New Clause 15 - Reducing administrative burdens on schools, etc.
Education Bill [Lords]
5:00 pm

‘(1)The Secretary of State shall exercise his functions so as to have regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens on governing bodies, headteachers, teachers and other school staff of all maintained schools, special schools, pupil referral units and local education authorities in England.

(2)The Secretary of State shall each year lay before each House of Parliament for approval by affirmative resolution a report giving details of—

(a)the general level of administration within all types of maintained schools and local education authorities;

(b)the measures which he has taken and which he proposes to take to reduce administrative burdens; and

(c)an evaluation of the effectiveness of those measures.’. —[Angela Watkinson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mrs Angela Watkinson

Mrs Angela Watkinson (Shadow Minister, Education; Upminster, Conservative)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is about reducing the administrative burden on schools. I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with that.

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Mr Colin Pickthall (PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office; West Lancashire, Labour)

Does the hon. Lady suspect that, if the new clause were included in the Bill and the Act, as it will eventually become, when the Secretary of State   comes each year to lay before Parliament his or her report, he or she will send a circular to all schools and ask them to report in detail on the administrative burdens that they face and how they would like to see them reduced?

Photo of Mrs Angela Watkinson

Mrs Angela Watkinson (Shadow Minister, Education; Upminster, Conservative)

No, I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not what I had in mind. I am sure that the Department knows very well how many directives it has sent out to land on head teachers desks every day of the school year. We must monitor that and the requirement to produce plans and reports. Such things emanate from the Department, and that is where they must be monitored.

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Mr Stephen Twigg (Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills; Enfield, Southgate, Labour)

I can reassure the hon. Lady and the Committee that legislation is already in place on this matter. It renders the amendment unnecessary. Section 38 of the Education Act 2002 places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to

“the desirability of avoiding—

(i)the sending of excessive material to governing bodies or head teachers”.

I would like to say a little about what we are doing to implement that.

The Department has now stopped the batch, which is the automatic mailing of paper to schools, and has replaced it with an online ordering service. We have also established the implementation review unit—an independent panel of 12 experienced practitioners, most of whom are head teachers, who provide an external challenge to the Department on the impact that our work has on schools. We have found it vital that officials monitor the impact of their own policies and that we have outside input from people with experience of being on the end of those policies.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

“we welcome the way the Implementation Review Unit is playing its part in holding the Department and its agencies to account”.

The debate today has been largely non-partisan, but let me make one partisan point: I was interested to read that the Conservative party proposes in the James review to abolish the implementation review unit. It is one thing to add amendments to legislation, but that does not make a great difference if the means are not in place to implement the good intentions behind them.

The implementation review unit has been responsible for a series of changes to reduce bureaucratic burdens, some of which are being made under the Bill. They include reducing the burden on Ofsted, better data management through the common basic data set and provisions to allow electronic checks for free school meals. Those are just three examples of practical changes to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools that follow the 2002 Act, and they are a consequence of the implementation review unit.

In the light of those comments, I ask the hon. Lady to seek leave to withdraw the amendment and to reconsider that Conservative party policy.

Photo of Mrs Angela Watkinson

Mrs Angela Watkinson (Shadow Minister, Education; Upminster, Conservative)

Unfortunately, I do not have the authority to rewrite Conservative policy, but I assure the Minister that when the provisions have been   accepted and are part of the legislation next year, we will see if his recommendations have borne fruit. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

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Mr Stephen Twigg (Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills; Enfield, Southgate, Labour)

I see on the papers before me that the proceedings were to be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 14 April, so even allowing for the Easter recess, my arithmetic, which may be wrong, tells me that we could have had 10 more sittings. Under your exemplary chairmanship today, however, Mr. Forth, we have succeeded in discharging the Bill in only two sittings.

I thank you, Mr. Forth, the Clerks, the police and the array of DFES officials who have had to be on their toes to keep up with the speed of scrutiny in Committee today. I also thank my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire, who always brings great authority and experience to these discussions. Depending on decisions to be taken elsewhere, this may be his last opportunity to sit on a Committee and to scrutinise legislation, so I thank him for his contribution.

I also thank the Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for Upminster, who had some early support that disappeared, and the hon. Member for Southport, who had some late reinforcement. We managed to keep up with the speed of proceedings very well. The hon. Lady in particular had to move a very large number of amendments.

I thank my fellow Ministers—there were three ministerial “Twiggs” presenting the Bill—and also my predecessor, now the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), who did a great deal of work with officials,   head teachers and others to put the Bill together. I believe that the legislation will make a real difference to schools.

I thank you once again, Mr. Forth, for your able chairmanship, and I thank all Committee members for their participation today.

Photo of Mrs Angela Watkinson

Mrs Angela Watkinson (Shadow Minister, Education; Upminster, Conservative)

May I add my thanks to you, Mr. Forth, for your speedy chairmanship of the Committee’s proceedings? I also thank everyone else who has participated in many and varied ways, although I felt a little like the lone ranger.

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Mr John Pugh (Education Spokesperson, Education & Skills; Southport, Liberal Democrat)

I started off this morning—that seems like only a few hours ago, which, in fact, it is—by saying what a pleasure it was to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Forth. I did not think that it would be such a brief pleasure.

I thank all hon. Members for keeping the debate as succinct as it needed to be. Just the same, we still have a markedly flawed piece of legislation. In these circumstances, it is usual to thank the officials for all their hard work, but I suspect that the officials, looking at what was ahead of them, would probably like to thank the Members for the succinctness of their contributions.

Photo of Mr Eric Forth

Mr Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst, Conservative)

May I express my appreciation for the extraordinary self-discipline of members of the Committee, which allowed it to appear to be chaired so effectively?

My main thanks are not only to the Officers of the House who look after us and to Hansard, but most of all to the Clerk, who has kept me very much in order and on my toes. He has kept the whole show on the road. We always owe the Clerks the greatest thanks, but I thank everyone involved and thus draw the proceedings to a conclusion.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at ten minutes past Five o’clock.