Before Clause 18

Education Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:27 pm on 15th July 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Lords amendment: No. 14.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

I beg to move, That this House
disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

I hope that we shall not lose the attendance of Mr. Cash, whose new-found interest in education has added a lot to our debate. I am disappointed that he does not perceive the legal aspects of the clauses with which we are about to deal.

I recognise that the amendment is well-intentioned [Interruption.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but will Members who are not staying for the debate please leave quickly and quietly? Not to do so is a discourtesy to the Minister and to the House.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

I recognise that the amendment is well-intentioned, and the Government certainly support its underlying principle of reducing burdens on schools. However, as drafted it risks leaving schools in the dark about vital educational developments, and damaging the interests of pupils and those who work with them.

We all know that there are important matters in education about which schools require guidance and information. Unforeseen events can give rise to a need for such guidance. We must be able to move swiftly to protect the rights and needs of pupils and school staff. An important example has come to the fore during the passage of the Bill. I refer to the Government's response to pressure, not least from the Opposition in the House of Lords, to make statutory provision for the welfare of children. That will require more material to be sent to schools, something that would be jeopardised by the Lords amendment as it stands. That cannot be right. I think there was support for the Government's amendment throughout the House.

Such vital information is not the same as reams of red tape. Here we are in full agreement with the terms of the amendment: we are committed to removing bureaucratic burdens on our schools. Schools obviously exist to deliver high-quality education, and we wish to remove anything that frustrates them in performing that task. We have set out our programme for reducing burdens in the Government's regulatory reform action plan, and we have made radical changes to simplify the operation of the standards fund, making it easier for schools to gain access to a significant proportion of their budgets.

We said last year that we would implement this Bill according to best practice, aiming to reduce burdens on those in schools. We recognise that there must be some administration for schools to function properly, but teachers' paramount task is teaching. The greatly increased number of support staff in schools who can carry out administrative work—some 80,000 now—will help schools to ensure that teachers can focus on their core tasks.

However, the Lords amendment as it stands could be counter-productive. In the Bill we move significant detailed prescription out of primary legislation. In place of that, we will make regulations that will be less detailed and less prescriptive. That will reduce burdens on schools. The unintended effect of the amendment would be to prevent us from doing that, because of its narrow focus.

If we imposed illogical constraints on that system, as would be the case if we were to adopt the Lords amendment, we could face the bizarre situation of being severely hampered in introducing a lighter touch schools framework, with more devolution and more decision making at school level. Surely we do not want to do that.

There is, however, one aspect of this Lords amendment that we do think could be made workable. It is the subject of the Government amendment.

As I have said, we want to reduce burdens on schools. One aspect of that is reducing the flow of material from central Government. I believe, and the Government believe, that a requirement to report annually to Parliament listing the Department's direct communications with schools could reinforce our determination to do so. We would report at the end of each school year. The number of communications with different types of school will inevitably fluctuate from year to year according to policy needs. Since the school year 1999–2000, we have achieved a significant reduction—of about a third—in the number of documents sent to schools. We continue to monitor all proposed communications stringently so that schools receive only material necessary for legal or policy reasons.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health) 6:45 pm, 15th July 2002

Does the reduction in the number of documents sent to schools to which the Minister has referred include the number of e-mails sent to head teachers by the Department?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

I used the word "documents" advisedly, but as the hon. Gentleman will know all documents we send to schools are also sent to them by e-mail so that they are available in electronic form if that is what schools want.

The Department has some internal controls allowing us to appraise critically what goes on in schools, how and when. The most important thing is for schools to receive the right information at the right time, and that it is easy to use. I believe, however, that an annual report to Parliament would establish the right incentives for both Ministers and civil servants, making them think not just twice or three times but perhaps four times about communications to schools. As I have said, we want to reduce the number of communications.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

It is interesting that the Minister can now provide information that it has not been possible to provide in written answers in the past, and we welcome that. Does the Minister agree, however, that if the exercise is to be truly valuable there needs to be a way of debating the information that goes to schools in some forum in the House of Commons? We need to be able to decide objectively whether it has some value, or whether it is simply furthering the Government's political objectives.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

I am tempted to suggest that that is an uncharacteristically ungenerous response from the hon. Gentleman. Like him, I would like us to spend all our time debating education in the House, but there are many other matters to discuss, and I hesitate to trespass on the timetabling responsibilities of Members greatly senior to me. I think, however, that this is an indication of the Government's commitment to taking seriously the need to reduce the bureaucratic burdens imposed by communications. I think the establishment of an annual report is the right direction to take: it will provide much greater transparency in regard to the Government's communications with schools. We have proposed a new clause to achieve that.

