adviser in schools will supplement the advice given by careers teachers and, where appropriate, will refer young people to specialist advice and support, including specialist careers advice and guidance. Connexions personal advisers will be appointed and managed by head teachers, but their remit will make clear their responsibility to provide objective careers advice for school pupils.

We intend to explore further how the role of schools and colleges can be developed in support of improved careers education; how impartial guidance in schools can be developed and technology better used. In addition, we shall be looking to set up rigorous standards for careers information, education and guidance in schools and colleges against which Ofsted might inspect provision.

There has also been much discussion about how the Connexions service will be resourced. We have said that resources for the service will come from the co-ordination of existing central government resources and from those already devoted by local partners to youth support and guidance. In addition, through the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review we shall be looking to identify any additional resources which may be available to the new service.

A range of individuals and bodies have attempted to calculate the potential cost of the service in terms of personnel and funding on the basis of existing delivery mechanisms. But of course it will not be possible to arrive at national figures with any precision until proper audits of existing local provision, staffing and need have been completed and until we have explored what existing—and new—delivery mechanisms work well. That is why we are piloting the service and phasing it in over a number of years.

An adequate supply of personal advisers is, of course, crucial to the effective operation of the Connexions service and it is important that they should not be met at the expense of other essential services. The Connexions strategy document made it clear that we shall be consulting on the implications for professional working in related fields, such as the provision of information, advice and guidance for adults. We have also set up a cross-government group to look at the labour market implications of the demand for personal advisers across public services and how that demand might best be met.

We are determined that the new service will have sufficient high quality staff to achieve its aims. That is why the rate at which it is phased in will depend partly on the availability of appropriate local personal adviser staff, without adverse effect on other important services.

Finally, concerns have been expressed about the effect of the Connexions service on the provision of adult careers information and advice services. Adult careers provision is, of course, delivered by a very wide range of private, voluntary and public sector providers. As the Connexions specification makes clear, it will be critical to ensure that effective careers provision for adults is coherent with that for young people. Information, advice and guidance partnerships are currently leading in the development of such services for adults, and the Connexions service locally will be represented as members of those partnerships. Indeed, in some areas, partners in the Connexions service may act as the lead body for advice and guidance services for adults. Connexions partnerships will need to take those arrangements into account when developing their plans and services.

I hope that, with the assurances I have given, noble Lords will agree that Amendment No. 138, like the other Commons amendments in this group should stand.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 138 to 154.—(Lord Bach.)

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have heard it bandied around that between 20,000 and 47,000 advisers are to be employed. Can the Minister give us the figure and tell us how much it will cost?

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 138. I was sad to see that the Government dropped what I felt was our elegantly worded, redrafted subsection of the Bill. As the Minister argued during many phases of discussion in this House, the additional words were unnecessary. She gave us repeated assurances, which were also given by the Minister in the other place, that the intention of the new Connexions service was not to diminish in any way the quality or quantity of careers information advice and guidance given to the general run of students; it was to ensure that such advice was available to those who, in the past, had failed to obtain it. Yet it was precisely because they lacked the skills and qualifications—and jobs—that they needed it more.

As I made clear in our discussions through all stages of the Bill, I did not dispute the logic of that argument. From these Benches we support wholeheartedly the emphasis on the disadvantaged and the concern to equip those who have dropped out of the schooling process with skills and capabilities which can help them to play a full and useful role in society. But on the practical side of those ambitions, things do not add up. There is neither enough money nor enough people to fulfil both those functions adequately. That may be changed by this afternoon's announcement in the other place. I hope that we see a generous settlement for education which will allow those ambitions to be fulfilled.

There are real problems in terms of the supply of people who are suitable to be mentors and their training. For that reason I take on board and welcome the fact that, as the Minister said, the new services are to be phased in. But the evidence on the front line at the moment is that both services are not being provided. Instances have been drawn to my attention where schools have lost the advice and guidance and it is being claimed that that is because there are pressures on the Careers Service to fulfil their Connexions responsibilities in other ways.

I can see that, inevitably, there will be glitches in the process of transition; I accept that. But I hope that the ambitions of the Government are fulfilled and that we see enough resources and training to do that.

Lord Bach

My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I am afraid I cannot give her either a figure or the cost. Everything depends on the planning from the bottom up. We have always made that absolutely clear.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does that mean that there is an open-ended budget? Whatever the number is, will there be money to fund it? If so, what is the budget head for it?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Baroness need not worry. Of course it is not an open-ended budget; there never is one. But we have to make certain, from when the planning begins, that we get this right. It would be ridiculous and misleading to the House to suggest a number and cost at this stage.

The criticism of the amendment that was successful here was not that it was not elegantly worded; it certainly was. But we felt that it was a little imprecise and obviously the other place agreed. However, the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, today, will be very much taken on board.

On Question, Motion agreed to.