My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
moved Amendment No. 46:
Page 14, line 25, after "government" insert "including members representing—
(i) parents at each school,
(ii) teachers at each school, and
(iii) such other categories as may be appropriate, given the religious or other character of each school within the federation"
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by putting a technical question to the Minister. If I ask it at the start of our debates, that will allow more time for an answer to be sought. Would a school that was a company under the companies proposals in the Bill, or a school that had formed part of a company, be allowed to join a federation of schools where the others in the federation were not part of that company or companies? Would the governing body of the federation become the new shareholder of the company; and would those governors who were the governors of the federation have to assume all the responsibilities of being company directors?
As has been stated in previous debates, schools may collaborate, co-ordinate, even confederate. It is agreed that there is much that they can do together. All the advantages mentioned by the Minister when arguing in support of these clauses can be achieved without formal federation under a single governing body.
The sovereignty of each school is affected by these proposals. There are bound to be occasions when a single governing body will take a decision which it deems to be in the interest of the group of schools that it represents, but it may not seem quite like that to an individual school in the group. Therefore, a confederate arrangement whereby schools retain their sovereignty through their own governing body, representing their own parents, staff and community, would allow for greater flexibility.
There is nothing to stop schools coming together in an alliance with one or more schools to achieve a more educationally effective or even a more economically effective service. They could designate governors and/or staff to form joint committees for particular projects. To use the European Union jargon, the pertinent phrase here is "variable geometry".
To have a single governing body for all purposes really is turning the clock back. We all remember the bad old days when one governing body represented large numbers of schools. We certainly do not wish to return to that situation. It is only a matter of months since the Government themselves argued that a school should have a governing body.
A school that over time became unhappy about the single governing body proposed in the Bill would have to go through a process to leave the federation. Under confederation there would be far more freedom and schools would retain autonomy where it mattered to them and—here is the great bonus—they would not need yet more regulations dealing with dissolution, continuity arrangements when a school joins or leaves the group, transitional arrangements, the transfer of property, rights and liabilities procedures and—the sting in the tail as always—any other matter considered appropriate by the Secretary of State.
Amendment No. 46 has been tabled in the event that we are unsuccessful in securing support for taking Clause 23 out of the Bill, or in the event of Amendment No. 49 not proving successful. If a school relinquishes its governing body in order to pool governance under a single governing body for a group of schools, it is important that parents and staff of the school should be represented. If a school has a distinct character, for example a faith school and/or a specialist school—I include here a special educational needs school—that dimension should also be represented on the federal governing body.
Once again we are attempting to secure the same aims and objectives as the Government. However, we believe that the proposals as set out in the Bill are more, not less, inhibiting. I believe that my amendments, and Amendment No. 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, offer greater flexibility and greater protection for schools and their interests. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 47, which is included in the group of amendments that we are discussing and which deals with a rather specific point within the purport of this group of amendments.
I believe that some of my noble friends thought that I went rather over the top in Committee as regards my support for the federation of schools. I continue to be an enthusiastic supporter, as does the Board of Education of the Church of England, of which I am the chair. We see our role as one of encouraging schools to see the advantages of federation in terms of improving the quality of the educational experience of pupils and reducing the workload of teachers and governing bodies, not least in parts of the country where it is difficult on occasion to find and to attract suitably qualified people to act as governors.
But that said, we see the federation of schools as contributing substantially to the promotion of social inclusion—a matter which has occupied your Lordships' House on a number of occasions. It is possible that, within diverse communities, a Muslim school for example might be encouraged to join a federation with an Anglican school and two or three local community schools. That would be a good example of community coherence and I imagine that the Government would want to support wholeheartedly such developments. That is all the more reason why federations of schools should allow the ethos of each individual school to remain intact. As I understand it, that is part of the purpose of Amendment No. 46 of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Religious and diocesan authorities will have that concern particularly in mind. I understand from my helpful meeting with the Minister since the Committee stage that the Government share that intention.
Since these matters were debated in Committee, I have had helpful discussions with the Minister and her officials which have helped to allay some of our concerns, but, I have to say, not all of them—hence the tabling of Amendment No. 47 this afternoon. Our concern continues that only voluntary-aided schools seem to have been considered and nothing has been said about voluntary-controlled schools whose individual religious characters are important to the Church of England and not least to our rural parishes where a large number of those controlled schools are to be found and are seen as playing a great part in those local communities to the satisfaction of both the Church and the local community.
Arrangements have been identified with regard to staffing individual schools that make provision for the appointment of a head but not for a proportion of the other staff where joint staff appointments are to be made. That is a matter of continuing concern to us. I refer to an appeal where there is disagreement over an instrument which, of course, is made to the Secretary of State, but there is no indication so far as we can discover of the principles on which the Secretary of State might decide such a case.
I refer to an exit strategy that leaves the final decision with the governing body of the federated schools without any process of appeal at all as far as we can see. Therefore, until those matters are resolved, it is necessary to press for an absolute veto for diocesan authorities and, in the case of Muslim, Jewish, Sikh or other religious schools that might be encouraged into federations, for those who appoint the foundation governors to have such a veto. The existence of such a veto in law is not something I would prefer but it might encourage more religious authorities and their schools to explore the possibility of federation—to which I am anxious to lend full support—with all the advantages that I have outlined. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will hear this continuing concern and will be able to help me a little further when she replies to the amendments.
"Where any schools are federated by virtue of this section, they shall—
(a) have a single governing body constituted under a single instrument of government".
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned, in the 1960s and the early 1970s there were groups of schools under large single managing boards, as they were called in those days. Those were bad old days. It has been extraordinarily good for schools to develop their own individual governing boards and to use them as a means of linking into the community.
We have been somewhat reassured in our discussions with the Minister, partly because in those discussions it became clear that it is entirely up to each individual board to decide whether or not to go forward with the matter. We are aware that on occasion boards of school governors can be under the influence of heads and heads may want to adopt this measure rather more than others do. However, the decision would be taken by the governing board. Some infant and junior schools share the same school campus and it might be a good idea for them to have a single board. However, we were worried about groups of schools coming together, and being encouraged to come together, as clusters, but actually being forced under one governing board. It is for that reason that we put forward Amendment No. 49 which concerns confederation.
Provided that we reach agreement on the concept of confederations, we on these Benches are at the moment prepared to go along with the notion of federations. I am not on this occasion speaking strongly against federations.
My Lords, I shared the fears of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about federations, but in general my fears on that subject have been allayed, as I think that she said that hers have been. I should like to address my remarks to Amendment No. 47 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I shall not weary your Lordships with my views on religious schools. But given that we are going to have such schools—it is clear that my view is a minority view—it seems to me that the right reverend Prelate is entirely right in raising the matter that he raises. I have no idea what my noble friend the Minister will say, but I hope that she will respond positively to his request.
My only concern—I should be interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate says on this—is that I would have been slightly happier if his amendment had included, on the question of consent, an additional subsection saying that such consent should not be unreasonably withheld. Other than that, it seems to me that if we are to have such schools, exactly what the right reverend Prelate says is right. I would be most unhappy if the position remained that everyone involved with the school was in favour but, for example, the diocesan authority, on perhaps doctrinaire grounds—I hate to use that expression—simply said "No". Subject to "not unreasonably withheld", therefore, it seems to me that the right reverend Prelate is entirely right, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister can to some extent respond positively to his desires.
My Lords, having spoken on this clause on an earlier occasions, I understand the point made by the right reverend Prelate. He did not particularly emphasise the delicate position of those half of the Church of England schools that are voluntarily controlled, in which what I might call the foundation governors are a very small minority of the total. I understand why the right reverend Prelate has raised the point, but I am glad that he has raised it on behalf of all faiths. I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston.
I had anxieties at the earlier stage that the concept of federation left an only one governing body solution. I very much welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley, on confederation. It seems to me to be a very sensible and fruitful way forward in many areas—for example, in solving the problem that may arise in sixth forms, or to maintain the individual schools, yet come together for particular purposes. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would anticipate the debate on Amendment No. 49.
My Lords, I hope that it will be convenient for me to address these amendments by first giving a brief explanation of how we see federated schools under a single governing body fitting into the wider picture—a point to which noble Lords have already partly alluded.
Our starting point is that federations should enable schools to work strategically together to promote greater collaboration for the purposes of improving standards. However, federation under a single governing body is not the only option. As noble Lords have said, there are already many ways in which schools can collaborate. Under the Bill, we propose to add to that range of options, but it will be for individual schools to decide how and in what form they want to collaborate. How schools decide to do that will greatly depend on what they wish to achieve, how closely they wish to work together, and the level of trust that the partner schools have in each other, particularly when they are considering federating under a single governing body.
At one end of the spectrum we have, for example, informal working and the development of joint curriculum initiatives that are already in place. Of course, such arrangements rely on professional staff coming together. Those arrangements work because people are committed to making them work. In Clause 29 of the Bill, we make provision for governing bodies to come together formally to take joint decisions, either through joint meetings of whole governing bodies or by setting up joint committees with delegated powers. That would allow governors to be involved in taking strategic decisions of mutual benefit to those schools and their pupils.
The amendment to consider confederation of schools, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will be debated later today. I look forward to that debate. It seems to me that many schools may be inclined to consider the option of coming forward together in a formal way, while at the same time retaining their own individual governing bodies. I do not want to over-anticipate the debate. However, for the purposes of demonstrating the range of options, we want that spectrum of collaboration to provide a confederation option, with each school retaining its governing body, while ceding functions to an over-arching strategic board. That is an option to which I am very attracted.
Clauses 23 and 24 allow for two or more schools formally to federate. For some schools, federation may be a step too far to contemplate, certainly initially. Some schools may want to put a toe in the water and first try a joint committee approach to see how working relationships develop. For those schools that want to slide gently in from the shallow side, a confederation arrangement may provide a useful half-way option on their way to deciding whether that is the route for them.
None of those arrangements needs to be written in tablets of stone for any school. A decision now to take one course does not pre-empt any school moving on at a later date, and no school will be forced to do anything that it does not want to do. Schools may want to move across the spectrum as relationships develop. The various options within this collaboration continuum will allow them to do that.
I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, argued strongly against the degrouping of schools when the School Standards and Framework Act was debated in 1998. Now that I have set the question of federation in a broader context, I hope that the noble Baroness may see the merit in making that option available to some schools.
I turn specifically to Amendment No. 46. The noble Baroness asked me whether a school forming a company would be allowed to join a federation. The answer is that it would. She also asked whether the governing body of the federation would be the company shareholder. The answer is that it would. Of course, those matters will be subject to all the discussion and debate that schools will have before taking that option.
I want to reiterate again that governing bodies of federations will be required broadly to comply with the stakeholder principles recommended by the Way Forward Group, which, under Clause 18 of the Bill, will be set out in regulations. We believe that it is vital to ensure that a fair balance of interests between the key stakeholders—parents, staff, local education authorities, community, foundation and partnership governors—is secured.
I turn to specific stakeholder groups. In relation to parent governors, we intend to regulate that at least one parent representative from each school within a federation will sit on the governing body of the federation. I understand how important it is that is that schools within a federation remain accountable to the parents of the pupils in each school.