I believe that the amendment meets the concerns expressed in the House of Lords, and I therefore invite the House to agree to it in lieu of the Lords amendment.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

I hope that I can put the Minister's mind at rest. He was obviously concerned about the fact that my hon. Friend Mr. Cash was no longer present. I am sure that the amendments have legal aspects, so perhaps if the Minister repeats his entreaties, my hon. Friend could be prevailed on to return and give the House the benefit of his legal knowledge.

The Minister mentioned in passing what happened in the other place with amendments relating to child protection. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mrs. Shephard, who campaigned very effectively and established cross-party support in another place. She deserves enormous credit.

When speaking on the last group of amendments, the Minister made a little play of my enthusiasm for some of the Government's stated aims. I am not at all embarrassed by that: I stand by my support and enthusiasm for the Bill's aims of raising standards in education, increasing autonomy for schools and removing central control. Our concern throughout has been that what the Government have been doing is the opposite of what they have been saying.

Lords amendment No. 14 is another clear example of how it has been left to the Opposition to try to put into practice what the Government say they want to achieve. After many years of the Opposition's arguing that an intolerable burden of regulation and red tape is being placed on schools, the Government are increasingly prepared at least to echo our rhetoric. According to a Department for Education and Skills press release of 8 May, entitled "Tackling teacher workload and red tape will raise standards further", the Secretary of State said:

"It is vital that teachers spend their time teaching, not doing tasks that can be done by others".

We wholeheartedly agree, but the acid test of whether the Government really mean what they say is found in the detail of the amendments.

Perhaps above anything else, Lords amendment No. 14 crystallises the divide over how we should best proceed. In the light of recent disturbing evidence about the impact of excessive red tape and bureaucracy on the teaching profession—and in particular on the Government's ability to attract and retain good people—I hope that Ministers will reflect on this issue. Last Friday's edition of The Times Educational Supplement made the following encouraging point:

"New teachers are enthusiastic about the job, but most are unsure just how long they will stay given the workload and bureaucracy."

It continues by pointing out that, according to a new survey:

"Only just over a third" of new teachers

"expect to be teaching after 10 years".

The blame for that is placed on work load and bureaucracy. Teachers whom I meet express concerns about work load not in the context of time spent teaching, but of time spent on the unnecessary diversions that the Government put in their way.

The extent to which our views are gaining currency, and to which the teaching profession is uniting behind the argument that we have advanced consistently in the past four or five years—Ministers may consider this an unholy alliance—is demonstrated by the latest edition of NUT News. That may not be an obvious source for me to quote, but I am pleased to do so because it gives credit to the splendid and noble Baronesses Blatch and Miller—a description with which the Under-Secretary would doubtless entirely agree. Under the heading, "The Lords protect us", NUT News states:

"All teachers now look to the Government for measures to reduce workload and make their teaching more effective. The Government needs to show that it shares with the House of Lords the view that bureaucracy must be attacked and that teachers need protection from excessive workload, new regulations and initiatives."

That was a direct response to Lords amendment No. 14—a point that should give Ministers pause as they try to dismiss what is one of the most important Lords amendments.

I should briefly point out to Mr. Willis—I almost described him as my hon. Friend, as we worked together on the Bill rather well—that I am slightly disappointed that the amendment was passed in the Lords by Conservative and Cross-Bench peers without the support of the Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat peers—and, indeed, Government peers—said that they supported the amendment in principle and the spirit behind it, so I hope that we can persuade the hon. Gentleman that it would be preferable to support it in more than spirit.

Baroness Ashton said in the other place:

"I wish to make clear that the Government wholeheartedly support the spirit of the amendment. We understand that head teachers and teachers are under pressure."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 3 July 2002; Vol. 637, c. 259.]

That gives rise to an important question. The Government say that they support the spirit of the amendment, and the view that something needs to be done about the pressure that head teachers and teachers are under. However, those involved in education throughout the country will want to see solid evidence that the Government really want to do something about the problem. The Government's response to the amendment shows that, unfortunately, they are prepared to be held only to the declaratory aspect of the amendment. They are prepared to publish an annual report to Parliament, setting out the progress made in controlling or reducing the volume of regulation.

In passing, we should note the short exchange between my hon. Friend Chris Grayling and the Minister, in which the latter came clean and said that he was choosing his words advisedly, and that in counting documents, the Government do not include all directives, circulars and consultation papers that are submitted to schools by electronic means, for example. Such evidence—that the Government are already trying to get round some of these constraints—is not a sign of a Government acting entirely in good faith.

