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Education Bill

– in the House of Lords at 8:20 pm on 2nd May 2002.

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House again in Committee.

Clause 3 [Variation or revocation of orders under Section 2]:

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Applications for orders under Section 2]:

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 8:36 pm, 2nd May 2002

moved Amendment No. 26:

Before Clause 5, insert the following new clause—

"AUTOMATIC EXEMPTIONS FROM CURRICULUM AND PAY AND CONDITIONS PROVISIONS

(1) Regulations shall designate curriculum or pay or conditions provisions as attracting exemptions for all maintained schools, subject to subsection (2).

(2) Regulations may prescribe circumstances in which a school or category of schools will not benefit from automatic exemption under subsection (1), in which case section 6 shall apply.

(3) The regulations in subsections (1) and (2) shall be subject to affirmative resolution."

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving Amendment No. 26, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 32.

The amendment would allow for exemption from curriculum and pay and conditions provisions for all schools, subject to regulations made by the Secretary of State that would circumscribe the schools or categories of school that would not benefit from that freedom. Any regulations that came before the House would do so under the affirmative resolution procedures.

The regulations referred to in subsection (1) would set the framework within which freedom would be allowed—for example, in schools in which a broad and balanced curriculum was to be retained or for named subjects that would not be available for exemption, depending on the view of the Secretary of State, and aspects of pay and conditions provisions that were not for relaxation, modification or alteration.

The amendment would, in a more limited field, advance the proposal that schools should be free to manage themselves, unless there is a concern about them. The amendment is not seeking full exemption from all curriculum provisions, although the best-performing schools should be given more freedom, a point made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. The very best schools, which come through inspections with flying colours, would like more freedom and more relaxation of national curriculum requirements.

Nor does the amendment seek full derogation from all pay and conditions provisions. It would build on Clause 6, which we will discuss later, by allowing the Secretary of State to propose exemption from some curriculum or pay and conditions rules that apply to all schools.

Secondly, it allows the Secretary of State to publish open and objective criteria such as, for example, defining a "failing school" under which schools or categories of school should not qualify for exemption. Perhaps I may give an unlikely example. The department might say that all schools should be exempt from the need to teach the maths curriculum as regards algebra, but that the schools specialising in maths would not be exempt.

It would be for the Secretary of State to determine what did and did not qualify for exemption. The circumstances should be objective, published and automatic. The discretionary powers being sought by the Government in Section 6 would apply only if a school or category of school fell foul of the objective criteria which would have been set out.

It does not remove the discretionary power of the department under Clause 6, but it writes into law an assumption that exemptions would confer general freedom in all cases, limited only by objective criteria that had been published and well understood. Clause 6 would still give the Government power to waive the limitations, even in the case of a school or schools which were within the category described as not exempt. However, on first reading, the procedure under Clause 6 seems excessively, almost perversely, complex. Again, that will be the subject of later amendments.

The amendment would introduce simpler, clearer and more open procedures which would be to the benefit of innovation and would at the same time drastically reduce the bureaucracy inherent in the Government's proposals. I have deliberately referred to what the amendment does not do. Therefore, I hope that in response the Minister will refrain from any arguments that might have been put forward by officials as regards what my amendment is meant to achieve.

It was important to say what the amendment does not do because I know that people become worried. We are keen to give the Secretary of State the powers to circumscribe the use of the power so that all the area which the Secretary of State deems not to be made available for exemption will be determined by Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

While we on these Benches support the notion of bringing the criteria out into the open, in general we are not supportive of the whole concept of earned autonomy. We believe that it goes much too far in the direction of giving successful schools the right to innovate, whereas that right needs to be broader.

We are unhappy at the degree to which already the specialist schools' programme tends to put powers and, above all, money into the hands of the successful schools. We see this measure as yet another aspect of encouragement; making it easier for successful schools but leaving the average schools in a more difficult position. We have reservations about the general issue of earned autonomy. If this is the way in which the Government want to go, we would like to see all provisions brought out into the open.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

I intervene to support the reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Perhaps I may discuss Clause 6 in this context. We are saying, "We will reward you successful schools by removing the national curriculum requirement from you". I argue that there is no need to remove the national curriculum requirements from successful schools because they are succeeding. Why intervene? Why change things? We have a success.

The place where greater freedom is most needed is in those schools which are not succeeding. Perhaps the head teacher, with the support of the local authority, has some good ideas to respond to the particular needs of the children in his or her school which will require greater flexibility in the curriculum. I do not want to speculate on particular conditions, but let us suppose, say, that the school was one of ethnic minority. A motivation might then be enhanced if the school had a greater opportunity to respond to the culture of those children. I tend to believe that the proposal is perverse.

Secondly, to the extent that successful schools can depart from the curriculum, to the extent that they are successful and can change the terms and conditions and change pay, there is an even greater risk that the best teachers will be attracted to those successful schools and away from the schools which most need the best teachers.

I ask the Government to think carefully about whether the national curriculum is unfit for the best schools and fit only for the less successful schools and whether it is the case that the national curriculum has served us well over the years and that we should remove it only where we are clear that to do so is necessary to enhance the performance of the children in a school.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards) 8:45 pm, 2nd May 2002

I thought it might be helpful to Members of the Committee if I commented on the purpose behind the concept of earned autonomy, particularly in the light of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We have a school system which is accountable and one in which we can monitor individual school performance. We have described that as allowing us to intervene in inverse proportion to success.

Within that framework, we want to entrust our most successful and well-led schools with additional freedoms and flexibilities so that they have more control over the way in which they are run. These greater freedoms and flexibilities will relate to certain areas of the national curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions. However, I would make it clear to Members of the Committee that performance targets, accountability, including Ofsted inspection, and effective teacher performance management arrangements will remain in place. Schools will also be required to teach the basics and offer a broad and balanced curriculum.

The clauses are intended to ensure that within certain parameters this greater freedom will build on the professionalism that we know exists within the school workforce and help us to consider what further flexibilities may benefit the system as a whole.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that it is important to recognise that that is a different concept from that of the power to innovate, which is by its nature an opportunity for any school to come forward. This measure is about giving autonomy which is permanent and which will be as far as is possible automatic. Therefore, it is important to differentiate the two.

I now turn to specific amendments. It is particularly true for the provisions under earned autonomy, where they will apply by right, that we look at our successful schools. We have identified the areas of the curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions as being those where the freedoms could apply. Given the nature of those freedoms, we want to be particularly clear that they are given to schools in the best possible position to make use of them in the interests of their pupils.

We also believe that the prospect of earning greater autonomy could be a helpful incentive for improvement. However, at this stage we of course want to proceed with caution. I believe that given the nature of the flexibilities we should look to schools which have good leadership and management and achieve a satisfactory standard for qualification for the earned autonomy.

We have said that we intend to consult fully on the detailed criteria. We intend to make them challenging to provide schools with incentives and to ensure that the flexibilities are used wisely. Over time, the proportion of eligible schools will grow as systems improve.

We believe that that is the right approach, complementing the innovation provisions under Chapter 1 of the Bill. We see the schools which earn autonomy as developing ideas so that over time all schools benefit from the success of the policy. None the less, I say to the noble Baroness that in the light of the debate I am prepared to look further at the detail of the criteria and to consider whether detailed adjustments might be made so that more schools are eligible.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 26 and 32. They also propose that regulations relating to the curriculum or pay and conditions flexibilities and the circumstances in which schools would not benefit must be debated in both Houses. With respect, I would remind the Committee that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was content with our approach. Given that we intend to undertake a full consultation, noble Lords will understand that we do not believe that it is necessary to add additional layers to the process, which the amendment would require, and thus possibly use parliamentary time less wisely.

I hope that, in the light of those comments and my earlier commitment, the noble Baroness will recognise that we envisage a system that will provide incentives to achieve success and will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has responded to the amendment. Certainly I accept with much gratitude the fact that the noble Baroness will look again at the criteria.

I had understood that the target originally set by the Government was to be only 10 per cent of all schools. That is a little disturbing because it presupposes that 90 per cent of our schools are in some way unable to qualify. I cannot think of anything that would disqualify, say, the 20, 30 or 40 per cent below the top decile. We have some high-performing schools in the upper quartile of all schools. The notion that the criteria would disqualify 90 per cent of schools and allow through only 10 per cent strikes me as an extremely cautious approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has expressed considerable reservations. To an extent, I understand his words about the national curriculum. In the face of a great deal of opposition, I have always defended the introduction of the national curriculum. I can recall the pre-national curriculum days when some schools were allowing children to leave at 16 years old without ever having studied a science subject. Indeed, in some schools there were children who had never learnt maths and English. Some quite horrifying stories were told at the time. For those reasons, I always thought that the introduction of the national curriculum was right.

However, I would be the first to say that the initial introduction of the national curriculum caused enormous tensions within schools. It was highly prescriptive and it stifled innovation and professional flexibility. I believe that there are a number of schools, mostly the more successful ones, which feel inhibited or even held back by the requirements of the national curriculum. Therefore there is scope for allowing the highest performing schools, those that continue to pass through the inspection system with flying colours, a little more freedom. We ought to be able to trust such schools to deliver the kind of education that not only benefits the pupils in their care but which would not go down the road of becoming irresponsible. I understand the noble Lord's thinking on this issue.

However, in response to his point that if successful schools were given such autonomy they would then act as a magnet for the most successful teachers, I have to say that in the real world those schools are already a magnet for the best teachers. The most ambitious and able teachers gravitate towards the schools that give them the greatest professional flexibility and freedom. I am not sure that that is an effective argument against the proposal.

I am glad that the Government will look again at the criteria, although there is some tension in their words. On the one hand they talk about setting criteria that would allow through a certain number of schools, but on the other they refer to an automatic qualification. However, once the criteria have been set then, as I understand it, any school which meets those criteria under an automatic system would automatically qualify for the freedoms set out in the clause. If that is the case, introducing targets would not be appropriate because the number of schools that would qualify would be the number that qualified—because they met the criteria. However, that is a detail.

I await the Government's further thinking on this matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Interpretation of Chapter 2]:

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 4, line 6, leave out "performance" and insert "educational performance including its efficiency"

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are technical and have been tabled to seek clarification. The Bill uses the word "performance". The first amendment seeks to find out what the Government mean by that. I suggest the alternative of,

"educational performance including its efficiency".