With regard to staff, we do not think that it would be sensible to require each school within a federation to have staff representation on the governing body. One of the goals for federation is to allow strategic collaboration to enhance the joint working that already takes place. We are aware that in many cases schools are already sharing resources, such as staff and facilities. Largely because of that possibility of schools sharing staff, we believe that it should be left to the governing bodies of the schools involved to propose the appropriate staff representation from each school on the governing body of the federation.
With regard to the other stakeholder groups, I again reassure noble Lords that, whatever the combination of schools involved in the federation, each stakeholder group particular to the category of any one school proposing to federate will be represented on the governing body. That means that within a federation including voluntary or foundation schools there will always be a foundation or partnership governor.
I turn to Amendment No. 47. As the right reverend Prelate is aware, the effect of the amendment would be to give the diocesan authority and foundation interests the power of veto over whether certain kinds of school can decide to federate. I believe that my position is consistent, if not to the liking of the right reverend Prelate. The governing body of a school is in the best position to take a balanced decision on whether a federation is in the best interests of its school. However, in the hope of answering some of his queries, I should like to give the right reverend Prelate some detail of the work behind this, and I do so in the spirit of having said on Monday that my door is always open and that there is always room for further consideration.
As part of the decision-making process on whether or not to federate, the governing body will have to consult all interested parties, including parents, staff, community and local education authority interests. Importantly, of course, it will also include trustees, diocesan interests and foundation interests, each of which will be treated as separate entities in the consultation process. I can reassure your Lordships that I fully appreciate the importance of that consultation process. That is why we shall be setting out clear procedures for governing bodies to follow, to ensure that the consultation process is consistent, thorough and fair to each interested party.
Let me assure the House that we shall not remove any rights currently enjoyed by bodies in relation to agreeing the instrument of government. In respect of maintained schools that have foundation governors, the governing body and the education authority of a school are currently required to agree the instrument of government, as well as any alterations to it, with the foundations interests, including those who appoint foundation governors, trustees and, of course, the diocesan authority.
We shall regulate so that that requirement will also apply for the instrument of government to be developed for schools with foundation governors that are federated under a single governing body. If any of the parties I have mentioned, including the diocesan authority, disagree with the instrument of government, or any alterations to it, for a school within a federation involving foundation governors, the particular case will be referred to the Secretary of State. My right honourable friend, having taken representations from the relevant parties, will then arbitrate and come to a final decision. That is exactly the same process that currently successfully applies to any maintained school with foundation governors. It will ensure that the dioceses have the protection of arbitration by the Secretary of State if they disagree with the proposal to federate.
The Secretary of State would need to use her arbitration powers to consider the arguments put forward by the relevant parties on a case-by-case basis. In considering each dispute, she would take into account the differing views. She would weigh any concerns expressed, for example, about the number of governors and the balance of stakeholder interests against any relevant provisions in regulations and associated guidance. Of course, we intend to consult widely on the content of the provisions before they come into effect.
Any of the stakeholder groups, including diocesan boards and trustee interests, will be able to petition a governing body to request that a school leaves the federation. I appreciate that the case may arise where parents and teachers at a school with a religious character feel that it is in the best interests of the school to have its own governing body again, whereas the diocesan board may take a different view. However, as with the proposals to join a federation, the decision to exit should also be taken by the governing body. The whole purpose of federations is to promote collaboration and partnership. It will not benefit pupils if schools are held unwillingly against the wishes of staff and parents.
I understand that many of the concerns highlighted by the right reverend Prelate are related to the fact that we cannot guarantee a foundation majority on the governing body of a mixed-category federation involving voluntary-aided schools and the consequent fear that the religious character of schools in such a federation will be diminished. I repeat my assurance that federation cannot be used in any way to alter the religious character and structural arrangements of a school.
I want to give a practical example of how we shall ensure that the governing body of a mixed-category federation achieves that. We appreciate that, in particular, the appointment of the head teacher may be vital in maintaining the character of a voluntary-aided school. Therefore, we have agreed that if the governing body of a mixed-category federation involving voluntary-aided schools wishes to appoint a common head teacher, the voluntary-aided foundation governor representatives who sit on the federation's governing body will have the right to veto the appointment of the head to their school if they believe that such an appointment would be detrimental to maintaining the religious character of the school.
We are also aware of the issue of reserved teachers in schools with a religious character. If any of those schools opted to share staff within a mixed-category federation with schools of other categories, we would make provision to ensure that, if they wished to appoint reserved teachers, they could continue to do so in accordance with Section 58(5) of the 1998 Act in exactly the same way as individual voluntary-controlled and foundation schools with a religious character are able to do now.
Perhaps I may briefly mention another safeguard which we shall put in place in relation to shared staffing. If schools decide to share staff ahead of federating, then we shall require that to be included in the federation proposals which each school's governing body develops and consults on and which, subsequent to this comprehensive consultation, it is required to accept or reject. If at a later date it is proposed by the federation governing body that schools should share staff after federation occurs, then we shall allow the foundation representatives of voluntary-aided schools to exercise a veto which would exclude their schools from such arrangements if they considered that the sharing of staff would be detrimental to preserving the religious character of their schools.
We shall, of course, discuss with the Churches how a similar arrangement could be written in to allow for the preservation of reserved teachers in a controlled or foundation school with a religious character. In any case, the governing body of a federation will be under a duty to preserve the religious ethos of any school with a religious character.
I hope that that bears testimony to our commitment to ensuring that federations do not diminish the religious ethos of individual schools which choose to become involved in such arrangements. As I hope the right reverend Prelate knows, I am available to him to discuss this matter.
I turn finally to Amendment No. 48. Effectively, this amendment means that schools would not be able to federate. We believe that that would undermine what we see as an important part of the scope for those who wish to collaborate. Federation would allow them to take strategic decisions to improve educational standards across the board by coming together under a single governing body. I believe that federations could yield real benefits and advantages.
I hope that, in speaking to these amendments, I have reassured noble Lords that we have put in place solid safeguards to ensure that each school within a federation retains its own character and structure and remains accountable as an individual school. I do not deny that federations will involve some compromises, particularly where mixed-category federations are involved. However, I firmly believe that the potential for the outcome of improved educational standards through strategic collaboration is a worthwhile objective that should be open to all maintained schools, regardless of their category.
Federation is voluntary. It is for the governing body of each school to decide whether it wishes to federate. No element of compulsion is involved. I ask that we trust schools to decide for themselves whether the improvements that could be gained through federation justify the compromises that may have to be made.
Perhaps I may sum up by placing federations in context. They offer schools one, but by no means the only, model for strategic collaboration. In the light of that, I believe that the option of federation should be open to schools. However, for schools that do not wish to give up their existing governing bodies, federation is not the answer. I hope that with the explanation and assurances that I have provided, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, first, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the very detailed reply that she has given both to me and to the right reverend Prelate. Before I respond to what she said, perhaps I may ask two questions because I believe that in the course of that very long answer I missed the relevant points. First, did the noble Baroness say that the parents, but not necessarily the staff, of every single school will be represented on the federal governing body; that is, that each school will not necessarily have a staff representative? Secondly, does the federal governing body become the employer of all staff, including those of a faith school?
My Lords, the answer to the first question is, as the noble Baroness said, that there will be a parent representative from each school. With regard to staff, we know that some schools already share staffing. Therefore, it will be for them to decide how they organise their staff representation, and there will not be a requirement for a representative to be available from each school.
The employment of staff would take place as if the governing bodies had come together, and responsibility for employment would rest with the LEA or the school, as appropriate. Therefore, the one governing body would act on behalf of what had been the individual governing bodies. That would be the position.
My Lords, I shall have to read the answer to that question in Hansard. My understanding is that the employer of staff at a faith school is the governing body and not the local education authority. Where the local education authority is the employer of all the other schools, I can see that continuing; it would not change as a result of federation. However, the single-faith school within that organisation would have different employers. Therefore, the sharing of staff, to which the noble Baroness has just referred, would have some legal and constitutional interests that have not been properly addressed.
Ultimately, what makes for good education is the quality of the teacher in the classroom teaching the children. That is what affects the teaching and the learning. They will not be affected by endless committees and collaborations, with people coming together on joint committees. Ultimately, what matters is that, if it does not add value to the quality of the teaching and learning in the classroom, then it will be to no avail.
In previous debates, I have referred to the fact that I have first-hand experience of federations. We federated quite a long time ago, particularly in rural areas where the schools were very small. We believed that the pain of closing schools could be alleviated by bringing them together in a federation, and, indeed, staff-sharing took place. But we were defeated by our own good idea. We were defeated because, in the end, the logistics of sharing staff and of either moving children to meet staff or staff to meet children became so debilitating and time-consuming and so interfered with the curriculum that the arrangement was counter-productive. In the end, sadly, that federal idea was changed.
Some of the noble Baroness's answers were very well intentioned. I understood, in particular, her response to some of the points raised by the right reverend Prelate concerning what would occur if this happened and what would occur if the other happened. The noble Baroness's constant response was, "We shall make sure in regulations that they will not be able to do this or that". Therefore, we are already creating a federation which will come together to act jointly in several respects. Then, suddenly, caveats are made stating that they are free to do this but that they cannot do that, and that they are free to do something else but they cannot do the other. I can see that a very complicated set of guidelines and guidance will be issued to schools and that regulations will come before Parliament so that the noble Baroness is able to put some flesh on the bones of the pledges made during the course of the response today.
Much of that said by the Minister is not in the Bill and is not even among the subjects that will be covered by regulations. We shall have nothing to fall back on other than the Pepper v. Hart system: "It was stated in Hansard". We will have to wait until some time in the future, to make sure that it happens. There is no legal requirement for some of the safeguards to be in the Bill. We have only the Minister's word for it—which I do not doubt for a minute. However, the noble Baroness will move on, as will her colleague in another place, and upwards. Good people do not stay in office for ever. We must legislate in such a way that protection is provided for the children, staff and parents—not for Ministers, councillors or third parties.
There is so much that schools can do now, collaboratively and collectively. The Minister says that the main aim is to enable schools to work strategically together. They can do that and engage in joint curriculum initiatives, and governing bodies can come together, now. No legislation is needed for that.
The Minister also says that there is no need for everything to be written on tablets of stone. My argument is that the federation proposed in the Bill is a tablet of stone. Once entered into, the only way to disengage will be by a legal process that a school may find quite daunting. There is a good possibility that tension will arise.
A great deal of funding does not come through core funding, which is much under threat, but from the department—with individual schools having to bid through their governing bodies. It is conceivable that a governing body would take the view that some funds need bidding for in respect of certain schools but not necessarily all. When the governing body has to determine priorities, it may be that some schools within the federation will be preferred and win while others will not be preferred and will lose. A school may feel aggrieved but there will be no one to represent it. The body that is taking decisions in the name of the school will be the federal governing body.
I am more in tune with the notion of a confederation, which offers all the benefits of a federation with flexibility. Where a school wants to use its own sovereign power, it could do that through its own governing body.
The Minister referred to dispute resolution procedures. Because the Bill is so binding, there must be such procedures. A school that feels aggrieved but does not wish to dislocate from the federation will nevertheless want the problem resolved.
