Ministers face criticism over lack of youth custody visits
Department for Education ministers have failed to visit a single youth custody establishment in the past three years despite radical plans to replace them with education-focused “secure colleges”, it has emerged.
The lack of visits by current DfE ministers, highlighted in a response to a parliamentary question, has prompted concern about the level of involvement of the department in the ambitious reforms. Under proposals announced in a green paper in February, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) wants to replace the current youth secure estate with a network of “secure colleges”, with an emphasis on education, in order to reduce reoffending rates. Academy chains and free schools have been told they may be allowed to run the establishments, being paid for supporting young people on a payment-by-results basis. Tim Bateman, criminologist at the University of Bedfordshire, described the lack of DfE ministerial visits as “shocking” and suggested the department hadn’t been closely involved in the plans. “You have a government that is talking about transforming the secure estate based on an educational model, but to not have ministers from the department responsible for education closely involved is extraordinary. “Even if the green paper hadn’t been published, this rather demonstrates lack of concern by the ministry with responsibility for educating children if they are effectively ignoring the education of some of the most vulnerable children in society for whom we know educational failure and lack of attainment is a significant issue.” Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners Education Trust, said collaboration between the MoJ and DfE is essential if the planned reforms are to be successful. “Justice ministers have said they want to see education at the heart of the youth justice system which we welcome, but to do this effectively it will be important to work closely with the DfE and that includes arranging visits across departments to meet with prison governors, education staff and the young people themselves,” he said. The information on ministerial visits came in response to a question from crossbench peer Baroness Stern asking which establishments in the youth secure estate Education Secretary Michael Gove or his ministers had visited since May 2010. Answering the question, Tory peer Lord Nash only stated that former children’s minister Tim Loughton visited Beechfield secure children’s home in West Sussex on 9 February 2012. It is not the first time the spotlight has been on the DfE over a lack of ministerial visits. In January, it emerged that Gove failed to visit a single youth project in his first two and a half years in charge of the DfE. The DfE has been contacted for comment.