Baroness Blatch (Conservative)
In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the Question whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill. I am not absolutely certain about which other amendments may or may not be discussed in relation to the amendment.
My understanding is that the Government's thinking on Clause 41 is that establishing schools forums will be in the interests of schools and ensure that they receive as fair a share of—and as much—LEA funding as possible. One can only sympathise with the aims that lie behind the setting up of schools forums: we all want as much money as possible to go to where it belongs; that is, to schools, which can use it to benefit the education of children in their care.
Proposed new Section 47A in Clause 41 states:
"Every local education authority shall in accordance with regulations"—
there is no flexibility in that regard—
"establish for their area before such date as may be prescribed a body, to be known as a schools forum, representing the governing bodies and head teachers of schools maintained by the authority and, if the authority so determine, also representing such bodies as the authority may from time to time in accordance with regulations determine".
I believe that the Government wish to do well by schools. I therefore think that it should be for schools to determine whether they want to establish such a body.
The amendment would add to that subsection the phrase,
"if requested by a majority of governing bodies of maintained schools in their area".
If that is requested, a schools forum should be set up. A number of local authorities—I hazard a guess that quite a large number are involved—already have in operation a system that allows for consultation, for parents to play a part, and for the wider community to be involved. In particular, schools, governing bodies and teachers are involved in pre-budget-making discussions with the local authority. To add flexibility, it must be for schools to determine whether they want a forum.
I oppose the Question whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill as a result of a personal view. I do not believe that the clause belongs in the Bill. My view is that the perfectly satisfactory arrangements that LEAs already have in their areas with regard to pre-budget consultative arrangements should be allowed to continue. The proposal would cause duplication unless the Government's intention is that setting up schools forums would be a substitute for what is going on; in other words, the other arrangements would be dropped. It also allows schools much more autonomy in their area. If the Government believe that arrangements should be made in each local authority area for consultative arrangements, leaving schools to do that in their own way is the way to go.
In relation to earlier amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I argued strongly that schools forums should not be given the power to determine any aspect of budgeting. We shall return to that. They are unaccountable and are not elected in any way; they will be appointed. It would be wrong to give them the power to second-guess local authorities and budgeting arrangements. I do not believe that that is necessary on the grounds that I have described or in view of the consultative arrangements.
If the Minister's only objection is that there has to be some form of pre-budget consultation in every LEA area, I shall bring forward an amendment at the next stage of the Bill that will achieve that, if I am successful in removing Clause 41 from the Bill. If I am not successful in removing Clause 41 from the Bill, I hope that the Minister will at least show some flexibility and agree to Amendment No. 166. I beg to move.