I am grateful for the Minister's answer that the federation's governing body will subsume or assume the responsibilities of being the company's shareholder. Under company law, not DfES law, would that count as a takeover or as a sale—with the single governing body of the one school selling it on to the federal governing body of a group of schools? There needs to be some procedure whereby a company can be owned by a completely new set of people. It is not only likely but highly probable that all the governors of a school that is a company or part of a company will not become governors of the federal body.
Where a company has been formed with two or three other schools, as the new arrangement kicks in there will be a federal arrangement comprising five schools plus the company. Will it be responsible only for that company as part of the company or will it become a much larger company of five plus three schools? Culpability, liability and all the other responsibilities of being a company come into play.
I do not know what to do at this moment because I need answers to some of my questions.
I like to think that there is support in all parts of the House for Amendment No. 46. The Minister says that the parents associated with each school will be represented on the new governing body. That safeguard is not in the Bill; it should be. I believe that teachers should be represented on the governing body. If teachers at four out of the five schools were represented, teachers at the fifth school would on some occasions feel disfranchised because the school's entire staff would not be represented on the governing body. It will be the governors who decide.
I am grateful to the Minister for saying that the principle in the proposed subsection (3)(a)(iii) would be met, so that a special needs or faith school would be represented. That too is not in the Bill. From what I have heard from the right reverend Prelate, from colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches and other noble Lords who have spoken at other stages of the Bill, I believe that to have these measures on the face of the Bill would be popular. By pressing Amendment No. 46, I am saying that the Government have agreed that parents and other specialist categories will be represented and I am adding to that the staff of each school. I seek to test the opinion of the House.
had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 47.
Page 14, line 30, at end insert—
"( ) A school that is a Church of England school, a Church in Wales school or a Roman Catholic Church school shall not be federated without the consent of the appropriate diocesan authority, and where a federation referred to in subsection (1) includes such a school, the instrument of government for the federation shall not be changed without the consent of the appropriate diocesan authority.
( ) In the case of a foundation school, a foundation special school or a voluntary school which has a religious character but is not a Church of England school, a Church in Wales school or a Roman Catholic Church school, the school shall not be federated without the consent of the persons who appoint the foundation governors of the school, and where a federation referred to in subsection (1) includes such a school, the instrument of government for the federation shall not be changed without the consent of those persons."
My Lords, with apologies to the House, I had intended to move Amendment No. 47. In many ways this amendment is quite different from that tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for what I believe was a helpful suggestion. If we were to return to the matter at Third Reading I would certainly consider that. I wish that I had thought of it myself. However, I do not believe that I shall return to the matter at Third Reading because I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her detailed reply that she has put on the record about the various and many questions that I raised in regard to voluntary schools, and in particular to Church schools if they were to go into federation. I found that most helpful because she also included matters such as reserve teachers whom I had not specifically mentioned, but they were at the back of my mind. I am enormously grateful for that.
We shall want to read carefully that reply, but my feeling is that we have now achieved what we wanted to achieve with regard to federation. Therefore I shall not move the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 49:
After Clause 24, insert the following new clause—
"CONFEDERATION OF SCHOOLS
(1) Where the governing bodies of two or more maintained schools wish to work together and co-operate in a manner similar to that of a federation of schools but do not wish to dissolve and merge their respective governing bodies, they may, after consultation with the local education authority, form a confederation of schools.
(2) If the governing bodies of the constituent schools agree, the confederation may make arrangements for any of their functions to be discharged jointly or by a joint committee as designated in section 29.
(3) A confederation shall not involve any transfer of property, rights or liabilities from or between local education authorities and the governing bodies of the respective schools."
My Lords, I was prompted to table this amendment as a result of a discussion in Committee when it became clear to me that a number of noble Lords welcomed the idea of schools working together, but did not like the idea of them having to merge their governing boards. As on Amendment No. 46, on the face of the Bill there is a requirement that federated schools have a single governing board; that the existing boards are dissolved and that a new governing board is formed. Therefore, it seemed to me that if there is the notion of the single governing board—what one may call the "federal solution"—there should also be a confederal solution in which individual schools can retain their governing boards, but work together in strategic collaboration for precisely the purposes that the Minister explained. She made the point frequently that federations are there to promote collaboration and partnership.
A great deal of collaboration and partnership is taking place and it struck me that one does not have to have the solution of dissolving the board of governors. I return to the point I made earlier that it is extremely important that on the whole schools should have an individual board of governors. That is a vital channel into the local community that they serve and it is necessary that they are retained. Not only is there an innate feeling that it is a good idea to have collaboration of one sort or another of the variable geometry model to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred, but it is followed through in The Evaluation of the Role of Teachers in Education Action Zones by PricewaterhouseCoopers commissioned by the NUT. It shows that programmes which support schools in working together and in planning the allocation and distribution of resources and projects have resulted in a shift towards a more collegiate approach to educational provision.
The development of school clusters—pioneered in particular in Birmingham by Tim Brighouse—whether or not triggered by government programmes, has helped to break down some of the needless rivalry and competition for pupils fostered by recent education reforms. The clusters have led to a better understanding by schools of each other's needs and have encouraged the sharing of good practice between schools.
It became clear in Committee that the notion of a Muslim school, a Church of England school and a Catholic school working together as a confederation is wholly acceptable although one does not want to lose the individual governing boards of those schools because they represent the religious ethos in the schools. It seems to me that we need on the face of the Bill something which makes clear the case for this proposal.
I discovered a nice little clause in the Bill, Clause 29, under the heading "Arrangements for joint discharge of functions". In a sense that allows groups of schools to set up joint committees to fulfil any function that one wants it to perform. In other words, the effect is that the legislation already covers my idea of the confederation. The Minister will probably say that we do not need the new clause on the face of the Bill because we already have it.
I feel rather strongly that the problem with the prominence given to confederation and the total lack of prominence given to this little clause about joint functions is disproportionate. My own guess is that the majority of schools would prefer to confederate rather than to federate and that they would prefer to keep their own governing boards. The notion, if put to them, would probably prove quite attractive. But it is not publicised in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will say that we should not worry, that the idea is thoroughly approved of and that the legislation already exists but that the title of that little clause to which I referred could perhaps be changed to incorporate something more positive from my amendment.
The idea I have put forward says,
"Where the governing bodies of two or more maintained schools wish to work together and co-operate in a manner similar to that of a federation of schools but do not wish to dissolve and merge their respective governing bodies, they may, after consultation with the local education authority, form a confederation of schools".
I would like that positive statement somewhere in the Bill; that is why we tabled this amendment. We believe that it fulfils a need. It is important that it is flagged up as an opportunity for schools. It seems to me that it meets precisely what the Government want in terms of promoting collaboration and partnership to form joint strategic committees where desired. At the moment there is a lacuna in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, as I said, I believe that where schools wish to collaborate of their own volition they should be allowed to do so. In these times of unprecedented central control of schools, so far as possible that should be encouraged. However, if they are intending to work together, the sovereignty of each governing body should be retained. I feel that very strongly; that is why I tabled my previous amendment. It would have strengthened federation with representation of staff and parents and specialisms of each school in the federation. I find it almost incomprehensible that the Government, with a good deal of support throughout the Chamber, should vote against the notion that the teachers of each school are represented on the federal governing body. I believe strongly in the sovereignty of the individual school. Amendment No. 49 on the face of the Bill would encourage more schools to have all the benefits of collaboration without all the disbenefits of central bureaucracy.
My Lords, I, too, lend my support to this amendment. It seems to follow the logic that I have been so concerned about in bringing together varieties of schools and diversity where appropriate. It is another way which may be more appropriate to some schools. The two noble Baronesses who have spoken have made that very clear. We on these Benches lend our support to the idea. It needs to be spelt out in the manner suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I hope the Minister will be sympathetic to the idea.
My Lords, it is clear from what I said on the last amendment that I very much welcome this amendment. This is the way in which education generally should go. It is so obvious that higher education needs to rethink its structures, not necessarily through the merger of institutions which is difficult to achieve, but by confederation in which they agree to do certain things together. It may lead to something more, but this must be the way. The increased use of communication and information technology facilitates such arrangements. I would like to see such arrangements extend across the traditional boundaries to sixth form colleges and perhaps also to FE colleges. A move into the 14 to 19 approach would break down the barriers between schools and FE colleges and allow collaboration in the provision for that group. It could make sense to include FE colleges within the framework of confederation arrangements.
My Lords, I am lost. We all believe that collaboration is a good idea where the schools themselves agree. But it may well be that I fell asleep during the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. She alluded to Clause 29. My noble friend the Minister may be able to elucidate, but it seems to me that that clause contains everything that the noble Baroness has in mind other than the word "confederation". I am not at all clear what we would gain by agreeing the amendment as opposed to Clause 29. The clause enables schools to collaborate in anything they might find to their joint advantage. I am all in favour of putting things on the face of the Bill, but in this case—unless I have misunderstood the Bill—it is already there. Perhaps my noble friend can explain what I have missed.
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying that I agree with the principle behind the amendment and that I am eager to ensure that we make provision to allow for the form of collaboration that the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Warmsley, have asked for, including consultation with local education authorities.
I recognise that to support and encourage that development it is important to have alternative governance arrangements in place for schools that want to collaborate strategically but do not want to go as far as dissolving their governing body and ceding all their functions to a single federated governing body. In response to earlier amendments, I said that this is about ensuring that we have the options available to allow schools to decide for themselves which is the best way forward in terms of the collaboration that they want to have.
As noble Lords will know, some schools want to pursue full federation. Others will feel that relinquishing their governing body would be too high a price to pay for the ability to have a single body to take certain key decisions. However, I am mindful that no schools in education action zones—the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned them—chose to cede all their responsibilities to an EAZ forum. Therefore, I understand that schools may be reluctant to pursue the federation route, particularly where mixed category federations involving schools of a religious character could be involved.
We want to create an opportunity for schools to put their toe in the water or to slide slowly into the shallow end on their way to what will be the best collaborative model. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that we have included provision within the Bill and my noble friend Lord Peston is correct. Clause 29 does do that. It allows for schools to collaborate strategically without disbanding their individual governing bodies. That clause allows for two or more governing bodies to delegate certain functions to a joint committee, as well as allowing for a joint committee between two or more schools' whole governing bodies.
The noble Baroness asked whether that was allowed. She will be aware that under the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 the decision to prevent schools from having other collaboration—infant and junior schools being the classic example—meant that it was more difficult for them to set up strategic groupings of committees that could take decisions. This puts back into legislation the ability to do that and that is precisely what we are trying to do.
My Lords, I shall need to write to the noble Baroness to be precise about that. However, my understanding is that there were some issues surrounding committees being able to collaborate effectively on behalf of other governing bodies. We shall need to ensure that we have clarified that correctly, but that is my understanding.
I am advised that Clause 29 does allow for delegations or the ceding of certain key strategic decisions to an overarching strategy or policy committee; namely, a confederation option. I agree with the principles behind that. I have indicated to the noble Baroness that the amendment itself contains some technical issues. I am mindful of the words that the noble Baroness used about being disproportionate. I believe that where the noble Baroness is driving us is to ensure that we do not put federations and confederations in different places in terms of how schools feel that we are looking to them.