The first part is obvious. Is the Bill about educational performance rather than any other performance? The second part on efficiency has been included because I understand that if a school performs well, it will get certain benefits. The test of performance is very important and I am sure that almost everyone in the field now uses the expression "value added", an expression that is almost vulgar but one which is central to economics. That concept is the one that matters in this area.

A school that is highly selective, with many good kids, and does well with them is unimpressive, but a school that is not selective, with many difficult children, and does well is fantastically successful. To that end, I want to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench precisely what the Government have in mind in this whole area.

Whatever may be our view of this part of the Bill in general, it is important to ensure that the criteria to be are applied are not biased in what would be an absurd direction; in other words, whatever else we are talking about, we are certainly talking about offering incentives to do well educationally with the children in place in any school. The measure required for that is to ascertain what a school adds to the education of those children. Let me add that my concept of educational performance includes life enhancement as an important aspect. That, in summary, sets out my first question to my noble friend.

The second question I wish to put concerns the word "leadership", because there is much more to a school than simply leadership. I have always thought of a school, as I have always thought of a department in a university, as a co-operative enterprise. The people are all in it together. The way to judge the enterprise is not to refer to the great star of a particular department but rather to what do those people do as a joint group of teachers? I wonder whether the Government share that view. Within that, what matters is not only leadership but management more generally. Does my noble friend agree with that?

I wish to raise one other matter, although I am sorry to have to do so at this late hour. I am sure that my noble friend is aware that education is another area which is immensely biased against women. The number of women in senior posts is disproportionately low compared with the number of women who come into education as teachers. Far fewer women than men are promoted to senior positions. I wonder whether people in education wriggle away from this by referring to "leadership" rather than something else. They may say, "Women are not natural leaders. We can see that around your Lordships' House all the time". As someone who has been a great campaigner for the equality of women, I am a little worried about it. We need to find a form of words that will not carry on that bias against women.

Lastly, I raise a minor technical point. I am a little worried about the whole of this proposal in connection with a rather obvious question. Let us assume that a school has been given a special status as a result of a particular "leader", as stated in the Bill. What will happen if that excellent leader leaves the school? If the quality of the school depends entirely on its leadership, will it then lose its status? The idea is ridiculous, but that seems to be what it says in the Bill.

I have put these matters forward through two technical amendments. No doubt my noble friend has easy answers, but at this point I seek elucidation and information. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has explained that what he meant by the term "efficiency" was in fact "value added". I have to say that in this age of managerialism, the word "efficiency" is too frequently interpreted as cost effectiveness, so I was rather horrified by the use of the term. I entirely endorse his view that we should regard this as a matter of value added and I am only sorry that he did not propose the term in his amendment.

For rather the same reason, I wonder about his use of the word "management" as well as the word "leadership". I believe that one element that stands out in our education system is how important is the quality of leadership in a head teacher. To that end, the courses that have been introduced recently to train head teachers in leadership are important innovations. We have not done enough in this area so far.

I understand what the noble Lord means by his use of the words "management" and "leadership", but, as he knows full well, I believe that we may be in danger of introducing the concept of managerialism, of which we have far too much already in the education system.

It is very obvious that in the education system as a whole women are not properly represented in the higher ranks. However, this House demonstrates that women are the workers of the world.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 9:00 pm, 2nd May 2002

We are not doing too badly this evening. I have done a head count around the Chamber. Not only are we holding our own in terms of numbers; we are holding our own as effective operators.

I support the introduction of the word "management", but probably for different reasons. This strikes me as an issue where you can have leadership. Leadership is about motivating people and getting the best out of them, but the management of an establishment is also important. If the Government are considering giving freedom to a school, they will expect it to be well run—that means well managed; they would also expect leadership.

I support the amendment in regard to adding the word "educational". "Performance" can mean many things to many people, but we are talking about education—the primary concern so far as concerns the Bill—and about giving schools their freedom to provide effective education, and there is a distinction to be made between good performance and good educational delivery. So we support the amendments which seek to add those two words to the clause.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

Again, another new idea has been introduced to the Committee. I, too, have carried out a head count of the women. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that they are extremely effective. I shall of course pass on that view to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who also fits into the category. This is a serious point. I am not quite sure how to respond to it in the context of the amendment, except to say that it is important that we ensure that able women can achieve in, and be at the top of, our education system.

As regards Amendment No. 27, in proposing performance criteria for earned autonomy we are absolutely clear that performance relates to "educational performance". We believe that the performance criteria, on which we propose to consult, involves looking at a school's performance within the relevant free school meal band for precisely this reason.

We want to ensure that schools facing a variety of circumstances are eligible for earned autonomy. Included in this is our intention that schools in the most challenging circumstances are able to qualify for, and obtain, earned autonomy. As the noble Lord has requested, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said, over time, as value-added measures are introduced, we are committed to considering how that data can be incorporated into the performance criteria.

Our proposals in this respect are set out in the earned autonomy policy document provided in another place and available from the House Library. However, I would draw the Committee's attention to point 8 of that guidance, where we describe how we would remove flexibilities and freedoms. We recognise that school performances can be variable and we would wish to see flexibilities removed only if performance fell significantly or over a protracted period of time and where the use by the school of the increased flexibilities might be a contributing factor. We have expressed this by saying that if a school's performance either falls significantly below the top 25 per cent mark in its free school meal band for three years running, or falls below the median performance level in that free school meal band in any one year, or is judged by Ofsted to fall below "excellent" or "very good" in two of the three aspects above. I hope that that is helpful.

As to Amendment No. 28, we intend that the school's management should be included in the criteria. It is an intention that we have already set out in the policy statement I referred to earlier. We intend that the detailed content of the criteria should be set in regulations rather than in primary legislation. That will allow us as the policy develops to develop the criteria, broadening the availability of earned autonomy to yet more well led, high-performing schools.

However, the noble Lord has made a point that we should consider further. We have distinguished elsewhere in the Bill—for example, in Schedule 16 which makes minor amendments to the School Inspections Act—between "leadership" and "management". It has always been our intention that the two areas of leadership and management should be used together in making judgments in this area, and my noble friend is right to point out that there is at least some doubt as to whether the primary legislation enables us to do so. I can reassure him that I shall consider the point further with a view to bringing forward an amendment at Report stage, if necessary, to ensure that judgment about management can be included in the criteria. With this assurance, I trust that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

I thank my noble friend for her encouraging reply. Perhaps I may make one last point which I forgot to make earlier. I hope that we recognise that although we are talking about schools, a school is already a quite large body. In the days when I visited schools, one of the things that made me feel optimistic about the world was that, even in a bad school, teachers were performing miracles in adverse circumstances. I know my noble friend will agree that although we are trying to improve a school within a school, we must recognise always that there will be people there who are doing remarkable work. We must not undermine that remarkable work even though, overall, the school itself needs to improve. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 4, line 7, at end insert "and shall include criteria requiring the school to demonstrate how any exemption will be evaluated in terms of its impact on disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs"

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

In moving Amendment No 29, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 30 and 43. This group of amendments again concerns special educational needs. The arrangements in this chapter of the Bill are all about successful schools. It is the demonstrated success of a school that will qualify it for exemption from or modification of statutory powers.

The Special Education Consortium—I speak on its behalf—is very concerned that three key criteria should be met to ensure that the arrangements for earned autonomy take adequate account of the education of disabled children and children with special educational needs. Three particular aspects about which we are concerned are represented by the three amendments.

First, schools which are deemed to be successful should be able to demonstrate that they have been successful in promoting the education of disabled children and children with educational needs. Traditional measures of success depend heavily on test and examination performance. Such outcomes may not adequately reflect a school's work with disabled children and children with special educational needs. In fact, it is possible for a school to be performing well on test and examination outcomes but to be neglecting the progress of disabled children and children with SEN. By contrast, it is likely that a school which is promoting the achievement of disabled children and children with SEN is promoting also the achievement of all the other children in the school. So it is crucial for schools seeking earned autonomy to be able to demonstrate satisfactorily their ability to provide, and to provide well, for disabled children and children with special educational needs. That is why we are pressing Amendment No. 29.

We are concerned, secondly, that there should be a requirement to show how the impact of any exemption or any innovation will be evaluated from the point of view of its impact on disabled pupils and pupils with SEN. Again, it would be possible for the exemptions or modifications earned by a school further to disadvantage disabled children and children with SEN. There might, for example, be a narrowing of the curriculum or a reliance on classroom assistants to provide teaching for children with SEN, with teachers acting in a more consultative mode. Interaction with a teacher lies at the heart of the learning process, and other staff may not be adequately trained to spot the clues to a child's progress and to exploit them to the benefit of the child. That explains why we are putting forward the second amendment.

The third amendment, Amendment No. 43, is concerned with the ability of successful schools to demonstrate that they have significant support from parents and the community, and in particular from parents with disabled children and children with special educational needs.

There are provisions for the governing body to consult with parents before an application is submitted under this chapter of the Bill. It is important that consultation specifically seeks out the views of parents of disabled children and children with SEN. Any modification or exemption may affect such children disproportionately. The views of this group of parents should be made clear in the application. I look forward to the Minister's response to our reasons for putting forward the three amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The noble Baroness has spoken to Amendment No. 43. I believe that she misinterpreted it anyway, but she referred to it as one of three Liberal Democrat amendments. Amendment No. 43 stands in my name, so I am not sure whether she was referring to a different amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. I see that our amendments are Amendments Nos. 29 and 30.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

All these amendments refer to the protection of children with special needs, but Amendment No. 43 in my name—and I shall speak also to Amendment No. 39—seeks to ensure that,

"No regulations . . . shall limit or reduce the provision of special educational needs in any qualifying school".

I return to the fact that there is universal concern about this issue. I was contacted only today by the NUT, which makes some interesting points on Amendment No. 39. In its briefing, it refers to the fact that the Bill contains no guarantee of the protection of such children. We have made that point ad nauseam during the course of the debate. The NUT goes on to say:

"The Government has stated its intention that 'every school must continue to teach the basics and offer a broad and balanced curriculum'".