If the Government were to accept subsection (1) in Lords amendment No. 14, which states:

"the Secretary of State and local education authorities shall have a duty to limit new regulation and to control the amount of material they send to governing bodies and head teachers", all hon. Members and teachers throughout the country would heave a sigh of relief. For once, they would have concrete evidence that the Government really do intend to take some action, because the Government would be placing themselves under a statutory obligation to limit regulation, bureaucracy and work load.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

What do those words actually mean, because they seem extremely vague in the context of such legislation? Does the phrase

"a duty to limit new regulation" refer to less regulation than would otherwise have been the case? In other words, would the provision require that 50 new regulations be added, rather than 100? I suspect that that is not what the hon. Gentleman or the Lords were trying to achieve. The phrase

"to control the amount of material they send to governing bodies and head teachers" is not only incredibly vague but suggests that the Department has no control at all. Is that what the hon. Gentleman intended to suggest?

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

It sometimes seems to head teachers and teachers that the Government do indeed have no control, and that they simply spray out regulations, directives and circulars daily. In that regard, perhaps the hon. Gentleman has inadvertently put his finger on the matter. In describing the amendment as vague, he is probably trying to suggest that, if we had a duty to control the volume of paper pumped in the direction of schools—4,400 pages of documentation were produced last year, equivalent to some 17 pages a day—the danger is that useful regulations might go, rather than useless and unnecessary ones. It would be a useful discipline for Ministers to know that they had to limit the amount of dross and rubbish.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. In the light of his proposal to put a statutory limit on departmental circulars, how many pages and Government directives would be appropriate in a given year?

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

There is a very simple answer—an awful lot fewer than we have at the moment. The whole teaching profession would like such a reduction. The rhetoric from Ministers is that they want autonomy for schools and teachers to be given the freedom to teach, but in practice they are trying to micro-manage every minute of the school day in every school in the land.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West 7:00 pm, 15th July 2002

I should declare an interest to the House, in that my partner is a primary schoolteacher. When the hon. Gentleman responded to my earlier intervention, he referred to lessening the volume of paper. Leaving aside the electronic issue that we mentioned earlier, that would appear to be more specific than the vague wording in subsection (1) in Lords amendment No. 14.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

If the hon. Gentleman's partner is a primary schoolteacher, perhaps we should all wish that she were here to vote on the amendment tonight instead of him. I suspect that a primary schoolteacher would find the amendment irresistible, because it would be an opportunity to lighten the work load that is put unnecessarily on teachers. He says that the wording is too vague. I do not hold that against him because he was not in Committee with us, but if he considered the original wording, he would discover that the new subsection (1) would be one of the most precise and closely defined aspects of the Bill. The idea that the Bill should allow the exemption of schools or LEAs from any aspect of education legislation—

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

That tells the House a great deal. The Bill is specific about the huge powers that it seeks to give Ministers. Those who are interested in such matters know nothing, however, about Ministers' intentions once the Bill is enacted.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am loth to help the hon. Gentleman, but will he also address the issue that the Minister mentioned in his opening remarks and which hon. Members who were not in Committee will not fully appreciate? One of the central aspects of the Bill is that it depends on secondary legislation at every step. It is the secondary legislation that will create a new raft of bureaucracy that we cannot even imagine, because the regulations have not been published.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

The hon. Gentleman is right. The amendment is an opportunity to reduce the secondary legislation necessary and to provide clarity for those who need to get on with the running of schools. The Government believe that they have addressed the concerns of the teaching profession that were raised in the other place. I imagine that one or two Labour Members will have received the NUT briefing on this evening's proceedings. If they have not, it explicitly states:

"the NUT would be extremely concerned about the message Government would be giving if it sought to simply overturn the amendment without replacing it with a similar duty.

The Government's amendment does not go nearly far enough. Teachers and head teachers will see little point in an annual report which does nothing more than describe what has been sent to schools. The amendment does not commit the Government to reducing the amount of paperwork sent to schools and does not provide any indication that the Secretary of State is prepared to stop imposing centrally prescribed initiative after initiative on schools and to finally start 'trusting teachers'."

It is clear that the teaching profession wants that limitation on what Ministers can do to the nation's schools.

Teachers want the freedom to teach and to have a breathing space from the torrent of regulations that are placed on them. They want an explicit and clear statutory requirement that will give some relief from what has, admittedly, been the education practice of all Governments—although this Government are particularly bad—which is to over-regulate, over-control and centralise education provision, even as they claim that their objective is to deregulate, decentralise and allow greater autonomy.

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that extra classroom assistants and administrative support are key to reducing the bureaucratic work load faced by teachers? Will he therefore support the extra funding announced today and will he argue with the shadow Chancellor that the Conservative party should also support it?