Therefore, I should like to propose to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that between now and Third Reading we might have a conversation to ensure that we achieve the objective I believe we both share—to demonstrate that the legislation is entirely adequate to that end. In the course of doing that, we shall discuss with parliamentary counsel what more could be done on the face of the Bill. I hope that with that reassurance the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her comments. Perhaps I may use this opportunity to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, by saying yes. The title of the clause did not indicate that it was supposed to be positively encouraging the coming together of schools in this way. I believe that, bearing in mind the prominence given in the Bill to federations, this clause at the end of the chapter is not enough. That is why I deliberately said to the Minister that I realise that the clause is here, and that her answer was going to be that we have already got the powers. I am now saying that the powers may be there but I would like to see more prominence given to them. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue with the Minister further between now and Third Reading. Perhaps we can then return with something that is jointly agreeable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, Clause 26(3) reads:
"A governing body shall exercise the power conferred by section 25(1) only if and to the extent that they are satisfied that anything which they propose to do will not to a significant extent interfere with the performance of any duty imposed on them by section 20(2) or by any other provision of the Education Acts".
I am arguing that anything which interferes with the performance of any duty of a school to educate children should not be allowed.
Section 20(2) refers to the conduct of the school and the requirement to promote high standards. However, that is undermined by Clause 26(3) which states:
"A governing body shall exercise the power conferred by section 25(1) only if and to the extent that they are satisfied that anything which they propose to do will not to a significant extent interfere with the performance of any duty imposed on them".
It is of concern that the legislation provides for the governing body to do anything which will interfere with that duty—not just to "a significant extent". What constitutes "significant" is not defined in the Bill and no light has been thrown on what "significant extent" meant when the issue was brought up at the previous stage of the Bill.
Is my understanding correct that the governors of each school have carte blanche to determine what "to a significant extent" actually means? In addition, should governors define what,
"interfere with the performance of any duty" means?
When the noble Baroness responded to the debate on this issue on 9th May, she said:
"The inclusion of the wording "to a significant extent" ensures that insignificant incidental effects on a school's main educational role are not seen as obstacles that would prevent worthwhile services being established. For instance, it might be argued that adults using an ICT suite on school premises during school hours could potentially impact on teachers' and pupils' flexibility to use that suite".—[Official Report, 9/5/02; col. 1372.]
If adults using the ICT suite on school premises did impact on teachers and pupils in that school then it should not be allowed. Therefore, I am arguing that schools should not have their work to educate and teach children and children's learning interfered with at all.
The governing body's first and foremost duty is to the pupils at the school. Nothing should be allowed to distract them from that key task. Therefore, it would be helpful if the legislation required them to satisfy the local education authority that their proposals will not interfere with the performance of their duty. The governing body should conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school and that work should not be impeded by any outside activity. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 51 which is grouped with Amendment No. 50. When that part of the Bill was discussed in Committee I reassured the Minister that from these Benches we are supportive of the many ways in which schools are developing their links with the community and embedding community facilities within the school environment. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who is not in her place today, outlined some valuable and impressive initiatives which we all welcome.
However, we expressed concern that the need to consult parents and teachers about the provision of community facilities on the school site was to be put only in guidance and not on the face of the Bill. We accept the Minister's reassurance that it is not the Government's intention that such provision would have any detrimental effect on the performance by school staff of their duties. Indeed, at a time when the Government are seeking ways of lightening teachers' workloads that would surely be foolish. However, despite our acceptance of that, we are still concerned that a matter so potentially fundamental to the operation of the school as the provision of community facilities must be discussed with teachers and parents. That must be enshrined in the Bill.
Such consultation would surely give ownership of the project to the staff and the parents and thus ensure its success in the end. I hope that by pressing the matter the Minister will feel able to respond positively as she has on a number of other matters.
My Lords, perhaps I might speak first to Amendment No. 50. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is concerned to ensure that the activities that we have been discussing do not interfere with the way in which schools are able to provide education for their children. I believe that we are in agreement on this. The question is how best to ensure it within the Bill.
I have discussed this matter with our legal adviser to ensure that the words we use are appropriate. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will accept, in the spirit of my reply, that I have considered carefully the points she made. I do not believe that the words "interfere" and "compromise" mean the same thing. However, I am clear that,
"interference to a significant extent", could amount to "compromise".
Let me emphasise again what it is that Clauses 25 and 26 seek to achieve. We want to give governors a clear legal basis under which they can provide services for the benefit of their pupils and their families. That will include the provision of services which seek to remove the barriers that currently stand in the way of children's education; services such as pupil and family counselling (in cases of bereavement or family breakdown for example); child and family health services where on-site provision will reduce the amount of time children are out of the classroom and improve access which might otherwise be difficult in areas where there is poor local transport; social care to address more immediately the complex needs of the pupils and their parents; and provision of out-of-school hours childcare which will ensure that pupils are looked after in a safe environment. Almost any of those services could be argued to interfere in some way with the governors' duty to promote high standards of educational achievement.
Further, if this amendment were accepted, it may expose schools to judicial review proceedings on spurious grounds. As a past Minister for Education I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will know that, on occasion—rare thankfully—some have used the wording of the law to involve schools in long, drawn-out legal process. While we also want to protect educational standards, and I believe that Clause 26 does, I am keen to ensure that governors are not discouraged from providing a service such as a breakfast club—a service offered perhaps in a classroom that might interfere to an insignificant extent with the running of the school because it causes a slight delay to the start of the formal school day while breakfast is cleared away.
Likewise I would not want governors to be deterred from making full use of the school premises and facilities at weekends. We know from schools and the local education authority in Cambridgeshire, who have been working very closely with us in developing this approach and who have a long established history of community education, of the benefits that can be gained from opening up schools to the whole community. These clauses will enable more local authorities and schools to develop a similar vision to that of Henry Morris while ensuring that the main object of the school is safeguarded.
I should like to emphasise once again that we expect all schools that develop family and community services to see a positive impact on education standards. I trust the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is reassured by my explanation and will withdraw her amendment.
I turn now to Amendment No. 51. Clause 26(4) already places a statutory duty on governing bodies to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State, and that guidance will make it clear that governing bodies will always need to consult with all major stakeholders including school staff, parents and pupils, before providing family and community services.
However, on reflection, we accept that we should place a duty upon governing bodies to consult specific key stakeholders, including parents, staff and pupils. The Government are therefore prepared to accept this amendment in principle. However, we would like to consider further whether the proposed group of statutory consultees should be expanded. We should therefore like to have a little time to reflect on the precise wording of the amendment and come back with our own amendment at Third Reading. Given that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will not press her amendment.
My Lords, I am not happy with the noble Baroness's response. She said that she understands and then went on to argue that it would be possible to have activities that interfere with the primary duty of the school to produce good education and achieve high standards for the children in that school. The noble Baroness even went on to say that a small compromise of the fundamental aim of the school would be acceptable.
There should be no compromise regarding a school's duty to promote high standards of educational achievement for the school. The noble Baroness cited my authority, Cambridgeshire. William Morris would turn in his grave if he thought there was any suggestion that what he started was anything that would impede the achievement of high standards of education for children in school. What William Morris did enhanced education; it did not impede it in any way.
A breakfast club in a school was the only example which officials came up with. But any breakfast club that overruns into the school day is actually failing children. The school day is already short enough. For many children it starts between nine and nine-thirty in the morning, and it is over between three and three-thirty in the afternoon. The idea of breakfast clubs overrunning is an absolute scandal. If they cannot be run to enable children to start their lessons on time, then there is something wrong with the management of the school.
I feel very strongly about this amendment. I ask for the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I shall speak to both Amendments Nos. 52 and 53. Clause 28(1) states:
"Once in every school year the governing body of a maintained school shall prepare a report (a 'governors' report') dealing with such matters, and otherwise complying with such requirements, as may be specified in regulations".
The clause goes on to deal with the regulations which may:
"impose requirements on the governing body of a maintained school with respect to . . . the giving of copies of a governors' report to such persons as may be prescribed, and ... making such copies available for inspection at the school"— and making provision for—
"enabling the governing body to determine the language or languages in which a governors' report is to be produced and the form or forms in which it is to be produced".
That is where I believe it should end. It should be a matter for the governing body, which knows its own school, its parents, children and community, to determine the languages in which the report should be produced. If the Government are concerned that governing bodies cannot be trusted to do that, the subsection should say something like:
"appropriate languages meeting the language needs of all its community" and that should be the end of the matter. But the clause then requires the governing body:
"to comply with any direction given by the local education authority with respect to any additional language to be used or with respect to any additional form in which the report is to be produced".
I want to trust the governing body to know what it is doing and to understand its own client group—the children, parents and the local community. It is wrong to then require governing bodies to be under the direction of the local education authority to add yet more languages for communicating with schools and communities.
Amendment No. 53 refers to yet more regulations. I am still awaiting a reply about how many sets of regulations there will be in the Bill. Subsection (3) states that regulations may:
"require the governing body of a maintained school to provide the local education authority with such reports and other information in connection with the discharge of the functions of the governing body as may be prescribed or as the authority may require (either on a regular basis or from time to time) for the purpose of the exercise of any of their functions".
The statute book is littered with requirements for schools, head teachers, teachers and governing bodies to provide information, but it is already public information. The annual report is public; meetings with parents are public; Ofsted inspections are public. They are visited by endless numbers of people who have the right to see such information.
It is absurd to lay yet another set of regulations on schools. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment No. 52 would mean that a school maintained by a local education authority would be under no obligation to comply with any direction from that authority with respect to any additional language in which the governors' annual report is produced, or any additional forms in which it is produced, such as in braille.
Of course, we accept the thrust of the noble Baroness's argument; namely, that governing bodies have the prime responsibility for determining the languages, or forms, in which their annual report is to be produced. However, we differ from the noble Baroness in the following respect. We believe that there are circumstances in which a local education authority, by virtue of its knowledge over a wider area than the school, may be better placed to determine an additional language, or form, in which the report could be produced that would benefit the local community, or part of it.
As I believe the noble Baroness indicated, this sub-paragraph is a re-enactment of Section 42 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, under which there are existing regulations. We are not aware of any complaints that the existing requirements, which we want to continue, have caused any difficulties. These provisions provide an additional guarantee for the local community that the interests of all parts of it will be taken fully into account. We see nothing to be gained in dropping the provisions, and possibly something to be lost for some parts of the local community. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured by my response and that she will decide to withdraw her amendment.
On Amendment No. 53, I should like to emphasise that the scope of the regulation-making power in subsection (3) of Clause 28 is very similar to the content of the current provisions to which I referred in Sections 42(3) and (4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The only addition is to allow regulations to prescribe information that must be provided.
I hear what the noble Baroness says about regulations; indeed, we have heard her complaints about them on numerous occasions. However, I should point out that some of those regulations flow from Acts of Parliament introduced during the 18 years of the previous administration. I take note of what she said about the issue of seeking to keep the number of regulations that are required under constraint. We believe that it would be helpful, and add clarity and consistency, to have the scope to prescribe in regulations what information must be provided by governing bodies and head teachers.
However, we have listened most carefully to the noble Baroness's arguments, which were also outlined in Committee. I should like to make progress on the matter. I am prepared to bring forward a government amendment on Third Reading that will replace subsection (3) of Clause 28 with the current provisions in Sections 42(3), (4) and (5) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. This will remove the regulation-making power and maintain just the current provisions, which we believe to be important. I hope that this addresses the point made by the noble Baroness on the question of regulations. I trust, therefore, that she will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, this is a very small victory; indeed, I should quite like to sweep away the requirements for regulations under the School Standards and Framework Act. However, I am grateful for small mercies. I am also grateful that, as I understand it, subsection (3) will disappear from the Bill. I tentatively wait to see what will replace it at the next stage of the Bill.