There is a tension here. The Bill allows for an exemption from those requirements. So it would be helpful to know exactly what the Government will regard as a no-go area for the purposes of asking for exemptions. The NUT briefing continues:

"It is not clear what is meant by 'a broad and balanced curriculum'".

At some point in the debate we shall need a definition from the Government as to what they believe is a "broad and balanced curriculum".

The Green Paper and the White Paper emphasise the importance of sports, the arts, drama and music, but again there is little or no reference to history or geography. I know that outside this Chamber there is considerable concern, for example, that the term "humanities" will not necessarily include history and/or geography. In addition, the Green Paper and the White Paper imply that sports, the arts, drama and musical activities are increasingly seen as extra-curricular; therefore, not all pupils will have the same opportunities for access.

I return to my earlier suggestion. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that all the different amendments that we have tabled in order to provide protection for children with special educational needs may not be the best way to go about this. I implore the noble Baroness to give some consideration between now and the next stage of the Bill to a portmanteau statement at the outset of the Bill, in or before Clause 1, setting in statute protection for the interests and needs of such children if any SEN legislation being applied for in terms of exemption fell foul of that basic, fundamental protection. That provision could be included in a single amendment and would be hugely helpful.

For that reason, I shall not press my Amendments Nos. 39 and 43. There is still some debate to be had about the matter and there may be a meeting of minds on finding a better way of building in protection for children with special educational needs.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

I am inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on her last statement. It would be splendid if there was a catch-all clause at the beginning of the Bill to encompass all people with special educational needs and disability. The references could then be few and far between in the rest of the Bill, because the issue would be covered in statute for all time.

Once more, I wish to play my one-string fiddle with regard to the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. When schools apply to become qualifying schools, it is important that they show better than average effective special educational needs practices rather than being allowed to exclude such children. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that pupils with special educational needs and disabled children will not end up consigned to non-qualifying, less favoured schools. I therefore support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, in her amendments and hope that the Minister will look on them favourably.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards) 9:15 pm, 2nd May 2002

I fully support the sentiments that lie behind the amendments—a wish to see the interests of disabled children or those with special educational needs at the heart of decisions relating to earned autonomy. However, it will not surprise noble Lords to hear that I do not believe that these amendments offer the best way to achieve that aim. I fear that Amendment No. 29 would add to the bureaucracy of the application process and discourage schools from coming forward with ideas that would benefit all children, including those it is intended to protect. For example, schools applying for earned autonomy would not know if they were eligible until after they had applied and it had been determined whether the evaluation plan was acceptable. Before a school embarks on a consultation programme on the flexibilities that it is seeking, it is not unreasonable for it to expect to know whether it would qualify.

We have made clear our intention to make as many flexibilities as possible automatic. This is based on a belief that we can and should trust our best schools to take decisions that are right for their pupils. That includes those with special educational needs. It is also based on an understanding that schools need to be allowed to get on with the job of educating our children without a continual need to justify and defend their decisions through reports and applications.

There are already safeguards to protect the interests of children with special educational needs, including the inspection regime. Our commitment to the publication of value-added measures will provide yet another means of holding schools accountable for the progress of all children. Furthermore, the policy statement on earned autonomy has made clear our intention to consult on the use of value-added data in determining eligibility for earned autonomy once sufficient information is available. While I would be happy to continue to explore other ways of meeting the concerns of the noble Baroness, I do not believe this is the right approach.

The same applies to Amendment No. 30. If there was a clear and unambiguous measure of attainment for these children that could be applied in appropriate cases, I would be happy to accept an amendment of this kind. Unfortunately, as noble Lords will be only too well aware, this is not the case. It is notoriously difficult to develop a simple measure of attainment for children whose educational needs are so varied and where there are huge differences from school to school in the nature of their special needs and their special needs provision.

The amendment would require us to specify such a measure in regulations. There is a real danger that that measure would turn out to be unfair, denying schools earned autonomy because of a measure that was inappropriate to the nature of the special needs that they catered for.

The amendment would also deny earned autonomy to any school without pupils with disabilities—although I am sure that that is not intentional. It is impossible to demonstrate high standards of achievement of children with disabilities if there are none at the school in question.

While I am more than willing to continue to explore with noble Lords other ways of meeting their concerns, I return to the general proposition of earned autonomy, which is about trusting our best schools and our best head teachers to take decisions that are in the best interests of their children, including those children with disabilities or with special educational needs.

In relation to Amendments Nos. 39 and 43, I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that Clause 7 makes it clear that the governing body must consult the parents of pupils at the school where that governing body is applying for earned autonomy in respect of any curriculum provision. Parents can voice their views and concerns through parent representatives on the governing body and through the explicit requirements of Clause 7. Where parents of pupils with special educational needs are opposed to the change being proposed, they will make their views known. The governing body will consider those views, and I do not believe that the governing body of a successful school would disregard them.

We have also made it clear that the accountability framework will remain. Performance tables will remain in place and Ofsted will continue to inspect schools and will continue to be concerned with the education that the school provides for all its children, including those with special needs.

Finally, I stress that earned autonomy cannot change the duties of the local education authority or the governing body to secure that appropriate special educational provision for pupils with special educational needs is made. Therefore, qualifying schools will have to take that into account during their consultations and subsequently when making an application to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly.

As I have said, I would welcome discussions with noble Lords. I am very interested in the possible way forward described by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I should like to consider that and other issues before the next stage of the Bill. I would genuinely welcome discussions on how to take the issue forward. It is quite difficult, but there is no lack of will from the Government. With those reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for that reply. I also apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I was looking at my briefing on Amendment No. 46, which comes later and also deals with page 5 of the Bill. I therefore jumped to the conclusion that one of her amendments must be mine.

We recognise that, as the Minister said, it is inevitably difficult to find the right phrasing in these matters. What is most encouraging is the notion that we might be able to establish a type of portmanteau coverage to address special educational needs issues. Those issues arise throughout the Bill, and we shall be moving a series of amendments to address them. Nevertheless, it would be very satisfactory to cover the issues at the beginning of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 4, line 10, at end insert—

"(2A) For the purposes of this Chapter a school teacher is "employed" at a school if he works at the school under a contract falling within paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) of section 118(3)."

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

In moving Amendment No. 31, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 154, 158 and 368. These are technical amendments providing for internal consistency within the Bill.

Amendment No. 31, which amends Clause 5, adds a definition that ensures the provisions allowing certain schools to apply for exemption from parts of the pay and conditions document apply to exactly the same group of people as the document. The other three amendments remove a list of related definitions from Chapter 1 of Part 3 of the Bill. The definitions were imported from the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and are not needed for this chapter as the meaning of the terms is clear where used. Amendment No. 368 takes the definition of a contract of employment which was located in this chapter and places it in Clause 205 in order to refer to the whole Bill.

These are technical improvements to the Bill's drafting which will ensure consistency in the interpretation of the Bill as a whole. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I should be grateful for a little help from the Minister. It is not clear that the definitions in Clause 118(3)(b) and Clause 129(1) would apply to a head teacher or member of senior management who was not actually teaching. I am also not clear whether the ambit of the definitions is intended to cover supply teachers, who do not seem to be covered by Clause 118(3)(c). I hope that he can enlighten me on the point.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

These are technical amendments which improve the Bill's internal consistency. The noble Lord is asking me about their extent and range. I cannot deal with the precise points now, but I shall write to him on them. We shall also have an opportunity to return to these technical provisions and improve them if necessary.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am sorry to be pernickety on the point, but I have been in the position that the Minister now finds himself in: one moves a string of technical amendments, bites one's lip, and just hopes that everyone says okay and does not ask a question. However, it is especially important that questions on technical amendments be answered. Although I am not accusing the Minister of this, Ministers sometimes use the ploy of avoiding noble Lords' questions and worries by referring to the technical nature of amendments. My noble friend Lord Lucas has asked a question and I think it deserves an answer. The Minister is asking the Committee to approve the amendments. However, as it will not delay our consideration of the Bill, I think that we should leave the amendments to Report stage, after the question has been answered.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for eating up those two crucial minutes so that help could arrive, and getting me round that rather sticky corner. I am grateful for her approach, and she is absolutely right—technical amendments always do raise real issues. As she will recognise, however, we are simply seeking to make the Bill as clear and consistent as possible. Moreover, as she so rightly said, it is often difficult to answer questions on technical amendments.

The points that the noble Lord made do not affect the amendments. The amendments ensure that certain definitions here are consistent with those in Clause 118. I believe that the noble Lord will conclude that we have produced clearer definitions. That is why these amendments were tabled.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I entirely agree that the wording and the construction are more elegant. However, my understanding of the amendments that the noble Lord introduces is that in this section of the Bill the parts which are to apply to teachers employed at a school enabling the pay and conditions regulations to be relaxed in relation to those teachers will not now apply to head teachers and members of the senior management who do not teach. I should be grateful for confirmation that that is what is intended as that is certainly the effect of the amendments as I read them. It is also the effect of the amendments as I read them that they would not apply to supply teachers. I suspect that that may be right, but I should again be grateful for confirmation that that is what is intended.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

I confirm that that is what is intended. The crucial clause is Clause 118 which concerns the power to prescribe pay and conditions. As the noble Lord rightly indicated, supply teachers are under specific contracts. Therefore, the amendment does not apply to supply teachers. The measure applies to non-teaching heads. Subsection (4) of Clause 118 states:

"A person is also a school teacher for the purposes of this section if he serves as the head teacher of a school maintained by a local education authority".

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

The amendment that we are looking at does not refer to subsection (4) of Clause 118; it refers only to paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) of Clause 118(3), which do not include a head teacher who is not a teacher.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

The noble Lord will recognise that what we are trying to achieve throughout the Bill is consistency of definitions. We recognise the distinction with regard to supply teachers. I believe that he will accept that the amendment adds to the clarity of the Bill as a whole. If there are outstanding difficulties, I undertake to return to them on Report. However, at this point I cannot see that there is any difficulty in accepting Amendment No. 31.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

In part I have been motivated in all this by the torrid times given to me by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, over many years on similar groups of amendments when I was a junior Whip on the Front Bench. However, I believe that we have an unresolved point here. I should be grateful for a letter before Report in time to table amendments if that is required.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 [Exemptions available to qualifying schools]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 4, line 25, leave out "may" and insert "shall"

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

In moving Amendment No. 33, I wish also to speak to the Question that Clause 6 stand part of the Bill. These two issues are related. Clause 6(1) states:

"Regulations may for the purposes of this section—".