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

It is obviously excellent if we have classroom assistants in schools, but we do not want teachers to have to employ accountants and lawyers so that they can process the heaps of documentation that are thrown at schools by the Government. We want teachers and classroom assistants to be able to get on with the job of teaching. Lords amendment No. 14 would deliver that.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Opposition Whip (Commons)

In this afternoon's statement by the Chancellor, he talked about the joys of localisation and decentralising power. Is not that in stark contrast to the Government's failure to embrace Lords amendment No. 14? They should welcome a statutory limit, because it would accord with the new localisation of which the Chancellor was so proud this afternoon.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend has hit on the point that the Government do not want to be subject to controls on their interfering and meddling tendencies. The Government are happy to have extra levers of control over others, but they should accept that they are the worst offender. They are producing needless documentation, bureaucracy and regulation, and taking teachers away from the task of teaching. It is not schools that need to be regulated or from which teachers need to be protected: it is Ministers. If they want to be taken seriously when they say that their aim is to allow teachers the freedom to teach, Ministers would embrace Lords amendment No.14. I hope that the Minister will come to his senses and do so, especially on this most auspicious day. I understand that it is his birthday and I wish him the happiest day possible under the circumstances. I accept that this may not be the way in which he would have chosen to celebrate his birthday, but perhaps he will offer—in a spirit of friendship—a present to teachers and head teachers and signal a genuine commitment to reducing bureaucracy and red tape in our schools.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I support many of the comments made by Mr. Brady and I, too, wish the Minister a happy birthday. The hon. Gentleman made some slightly barbed criticisms about the fact that Baroness Sharp and my other colleagues in the Lords did not support the amendment. They did not do so because of subsection (3), which states:

"Each set of regulations, circular or code of practice issued by the Secretary of State shall include a statement by him of the time he expects it will take for governing bodies or head teachers of schools or nursery schools, as appropriate, to read, consider and implement the regulation, circular or code of practice concerned."

Much depends on the resources that schools have available, and it would be unreasonable to expect the Secretary of State to carry out what the amendment would require of him. That notwithstanding, the effect of the amendment, and the principle behind it, is right.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

The hon. Gentleman said that the Liberal Democrats in the other place did not wish to support new subsection (3) of the new clause that is amendment No. 14. Is he prepared to confirm that the Liberal Democrats support the principle in new subsection (1), and may we hope to have the support of his colleagues on such an amendment in the future?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I never bind my colleagues in respect of what they will or will not do. The hon. Gentleman will know that he could not do that in respect of his own colleagues in the other place. However, the principle of having a statutory duty in the Bill to reduce bureaucracy and work load is fundamental to our view of developing secondary education in this country. More resources coming into schools will matter nought if the process is accompanied by endless amounts of regulation and red tape that tie up a great deal of those resources unproductively. I am with the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West on that point.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I believe that the hon. Gentleman used to be a head teacher; indeed, I think he used to teach my niece. Will he refer to three pieces of regulation that he would get rid of?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

That is a fair question, and one which the Secretary of State frequently throws at those of us who wish to see a reduction in bureaucracy. When we consider what is emerging from the Department for Education and Skills, and what emerged from its predecessor Department, we find that virtually everything has some value to somebody. The problem is that it does not have value to everybody. That is the great problem with this Government, especially in terms of education. To ascertain what is valuable to them, the individual has to read everything that comes through. When I meet head teachers—I am sure that Rob Marris has the same experience—I find that they do things and read things just in case. We would like to see discretion exercised in the initiative overload coming into schools, so that it is not necessary to follow every initiative.

One of the problems is the way in which the Government have set up their funding streams, especially through the massive expansion of the standards fund from £0.7 billion to more than £4 billion—the sum announced in the statement tomorrow will no doubt be even greater. So much of the resources in schools are dependent on their following a certain initiative, bidding for that money and obtaining the resources. That is the exercise that lies behind the amendment.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland recognised what the Opposition were trying to do in reducing bureaucracy: indeed, reducing it is the Government's stated aim. Yet the amendment before us is a mere sop. Anyone in this place should be able, as of right, to table a question to the Secretary of State to ask for the necessary information. The idea that it should be put together once a year as a huge concession to the bureaucracy and work load problem is insulting to the House; to right hon. and hon. Members who genuinely want to make progress; and to all head teachers and teachers. They face a huge problem, and I hope that the Minister will take this issue back rather than dismiss the Opposition's claims. When the Bill returns to another place, I hope that the Government will produce an amendment that genuinely satisfies the desire to see scrutiny of initiative and scrutiny of work load. There should also be sunset clauses for new initiatives.