I am in a fairly cynical frame of mind. I have to say that the appointment of Mr Miliband to the department that I welcomed so readily the other day is turning out to be something of a disappointment. These are the earliest opportunities for actually living up to the very words that he spoke on accepting the appointment and sweeping away some of the bureaucracy.
I am sure that he did not mean it personally, but the Minister said that he had heard my complaints about regulations "on numerous occasions". But it is the schools, the head teachers, and the teachers who are going on and on about regulations. I am not burdened down with having to read them, interpret them, and, in turn, read and interpret the guidelines and the guidance: it is the schools who have to cope with this burden. Minister after Minister has promised the schools faithfully that he or she will do what can be done to reduce the amount of bureaucracy. But, as they speak those words, we mount on yet more bureaucracy. I do not, therefore, accept that criticism from the Minister.
The Minister also referred to the 18 years of the previous administration. One would not believe that this Government are actually in their sixth year in Parliament. Indeed, they are now in their sixth year and the level of regulations, guidance, guidelines, and bureaucracy that has been laid upon schools is unprecedented. I am not happy with the response that I received to my first request. I believe that we should trust schools to determine what languages they use to speak to their school community. We should leave this to schools; they should not be under further exhortation from a third party.
I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about Amendment No. 53, but I shall wait to see what replaces it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 54:
After Clause 30, insert the following new clause—
"PROTECTION OF SCHOOL PLAYING FIELDS
Regulations shall provide for the control by the governing body of a maintained school of school playing fields and sporting facilities, which shall, among other things, provide that neither the Secretary of State, nor a local authority, nor any other public authority, shall give consent to the sale, transfer or disposal of playing fields or pitches owned or leased by a governing body of a maintained school or local authority unless—
(a) it can be shown by the governing body or bodies, or local authority, concerned that the sale, transfer or disposal is for the purpose of providing playing fields or sporting facilities of equal or improved quality for the use of the school and, if appropriate, other schools;
(b) in the case of a sale, transfer or disposal made by a local authority, it is done with the consent of the governing body or bodies concerned;
(c) it takes into account the impact in the local authority area on team sports requiring extensive playing fields or pitches and demonstrates that children at schools in the area will still have full and regular access to practise those sports; and
(d) the parent body of the school or schools concerned has consented in a ballot to the sale."
My Lords, this is an important clause that relates to playing fields. Many of us will remember the exhortations of a number of Ministers before the 1997 election, the most vocal of whom was the right honourable Mr David Blunkett. He was very critical of the previous Conservative government for selling off playing fields. Such was the voluble noise from Ministers at that time that one would have been forgiven for believing that there was no more scope for disposing of playing fields.
I should like to refer to two newspaper articles: the first dated November 2001, and the second February 2002. In the Sunday Telegraph of 18th November 2001, Martin Bentham wrote:
"The number of playing fields sold off for building development has leapt by 60 per cent in the past year, according to a leaked Government document. The figures, in a confidential report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, show that 446 applications for building on sports fields were approved between April 2000 and March this year. That compares with only 279 approvals for the previous 12 months. In the vast majority of cases, no objection was made to the applications, despite repeated Labour promises to stop playing fields being sold off. The number of planning applications refused rose by just two".
"These figures bear out what I am finding when I go round the country, and show quite clearly that our promises"— that is, the Labour Party's promises—
"to save playing fields are not working. There needs to be a moratorium on sales because the people who are objecting to the loss of sports pitches are not being listened to".
The article goes on to quote Elsa Davies, the director of the National Playing Fields Association, who said:
"The loss of playing fields is proceeding at a rate which is totally unacceptable. For years the Government has talked motherhood and apple pie, saying that they will save playing fields, but nothing has been achieved".
The article continues:
"The new figures are contained in a draft report drawn up by a monitoring unit on the sale of playing fields, set up by the department in April 2000 ... the Government pledged that the unit would 'publish monthly figures on playing field disposals so that progress can be accurately charted'".
That has not happened. Martin Bentham then pointed out that:
"The figures, which the report says 'should not be released, quoted or used in any form', show that 860 valid applications for development on playing fields were received in the year ending March 2001 ...The statistics also show a steep rise in the number of applications that were then given final planning permission by the relevant local authority. Whereas in 1999/2000 the number of unconditional approvals was 279, by last year the total had risen to 446, an increase of 60 per cent. Another 21 disposals were approved subject to conditions. Only 47 applications were refused, and not one application was 'called in' by the Secretary of State for detailed examination . . . The Government's failure to prevent the sale of playing fields comes despite a series of promises made during the 1997 general election campaign that sports pitches would be protected".
At that time the Home Secretary, Mr David Blunkett, while he was education secretary, was speaking a great deal on this issue. He said:
"I will ensure that those playing fields which schools and local communities need are not sold in the future".
That was in November 2001.
Given that report, one would expect things to have changed for the better. But, on 27th February 2002, an article in the Daily Mail stated:
"Fresh evidence that ministers have repeatedly broken promises to protect school playing fields was revealed in official figures yesterday.
The Government has approved all but two applications to sell off sports pitches since laws to protect them were introduced in 1998.
98 have been waved through by Ministers.
A further 77 out of 81 requests to sell off smaller fields were given the green light, giving an overall total of 175 approvals from 181 applications".
The article went on to say that,
"most applications are still being approved, with the figures suggesting the number of sell-offs is gathering pace".
It also stated:
"An independent panel was set up to examine applications before making recommendations to ministers, who have the final say. A total of 945 applications to build on playing fields are expected this year—up from 590 in 2000 and 860 last year.
Ministers were ... accused of reneging on their pledges to protect the field.
'They have not kept to their word', said Elsa Davies, director of the National Playing Fields Association.
'We were looking to the Government to protect playing fields, but what we have seen is tinkering in the system, which will not help'".
I have an answer to a Question asked by my honourable friend Mr Brady in another place. He asked what the proceeds of sales were for each playing field development application approved by the Secretary of State since 1998 and what went for sports and educational facilities. Out of 79 that are listed in that reply by the department, 47 were not to enhance sports facilities. That is 47 out of 79. Those that were to enhance sports facilities only partly funded them, and the money was used for other things.
We will take the criticism for what happened before 1997. I have no doubt that the Minister will not lose the opportunity to refer to that again. But, given what the Minister said at that time, as I said right at the outset, one could be forgiven for believing that the scope for yet further selling off of playing fields would have been reduced if not eliminated altogether.
Many people are concerned about this aspect. Certainly the schools are. At a time when sport is a concern in schools, particularly extra-curricular sport, and given the Government's policy of inclusiveness in wanting young people, both in and out of school, to benefit from sports facilities in their community, I believe that what is happening is unforgivable.
At this stage, the Government's criteria are informal. I want to make them formal by placing them on the face of the Bill. Those criteria are:
"(a) it can be shown by the governing body or bodies, or local authority, concerned that the sale, transfer or disposal is for the purpose of providing playing fields or sporting facilities of equal or improved quality for the use of the school and, if appropriate, other schools [in the area];
(b) in the case of a sale, transfer or disposal made by a local authority, it is done with the consent of the governing body or bodies concerned;
(c) it takes into account the impact in the local authority area on team sports requiring extensive playing fields or pitches and demonstrates that children at schools in the area will still have full and regular access to practise those sports; and
(d) the parent body of the school or schools concerned has consented in a ballot to the sale".
I beg to move.
My Lords, the argument regarding getting rid of playing fields has gone on for a long time. The noble Baroness has effectively put her hands up and said that it was a mistake—I think that it was a mistake initially—to allow too many playing fields to disappear.
The Government said that they would stop it. They have not done enough. The noble Baroness has made a good attempt to solve the problem in the context of an education Bill. The problem is that this is not totally an education problem. Playing fields are educational facilities. The Department of Health and the Home Office could be interested in the issue. The Government should embrace the fact that sports fields are needed in order to allow sports to be played. We need turf. Sports halls do not allow one to play in our society the culturally acceptable sports for mass participation.
Basketball is not a major sport. Major participation sports are the various forms of football—association, union and league—hockey and so on. They require turf in order to be played properly. One cannot play them inside a sports hall. One needs grass on the ground.
When one says that it is a terribly small pitch, often that gives one somewhere to warm up or play a shortened version of a game. That is particularly true for children. The minute that one starts to reduce that area of open preserve for turf one cuts down the opportunities for playing sport. Our society is suffering tremendous health deprivation because it is not taking enough exercise. Unless exercise is fun—and that means sport—it will not happen.
The amendment is a brave attempt effectively to stop a form of rot. I support it. I hope that the Government will give us a reason for not needing to support it by saying that that they will put in place something which goes even further. But, in the context of an education Bill, I believe that this is an appropriate approach. I look forward to a response from the Government which does not refer to historical blame, but what will be done now. Under the current system, it is quite clear that we are not preserving the vital thing that we need in order to play the culturally acceptable sports in our society; that is, preserved and maintained turf.
My Lords, I hate to introduce a discordant note into our proceedings, but I must. Recently, my right honourable friend Mr Mandelson said that we were all Thatcherites now. Let me first say what an enormous pleasure it is to see the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in her place. But he was slightly wrong, because if there is one group that clearly are not Thatcherites now, it is the Tory Front Bench in the House of Lords. This is an amendment that more or less says that the policies that they pursued previously were completely unacceptable and wrong.
The amendment is put forward by the excellent noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in all innocence as if somehow these points were not made ages ago when many of us did not even know that one could sell playing fields. Suddenly, it became policy. We pointed out the consequences. It is really not good enough to get up and say, "Well, things have not worked out the way we said". They have worked out exactly in the way that one thought they would.
Therefore, we have the paradox that what is happening is that the Labour Government are being accused of not being a Labour Government. It is perfectly reasonable for someone such as myself to make that criticism. But to hear it coming from the Official Opposition Front Bench is absolutely ridiculous, to put it as mildly as I possibly can.
Having made—quite unusually for me—a political point, which, as noble Lords know, I hate to do, it does not mean that there is not a problem here. Clearly, we must think, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is quite right in saying that despite the great pleasure one gets in referring to the past, the present and the future are what matter. It is incumbent—and I am sure that the Minister will speak to this—on the Government to respond to these concerns.
I still remember with a shudder going miles to my school playing field, getting covered in mud and then discovering that there was no way of washing and having to trudge back to the bus in the freezing cold, having taken part in a game which I hated. So I do not have delusions about what the great pleasures of school sport are. I do not believe that the greatness of our country depends on school sport but, none the less, I accept that it is a matter of some significance. My noble friend is aware that I, like many of my noble friends, look with sadness at the sale of playing fields if there is no facility to replace them. The children of the current generation should suffer as we did—one of the great advantages of being old is to see the young not getting away with things when we could not.
So I hope that while rejecting the amendment my noble friend will still have some positive things to say, including one or two things that remind us that we are a Labour Government.