It then sets out some detailed provisions.

The amendment was suggested by the National Association of Head Teachers. Its view is that it has got to have regulations in order to make any applications under the earned autonomy provision. It is impossible for it not to have details of what is needed. What is a successful school, and why cannot schools other than those with a serious weakness be allowed to practise self-management?

The detail of the provisions brings me to the clause stand part debate. I made it clear in my initial remarks on earned autonomy that I am less than convinced that that is a good idea. Many issues arise in that regard. Why should schools have to apply to the Secretary of State for permission to exercise earned autonomy? The Minister said that, given the criteria, schools will not know when they apply whether they will be eligible for earned autonomy and that the whole issue will have to be evaluated by the Department for Education and Skills.

We return to the debate that we had at the start of our proceedings on the centralisation of these issues, the degree to which the arrangement is concentrated on the ministry and the degree of micro-management that is entailed. The process seems incredibly bureaucratic and over-prescriptive and it will place a great deal of power in the hands of the Secretary of State.

When we debated Amendment No. 15, I suggested that the one area in which schools wanted a bit of flexibility was in relation to the curriculum, but the Minister replied, "They do not need that because they already have plenty of flexibility in relation to the curriculum". Why are we now proposing that, with regard to earned autonomy, we should give them flexibility in relation to the curriculum? That is a nonsense. I therefore question whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour 9:30 pm, 2nd May 2002

I have a question about our procedure. We will come to subsequent amendments that relate to Clause 6. How can we possibly be debating clause stand part before our consideration of those amendments? Surely, someone or other—I hate to look at the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—must be out of order. We cannot possibly debate clause stand part before considering amendments that require the clause to still be in the Bill when we debate them.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

The answer is that we can debate clause stand part but that we cannot resolve it until all of the amendments to the clause have been debated. It is perfectly proper to debate clause stand part if the proposer of the earlier amendment wishes to do so.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

I entirely take my noble friend's point, but it seems to be slightly illogical to be debating something without an ability to resolve it. It makes much more logical sense to debate the amendments and then to have the clause stand part debate. But at this time of night it is obviously all getting a bit beyond me.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

The reason why I discussed whether the clause stand part was because it is grouped with the amendment on the groupings list. I did a certain amount of regrouping yesterday but, unlike the noble Lord, I did not regroup my amendments to the extent that every one of them would be debated separately.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I have much sympathy with Amendment No. 33, which involves the rest of the clause. However, it is very strange that regulations "may" provide—

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative

I regret that we have got somewhat out of order, notwithstanding the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. We should return to the amendment.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

The noble Baroness has spoken to the amendment, as has the noble Lord, Lord Peston; I am simply continuing our debate on it. However, what I wish to say involves the clause stand part debate, which is grouped with the amendment.

It is very strange that Clause 6(1) states that:

"Regulations may for the purposes of this section", designate various provisions, which are listed in paragraphs (a) to (d). They are substantial paragraphs. Paragraphs (a) and (b) speak of designating "any curriculum provision", and paragraphs (c) and (d) refer to modifications of "any curriculum provision".

What is meant by those designations? In practical terms, how far will the regulations go in designating parts of the curriculum from which schools may be exempt? Are the core national curriculum and its subjects sacrosanct, or could they come under any of these regulations as providing exemption? This point was raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and by my noble friend Lady Blatch. It is time that we had some clarification of precisely what is meant by "any curriculum provision" and the exemption that may be provided through regulation on that account.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My interest in opposing the Question that Clause 6 stand part is based merely on wishing to find out what Clause 6 is intended to do.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am sympathetic to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It does seem bizarre to discuss whether the clause shall stand part when there are two pages of amendments yet to come in relation to the clause. I believe that that is probably a fault of the groupings. It is always possible, although highly unlikely, that the Minister will accept all the amendments between now and Amendment No. 43, although I believe that she has already indicated that Amendment No. 43 is not acceptable. We may have a very different Clause 6 in the Bill when we come to agreeing whether it will stand part; or we may know far more about it by the time we reach that point. Therefore, I believe that the amendments are important in finding out what the clause is about and having that on the record. We can then debate whether or not we believe that it should stand part of the Bill. With that, I agree.

However, there is a supreme irony here. In speeches over recent days we have heard Ministers use the language of devolution. That is particularly the case in the health service but less so in the education service, although I have heard it from the Secretary of State for Education. They have spoken of passing more control for public services to local level, with more devolution of management and more ownership at local level. They have spoken of letting go of the reins and of Whitehall agreeing to relinquish its central control.

But this Bill is very centralist. Now, almost everything that happens and almost everything that moves in schools must be approved by the Secretary of State. I believe that that flies in the face of, and is very inconsistent with, much of what is being said. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to persuade her colleagues to say that schools can be trusted. As I said during debate on earlier amendments, schools are highly accountable. They operate in a goldfish bowl; they cannot get away with delivering a poor service without it being noticed and without it being dealt with by some part of legislation.

Therefore, the situation is the reverse of what Ministers are saying. The reality is that the central control is tightening all the time. I hope that we in this House can do something about loosening that control before the Bill goes back to another place.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

On my first day of my first Committee stage, I confess to being slightly lost so far as concerns the procedure. I do not know whether I should talk about clause stand part now or later. I shall do my best to respond in various ways to the relevant issues that have been raised, and I hope that I shall have addressed them all by the time we reach the end of our discussions on these amendments.

As I said, earned autonomy is about trusting schools to exercise additional freedoms and flexibilities in the interests of the schools. We want the process to be as simple and un-bureaucatic as possible, with—I say this to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—minimal involvement from the Secretary of State. However, while we wish as many flexibilities as possible to be made available as of right, we believe that we need to retain the ability to decide whether or not it will be appropriate for regulations to include both automatic and discretionary areas of exemption.

Such decisions will be subject to full consultation. Until we are clear, following consultation, what areas will be covered by regulation, it is important that we retain flexibility. That is precisely why it is appropriate to leave the word "may" in the first line of Clause 6 rather than to replace it by "shall". If the word "shall" were included we would be required to make available some automatic exemptions and some discretionary ones, in both teachers' pay and conditions and in the national curriculum. The word "may" would enable us to make exemptions automatic as far as possible, with no discretionary element.

We have set out in detail our proposals for doing this in a policy statement sent to the committee in another place and that is available in the Library of the House. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Before I move on I would like to refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, which is subjects. I am very pleased that he raised it because, as Members of the Committee will be aware, we have been doing a great deal of work on the Green Paper on the education of 14 to 19-year olds and the flexibility that we are very keen to see in Key Stage 4 of the national curriculum. We have had a chance to reflect on the stance of earned autonomy that we outlined in another place.

It is our view that non-core foundation subjects need to be protected under earned autonomy. That means that no school will be able to suspend any subject, but will be given flexibility in relation to the programmes of study for non-core subjects, allowing far more freedom in teaching and greater scope in curriculum planning. I hope that that is helpful to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

Does what the Minister has just said in relation to the foundation subjects, or the non-core subjects to which the noble Baroness referred, mean that the core subjects are sacrosanct?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I wish to press the noble Baroness on that point. In a Written Answer to me the word "general" is used. It states that in specific cases where the matter could qualify for autonomy, both under innovation and earned autonomy, it was possible for an application to be approved.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

As I have tried to indicate, we have been looking at what is the best and most appropriate way of taking forward earned autonomy within our school system. It is our view that because we have been looking at the strategy for 14 to 19 year-olds that we are very keen to ensure that the flexibility around that group is at the heart of what we are trying to do with flexibility. Then we shall look back at the implications involved in terms of Key Stages 1 and 3.

We are aiming to make sure that within our school system a child moving from one school to another or entering the system is aware of the subjects in which it is entitled to be taught and which are available. Beyond that we want to ensure that schools have freedom to be able to explore different and innovative ways, through earned autonomy, of being able to teach those subjects. That is what we are seeking to do within that framework. I hope that clarifies the point for the noble Baroness. If it does not, I shall either write to her or state the issue in a different way.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I have now found the reply, which is to a Written Question (HL 3784). It states,

"The Government have made clear their view that they would not in general regard a proposal to suspend the requirement to teach a compulsory subject as standard-raising unless"- in other words, there is a caveat—

"appropriate arrangements are in place to secure high standards in the basics and a broad and balanced curriculum. It follows that only in such circumstances would my right honourable friend the Secretary of State have the power to grant the order". [Official Report, 30/04/02; col. WA93.]

That is, grant the order to exempt a compulsory subject from being taught. Therefore, the status of the compulsory subject is affected by both Clause 2 and Clause 5.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards) 9:45 pm, 2nd May 2002

I, too, have a copy of the letter that I wrote to the noble Baroness in front of me. It refers to Clause 1, which deals with the power to innovate. I am sorry, but the letter begins by saying:

"Clause 1 means that the Secretary of State would only be permitted to approve proposals if she considers that they would contribute to the raising of standards".

It refers specifically to the powers to innovate.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

It is true that the letter was written in relation to "innovate". However, all I am saying is that the compulsory nature of the subject is already distorted in this Bill. In fact, the reply to the Written Question from which I quoted a short time ago refers to Clause 2. The actual question put to the Minister was whether this would be possible under proposals set out in Clause 2, and I have already repeated the reply. The compulsory nature of the subject is already compromised by Clause 2, and, I believe, by Clause 5.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

Clause 2 relates to the power to innovate. The reply given to the noble Baroness referred to the power to innovate. I am sorry if the noble Baroness finds that confusing. However, both Clause 1 and Clause 2 refer to the power to innovate. That is the issue to which I was replying.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I may return to Amendment No. 33. I thank the Minister for her reply. I have a copy of the policy statement, which the noble Baroness was kind enough to send to us. Can she tell me what the difference is between a policy statement and a regulation? Quite clearly, those who are trying to run schools do need governance as to whether or not they should apply. I recognise that they cannot do so unless they have some kind of guidance. Surely it would be sensible to cover this by way of guidance, or through regulations. I have a slight preference for guidance because I believe it to be slightly less centralising.