Let me refer to Baroness Blatch's amendment in another place, of which Baroness Ashton said that it

"is lacking in that it does not address the issue of the quality of information issued."

That is the point that has been made. She continued:

"I know from my own experience of being both responsible for issuing information and being on the receiving end as a chair of governors until last year that it is the quality equally as much as the quantity—indeed, more so—of the communication or regulation that is of paramount importance."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 3 July 2002; Vol. 637, c. 261.]

Yet the Government's amendment does not deal with that issue. Bringing forward a list of all the initiatives does not address the issue of what is important and what is not. I do not believe that every document issued by the Secretary of State is of equal importance.

We shall support the Conservative party's new clause and reject the Government's amendment should they press it to the vote. I trust that by the time it returns to another place we shall have a sensible amendment from the Government that addresses the entire issue of bureaucracy and work load.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West 7:15 pm, 15th July 2002

Lords amendment No. 14 is bemusing: subsection (1) is vague and subsection (2) could be recorded in a parliamentary question—the criticism that Mr. Willis makes of the Government's amendment. That does not take us any further forward in the hon. Gentleman's frame of reference. Subsection (3) introduces more red tape, and that does not take anyone anywhere. Subsection (4) is extraordinary: it tells us that there shall be "no additional burden," which again is vague and would stop fresh initiatives of any sort. The hon. Gentleman talks about discretion—

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health)

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman rereads subsection (4), which is simply and specifically in relation to subsection (3). It does not preclude additional regulation on a broad basis.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but the amendment refers to "no additional burden" and to providing "with information". Under subsection (3), that would unreasonably fetter the discretion of any Secretary of State for Education and Skills in terms of new initiatives. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough talks about discretion, and I am not sure how it could be incorporated into Lords amendment No. 14. I take his point, but it is extremely difficult to read discretion into the amendment that he told the House he would be supporting.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I was trying to point out that neither of the two amendments is perfect. There is general agreement in the House that we need to reduce bureaucracy. Indeed, that is the Government's stated aim. We are trying to encourage the Government to frame an appropriate amendment that deals with the core issues rather than one that states that we shall have a long list in the Library.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

The issue of red tape has probably been before the House for 300 years. To suggest that right hon. and hon. Members have not got the message on that is extraordinary. We have had a considerable amount of regulation in schools over the past five years, but the Opposition seem to be suggesting that that was done to no end and for the sake of doing it. We have had a step change in education in schools given the results that have been produced. That has been positive. I will not bore the House with statistics that we all know. There have been improvements in education, especially in primary schools but also in secondary schools.

Mr. Brady mentioned that he had not heard teachers complaining about work load in the classroom. Perhaps that is a paraphrase, but that is broadly what he said. I am not surprised. We have 20,000 additional teachers. Class sizes have been reduced considerably, especially in primary schools. We have 80,000 classroom assistants. It is not surprising that teachers are not complaining about work load in the classroom, given the extra resources that have been put in. The extra resources will continue to be made available, as we heard in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's statement.

I will not bore the House with all the figures, but 1,400 secondary schools will receive £1 million over three years. That could be described as over-centralisation, and Opposition Members have spoken about that. But when I talk to head teachers, that kind of centralisation is what they like. They like that sort of money coming in.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me on what basis the schools will be selected, and by whom.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

With respect, that is a question to put to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not me.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

The hon. Gentleman can address his questions to my right hon. Friend. We have 1,400 schools with leadership incentive and grants. I do not profess to be an expert on those schools. A considerable amount of money has already gone into schools in the last five years, and a considerable amount more will go into them in the next three. If Conservative Members are decrying that kind of centralisation, it is incumbent on them to say what they would do instead.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health)

The last few remarks have been extremely illuminating, and they highlight my biggest concern about many of the Government's actions, not only in education but across the board: they do not understand the consequences of what they are doing.

Rob Marris showed a complete absence of understanding of the predicament that head teachers face and of the real resentment in the teaching profession about the extreme levels of bureaucracy and work load being imposed by unnecessary regulations from central Government. One merely has to talk to head teachers, as I do regularly, to understand the consequences of that. The most consistent message is that new, young teachers are not staying in the profession. That was amplified by the piece in The Times Educational Supplement read out by my hon. Friend Mr. Brady. The reality is that teachers are not staying in the profession.