My Lords, it is interesting to consider what the independent sector is doing. Its parents and pupils can express their opinion, as it were. The independent sector is investing vast sums in sporting facilities. That is one of the main things on which it spends money. It spends money on that before it spends money on classrooms—certainly before it spends money on decoration. That is what parents and pupils want.
That is not happening in the state system; the opposite is happening. That is because parents' and pupils' views are not being taken into account in what schools are doing. Given the financial pressures in the other direction, I can understand why, but we ought to be more responsive to what parents and pupils clearly want, which is provision of secure and better sporting facilities, and not to allow that part of schools' heritage to be bled. Apart from anything else, it results in people having nowhere to walk their dogs.
My Lords, do not get me started on the subject of dogs.
I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has raised this important issue. I am the Minister responsible for how we deal with school playing field policy and for working in close collaboration with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health in our trilateral meetings on how to address our children's needs in terms of sport and exercise. I could talk at great length on the subject, but I feel that it is inappropriate to do so now. I offer to do so to any noble Lord who wants to hear me.
I turn to the amendment. The figures that are often cited are inaccurate because they refer to playing fields in all situations, not to school playing fields. With your Lordships' indulgence, I shall spend a moment to ensure that by the end of my contribution, the precise, exact figures are on the record. I think that that is important to noble Lords.
I take my responsibilities in this area extremely seriously. We introduced Section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to protect school playing fields. A sale or change in the use of a playing field may now happen only with the consent of the Secretary of State. Noble Lords will know that we do not have figures for the disposal of playing fields prior to the introduction of that protection, nor indeed for how the proceeds were used. I shall focus on what we have done.
Section 77 already requires a local authority or the governing body of any maintained school to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State before disposing or changing the use of a school playing field. To ensure that all relevant areas are captured, the definition of "playing field" is extremely broad. It ensures that all open areas on a school site are protected. So we are already ensuring that all outdoor areas used for social or recreational purposes or as habitat areas, as well as sports pitches, fall under the Act.
Any application to dispose or change the use of a school playing field is considered against strict criteria. Consent will be given only when the remaining playing fields and sporting facilities meet the needs of local schools and the communities that formerly used them, and all proceeds are ploughed back into improved sport provision or educational facilities. Applicants are also required to consult fully on their proposals, including consulting the parents of pupils.
So the amendment adds nothing that is not already provided for in existing statutory provision. But our current protection also goes further than is proposed in the amendment. Since 16th July 2001, all applications have been subject to independent scrutiny by the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel. The panel comprises representatives of the National Playing Fields Association, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, the Local Government Association, the National Association of Head Teachers and the educational charity, Learning through Landscapes. I pay tribute to their work. The panel advises the Secretary of State on the extent to which applications meet the criteria. Only those applications that meet the criteria and are recommended by that group are accepted by me—and, of course, through me, by the Secretary of State.
I contend that the protection for school playing fields that we introduced is working. Last year, in all maintained schools—of which, your Lordships will be aware, there are well over 20,000—only 22 applications to sell school sports pitches were approved. That represents 0.1 per cent of all maintained schools. I can give the House the full position for all changes in all schools since 1st October 1998. We have approved 105 applications involving the loss of school sports pitches. In 43 cases—almost half—the reason for the loss was that the school was closing or had closed. Of the 62 cases involving schools that continued to operate, 38 resulted in improved sports facilities, including new or replacement sports pitches, all-weather pitches and sports halls. In the remaining 24 cases, the proceeds were used to improve teaching facilities.
So I can be clear that the amendment would not increase the existing protection for school playing fields, on which the Government have achieved a great deal. In addition, it would require ballots of the parental body, which would be bureaucratic and time-consuming for all involved. In some cases—this is the defect of the amendment—where the school is to close, it would simply be unworkable. In those circumstances and in the light of the technical defect in the amendment, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will feel able to withdraw it.
I do, my Lords. I know that the noble Lord takes a great interest in this matter. I can tell him that in every single case, when an application is dealt with by the independent panel, it carefully considers the specifics of what is proposed. It has plans and drawings before it. It ensures that the school cannot possibly have a detrimental effect in terms of providing what the children need; that it has the full support of the community; that all of the other schools are asked whether they have any need for that piece of ground; that it consults the community; and that representations are invited from the Member of Parliament. I am sure that all noble Lords will recognise that the organisations that I have cited take a strong, clear stance—hence their involvement in the group—of ensuring that no child suffers a detrimental effect.
But there are some circumstances in which there is land around a school that is not used and could be used to better purpose and the proceeds from the sale of that land could be used to improve facilities. Those are the circumstances in which a recommendation is made to me as the junior Minister responsible and, through me, to the Secretary of State and it is only in those circumstances that it is accepted. I am extremely proud of our record during my time in office in the last year and before that.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, picked up the very point that I was going to address. Many schools, especially primary schools, have a field—not a pitch, but an area specifically used for sport. There are running tracks that are not pitches. There are many grassed and tarmacadamed areas that are sports facilities but do not fall into the narrow definition of sports pitches. I have before me the Government's list— from the north of the country to its most southern tip—of school playing fields—the words in the Minister's Answer are "playing fields"—that have been sold off. In the list in front of me, in 47 of the 79 cases, playing fields were sold off and the moneys were not used to enhance sports facilities.
The Minister confined herself to a very narrow definition of school sports pitches. If the department feels strongly about this issue, it would be helpful to know what is its definition of the playing fields and playing areas that are used by schools for sports and—I agree with those who made the point—recreation for children. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that in this context one has to think of a community wider than the school. There is now very much more community involvement with school facilities and schoolchildren involvement with community facilities.
Why is it that Kate Hoey was so unhappy and, indeed, remains so? On a recent phone-in programme on Radio 5 she again expressed her displeasure at what was still happening since she left office as a Minister. Despite the list of organisations mentioned by the Minister, as recently as February this year the director of the Playing Fields Association said:
"We were looking to the Government to protect playing fields, but what we have seen is tinkering in the system, which will not help".
I do not think that that is an answer. There is a glossing over of a real problem. The Government are in their sixth year and they must live up to what they said when they came into office in 1997—that is, that playing fields will not be under threat from them.
moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 18, line 43, at end insert—
"( ) Nothing in this section shall permit the introduction by a local education authority or a governing body of a change to the number of school terms in a year without prior consultation with, and the approval of, the majority of parents of pupils in the school or schools affected."
My Lords, with this amendment I can be brief. Changing the school year has an enormous impact on the structure not only of the lives of people in an area but of schools within the area. If it is done without proper consultation and without proper endorsement, such a change would be ill-conceived. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an area where the Government see no need to regulate existing arrangements for local decision-making if these are working well. Perhaps I may briefly explain why.
My department has received very few requests for any change to the present arrangements under which school term dates are decided locally by those most affected. Non-statutory consultation procedures appear to work well. We simply do not wish to add to the body of education legislation where it is not necessary.
Although it is not a statutory requirement, we expect local authorities to consult widely on issues that affect people in their areas; and the evidence is that local education authorities understand the need for wide consultation. We are satisfied that under the existing arrangements local education authorities are taking a responsible approach to this. The report of the Local Government Association on the six-term year, for example, includes a detailed account of the consultation carried out by Wigan before deciding to change the pattern of terms locally. We know of several other authorities that are conducting consultation exercises on this issue, involving parents as well as other interest groups.
The evidence indicates that local education authorities consult on changes that affect school terms. Therefore, the amendment is unnecessary. I accordingly invite the noble Baroness to withdraw it.
My Lords, it is unfortunate that the noble Baroness believes that local education authorities are doing everything right in this respect, but trusts them on almost nothing else—the Bill contains so much regulation because they are not trusted to do this, that and the other.
There is no legal obligation on local education authorities to consult, and there is nothing that says that they should. I thought that this was a perfectly sensible thing to do and—given that it is a cost-free option—that the Government in their generosity would accept the amendment. In despair, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 56:
After Clause 33, insert the following new clause—
"NATIONAL PARENTS' COUNCILS
(1) The Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly for Wales shall make arrangements for the establishment in each country of a National Parents' Council, which shall consist of elected representatives of parent governors, one from each local education authority area.
(2) Regulations shall provide for—
(a) eligibility for election to the respective Councils;
(b) the procedures by which such elections will take place;
(c) the terms of office of members and officers;
(d) the procedures by which the chairman and vice chairman are to be elected;
(e) arrangements for meetings of the respective Councils;
(f) the reimbursement of members for travel and expenses; and
(g) any other matters relating to the constitution, procedures and meetings of the Councils as are appropriate."
My Lords, I moved this amendment in Committee—but do so again because the response that we received was not at all satisfactory.
As I made clear in Committee, when the amendment was debated late at night, there are a great many countries where there is official representation of parents. In the US and Canada, parent representatives sit on state boards of education; and in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, parents are represented on key national policy-making committees. In most cases, parental representation is set down in legislation. Only in England, Wales and Japan are parents not represented as of right on any national policy-making or advisory committee.
In his response in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said that the amendment was not necessary because the Government have already done what I am asking for: we now have parent representatives on local governing bodies, so parents are well represented and that is all we need. My response to the noble Lord is that that is not all we need. As I said at the time, we need representation at national level.
Parents have a huge investment in education because in a sense they entrust their children to it. By proxy, they are the consumers of education, certainly up to key stage 4, because they make the key decisions for their children in education.
The Government place great emphasis in the provision of public services on listening to consumers and on taking note of what they say. Yet at the national level there is no body which they can consult which represents parents—in spite of the fact, as the Minister pointed out in Committee, that we have a very good way of representing parents: we elect parent representatives to governing bodies, and they elect representatives to sit on local education authorities. The amendment suggests that we go one step further and ask those who sit at each local education authority level, between themselves, to elect someone to go forward to sit on the national council.
As I say, this is odd, given the degree to which the Government are anxious to involve stakeholders in decision-making and given their recognition that the consumer voice should count in public services. The report written by Joe Hallgarten of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which I quoted in Committee, notes that a support network has been set up to support and pass information on to parent governors. There is a parents' centre on the DfES website. However, as the report notes,
"There is one missing link; parents are still not represented by a single body at the national level".
It continues—and given the Minister's reply last time these words seem very apposite:
"The arguments against the creation of such a body are limp. Of course, parents are a heterogeneous group, and cannot be truly represented by a few individuals. The same could be said for virtually every national organisation".
Indeed, the Government consult several national teacher and head teacher organisations, and they consult the national organisation representing governors. They consult what might be termed the "producer interests" very well. But they do not at present consult the consumer interests very well. There is no national organisation representing parents. Yet in many respects we have all the structures set up and ready to create such a council. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 made it a requirement for LEAs to have parent governor representatives, elected by parent governors, on the appropriate committee dealing with education. These elected parent governor representatives could, as suggested in the amendment, so easily come together to form national parents' councils.
I cannot accept the Minister's arguments that such a body would not be representative. We have elected parent governors who in turn elect their representatives on the LEAs. They have the legitimacy of being elected, not self-selected, which is true of so many other national bodies. Surely this is the best way in which to make them representative while at the same time creating national parents' councils which would add purpose and status to their position as governors.
If the Government believe in practising what they preach, in giving the consumer interest a real say in national decision-making, then here is an excellent point at which to start. Let us have national parents' councils. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has raised this issue at a reasonable hour today. I am very sympathetic to the underlying philosophy she has put forward. My concern is whether we really want this to be done in this way—via government regulations, government money and so on.