It would be sensible for me to withdraw my amendment. Perhaps the Minister could write to me with the answer to my question.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

I am in a position to give the noble Baroness the answer. A policy statement is put before Parliament, whereas regulations are the vehicle by which it is implemented. However, the two should reflect each other.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

Am I right in thinking that the policy statement issued now will lead to regulations at a later date?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am sorry to be pernickety again, but did the Minister say that the policy statement is a document that is put before Parliament? I have a copy of the statement, but I have never seen any mention on an Order Paper of it being put before Parliament. If the document is placed in the Library of the House, that is very different. The placing of a document before Parliament is a very formal process. It is important to know whether it is put before Parliament, or whether it is simply a document for information in order to clarify the Government's thinking underlying the policy.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

I was not going to name him, but I was misled by my noble friend Lord McIntosh. As I said, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct: the document is put in the Library, and not laid before Parliament. I apologise. I shall get better at this in time.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 4, line 33, at end insert—

"( ) In so far as regulations made under this section relate to a pay or conditions provision they shall in addition to providing for an exemption or modification make provision also for the determination of the relevant pay or conditions by means of negotiation between relevant bodies and representatives of those to whom different pay and conditions are to be applied."

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 38, 48 and 49. The purpose of this group of amendments is to probe the Government's intentions in relation to qualifying schools exempt from legislation relating to teachers' pay and conditions.

The amendments seek to ensure negotiating rights for staff and their representatives in schools with earned autonomy. There has been a long argument about whether the existing statutory procedure for the determination of teachers' pay and conditions conforms to international conventions. Without the provisions sought by these amendments the Government could place themselves further outside their international obligations.

Clause 9(1), as it stands, clearly assumes that pay and other conditions of school staff exempted from statutory arrangements will be determined unilaterally by the governing body, even though the governing body will not be the employer of staff in community and voluntary controlled schools. Clearly that is nonsense.

Given recent difficulties in recruiting teachers, it is unlikely that schools will want to move away from the school teachers' pay and conditions document in order to worsen teachers' conditions. However, it is easy to see how some schools may be tempted to move away from it in order to recruit staff, without adequate consideration of the impact on retention of other staff. That could exacerbate the current staffing problems, the extent of which the Government will not know until they have conducted the long-awaited staffing and curriculum survey, on which the Minister recently told the House in an Answer to a Starred Question from myself that we shall have to wait another year.

However, there is nothing to prevent teachers in any school negotiating the non-statutory aspects of pay and conditions. By involving the teachers' unions, the amendment would ensure that such negotiations were placed on a whole-school basis. It would therefore protect schools from inadvertently straying into starting internecine wars in staff rooms, supposedly havens of peace and refuges from the stresses and strains of the classroom. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

Amendment No. 37 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady David. Broadly it is in line with what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said. What is the point of the clause on pay? The Minister will remember that this kind of opt-out from statutory pay and conditions was a characteristic of the GM schools regime. It is interesting that of the GM schools—they numbered only about 1,000—only three opted out. One wonders why the Government have decided that they should return to the theme. What is the point?

The positive side of offering more, which is what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke of, must have an effect if they are able to do this. If they are not able to offer more I cannot see why they have been given the power. It must have an effect on recruitment, which will have adverse effects on neighbouring schools that do not have the same power.

I do not want to make a Treasury point, but I am amazed that the Treasury would want to give any schools the power to start spending excess sums of money that the Treasury cannot control. I should have thought that the Treasury would be keen to retain the nationally agreed scales. Maybe the Treasury, for once, has not noticed this Bill going through Parliament.

My honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for schools said in the other place that he was aware of this point. He also appeared to say that he did not believe that anyone would make much use of it. He did not accept that there would be much possible effect on neighbouring schools. However, he must then find himself with a logical difficulty. If schools do not make use of the power, why are we giving it to them? And if they do make use of it, there is no way of getting round the fact that it will have an effect on other schools.

Mostly we concentrate on poaching by means of excess pay, but I am not convinced by the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. She believes that there will be no attempt to cut pay. Anyone who knows anything about the way that organisations work knows that if they run into financial difficulties, they may well ask members of staff whether they still want their jobs. Members of staff who are not highly mobile may then be told that they had better accept a worsening of pay or work more hours.

I do not regard as trivial the part of my amendment that talks about poorer pay and conditions. But my main point is that I regard most of this as hypothetical and overwhelmingly I can see no case for any of the pay and conditions provisions being included in the Bill. Therefore I ask my noble friend to think again about this. It is something that a sensible government would not introduce into the education system. It is asking for trouble. It will be no discredit for the Government to say, "This is a silly thing. We were taken with it in a fit of madness and the time has come to return to sanity".

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

Over the years it seems to me that the national pay scales for teachers and nurses have served to make them among the most poorly and underpaid professions in this country. If one surrenders one's bargaining power and deals not with local people who understand one's specific qualities, but subjects oneself to a national system, there is little else that could happen over the long-term other than pay going down. One need only look at the train drivers to see what happens when that position is reversed. They negotiate with people rather more local to their place of employment and their salaries go up at a great rate.

I should like to see teachers' salaries rising at a considerable rate. It is a good idea to have mechanisms in place which encourage schools to pay good teachers money over and above what they are worth. It encourages them to use teachers more innovatively and more efficiently, beyond anything else. Being stuck in the current stultifying system is one of the great drawbacks of the present school system.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raises the prospect of it being even worse. Thank goodness we will never see a Liberal government.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

I am not sure whether it is allowed in the rules, but perhaps I can offer the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, a bet. He is younger than me so he may live to see this happen. Is he really saying that if we went along these lines, teachers overall will be better off? Wearing my economics hat, I bet him that the best they can hope for is as good and the more likely outcome is worse. If there were ever a case of let us wait and live to see the day, this is a very good example of possible predictions.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

There are only a few examples available at the moment. But can the noble Lord say whether teachers at the Thomas Telford School are paid better or worse than average?

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

That is an easy question for me. I do not know.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

Perhaps I could add a word of caution on schools being involved in local pay negotiations. I know no more expensive hobby for an amateur than to engage in pay negotiations with professionals. I have tried!

I know the Local Government Association is concerned about this aspect. Local initiatives by one school will inevitably impact across the system. If this is to go forward, it may be advisable for the schools to consult their LEA before committing themselves.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Peston, a question through the Minister, unconnected with whether or not people receive poorer pay. I believe that the impetus would be for greater pay rather than for poorer pay. Certainly that is the case where it has been exercised, as my noble friend said. And I can answer the question in relation to the Thomas Telford School; the teachers are paid infinitely more than the normal national pay and conditions stipulate.

In relation to paragraph (b) in Amendment No. 37, staff are moving from school to school all the time. They move in and out of the faith and independent sectors; they move across the maintained sectors; they move from primary to secondary and the other way round. It is difficult to know therefore what is and what is not poaching. Some schools certainly give a nod and a wink about a forthcoming vacancy and invite people to think about it. That is the normal sort of head-hunting that takes place. It would be nearly impossible to prove a case of poaching of teachers.

My other point is more philosophical. Teachers should be free to go where they want. No teacher moves by compulsion. If a teacher wishes to move from one school to another, it may not be the pay that is the attraction; it may be the philosophy or the ethos of the school; it may be that somebody wants to move into or out of a faith school. So paragraph (b) is questionable. I have no comment to make on paragraph (a).

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 10:00 pm, 2nd May 2002

I raise the example of further education colleges, which when they became bodies corporate were able to move over to locally negotiated pay and where, on the whole, pay has not been raised. Many staff were then made self-employed—effectively they became contract staff to the further education colleges. One complaint that we heard last week at a lobby concerned the low rates of pay and the lack of pay increases for years.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

As I was asked a question that I do not take to be rhetorical, we ought to remember what we are discussing. We are discussing the creation of a special class of schools within the whole class of schools with additional powers. We are not discussing all schools competing equally against each other, which might lead to a proper outcome. A special group will be allowed to do things that other schools cannot.

I am asking my noble friend: what is it about those schools that we should give them those powers? What would they gain—what would be gained—from that? Will the Government reassure us that that will not be to the detriment of schools that do not have those powers? I am about to use a cliché that I took a lifetime oath never to use, but I shall use it because I am getting tired. We are discussing our standard level playing field question.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

I apologise for not being present when the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, moved the amendment. I was not as alert as I should have been. I have heard teachers in Southwark, Haringey and elsewhere express concern that some schools have the most difficult pupils. They struggle and everything seems to work against them. I am worried that the introduction of special payments to certain schools may add to that negative spiral, by which the most successful schools can hire the best teachers and they are drained away from the least successful schools. I should like reassurance that that will not happen—that sink schools will not be created by the measure.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

I shall start by addressing Amendments Nos. 34 and 38. I should stress that we intend to make the application procedure for schools contemplating making changes to pay and conditions provisions as simple and straightforward as possible. That is why we intend that qualifying schools that apply for exemption from or modification to designated pay and conditions provisions will be entitled to have their applications approved by the Secretary of State as of right. In general, the Secretary of State should approve proposals under the innovation clauses. Earned autonomy should mean just that.

With reference to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, we have agreed closely to reconsider the criteria. We want to bring in our good schools with good leadership and management, recognising the circumstances in which they operate, so that we have a breadth and allow those schools to develop under earned autonomy. So it will not just be for one group of schools. It is based on good quality leadership and good standards. As I said, I shall return to discuss the criteria.

We fully recognise and accept the right of teachers at any school where such proposals are made to be consulted. After the governing body has made proposals—teachers are of course represented on and fully involved in the governing body—consultation will be a legal requirement. That is written into the Bill in Clause 7.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, when the governing body makes its determinations, it must have regard to general employment law. It will be changing people's contracts of employment; it cannot do that unilaterally. It will be able to take advice from the local education authority or other personnel services providers about how lawfully to give effect to its exemptions or modifications.

It is not clear that negotiating machinery would be needed in every case. Of course, if a school secured extensive exemptions, some local pay determination machinery would be needed to replace the national machinery, but the earned autonomy provisions allow for the possibility of minor modifications and exemptions to suit local circumstances.

The amendment would require negotiation and agreement with the relevant teacher unions at an inappropriate stage in the procedure. Not only would that slow the process; it would make it far more burdensome for the schools. It would mean that an application for any change, however small, would be subject to that requirement.