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that he slips smoothly from observations about head teachers to observations about teachers, whereas, clearly, the majority of classroom teachers will not read every one of the circulars from the Department for Education and Skills or have every regulation impact on them as individuals. Mr. Willis suggested that, as a matter of security, teachers would read everything. Surely, the heads read the executive summaries and decide which of them are appropriate for which of their teaching staff to examine in detail.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health)

The hon. Gentleman should visit some of the head teachers in his constituency and ask the question that I recently asked a primary school head in my constituency: "Can you show me an example of the kind of bureaucracy that is causing teachers to resent the work load that they face at the moment?" She showed me the course planning required by Ofsted, which is set out in the frameworks and curricula provided by the Department. One example struck me as demonstrating the absurdity of what we ask of our teachers at the moment.

I was shown a course plan in which someone had planned physical education lessons for the term. It contained a detailed paragraph written at the start of term, weeks in advance, explaining a section of a PE lesson in which groups of pupils were doing star jumps. It contained phrases such as, "Divide into pairs. One child does star jumps while the other one counts, then we reverse. The other child does star jumps while the first one counts." Can the hon. Gentleman explain what possible benefit there is in expecting a primary teacher to sit down, probably in their own time, to work their way through the whole of a course plan for a term, setting out what each individual activity in an individual PE lesson will be? Do we not trust our teachers to take those decisions for themselves?

Is it any wonder that not only teachers but heads who have to supervise this convoluted process and deal with an in-box full of e-mails from the Department every day—and who have to recruit to replace younger teachers who are saying, "Enough, I'm leaving," after three or four years in the profession—are over-burdened? I was due to visit a primary school in my constituency, but the head was not able to see me because he was too busy interviewing potential recruits to fill the gaps in his staff over the summer. That is what heads across the profession face at the moment, and it is an unwelcome and unnecessary burden that does nothing to help the education of the children.

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the work being done by the School Teachers Review Body on cutting bureaucracy and freeing teachers up to teach? Does he agree that that is a proper, sensible way of reducing bureaucracy, instead of the spin to which this proposal amounts? Does he agree with the recommendation that administrative support should be provided for teachers, which will require money? Given that he is not under the vow of silence on spending pledges that applies on the Opposition Front Bench, will he welcome the extra money announced today?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health)

This goes to the heart of the difference between the Opposition and the Government over the public spending review. This is the question that must be asked: is it sensible to tax the North sea oil industry, thereby reducing investment in the North sea, to generate money to pay for administrators in schools to help teachers to deal with the unnecessary bureaucracy—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is speaking somewhat wide of the debate.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health)

We must not spend money helping teachers deal with administration instead of simply cutting the burden of an unnecessary work load coming from central Government.

The Minister's comment was enlightening. I visited a special school in south London recently, and I talked to the head there about the flow of bureaucracy from the Department. She opened up her in-box, and it was absolutely full of documents, contacts and communications from the Department. We all receive large numbers of e-mails in our daily lives, so we know how long it takes us to go through them and deal with them effectively. It cannot be a sensible use of time to expect a head teacher to deal with a huge swathe of e-mails containing detailed information about their responsibilities on a daily basis.

I am delighted that Mr. Willis and the Liberal Democrats are going to back the proposal despite their reservations about subsection (3), as that subsection represents the nub of the problem: it is probably the most important subject of debate in relation to the Bill because it requires the Secretary of State before issuing a new regulation to pause for thought and try to understand the consequences for teachers and head teachers. On far too many occasions, the Government enforce new rules and regulations without the slightest understanding of the consequences of those measures in schools; of the time they will take; of the way in which they will disrupt the working life of the school; of the additional burden that they will place on individuals; and of how they will force people to give up their spare time, as many teachers do, to deal with the bureaucracy that they face in their daily lives. That is why the new clause deserves the backing of the House. We must take not just the window-dressing steps that the Minister's alternative amendment represents: we must take tangible steps to start reducing the work load and burden of bureaucracy that our teachers face.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West was asked earlier what "less" means in this regard. I question whether we need to increase the burden of regulation on our schools at all. Why do we not start to implement sunset clauses, examining rules and regulations that we no longer need and considering how we can simplify and streamline provisions? There is no need to add to the burden of regulations year by year and pass statutory instrument after statutory instrument. We need to cut, rather than increase, the overall burden.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

As the hon. Gentleman is talking about sunset clauses, will he tell the House which three regulations he would get rid of?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Health)

I am talking about the streamlining of provisions across the board. I shall not deal with specifics now—[Interruption.] In relation to the example of the Ofsted inquiry that I gave earlier, I would not require primary teachers to plan courses to such a high degree. I would not require teachers in the foundation stage to complete convoluted course plans for three-year-old kids in a nursery. Those are two examples, for starters.

I hope that the House will back the new clause. We must take a first step. The Minister's proposals are not adequate; we need to take real steps to cut the burden on our teachers.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

I am pleased to support the new clause proposed by my noble Friends in another place. In particular, I want to refer to three points.