If I may start with an acerbic remark, the Government have set up a number of bodies, the common trait of which, I feel, is that they are powder-puff bodies. I shall not name names or the various chairman, but I believe that on the whole they do not subject the education system to the type of tough scrutiny that should be the result of setting up such bodies. My fear is that the body proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would go the same way.
I reflect on Lord Young of Dartington, our late lamented friend who was a great man in this sphere. Looking at Amendment No. 56, I thought to myself, "What would he have done in response to the same set of needs?" I do not think that he would have thought that the way to do it was to say to the Government, "You make regulations. You find the money. You finance the secretariat". I think that he would have said, "I shall go"—he was an amazing man in this regard—"to various charities and trusts and tell them, 'This is what I want to do. I need this money to set up the secretariat, and I need this money to get the whole thing going'. I would therefore set up an independent body rather than this"—as he did with the Consumers' Association and many other bodies.
I am therefore totally with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in her objective. I do not, however, quite like the model of producers and consumers in education. I do not see the parent solely as a consumer, and I am sure that the noble Baroness probably does not see it quite like that either. I see the parent as a much bigger contributing factor to the whole way in which we educate in this country and not merely as a recipient. I should like to see such a body. However, what I would really like to see—perhaps the noble Baroness is the person to take the lead in this—is a body that is separate from the Government, with a great deal of independence. It should have the type of independence that enables it to say, "This is not right". I think that such a statement on a given issue would carry great weight because, as the noble Baroness said, the body would be composed of the elected members of other governing bodies.
So I am with the noble Baroness. However, I am not sure that it would be right to go down the path of letting the Government finance the body. When a government body is established, regardless of how independent its members seem, despite everything, they really do pay attention to what the Government want as well as to what they were set up for in the first place. The noble Baroness is right to raise the issue and, as I said, I am with her in her objective and philosophy. On the whole, however, I think that it might be better to take a path via our country's voluntary tradition and persuade one of the great charities that, if they would find the money, this would be a great achievement for them.
My Lords, we seemed to be in danger of repeating our debate in Committee almost word for word and line for line. In Committee, however, we did not have the benefit of a speech from my noble friend Lord Peston. We are all the better for having had one today.
We are all united on one obvious point: we want to ensure that parents play the fullest possible part in our education provision. In all sorts of ways, we seek to ensure that that happens. We are always looking for ways in which to enhance that role. My noble friend Lord Peston was right that we would be very fortunate to have another Michael Young to play the type of unique role he played in this sphere. Michael Young was extraordinarily adept at identifying needs and creating structures in which those needs could be met. However, Michael Young also recognised that, in many respects, a modern and healthy democratic society has ways of articulating those needs. If a national body would fill an enormous gap in our consultative procedures and fill a role currently denied to parents, surely that point would have emerged from our present structures.
The parent governor representatives elected to our schools' governing bodies play a very important part in local—and increasingly in regional—consultation on developing education strategy. If a national body were needed, surely those representatives would have articulated that need and the department would have been under considerable pressure to establish a national council to bring together the various groups. I can only say that that has not happened. I believe that it has not happened because parents feel that there is a range of bodies in which they can play their part in challenging weaknesses in education provision and producing constructive outlines which provide a framework for consultation.
I shall make the most obvious point. Many parents play their part in the campaign for state education, and many play their part in the National Governors' Council. Many parents play a very effective part in parent teacher associations, which have a national council. Those may be membership organisations, but that does not mean that they are not effective in collecting views and making valuable contributions to the debate on all aspects of the work in schools.
We share the desire of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to enhance parents' role in education. None of us believes that we can provide effective education in schools without the crucial role played by parents. However, as my noble friend Lord Peston said, the case has not been made for establishing another body entirely with government resources. I also do not believe that parents have identified a crucial gap which they feel limits their opportunities to contribute to education. It is also not an emerging point. The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations has, after all, existed for more than 40 years.
I accept entirely the good and valuable intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I also hope that I have done rather better than I did in Committee in persuading her as to why the Government do not believe that this body is necessary. I therefore hope that she will consider withdrawing her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his further limp reply. I did not expect that he would go much further on this issue, but the fact remains that there is a need for such a body at a national level. If the Minister had received as many e-mails as I have received from parent governor representatives, he would recognise that they would like to have a national body to represent them.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for coming up with a valuable suggestion. As he rightly said, there is the great danger of having government placemen on a body that is paid for by the Government. My main objection to a great many of the bodies that have been set up by the Government is that they are quangos and the people who sit on them are nominated and they are frequently placemen. The notion that we might try to use governor representatives to form a national council but try to get a body such as Rowntree or Leverhulme to help fund it is a good one and I shall feed it back to those who have prompted me to make such representations.
I believe that we shall get no further if we try to push the Government on the matter. I regret that as I believe that we need to have a consumer voice. The problem at the moment is that it is divided. I was at one time a member of the national executive of CASE. We constituted a strong voice but we could never claim to be totally representative as we constituted a particular group. The National Governors' Council represents parent governors, but many governors are not parent governors. The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations represents parent teacher associations, but it has its own agenda. I recognise that each of those bodies is consulted on occasions but that is by no means always the case. What is needed is a body whom the Government can consult when they want to consult parents. There is a void in that regard at the moment which needs filling. However, as I say, I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 57 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 62.
These amendments seek to clarify on the face of the Bill that a member of staff, teaching or otherwise, employed at a maintained school or a voluntary-aided school working under the direction of the head teacher must have a contract of employment either with the LEA or with the governing body in the case of foundation or voluntary-aided schools. As my noble friend Lady Sharp pointed out in Committee, the Bill as it stands states only that there should be a contract of employment at a school; it does not say with whom. She commented that we seek to make the distinction between those who are under the direction of the head and have a contract with the LEA or governing body and those who have a contract with someone else such as an agency and are therefore ultimately under its direction as employees. The agency may transfer the day-to-day direction of the member of staff to the head teacher, but ultimately they are employees of that agency in terms of employment law.
I see no reason why making this matter clear would restrict the flexibility of schools in terms of sharing staff from other local schools, or place "unhelpful limitations" on schools as the Minister suggested in her reply in Committee. That is because the amendment does not insist that all staff working at the school should be employees of the LEA or governing body but it does seek to make a distinction about whether the head is directing a subordinate member of staff or managing the engagement or programme of work of a self-employed contractor or agency employee. If the staffing of schools is to become more flexible and more complex, I see it as vital that this detail is made perfectly clear. I hope that now that the Minister has had more time to consider these amendments she will accept them as being constructive and in the interests of good employment practice. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is a large group of amendments. I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 58, 59, 60, 63, 64, 65 and 66.
"Any teacher or other member of staff who is appointed to work under a contract of employment at a school to which this section applies is to be employed by the local education authority".
Amendment No. 58 contains the caveat that subsection (2) shall apply only,
"to schools in any category set out in subsection (1) which have failed to satisfy OFSTED in relation to their general standards of education and school management".
In other words, schools should be responsible for employing their own staff unless they have fallen foul of the standards expected by the Secretary of State and have failed to satisfy Ofsted.
I turn to my Amendments Nos. 59, 60, 63, 64, 65 and 66. Amendments Nos. 63, 64, 65 and 66 are the same as Amendments Nos. 59 and 60 respectively. However, Amendments Nos. 59 and 60 refer to community schools, voluntary controlled schools, community special schools and maintained nursery schools, whereas Amendments Nos. 63, 64, 65 and 66 refer to voluntary-aided schools and foundation special schools. We seek to make absolutely clear and beyond doubt what we are talking about when referring to staff who work at a school otherwise than under a contract.
I believe that we are talking about people who work at a school who are not under a direct contract of the school but are either contracted to a third party; that is, an agency, or may be volunteers, in which case they will come under a contract. Sometimes people who volunteer in a school are comprised of parents or friends who may help to teach children to read, for example. They usually have nothing like a formal contract but nevertheless they are working in a school. I seek to make the position explicit by inserting the words "direct" and "with the school". I give an example of the wording that would apply if one of my amendments were accepted. Subsection (5)(b) of Clause 35 would state:
"make provision with respect to the appointment of teachers and other staff to work at a school otherwise than under a direct contract of employment with the school".
That would put the position beyond doubt. There is something puzzling about a provision that simply states,
"the appointment of teachers and other staff to work at a school otherwise than under a contract of employment".
My Lords, I hope that I may reply, first, to Amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 63 to 66. I want to try to remove any misunderstanding about the meaning of these provisions which are related to school staff who work otherwise than under contracts of employment.
These provisions refer to people who are working at or for a school but who are not employed by the local education authority or the governing body depending on the school category. They may be paid by an agency or some other establishment, educational or otherwise, and work under contracts of employment with those bodies to provide services at the school. Alternatively, they may be self-employed and work under a contract for services at a school, but not under a contract of employment.
We want governing bodies to be able to continue to engage or appoint such staff, and to provide for regulations to make provision for the appointment of such persons. This will make clear that schools are able to make use of staff resources in this way outside the normal employment arrangements with either the local education authority or the governing body, and will give scope to ensure that schools follow good practice in these matters. Examples of such people are supply teachers; cleaners who work for an agency; kitchen staff who may work for an agency that provides school meals in a school or technical staff brought in to look after computers in a school.
These are technical matters and we have had to use legal terminology in drafting these provisions. In referring to contracts of employment, the addition of the words "with the school" would introduce confusion and be inaccurate. The words may appear to clarify the meaning, but contracts of employment in this context are either with the LEA or the governing body, depending on the category of school concerned. The governing bodies of the categories of schools under Clause 34 have traditionally never employed staff and cannot do so. The role of employer is undertaken by the local education authority. The governing bodies of the categories of schools under Clause 35 on the other hand do employ staff directly.
We do not propose to change those arrangements. However, schools are free to seek to change categories, if the governing body wishes it, for greater or lesser autonomy in those matters. We propose to continue to provide for that diversity in staffing arrangements and at the same time ensure scope for schools to innovate and use a variety of resources in delivering education. I hope that that clarifies the scope of these provisions sufficiently for the noble Baroness to feel able to withdraw the amendments.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 57 and 62. As noble Lords said, we debated almost identical amendments in Committee. I have considered these amendments and I still believe that they would severely limit the ability of schools to use staff resources flexibly. According to the amendments, as I have explained, all staff would have to work under a contract of employment with either the local education authority or the governing body, depending on the category of school concerned.
We believe that that would place greater limitations on the scope of schools to use a variety of staffing methods to deliver education. We want to free schools so that they may innovate by using different ways of delivering education. These amendments would discourage and prevent schools from sharing staff or using expertise from other institutions. An example would be the use of further education lecturers or those delivering education via information and communications technology facilities. I hope the noble Baroness appreciates that that would not help schools to deal with the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities that the future may present.
In a previous amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raised the matter of the proposed EU directive on agency workers and its effect on the position of agency supply teachers in schools. I have written to the noble Baroness about that, and I refer noble Lords to the copy of the letter which I have placed in the Library. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw those amendments.
I turn to Amendment No. 58. I make it clear that local education authorities have traditionally employed staff in the categories of school to which this clause relates. The governing bodies concerned have never undertaken the role of employer. As I said, they are not empowered to employ staff. I refer noble Lords to paragraph 3(7) of Schedule 1, which replicates the existing provisions under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.