No sensible governing body will propose changes that will be detrimental to teachers. All governing bodies will keep a close eye on any potential effect on recruitment and retention. The consultation stage of the process gives teachers full opportunity to put their views. No governing body would push through unpopular proposals with no support from the head teacher and staff in the school. The last thing that they want is that teachers—their most valuable asset—should vote with their feet.

I welcome the discussion on the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Peston. I am sure that my noble friend will not be surprised to hear that I cannot support the amendment in practice. However, I hope to offer some reassurance that will satisfy him. I shall explain why the wording of the amendment leaves us in some difficulty. I understand the sentiment behind the use of the word "poorer" in the first part of the amendment and appreciate it at a basic level. However, it would be difficult to define in practice because of its subjective nature and the complexity of the arrangements that could be put in place by a school subject to earned autonomy and the difficulty of comparing them with what can also be viewed as complex arrangements relating to pay and conditions at a national level.

With a potentially wide range of spine points, allowances and bonuses, to say nothing of potential variations in working time, it could be less straightforward than it might at first appear to compare arrangements between schools. I stress once more that no sensible governing body will offer its teachers pay and conditions that are, overall, inferior to those that might be obtained in a school not subject to earned autonomy. On the contrary, they will not pursue the autonomy route unless it offers benefits for their staff, better working arrangements and long-term advantages for the school and its pupils.

That leads me on to consideration of the second part of Amendment No. 37 about the poaching of teachers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, explained, the proposed change would go far beyond what was workable in practice. It would prevent—or at least restrict—the movement of any staff into schools subject to earned autonomy but not out of them. That restriction would also cover staff who are not in any way subject to the earned autonomy arrangements—for example, non-teaching staff and classroom assistants—through the blanket use of the term "other staff".

I would expect that, if anything, teachers in schools subject to earned autonomy are unlikely to be offered inferior terms and conditions, for the reasons that I have outlined. There could be, for example, a bonus for long service, an allowance for running an out-of-school club or a revised pay scale in return for more flexible working arrangements. We must remember that schools subject to earned autonomy will have no more money than other schools to pay their staff.

It is possible that such earned autonomy schools will be attractive to teachers in other schools if the particular arrangements appeal to them. However, all schools already have the flexibility to offer additional allowances—in particular, recruitment and retention allowances—that can be paid to any classroom teacher, subject to set maxima. The latest changes set out by the STRB and agreed by the Government also offer increased flexibility on head teachers' pay that many schools will welcome. Schools also have the freedom to offer discretionary experience points to classroom teachers. The national pay and conditions arrangements are far from rigid.

Amendment No. 48 would cause us problems. I have already said that we believe strongly that the arrangements set out in the Bill for the practical application and implementation of changes to teachers' pay and conditions arrangements that may follow from the earned autonomy provisions are the right ones. The process that we are putting forward is fair for all concerned, not least teachers, and enables the process to be carried forward with as little bureaucracy as possible on the part of governors and schools.

The amendment would remove from the governing body the explicit authority and duty to make a determination regarding teachers' pay and conditions, to the extent that national conditions do not apply. It is important to be clear about where that duty lies, and it is consistent with the purpose of earned autonomy to extend governors' powers. In most schools, governors are the "relevant body" for the purpose of making pay decisions under the terms of the statutory school teachers' pay and conditions document. In an earned autonomy school, they would continue to make pay decisions; for example, in the case of performance pay. But to remove from governors the ultimate power to make decisions on pay under earned autonomy arrangements, leaving it as a matter for negotiation, cuts right across these statutory arrangements in a way which would only bring confusion and inconsistency.

The amendment would also remove from the LEA the duty to support the governors in giving effect to governors' decisions on matters relating to pay and conditions. For example, the LEA holds the contracts of employment of teachers at community and voluntary controlled schools. If a teacher's contract of employment needs to be changed as a consequence of earned autonomy, the LEA must be required to make the necessary changes. We believe that paragraph (b) is a helpful clarification.

Finally, the amendment would take away the clarification which is necessary for practical reasons about the position of a teacher in respect of pay and conditions from the time the order enabling changes to take place is made and its actual implementation.

Although I understand the reason for Amendment No. 49, I am afraid that I cannot agree that it is appropriate. First, its effect is too wide. The governing body would need to negotiate in some way with any body which represents teachers, whether or not it even has any members at the school. For a governing body to have to do this in respect of every change, small or large, which might affect pay and conditions—even if every teacher at the school had already expressed full support for it during the consultation process—would be quite unnecessary.

It is unnecessary because, although the Bill gives governing bodies the right to determine pay and conditions of teachers in circumstances where an order gives them the right to do so, general employment law means that the governing body cannot make unilateral decisions and they will need to negotiate with the teachers concerned in a manner appropriate to the modification which is being made.

I should point out that the point will not have been reached at a school without the general support of teachers at the school, so the governing body would be proceeding within a constructive climate. What we do not intend is for a form of local negotiating machinery to be imposed, which we believe Amendment No. 40 would do in a heavy-handed way. It will be down to the governing body to carry this forward in a way appropriate to modification or modifications being made.

None the less, I can give clear assurances to Members of the Committee that there will need to be proper consultation with all teachers affected. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for her reply. In laying out the flexibilities which schools already have in terms of pay and conditions, she explained better than I why we do not need the provisions about pay and conditions in Clause 6. She has great confidence in the ability of governing bodies to do the right thing in this respect. Of course, governing bodies are loyal to their particular schools, but they have no responsibility for all the schools around them. By including the appropriate teaching unions and the local authorities in the negotiations we could avoid the situation in which there was a negative impact on other schools surrounding the few which would attract the additional powers when they have earned autonomy. Perhaps we can return to that matter at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 4, line 33, at end insert—

"( ) No regulations with regard to exemption from any curriculum provision should enable material to be introduced which is extraneous to any subject, as normally understood."

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

In speaking to Amendments Nos. 35 and 36, I feel obliged to apologise to the Committee. I regard the two amendments as absolutely fundamental to the Bill and to our system of education. I regard it as absolutely absurd that we are debating such amendments at 10.15 p.m. The sooner we abandon the arcane procedures of your Lordships' House and adopt the suggestions which my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will put forward to us soon, so that on a Thursday we will stop at seven o'clock and on any other day we will stop at ten o'clock, the better. This House will become more efficient and will be able to deal with matters of this kind in a much more appropriate way.

Back-Benchers on this side of the House have no power in that regard. We must debate amendments when they arise and therefore I see no way in which I can avoid raising such matters. Furthermore, I regret to say that I can see no way of doing it briefly. So unless my noble friend who is the Whip on the Front Bench would care to move that we adjourn, I shall now proceed. I do not believe that he is going to adjourn the Committee.

Both of the amendments take us into the area of religious schools. They also take us into the area of the curriculum and they take us to fundamental questions which need answers. I have not yet heard those answers. What is the precise contribution that religious schools make to education—I shall concentrate on education rather than religion—that causes us to have them at all, to wish to expand their number and, if I may put it this way, to wish to extend them to additional religions? That is one question.

The second question, which is not unrelated to the first, is: what is the connection between what I would call the religious ethos of a school and the national curriculum? I assume we would agree that, in some cases, there is no connection. Young people are taught that the square root of two is an irrational number and I cannot see how postulating one or other religion or deity could throw any light on that question. Thus if we are discussing the serious mathematics being taught in school, then the problem does not arise. I assume that it would also not arise in theoretical physics and, in so far as my own subject is taught in schools, that it could not possibly arise in the teaching of economics.

However, the question is: where can it arise? At this point I would add: if it cannot arise anywhere, why do religious schools exist anyway? Those are the kinds of questions that are before us and on which we must reflect.

I turn now to the question of where religious ethos might arise. The obvious subject to start with is history. Before I move on to religion, I shall cite another example. Any noble Lord who has seen an American school history textbook will know that the account of the American Revolution or the War of Independence in that textbook will bear no resemblance to what I was taught at school. Anyone reading such a book would wonder at what an extraordinarily biased view of history the Americans are being taught. A fortiori, if one reads the chapter on the battle of Waterloo in a French history textbook, you have to be incredibly clever to discover that they lost and we won. Indeed, if you miss the last sentence, then you will not discover it at all.

I am perfectly well aware that in the subject of history then—what is the right word?—bias or point or view will have an impact. We should have no difficulty with that. Therefore, if I were in a Catholic school, it would not surprise me if the way in which the Reformation is taught had certain nuances which would be a little different from those I would encounter if I were in a Protestant school or if I were not in a religious school at all. Again, I should say that that does not remotely trouble me. What would trouble me would be if there were no such nuances. That is not what I am about.

Perhaps I may turn to areas where, again, I would not expect there to be any difference. In English literature, if the school play was "The Merchant of Venice", I would hope that the play would be dealt with in the same way in a Jewish school, in a Muslim school, in a Protestant school and in a school that was not religious at all. Equally, given his views on religion, if Shelley's poetry was being discussed in English literature classes, I would hope that no religious school would make any attempt to undermine the beauty of that poet's work by saying, "Well, it can't be very good because of his views". Again, I hope that that would not happen.

Then I have to ask, if such things would not happen, then where does the religious impact come from? That takes me on to what started me on the subject in the debate on Second Reading; namely, the fact that there appear to be people who not only believe in what is called Creationism, but who actually think that it would be appropriate to introduce it into schools in the relevant subject, biology. I did not know that such people still existed in our country. I found that impossible to believe. I know that there are some flat earthers around; but when I inquired as to whether there were some flat earthers in our schools, I was not able to find a single case of anyone teaching physics on a flat earth basis.

The question I come to is this. For anyone who knows anything about biology—unfortunately, too few do—matters such as evolution and natural selection are not only a part of biology but permeate the whole of it. If a teacher were to include in the curriculum matters of a creationist kind, that would be immensely damaging. More to the point, who is there to protect the children against such an event? In the Emmanuel school case, Ofsted was not there to protect anyone. Indeed, Ofsted did not seem to notice it and gave the relevant school a good assessment.

