Covid-19 Pandemic: Educational Attainment

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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None Portrait Noble Lords
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Baroness Berridge!

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I think the House is calling for my noble friend Lady Berridge.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, thousands of young people will be taking their GCSE examinations this year who were also in year 7 when the pandemic began. Unfortunately, they have been doubly affected by being educated in schools which have been disrupted by the RAAC situation. Can my noble friend the Minister please outline what advice, assistance and best practice is being shared with those schools, so that they can make effective representations to the exam boards—which do listen to those representations—about the disruption that may have affected their education for a second time?

Russell Group Universities: Foreign Student Admissions

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Thursday 1st February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, we will hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and then the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I fear the problem is that we have lost sight of what universities are for. Does the Minister agree that it is a con when new university degrees are created as a substitute for high-quality skills training—the latest being estate agents’ degrees—while academic study is suffering? For example, there is the tragic closure of the music department at Oxford Brookes. Is not this university growth propelled by credentialing schemes, leading to the exploitation of overseas students who are effectively buying visas/degrees to pay for this ridiculous, non-academic growth?

Cultural Education Plan

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Tuesday 17th October 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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I do not understand.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, let me explain to the noble Lord. Again, could the noble Lords in question come to a gentlemen’s agreement on who speaks first?

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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Do the Government agree with me that one of the best ways of emptying our prisons is by investing in our youngsters who go wrong and using art and culture to bring about social transformation in their lives? I am a living embodiment of that: if it was not for culture in my early years, I would not be here.

Schools: Music, Art, Craft and Dance

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Monday 16th October 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, shall we hear from the Labour Benches? There will then be plenty of time to hear from the Lib Dem Benches.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend on the Front Bench added drama to this list, because I am sure that the Minister knows that it has been lost from the curricula of very many schools. Although 52% is more than half, it is simply inadequate: very many children in our schools get no exposure to art, drama, music or dance. I ask the Minister to meet with the professional bodies, particularly the teachers’ unions, to look at how we might review and keep under review the 11-to-16 and the five-to-11 curricula, to ensure that all children, in every school, have access to these subjects.

Food Price Rises: Public Sector Food Provision

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Monday 27th February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, we have loads of time. Let us hear from my noble friend and then from the noble Baroness opposite.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, what could be easier to source and more nutritious than locally produced food? Will my noble friend the Minister and the Government endeavour to ensure that there are more locally sourced meat, fruit and vegetables available for schools and other public sector organisations, such as prisons and military garrisons?

Education System

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Wednesday 30th November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I think it is the turn of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Baker.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch Portrait Lord Pearson of Rannoch (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am most grateful. Can I ask the Minister whether the Government are impressed by the ideas and achievements of Katharine Birbalsingh? If so, what are they doing to see that her methods are more widely followed in our state education system?

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, we have run out of time but the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has been waiting for some time.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that invitation. I endorse everything that the noble Lord said in the previous question. My question is: can the Minister explain to the House how the Government justify a continuing policy of charitable status for private schools, when the effect of that policy is to deny the public purse much-needed money for all the points made by my noble friend on the Front Bench?

Children and Social Work Bill [HL]

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome the Government’s Statement. I am remembering an experience I had about 15 years ago, getting acquainted with a young Afghan woman in a hostel over several months. Each week when I saw her, she would be either in tears or very sad. She spoke a certain dialect of Pashto, and a translator was needed to be brought across London to help her communicate with others. She was a very lonely, isolated young woman. I remember arriving one day and hearing that she was in tears again. Her family’s city was being shelled, but she could not communicate with them to know what was happening. We cannot underestimate the trauma that many of these young people have experienced.

I would like to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in asking about their experience after they leave care. The strategy of distributing young people across England, which began in July, is very welcome, but there is concern that there may be lack of expertise within the new receiving local authorities. I would appreciate reassurance about how that expertise is being developed. In particular, there is always the concern that professionals are not giving young people—that is, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—information early enough to clarify their immigration status. I thank the Minister for that nod.

It would be very helpful to get more information about what happens to these young people when they leave care—for example, data on whether they return home voluntarily or disappear from sight altogether. All that kind of information would be helpful in terms of understanding their welfare needs into the future. I will not speak further now. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, for this amendment on the vital issue of the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, really wanted to be here tonight but is attending the small matter of a presidential election. He toyed with the question of which one to attend but, as I understand it, could not get a flight home—and that is genuinely why he is not here tonight. I echo the right reverend Prelate’s words about the work that the Churches do—they do sterling work—especially, as I mentioned earlier today, the role they have played in the community sponsorship scheme, a scheme in which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury also is engaged. Schemes such as that are very beneficial indeed to some of the people coming to this country.

