Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 5:19 pm, 11th January 2010

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out how loosely framed this guarantee is. Perhaps it was supposed to be iron-cast or cast iron, but it does not seem to be particularly robust.

There is also a guarantee in the White Paper on out-of-school activities. Schools are supposed to guarantee a list of activities, which

"may include study support, play/recreation, sport, music clubs, arts and crafts and other special interest clubs, and business and enterprise activities".

Which of those activities in that list have to be offered for the guarantee to be delivered-all or just a proportion of them? What proportion? Is the list exclusive? Are there other after-school activities that, if offered, would count towards the guarantee? Would the scouts count or the boys brigade? I mention them because they are not special-interest but generalist clubs.

The reason I ask about prescription in such detail is that the Secretary of State decided to prescribe in such detail. These are not just vague aspirations that it would be good to have; they are not just expectations that he is laying down as a political hope that he will fund; they are not even matters inspectable by Oftsted, which might lead a school into special measures if they are not provided. They are legal guarantees-far stronger than any of the other obligations placed on schools. If a school breaks this guarantee, it will presumably be breaking the law.

We need precision, which is wholly absent from anything the Secretary of State has provided, in order to ensure that head teachers and people who work in schools and local authorities do not live in fear of litigation. If schools do not provide all these services, they can be taken to the local government ombudsman and if things are not resolved satisfactorily, they could end up in court. Is it really the best use of a head teacher's time to seek to ensure that every single one of these guarantees is met in the prescribed way that the Secretary of State lists, absolutely to the letter-or potentially end up in court? That cannot be right.

In many ways, I could not admire some of these guarantees more-the aspiration to ensure that every child who can studies triple science, for example-but should heads be in the dock if the school they run cannot supply the necessary tuition because the funds have not been supplied either by the local authority or the Secretary of State? Should they be held responsible for that failure? Schools already face a formidable bureaucratic burden under the current system of Ofsted inspection-a system that we would make more light touch. Failure can be fatal to the careers of heads, but now we risk piling on another level of responsibility backed up by legal sanctions. I do not believe that that is fair. I am all in favour of sharper challenge, greater transparency and better accountability, but I am not in favour of putting the fear of even more litigation into the hearts of our teachers.

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