A similar question arises in one of the most fascinating topics in the history of science—that is, the age of the universe. An attempt was made to show on the basis of the Old Testament that the earth was 4,040 years old. Indeed, an attempt was made to date the exact day and time that the world was created. It shows the incredible ingenuity of the human mind that one can do that kind of work. I find it marvellous.

Occasionally I come across people who, in the face of the fact that the world is billions of years old and, on the basis of all that we know about physics—the world will come to an end unless all the theories of entropies, thermodynamics and so on are wrong—say, "There is no problem here. The whole of the previous history was invented at the same time as the world was created 4,040 years ago and somehow there will be a new creation in several million years' time".

But those are substantive questions. My concern is to ask what goes on in these schools and what it is that they do. The schools that I know about do not behave in such a way. No school that I have come across so far—except for the Emmanuel school case—would dream of allowing such matters into the sciences, the arts and so on.

My worry is twofold. First, can I believe that that will be the case in the future, especially with the great expansion of what appears to be acceptable or called a religion? Secondly, will not existing schools, if the danger arises, also feel that they can safely go in that direction? I have no difficulty with people who have faith which is separate from science—it is a classic problem in philosophy—but I am always puzzled by the fact that for a lot of people who have faith, faith does not seem to be enough. The history of theology and philosophy shows that, ultimately, believers want more. They are not content to say, "I have faith in the existence of a deity", or, "I have faith in that". Throughout history, there has been an urgent desire to prove things as well. For the great thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas, faith was not good enough; he needed a proof. I would argue that a proof is always impossible and you have to accept things as a matter of faith.

But these are side issues. The main issue is that the Government have said three things. First, they have said that they rather like religious schools; secondly, they have said that they would like to have more religious schools; and, thirdly, they have said that we have got to include more religions in the group that can have religious schools.

The reason I raise these matters, at twenty-five past ten at night, is to ask the simple question: how do we protect the national curriculum? How do we protect the great scientific traditions of our country and the great humanities traditions of our country from the encroachment of those who may not respect them and who would allow religious matters—which have their place—to cross over into these areas?

I repeat my point that I am not happy that I am raising these matters in an empty Chamber at a late hour. But, as this is when the amendments have come before the Committee, I have no choice. I have raised the matter, and I am interested to hear the response of one or two other Members of the Committee whom I hope I have persuaded to take part in the debate. I beg to move.

Photo of The Bishop of Blackburn The Bishop of Blackburn Bishop

I suspect that Members of the Committee expect me to make some contribution—although I must say that I had not interpreted the words of the amendment in the light in which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred to it. I had intended to speak of behalf of my former profession, RE teacher and specialist, and not on the generality of faith schools or on the Emmanuel school, which is no part of the Church of England's family of schools. I believe that the date the noble Lord was seeking is 4004 BC, which I believe Archbishop Ussher came up with in the 17th or 18th century.

I shall deal merely with the amendment and not with the larger questions raised. I do not believe it is appropriate to deal with those at this time of night, and I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord's comments about our procedures. No curriculum is value free when it is taught. When I was an RE specialist, I was always extremely worried about what the English masters were putting across by way of interpretation and values in regard to religious matters and the faith of others. That happens across the board.

The amendment as worded places a strict delimitation on religious education. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that it is probably too vague to be practical in the real world of schools. For example, would it prohibit the teaching of the poetry of George Herbert or John Milton within the English curriculum, since an element of religious education is necessary to understand those authors' works? Would it place a similar—

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

The answer to that sort of question is simply no. It would not prohibit such teaching.

Photo of The Bishop of Blackburn The Bishop of Blackburn Bishop

As worded, it could do so. One would be dealing with matters that are properly part of the RE curriculum in order to get the youngsters to understand the poetry. Again, it would almost rule out the teaching of the history of the Tudors because of the religious matters involved. One might ask how we deal with the Middle East today. As the amendment is worded, it gives rise to a series of issues that would lead to confusion and great difficulty.

I am trying to get my mind round this. I know that the amendment refers to the curriculum, which is published and agreed, and in the case of RE, through the SACRE, is carefully agreed by a series of groups of committees which come together to form that body. So it is probably more a matter of public participation in the creation of the curriculum in the generality of the community schools. As I understand it, the noble Lord is using the amendment as a peg for the general teaching that goes on.

It is said that hard cases make bad law. I wonder whether, by singling out the Emmanuel school in Gateshead, we are drifting into an area where, as the noble Lord admitted, we can think of no examples of schools in the maintained sector, or even within the generality of the independent sector, where these kinds of difficulties between science and religion occur. We need to be reminded that many scientists are people of faith and indeed practise their faiths across the great world religion. That is fact.

I hope that having raised this matter the noble Lord will wait until there is a greater engagement in the course of the Bill on the whole issue of faith schools and what they do or do not do.

As drafted, the amendment is unworkable and would do a great disservice to RE teachers and to others who deal with matters that raise ethical, moral, spiritual and religious issues in the general curriculum. On those grounds, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 10:30 pm, 2nd May 2002

I am puzzled by what appears to be almost an obsession on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about faith schools and his apparent fear of any extension of their numbers. He has made no secret of his disappointment in the present policy of welcoming and encouraging faith schools. The noble Lord is right that the amendment requires a great deal of debate, but, like the right reverend Prelate, I cannot get my mind round what he finds fundamentally disagreeable about the existence of faith schools. We shall deal later with the issue of whether we should have faith schools, so I shall leave my comments on that, but the noble Lord seems disturbed by the notion of faith schools and would apparently like them out of the system altogether.

The amendment would be almost impossible for teachers to comply with—not just RE teachers, but teachers generally. The impact of religion on art, culture, the lives of people and even on science, scientists and the ethics of science—I know that there is the whole Emmanuel issue to discuss—is so great that they are inextricably linked. That is why we have moved from religious instruction to religious education. This is all about religious education, not religious instruction. I am not offended by faith schools—in fact, I positively welcome them. We have always been very tolerant about these things in this country. We have a tradition of people who hold a strong faith but who positively prefer to go to a secular school, but we also have a tradition of people who hold a strong faith—or sometimes not such a strong faith—and who prefer the ethos of a school that supports a particular religion. I do not find that offensive. I find it all part of the rich pattern of education.

Like the right reverend Prelate, I find the amendments unworkable in an educational sense. They would do a disservice to teachers, but worse than that, it would be asking the impossible of teachers to accept what I believe is behind the amendments.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

I am a biologist and my subject is most affected by the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has raised. Like him, I abhor the teaching of creationism in a state-funded school, mainly because it is so far beyond what any credible scientist would accept as to be incompatible with providing a broadly based education based on the real facts and possibly preparing our children for a career in science.

However, just as the noble Lord has difficulty understanding what is meant in other parts of the Bill, I have difficulty understanding what he means by "extraneous". I am afraid that I feel that Amendment No. 35 is unworkable.

On Amendment No. 36, society today has to deal with many ethical issues. As a biology teacher, I have always felt the responsibility to try to prepare children to make those decisions when they become adults.

I feel that there is a need to prepare children to make moral decisions, not based on a particular faith, on biological matters. I therefore feel that it is not inappropriate to introduce those types of issues into the teaching of science in our schools, particularly given that there are so many issues which citizens who take the responsibility to take part in politics feel they must take upon themselves. We have to prepare our children for that. Therefore, on this occasion, I am afraid that I am not able to support the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in his amendment.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

I had guessed that the issue of Emmanuel might come up. Not knowing anything in particular about Emmanuel, I thought that I would find out what was going on so that it might inform the House. I have not a lot of expert knowledge. However, if creationism is defined, as I believe it often is, as a belief that,

"Earth History can be clearly dated to show that the world is younger than 10,000 years and . . . that the universe was made in six days, each made up of 24 hours", then, according to Emmanuel,

"The truth is that our Science Department teaches neither".

Furthermore,

"Within the assumption that 'creationism' is defined", as I have defined it,

"such 'creationism' is not and has never been taught within Emmanuel College".

I am told that the teachers,

"within the College's Science Department ... hold a wide variety of views regarding these issues, ranging from atheistic evolution giving rise to life from nothing to the concept which sees everything as having been created by an Intelligent Designer God from nothing", and innumerable views in between.

I made inquiries about the children who go to Emmanuel school. They correspond almost exactly with the normal ability range. In science, 87 per cent of them received A to C markings in GCSE, way above the national average. It is a faith school which is not a Church of England school. Being a technology college, it does not have a duty to teach the national curriculum, yet it does so in science. So perhaps there is more to be said about Emmanuel than is commonly thought. I was told that the matter is being pursued by Her Majesty's Inspectors and the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Perhaps we will see what they make of it.

I was puzzled by Amendments Nos. 35 and 36. If people are to be given greater freedom in the curriculum, new material will come in. I could not see precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, had in mind in being so concerned about new material, unless it was specifically religious material. I do not think that it is part of the Government's thinking deliberately to make space for more religious teaching. However, RE is one of the subjects in the national curriculum examined at GCSE. Very many schools do the RE short course, which is the legitimate curriculum subject. It may be that, if there were more space in the curriculum, some schools would choose to do the full RE GCSE.

Religion is part of the reality of the world. We cannot wish it away. It is there around all of us. It is central to very many people's lives. It influences the way we live and what happens in our streets and our homes. We cannot say, "You must pretend there is not such a thing".

So I turn to the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. If one is teaching history after 1530 right through the Stuarts and even beyond, one cannot make sense of it without addressing the religious controversies of the day. People burned at the stake for them. Kingdoms were at risk for them. In human geography, one cannot avoid looking at the religious composition of the world. As the right reverend Prelate said, the point arises in teaching English literature. We would have to give kids some help to understand, for example, Manley Hopkins' poetry, which is so complex that his friend the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, could not understand it.