The Government are committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and providing help for those in genuine need of international protection. In the light of the events of the past few weeks around the closure of the camp in Calais, we agreed that further action needs to be taken to supplement existing safeguarding guidance and practices and to ensure that we continue to act in the best interests of those children arriving in the UK.

Our priority throughout has been to ensure the safety and welfare of the children, whether they are transferred here or arrive of their own accord. We have already taken significant action. In July, for example, we implemented the national transfer scheme to promote a fairer distribution of care responsibility among local authorities across the country. That was accompanied by very substantial increases in Home Office funding to local authorities. We have also worked closely with France and other EU countries, with local authorities here, and with other partners to transfer eligible children to the UK as quickly as proper safeguarding procedures and other necessary checks will allow.

Since 10 October more than 60 girls—many of whom have been identified as at high risk of sexual exploitation —have arrived in the UK and are now receiving the care and support that noble Lords talked about. In total, we have transferred more than 300 children. More are expected to follow in the coming days and weeks.

We are in full agreement that there is absolute value in a strategy setting out how we will safeguard these unaccompanied children. However, we believe that this intention would be better served through the commitments given on 1 November in the Written Ministerial Statement by the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families and the Minister for Immigration. The strategy that the Government have committed to publish by 1 May 2017 will reinforce the comprehensive protection that we already provide for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country and for those who have been transferred here from Europe, whether they are reunited with family members or looked after by a local authority. To reiterate, the care they receive is exactly what we would expect to provide for UK children. These children are no different.

We will also set out plans to increase foster care capacity for those children who are looked after and will consider what further action can be taken to prevent them from going missing. This will ensure they receive the best support possible while seeking refuge in our country. Additionally, we will review what information is communicated to these children about their rights and their entitlements, revise statutory guidance provided to local authorities on how to support and care for them, and regularly review the level of funding that is granted to assist them in doing so. To ensure that we are held to account on our progress, we will provide annual updates to Parliament and more regular quarterly updates to the Children’s Commissioners across the UK.

We believe that the commitments we have given are the best approach to safeguarding the welfare of these children. I fully agree with the spirit of this amendment, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, but primary legislation on this matter would limit our ability to respond to what is a complex and developing situation across Europe and beyond. That is why we set out our commitments through the WMS. This approach also enables us to take proper account of the devolved responsibility for safeguarding matters, which the amendment would not. We welcome the support of local authorities across the UK in dealing with the needs of unaccompanied children and will continue to work closely with them and with the devolved Administrations on these issues.

The Government are determined to do everything we can to protect these unaccompanied children. Their welfare in the UK is our first priority. That is why the comprehensive strategy we have committed to publish will build on the actions that we have already taken and go further to ensure that these children are, and remain, safeguarded.

The Government are also clear that we must do everything possible to prevent children from undertaking these perilous journeys to Europe. That is why we have pledged over £2.3 billion in response to the crisis in Syria and resettled nearly 3,000 people, half of whom are children, under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. We remain committed to resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees direct from the region and, in addition, we have established a new resettlement scheme focused on vulnerable children in the Middle East and north Africa.

I had some answers to the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. She said that there was no mention of Section 67. The WMS goes wider than the proposed amendment, and those transferred from Europe includes those under Section 67, as Section 67 is not actually a resettlement route. The other question is about how many Home Office officials were in the camp and supported the clearance. There were several hundred supporting the camp clearance. I have said this many times at this Dispatch Box, but we can operate in France only in ways agreed with the French Government. We cannot just go in and do what we would. I hope that the noble Baroness will be content not to press her amendment.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
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I did ask two very specific questions, or raised two issues. Maybe the Minister cannot answer them now, but will she undertake to write to me about them, please? They were about what happens to the children when they reach the age of 18 and guardianship.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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On a child reaching 18, obviously the needs of every child who comes here are different, depending on the circumstances. If a child is in local authority care and is in that transition period into adulthood, it would be exactly the same process as a child from this country—and it may be that the child is returning to their country. I can lay it out in more detail for the noble Baroness, but each situation is different. Was there a second question?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I shall write to the noble Baroness on that.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan
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I thank the Minister for her reply and accept that there were a lot of Home Office officials during the evacuation of the minors from the shipping containers. The question I asked was about how many officials there were after the evacuation, because my information was that there were not very many.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I cannot give the noble Baroness a specific figure, because the figures change all the time depending on the capacity that is needed at the camp at various times.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie Portrait Lord Watson of Invergowrie
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My Lords, this has been a vigorous debate on a very important subject with a very broad base of agreement. I take on board the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan—I was not aware of that before, but I think that the Minister has answered the question on Section 67 of the Immigration Act, and the two points raised by my noble friend Lady Lister will be addressed by letter. All in all, and given what was said at the outset—that my noble friend Lord Dubs was very satisfied with the Statement—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.