First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Brady on his attribution to the Secretary of State of an understanding that there must be a reduction in bureaucracy, although I think that he is being a little generous. When the Secretary of State appeared before the Select Committee, she argued that the cloud of new paperwork did not amount to an unnecessary burden on head teachers because they did not have to read it. There may be several pieces of paper coming in daily from the Department—and doubtless many others from other quangos for which the Government are responsible—but the Secretary of State said, with great confidence, that that was not a burden on schools because heads did not have to read them. If so, I fear that Mr. Willis was overworking himself, and that he has friends who have overworked themselves as head teachers. However, I suspect that the Secretary of State, and not the hon. Gentleman, was wrong. Head teachers want to know what additional regulations, codes of practice and responsibilities will bear down on them every day. If they do not know, they cannot direct the information to the correct teacher or administrator.

My second point is about parliamentary questions. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the possibility of extracting information through parliamentary questions. I fear that that is not so. I have tried unsuccessfully to extract from the Department information about the additional legislative requirements placed on head teachers, governing bodies and Ofsted. In some cases, the Department has been able to answer my questions, but it has not been able to answer those about schools and head teachers. So many additional burdens—not only in the form of paper, but in the form of legislation and regulation—tumble down on head teachers and schools that even the Department itself does not keep a record. It is unable to answer parliamentary questions without undue expense.

My third point relates to the comments of Rob Marris. Subsection (1) of the new clause is a masterpiece of clarity. It says that

"the Secretary of State and local education authorities shall have a duty to limit new regulation."

They would have to do the limiting. They could decide on the target and they would then have to meet that target when they imposed a limit. What could be clearer than requiring them to do the limiting? We are not setting targets and we are not being unreasonable. We accept that it is sometimes necessary for the Secretary of State perhaps even to increase—I hope that she would not—the amount of material going before governing bodies and head teachers, but she would have a duty under the new clause to limit the amount of that material. Local authorities would have a similar responsibility, and that is one reason why I disagree so much with Government amendment (a), which does not refer to local education authorities at all.

Like the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, I would like there to be further improvements to the new clause, and that is why I want it to be returned to the other place. It should apply not only to the Secretary of State and to LEAs but to that host of quangos and other bureaucracies that are involved in education. From the Health and Safety Commission through to the Ofsted, let them all endeavour to reduce the burden on head teachers, schools and school governors.

Subsection (3) again sets out a perfectly sensible requirement that already applies to other legislation and regulation that comes before the House. It would provide for a regulatory impact assessment. One wonders what the Secretary of State is about if she cannot see the consequence on schools of additional codes of practice, circulars or regulations. Many primary schools in my constituency have fewer than 100 pupils, and some have fewer than 50. That means that, however well or badly the Chancellor funds education, they do not have a huge number of teaching and administrative staff to deal with additional codes of practice, regulations and circulars. That point needs to be assessed by the Secretary of State and her officials. In every case, she needs to be advised that some regulation is over the top for a small school. Perhaps such regulation should not even apply to small schools.

From time to time, we recognise that some regulations are too much for the smallest businesses, so we should also recognise that some regulations are too much for the smallest schools. That is why I will support the Lords amendment. Like the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, I recognise that the Government could improve it further when it returns to the other place. I hope that they will do that and accept the amendment in the spirit in which it was meant. I hope that they will try to improve the existing provision rather than pressing their amendment, which would quite unnecessarily water our proposals down.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 7:30 pm, 15th July 2002

I wish to speak because I was very disturbed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement earlier today. It makes it even more imperative that the Government take action on the over-regulation of the school sector and LEAs. I therefore welcome any initiative that will try to reduce the burden of circulars, advice notes, instructions and regulations that emanate from the Department for Education and Skills.

This has been a curious debate. The Government say that there is no problem, but all the head teachers to whom I and other Members speak confirm that there is a problem. The Government then say, "Trust us. Don't worry. We believe in deregulation too. It must not be overdone. We will get on with a little bit of deregulation, but not yet, not in this way, or in this clause, or this legislation."

I urge the Government to think again, because they have unleashed a dangerous set of ideas in the Chancellor's statement about how he wishes to get value for the larger sums of money that will be offered directly to schools and to LEAs. The regulations, the advice notes and codes of conduct will presumably be integral to that. We are told that those schools that do not perform or live up to the expectations expressed in the advice notes and the circulars may be subject to all kinds of torture coming from the centre. There may be direct intervention at the school level. For example, the Government may wish to remove a head teacher or change or influence the board of governors.