Religion is so much concerned with the way to live and about moral and ethical issues. They pervade art and literature. You cannot say that because religion considers those moral and ethical issues we cannot discuss moral and ethical issues in the context of other subjects. While I understand that within his framework of reference the noble Lord is concerned about freeing up the curriculum and providing opportunities as regards extraneous religious material, I do not think that that is part of anyone's thinking. If his thinking is that it is wrong in understanding life to take into account the religious dimension, he is not giving people a full education.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

Although I come from the same side of the street as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in being one of the irreligious, I do not think that he is going in the right direction with these amendments. I do not know of a serious faith which does not involve believing something that looks from my point of view totally ridiculous. It seems to be a characteristic of all faiths. Although creationism is particularly banana-brained in that it implies a God who has lied in every living thing and in the air, water and rocks beneath us and only told the truth in a book—which I find a pretty strange God—I do not think that this is something we should worry about too much. If it affected the way the curriculum was taught and the way a school was being properly conducted, it would be the kind of thing which Ofsted ought to pick up. If Ofsted thinks that something is going wrong in that regard, that ought to be taken seriously. However, I believe that we are well enough guarded by Ofsted which may have missed this point once but has now been put on guard against these things. It is a matter it will have to watch if we expand the range of religions which have schools and it is something we shall have to watch generally. However, I think that that is sufficient.

In particular, I do not think that we should go down the roads proposed by the amendments. I am enormously in favour of broadening out curriculum subjects, of merging them or doing things in different ways and not teaching in little compartments which so restrict us and do not allow the discussion of history in the context of science or science in the context of history, as if the two were separate things at such a basic level as GCSE. I should like to see much fuzzier boundaries between subjects, if one could find a way of introducing them and teaching effectively. If you have a religious school—there are many religious people who want religious schools and I have no objection at all to them having them—everything in that school will be permeated by the religion concerned. I cannot think of a single subject which would not be touched by a religion, even one that is as familiar to me as Catholicism. Certainly, what is true for that surely must be true for most religions. I do not think that you can separate out religious feeling from other subjects. You can do so possibly as regards mathematics but not as regards any other subject.

I do not think that the noble Lord can claim that economics is safe from religion. I regard Marxism as a religion and that has exerted plenty of influence on economics. I do not think that we should seek to draw these boundaries or seek to exclude religion or philosophy from application to any subject where they have a bearing.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

Would my noble friend care to comment on the fact that the individual pupil will also bring something to the teaching that he receives? It is very possible, say, with history, to take a purely religious line almost throughout. Similarly, the pupil can bring his own ethics, morals and home background to bear through his religion on all the other subjects that we have talked about.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 10:45 pm, 2nd May 2002

I entirely agree. Most of us develop a healthy scepticism for the philosophic element of what we are taught in school and we accumulate our own philosophies from a variety of sources. I have left behind many of the things that my teachers would have liked to inculcate into me, and I imagine that many other Members of the Committee have done so, too.

This is a serious subject but I do not believe that the amendments are the right way to approach it. I hope that we shall later return to the question of the way in which religion in schools should relate to the state. To say that religion should not be part of the curriculum or permeate all subjects is to misunderstand what we are as human beings, which is essentially philosophic beings who bring our beliefs into every aspect of what we do and study.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I am beginning to feel rather sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but I am not going to provide him with any succour by saying that I agree with him.

The amendments are unworkable and I fundamentally do not agree with their approach. I could not understand Amendment No. 35 when I read it; I just put two exclamation marks beside it and waited to see what he said. Perhaps we should try following the logic of his proposal. The theories of Keynes would have been regarded as heresy and would never have been taught because they would have been regarded as being extraneous to the economics curriculum by many economists in the 1930s. The teachings of many people at any moment in time—Galileo and Darwin are two examples—were regarded as being totally heretical to the mainstream school of thought at that time. Knowledge progresses, as we know perfectly well, by debating such matters.

I have no sympathy with the proposal. Amendment No. 35 is totally illiberal. On Amendment No. 36, I agree with all those who said that our whole culture is infiltrated to a very great degree. One cannot put these matters into little boxes. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, in teaching biology one has to approach and discuss various points of ethics. That is true of many other areas. I am sorry but I simply do not agree with the amendments.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

It is my misfortune this evening to have been involved, first, with a small technical series of amendments, in relation to which I ran into untold trouble, and now with the most fundamental debate that could ever take place in the House on education. I have arrived equipped with a contribution that would last for an hour and a half but, in deference to the lateness of the hour, to which my noble friend has drawn attention, I will truncate it to three or four minutes.

I was unable to respond to my noble friend's earlier plea that his debate should be arranged for a more convenient time because, first, an arrangement had been arrived at through the usual channels before he stood up. I am the last person, as I am sure he will agree, to break agreements between the usual channels.

Secondly, my noble friend will recall that it was Hegel who said that the owl of Minerva takes flight at night. If we are going to have a philosophical and religious debate, we should have it quite late in the evening. Unfortunately, we cannot go beyond 11 p.m. so we shall have a rather more truncated debate than he might like.

A third factor, to which Members of the Committee have referred, is involved; that is, that this debate is taking place within the framework of this piece of legislation and has been raised through amendments to the legislation. I am afraid that my noble friend is bound by the rules of the game. As and when those amendments come up, that is when they will be debated.

It is also the case that, although many of us would like to indulge in substantial debate on the depth of these issues, on which he made a most eloquent plea, we are concerned with what the amendments would do to the Bill. I am bound therefore to restrict my remarks somewhat to the technicalities in that regard. However, I do so gladly and against the background that there have been outstanding contributions from all Members of the Committee who have spoken in this debate. I know that the noble Lord is in a minority but he put his case with the greatest eloquence. That is why he provoked everyone to respond to him. I have strained to match his eloquence and believe that in every case I have succeeded in doing so and have answered many of the issues that he raised.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, for defining the Emmanuel position. I have substantial information on that, but the noble Lord indicated that the college teaches science in a manner and to a level which is acceptable to Ofsted, to inspectors and to the examination board which examines the students. Therefore, I believe that he can rest assured on that point.

With regard to the more general issue of how prescriptive we could be about particular subjects, I believe that everyone who has spoken in the debate—in particular, the right reverend Prelate—has identified how difficult that matter is. There is no doubt about it; it is not only a question that certain themes embrace more than one academic subject but that we are only too happy to see certain academic subjects broadened out and taken in conjunction with other issues. To take the most obvious example, citizenship has recently been introduced into the curriculum. We should certainly never be able to discuss citizenship unless we did so in the context of religion as well; otherwise, how would we spread the concept of understanding other faiths and reach the degree of tolerance that we should like to see developed in our society, which is a crucial part of citizenship?

Likewise, as Members on all sides of the Committee have indicated, there are a number of ways in which subjects interlink and inform each other so as to produce genuine education and enlightenment for students. Therefore, in those terms, I believe that we have had a most useful theoretical debate. My only comment to my noble friend is that he is a skilled parliamentarian. He knows that there are other ways in which these issues can be debated at great length, even in the afternoon. It is for him to employ that strategy if he so wishes.

However, this evening we are discussing his amendments. In addition to the reservations that have been expressed about the amendments on all sides of the Chamber, perhaps I may make the most obvious point. If the amendments were carried, we should be placing on schools which had received earned autonomy a restriction greater than that placed on all other schools. I am sure that my noble friend does not intend that. I believe that he is seeking to air the issue, and he does so within this framework. But the logic of the amendment would be that schools which reached the position of earned autonomy would find themselves at a level of restriction which they would not be under if they had not earned that autonomy. Surely that would be a great contradiction in terms.

I recognise the value of my noble friend's contribution this evening. I believe that we have all enjoyed the debate. I know that I am being dreadfully short in this all-too-truncated reply, but perhaps I may assure him that I have used one-eighth of the notes that I have available. There may be another occasion on which he can explore these matters, and I am sure that he will take full advantage of that. However, this evening I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

I thank my noble friend for his reply. Obviously I am losing my talent as a teacher. I believed that I was debating the subject of religious schools; I was not debating religion. If noble Lords want to hear me on the subject of religion, they will really hear something.

I must also say, very acerbically, that I have heard some nonsense in my time, but some of the ideas that I have heard this evening beat everything—for example, the notion that religion permeates economics. I hope that if my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, were asked, "If the supply curve is upward-sloping and the demand curve shifts to the right", she would not say that that was an ethical question, or at least I hope that she would not expect to receive any marks for that. I hope that she would not say that it was a religious question, but simply answer, "As price goes up, quantity goes up".

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I say to the noble Lord that I do not believe that I said that religion permeates economics in any sense.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

Not so much religion, but philosophy should. I believe that one of the great faults with mainstream economics has been how little it takes account of how we act as people and of feelings and emotions.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

There really is a limit to how much teaching I can do this evening. I can only say that that reply scores nought out of 10 on any analysis of the subject. I did learn from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I would be absolutely horrified if biology is taught not as a science, but as including an ethical element. I have no difficulty with ethics in teaching, but if I am teaching biology or its equivalent, I teach biology. I would certainly say that there are ethical dimensions related to it. As regards economics, I have no difficulty about it, but not when I am teaching the subject, which is the point.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

I believe that the noble Lord has picked up my meaning exactly, which was to make sure that students knew the context of the discussions within society as a whole in which they were learning certain facts, which then would enable them to make decisions.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

I agree with that entirely. I do not want to prolong this discussion. My noble friend will be well aware of the tricks that I shall be up to at Report stage to make sure that I get a full debate at the proper time. I am simply asking the question that if we have religious schools, what do they do which is so special? Does religion work through the curriculum and work to its detriment? If religion does not work through the curriculum, I do not know what religious schools do. That is my point. I shall return to that in due course.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that I should have thought that religion comes into an enormous number of subjects. I cannot imagine how one can teach history without talking about religion because it is part of the subject. Earlier I enthusiastically said that we must have an acquaintance with the Bible if only because without it one cannot understand English literature at all. But that is not remotely what my amendment concerns. I am trying to deal with religious schools and what it is that everyone is so keen on. I am also uttering a word of warning. I believe that moving along these paths will be bad for our country.

I ask my noble friend that if "the usual channels" do deals, could they possibly let the rest of us know what they are? It might well help us in how to proceed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Before the noble Lord sits down, would he not give some credit for the fact that formal education in this country was introduced by the Churches? It was they who brought young people together to be educated and formal education grew out of that provision.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

That is not quite right. The Churches played an enormously important role in educating the poor. I said at Second Reading that no one could ever be other than supportive of the great contribution the Church of England made to education, particularly to the education of the poor. But there have always been educational establishments that were not religious. I would not remotely want to undermine the role of the Church. But I again emphasise that I do not see what that has to do with policy making today. I hope that we shall have a good chance to return to that. I am still trying to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 38 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at one minute to eleven o'clock.