The Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill (HL Bill 178 of session 2019–21) is a private member’s bill sponsored by Baroness Blower (Labour). It was originally introduced in the House of Commons by Mary Kelly Foy (Labour MP for City of Durham) and completed its stages in that House on 12 March 2021. The House of Lords is due to debate the bill at second reading on 19 March 2021.

The Government supports the bill. The Department for Education has provided explanatory notes that provide policy and legal background on the bill’s provisions.

What would the bill do?

The bill would extend a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children to all providers of publicly funded post-16 education and training in England. Such providers would also be required to follow statutory guidance in this area issued by the Department for Education. This defines safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children as:

  • protecting children from maltreatment;
  • preventing impairment of children’s mental and physical health or development;
  • ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and
  • taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

At present, the legal safeguarding duties that extend to schools and colleges do not apply to 16–19 academies (which are not legally classified as a school or a college). In addition, while the Department for Education includes safeguarding obligations in the agreements it makes with special post-16 institutions (SPIs) and independent learning providers (ILPs), there is not a legal duty for such agreements to include such a requirement. The bill would have the effect of regularising the safeguarding statutory duties applicable across the education and training sector, irrespective of the category of provider or the type of education or training being delivered.

The Government has confirmed that the bill does not alter the nature of the existing safeguarding duties or change the way these are assessed or enforced. It has added that the existing statutory guidance will be “developed” to cover all education and training providers following consultation if the bill is passed.

Summary of provisions

The bill has two substantive clauses:

  • Clause 1 would amend the Education Act 2002 to extend the safeguarding and child welfare duties that apply to local education authorities, the governing bodies of maintained schools and the governing bodies of further education institutions to 16–19 academies. It would also bring SPIs and ILPs who receive funding for the provision of further education within scope by obliging the secretary of state to ensure that any agreements with such providers require them to comply with the safeguarding duties.
  • Clause 2 would amend the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 to ensure that any funding agreements between the secretary of state and apprenticeship training providers and/or providers of education or training associated with a T-level (or approved technical education qualification) require providers to comply with the safeguarding duties.

Clause 3 provides that the bill extends to England and Wales (though it would only apply in England); that it would come into force two months after royal assent; and how the act should be cited if passed.

What happened in the House of Commons?

The bill’s sponsor in the House of Commons, Mary Kelly Foy (Labour MP for City of Durham), introduced the bill after coming fifteenth in the private member’s bill ballot that took place towards the beginning of the 2019–21 session. Liz Twist (Labour MP for Blaydon), presented the bill for its first reading on Ms Foy’s behalf on 5 February 2020.

Second reading

The bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on 13 March 2020. Opening the debate, Ms Foy noted there were inconsistencies in whether education and training providers were subject to legal duties in relation to safeguarding. For example, Ms Foy observed that further education colleges were bound by legal safeguarding duties but that they did not apply to independent providers of apprenticeship training. She termed this a “loophole in the law”. Ms Foy went on to explain the purpose of her bill as follows:

My bill would correct the existing inconsistencies in safeguarding arrangements by extending the legal duty to cover all publicly funded providers of post-16 education. This will directly impose legal safeguarding on 16–19 academies and make the Secretary of State for Education directly accountable for ensuring that all funding agreements with specialist post-16 institutions and independent providers include proper safeguarding duties. The secretary of state will also be directly responsible for ensuring that funding agreements with apprenticeship and T-level providers include safeguarding duties. This is especially important, because there will be 113 new T-level providers over the next two years, but this expansion can only happen safely if the right safeguarding duties are in place.

These issues are not party political. Across England, the bill will place safeguarding duties on an estimated 30 16–19 academies, 100 specialist post-16 providers and 1,000 independent providers. The bill will help to ensure that all young people have the same safeguards and protections under the law.

Speaking for the Government, Gillian Keegan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education, welcomed the bill. She said:

The bill has been described as a technical change to place all government-funded post-16 providers of education and training on the same statutory footing. As many hon. members have highlighted, that is important. Whether studying A-levels, T-levels, an apprenticeship or other qualifications in a school, college, sixth-form college, 16–19 academy, specialist post-16 institute or independent learning provider, it is important that students are safe and that the institution they are in has responsibility for their safeguarding.

Such institutions do have responsibility for safeguarding today, but rather than being buried in contract conditions or other conditions such as Ofsted requirements, having a single statutory guidance note will make it clear and transparent to all what is expected. That is important for parents, students, providers, and bodies such as Ofsted.

Ms Keegan added that safeguarding “covers all forms of harm”, including abuse (whether mental, physical, sexual or online); bullying in all forms; child exploitation; county lines; female genital mutilation; and neglect. She noted the bill would “simplify the landscape” for the sector while not placing any additional costs or administrative burdens on providers. Indeed, she said the bill may help providers by making the applicable safeguarding requirements “simpler and clearer to understand”. Ms Keegan also noted that the bill would necessitate an update of the existing statutory guidance, currently framed for schools and colleges, and that such an update would take place following consultation with the sector.

Committee stage

A public bill committee examined the bill on 14 October 2020. No amendments were tabled and so there was a single debate on all three clauses.

Ms Foy repeated that the purpose of her bill was to close an “unintentional oversight” that meant young people attending 16–19 academies, special post-16 institutions or independent learning providers were not “protected in the same way that they would be at a school or further education college”. She added:

The bill has two substantive clauses and it will amend the Education Act 2002 and the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. It will impose direct safeguarding duties upon 16–19 academies and also place an obligation upon the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that compliance with the safeguarding duties is a condition of funding for special post-16 institutions and independent learning providers.

As all providers have safeguarding responsibilities, there should be no extra cost for providers. Instead, the 100 16–19 academies and 1,000 independent providers brought into scope by the bill will benefit from a simplified safeguarding system with greater alignment of duties. The bill therefore works for education providers, as well as parents and young people.

Shadow Minister for Education Toby Perkins welcomed the bill on behalf of the Labour Party before Gillian Keegan again welcomed the bill on behalf of the Government.

Report stage and third reading

The bill’s report stage took place on 12 March 2021. Sir Christopher Chope (Conservative MP for Christchurch) tabled an amendment that would have meant the bill coming into force on 1 October 2021. Introducing his amendment, Sir Christopher explained that he understood the Government to have previously expressed a preference for regulatory changes to take effect twice a year to minimise the administrative burden on business. He said the purpose of his amendment was to solicit a statement from the Government on the continued merits of such an approach.

Ms Foy and Ms Keegan both spoke against the amendment. They argued the bill did not impose additional regulatory burdens on providers so they would not require additional time to prepare. Instead, Ms Keegan argued the bill simplified a situation that was “more complex than it needs to be”. Sir Christopher duly withdrew his amendment.

The third reading debate then took place. All members who spoke during the short debate welcomed the bill and the cross-party support it had garnered during its passage through the House of Commons.

The bill received its first reading in the House of Lords later the same day.

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