Alternatively, the Government may wish to override local democracy if they judge a whole local education authority to be inadequate or non-performing. They will then start a process that will usurp the local democratic process, with a view to trying to take over the management of the authority itself. By that route, they will have influence over a school. That is why we must be ever more critical of and sceptical about the many centralising directives, codes of conduct and advice that come from the Government. They will probably be used as a stick with which to beat schools and LEAs if the Government do not like the way they are developing—whether they are good, bad or indifferent.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore seriously support failing schools?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Of course I do not support failing schools. However, there are two ways in which they can be dealt with. First, in the world that I like—it is partially available to the Government, and the provisions for this could be strengthened—parents would have a real choice. They would be able to send their children to a better performing school and the poor performing school might then get the message and would have to take action to correct itself. Secondly, a democratically elected LEA would either take action or, through the ballot box, local people would make their preferences clear. They would throw out the council that presided over the failing school or schools and would produce an alternative.

I do not like a Government who centralise so much by directive, instruction and code of conduct and who set up methods by which they will use those codes of conduct to judge or prejudge the schools and LEAs, with the possibility that local democracy and democratic boards of governors would be overridden—even when the local community might think that the school was good but the Government, for one reason or another, decided that it was bad. I therefore urge the House, particularly in the light of today's chilling words from the Chancellor—he does not seem to like local democracy or democratic school governors—to be even more wary of a Government who will not reduce the number of centralising directives. They say that they wish to decentralise, but every action that they take centralises. They say that they trust teachers, LEAs and schools, but we heard from the Chancellor today that they do not trust any of them and wish to challenge and judge them by all sorts of methods. It is therefore vital that the House express the clear wish that there must be much less regulation and central control.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

This has been a notable debate. I am grateful for the many congratulations on my birthday. However, I look forward to the day when, rather congratulating me on my birthday, Mr. Brady will congratulate the Government on investing in our education system and on putting 24,000 more teachers into the system. I look forward to the day when he will say that he will defy his party, which is ready to cut the education budget. Until then, his professions of wholehearted support for the aims of improving standards in our schools will ring very hollow to all those Labour Members who have sat through the hour and a half of this debate. When he professes support for raising standards but offers no support for investment in information technology or for reforming the teaching profession, we will not believe him.

The debate ranged wide of the amendment and I want to pick up on two main points. We discussed at length the situation in the teaching profession. The latest figures suggest that 80-plus per cent. of newly qualified teachers are in the profession three years after entering it. So it is not true to suggest that over-regulation is causing a mass exodus. Hon. Members know that the Government are committed to the fundamental reform of the teaching profession. We want to reform the contact time that teachers have with children and to improve their productivity. We also want to improve the support of the teaching profession by expanding the classroom assistant scheme and by providing the learning mentors and learning support staff who do so much in our schools to support teachers. In addition, we want to improve school leadership so that teachers spend their time on teaching.

There is an issue about regulation; it is a matter on which all hon. Members should have some humility. Governments historically have not been good at limiting their tendency to over-regulate. I will not say that everything is fine. Mr. Willis put his finger on an important point. There is a tendency to believe that because an initiative is right for some schools, it needs to be advertised and sent to all schools. His comment was constructive and we will take on board the idea that, in our desire to ensure that no one is left out, we sometimes overburden those who want to get on with their work.

The debate was noteworthy. A couple of hon. Members were asked to name regulations they would cut. The House has welcomed the increased regulation on child welfare introduced by the Bill. We know that the literacy and numeracy strategies have been hugely successful in raising standards in primary schools. We also know that the key stage 3 strategy, which involves regulation, gives many teachers much needed support in the critical middle years of secondary schooling. It would be folly to retract those regulations.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister says that we have been unable to name regulations that should be removed. Can he name three of the 4,770 regulations issued by the Government in the past year which, on reflection, might not be necessary?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

Let us understand how the Opposition reach that figure. A document that is sent to primary schools and to secondary schools is counted twice even though it is one document. So one document counts twice in the Opposition's new mathematics. We should not fall for the hon. Gentleman's fuzzy maths.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

The Government have seen fit to extend the scope of their amendment to the National Assembly for Wales. Did they seek the approval and consent of the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in the National Assembly? If so, was it given? There is an appetite in the National Assembly to move much further on the issue. Surely that is a matter for the National Assembly.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman knows that Labour is committed to working closely with our partners in the devolved bodies, and I can reassure him that we consulted the relevant authorities in Wales.

The Government amendment is a serious step forward. I urge the House to welcome it.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Amendment proposed: (a), in lieu of the Lords amendment.—[Mr. Miliband.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 307, Noes 154.

Division number 308 Education Bill — Before Clause 18

Aye: 307 MPs

No: 154 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 14 agreed to.