Over many years schools have had opportunities to change the categories and acquire the scope to employ staff directly. That option will continue. But the large majority of schools have chosen to continue with the local education authority as the employer of staff. Many schools whose governing bodies employ staff directly use their local education authorities to employ non-teaching staff. In our view, it is then clear that local education authorities play a fundamental role in employing staff in state schools.
This amendment suggests that local education authorities should employ staff only if schools are failing. That would leave a big gap to fill. If this amendment were introduced, it would be very disruptive and damaging to education. The majority of people who work in schools would overnight be placed in an employment limbo. Their existing contracts of employment with the education authorities would be undermined. Clear arrangements would need to be in place for contracts of employment to be passed on to another employer.
If the intention is that governing bodies should assume the role of employer, the question to ask is what evidence exists to show that that is what those schools want. No one is forcing those schools to stay with local education authority employment arrangements. If they wish to, they can leave now. But all schools must have the freedom to choose what is best for them and to choose the arrangements that suit their particular local circumstances.
Practice has shown that the role of local education authorities in employing school staff is a widely valued and freely accepted element of our education service. I therefore ask the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to reconsider the consequence of this amendment and agree to withdraw it.
My Lords, I accept that the LEA has traditionally been the employer, but in tabling Amendment No. 58 I was trying, perhaps rather feebly, to extend the right of the schools to employ themselves. I totally accept the arguments put by the Minister. I shall not press the amendment, nor shall I return to it at a later stage of the Bill. However, the Minister has not spoken to any of my other amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 59, 60, 63, 64, 65 and 66, and I wonder whether the Minister intends to reply to them, because I have in fact spoken to them.
My Lords, I should make it clear that I replied in one of my groups to Amendments Nos. 59, 60, 63 and 66. I have checked that I responded to all amendments.
My Lords, I apologise that I did not pick that up. I thought that it was a general answer on staffing arrangements. Having listened to what the Minister said, without realising that it specifically related to my amendments, I am not sure that I have made myself clear.
I accept that individual third parties, such as window cleaners, caterers and plumbers, who come into a school to work, will not be under a direct contract with the school. Nevertheless, they will—
My Lords, I am not quite sure whether the noble Baroness is moving the amendment at the present time or replying to the original debate, on which she has already spoken.
My Lords, I apologise for getting the procedure wrong. It was because I did not realise that the Minister had in fact referred to all my amendments.
I return to the notion of a third party, who would not be under a direct contract with the school but would nevertheless be under a contract with his or her own employer, or, in the case of a window cleaner, perhaps self-employed—the employer in turn being under a contract to the school—coming to work on school premises to either service computer equipment, to clean the windows, to feed the children or to lay the carpets. Referring to subsection (5)(b), I am making the distinction between a teacher who is under a direct contract with the school and another person who works at the school but is not under a direct contract with the school.
It is a question of making that explicit. I am not sure that I have understood the Minister's response. Had I been in the Minister's shoes, I would at least have courteously repeated my point, given that I had a total misunderstanding. I thought that the Minister was simply refusing to answer. I saw her nodding her head and asking the Deputy Speaker to get on with it.
My Lords, I was nodding my head because this is a very new procedure to me. This is only my second day of Report stage and I rely on the knowledge and experience of other noble Lords when we find ourselves in a difficulty that I have not created.
Although it may be appropriate for me to repeat what I said in response, we have another stage of the Bill, and I shall ensure that I have dealt with every point that the noble Baroness has raised. However, I am quite sure that I specifically dealt with them.
I said that those provisions refer to people working at or for a school, but not employed by the local education authority or governing body, paid by an agency or other establishment and working under a contract of employment with those bodies to provide services at the school—precisely the group to which the noble Baroness referred—or the self-employed. We want governing bodies to be able to continue to engage or appoint such staff and to provide for regulations to make provision for the appointment of such persons. We make it clear that schools are able to make use of staff resources in that way, outside the normal employment arrangements, with either the education authority or the governing body. I went on to say that these are technical matters and that we have had to use legal terminology in drafting these provisions.
With regard to contracts of employment, we believe that the addition of the words "with the school", contained in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, would introduce confusion and would be inaccurate. The words may appear to clarify the meaning, but contracts of employment in this context are either with the local education authority or the governing body, depending on the category of school concerned. The governing bodies of the categories of schools under Clause 34 have traditionally never employed staff and cannot do so, and those under Clause 35 employ staff directly. We do not propose to change those arrangements, but schools are free to change categories as their governing bodies wish in order to achieve greater or lesser autonomy.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating that, and I am sorry that I missed it earlier in the debate. I have no objection to the notion that there must be regulations to make provision for people who work on the campus, whether employed directly or indirectly by the school. Subsection (5)(b) and other subsections in this part of the Bill refer to staff who,
"work at a school otherwise than under a contract".
However, the people to whom I referred are under a contract. The Bill does not say, "contract with a school"; it states, "under a contract". Those people are working under a contract. The contract may not be with the school; it may be with their employer or it may be a self-employed contract, but they are under a contract.
I knew that the noble Baroness was referring to third-party people who enter premises in order to work and for whom regulations must set out how they conduct themselves when on those premises. They are not working there under a direct contract with the school, which is what the wording of my amendment implies; nevertheless, they are under a contract. I believe that the wording of my amendment is in plainer English than the wording proposed by the department. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we now move on to Clause 39 and the next section of the Bill, which concerns the determination of local authority budgets and, indeed, the ring-fencing of those budgets. In moving Amendment No. 67, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 70.
These two amendments are concerned with special educational needs. They come from the Special Educational Consortium, which has very real concerns that the increased delegation to schools, while desirable in many ways, will have a detrimental effect on special educational needs services.
In many local education authorities, the delegation of the special educational needs support services has led to their erosion. When they are delegated, it is difficult to maintain the expertise that once existed in the service. There is concern that the high levels of delegation now expected in LEAs is eroding the specialist expertise in local support services, particularly where staff from hearing impairment and visual impairment services have been absorbed into general services.
Concerns are now at such a level that a number of organisations are worried that the expertise in their specialism is threatened. The RNIB, the RNID and Sense have all expressed concern. However, this matter relates not only to services for hearing and visually impaired pupils and for speech and language-impaired pupils; it is a problem in other areas where there is an acute need to build up expertise in schools—for example, in understanding the special educational needs of pupils with autistic spectrum disorders. The National Autistic Society also shares those concerns.
Without specialist services to support and develop the capacity of schools to work with a range of pupils with special educational needs, national policy on developing effective inclusion is likely to be limited by the pace of the slowest school. We discussed that issue at length when the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill came before the House. At that time, it was made clear that one needs to use the specialist services that are available at local education authority level or within special schools to ensure that they are available to help other schools and other teachers to develop their specialisms in this area. In so far as those specialist services are being eroded, it is far more difficult for that to happen.
This Bill proposes new ways of calculating the LEA's budget and the schools budget. The intention behind the amendment is to ensure that the funding of SEN support services is located where it will not be subject to pressures to delegate. However, there are some doubts as to whether that will really be achieved.
Amendment No. 70 relates to the overall pressure on SEN support services. There is concern about the lack of clarity in regard to the respective responsibilities of schools and local education authorities for children with special educational needs. It is not possible to see the effect of the new regulations requiring LEAs to set out what schools are expected to fund from their delegated budget and what LEAs will fund from their retained budget. These regulations have only just come into force, and it is too soon to assess the extent to which they may be able to help to ease the situation.
This amendment is modest. It would give schools a guideline for special educational needs spending. Such a guideline would, first, provide a benchmark for special educational needs spending in schools in the LEA area; secondly, it would combine with the new regulations so that schools would have a guideline on what they might purchase with their delegated budget and how much they might spend on it; and, thirdly, it would provide a basis for professional discussion between the LEA and the school about the delegated budget. All that can be done within the context of the LEA-schools relationships code of practice and its guiding principle of intervention in inverse proportion to success.
There is some feeling that Amendment No. 70 is too modest. There is a feeling that in order to stop the erosion of services and to start to build up the capacity of schools in response to the range of needs of pupils who may be placed in mainstream settings, there is a requirement for a far more radical approach to restructuring what had been the old SEN budget and a new and significant injection of funds.
Both amendments derive from the current apparent erosion of specialist expertise and doubts as to whether these budgetary arrangements will be able to stop that erosion. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have listened with great care to what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said in moving Amendment No. 67. I agree with what she said about the importance of the specialised services through which local education authorities support their schools in meeting the special needs of their pupils. I hope that I can give her the assurances which she seeks.
Final decisions on the scope of the local education authority and schools budgets have yet to be taken. However, our firm intention—I can see no reason at all to expect this to change—is that expenditure on educational psychology services and on the statutory assessment and statementing processes will be part of the local education authority budget, while other SEN expenditure will fall within the schools budget.
Moreover, while we would wish local education authorities to keep in mind the benefits of further financial delegation in the special educational needs field, we have no plans to impose any new restrictions on the purposes for which they may retain funding centrally. Under the present regulations, LEAs are permitted to fund specialist SEN support services centrally. Our intention is that they will continue to be allowed to do so under the regulations which will be made under subsection (4) of new Section 45A.
I can well understand the concerns expressed about the level of delegation. We believe that the way to address the issue of further delegation from here on is to ensure that the local education authorities' expenditure plans—whether for special educational needs or anything else—are subject to well-informed local scrutiny. That is why we want to establish separate LEA and schools budgets, each with its corresponding needs assessment against which the local education authorities' expenditure can be benchmarked. It is also why Clause 41 provides for the establishment of schools forums, whose role will include the examination of LEAs' budget plans.
In the light of the additional local scrutiny that we expect forums to provide, we believe that for most items, and certainly for special educational needs, the right balance for the future is struck by leaving the last word on whether to delegate with the LEA.
I can go further and say that, because of the additional scrutiny that we expect to be provided by forums, at present we have no plans to place LEAs under pressure to delegate funding for SEN support services by imposing limits on the total amount which they may retain centrally within the schools budget. Nor are we minded to set non-statutory targets of the kind which have been a feature of Fair Funding so far. Those targets have been valuable in raising the general level of delegation and in promoting convergence in place of the widely varying delegation levels which existed previously. We believe that the local scrutiny that school forums would provide will be sufficient to avoid the need for further delegation targets.
On the strength of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw Amendment No. 67. In our view, subsection (2) in its present form already clearly enables expenditure on SEN support services to be included in a school's budget.
I understand the concerns behind Amendment No. 70. It is important that schools have a clear picture of the assumptions underlying their LEAs' funding arrangements for SEN. However, we have already taken action. LEAs must produce annual budget statements. Since 1999, those statements have to show how much of the budget generated for each school by the LEA's funding formula is notionally attributable to special educational needs. Of course such figures have limited value if schools are unclear what aspects of SEN their budgets are meant to fund. Uncertainty is most likely to arise in relation to pupils without statements. However, each LEA is required—with effect from 2002–2003—to publish a statement explaining to schools what aspects of SEN provision for non-statemented pupils they must expect to meet from their own budgets and what aspects the LEA will normally fund centrally.
We are not keen to encourage LEAs to go further in telling schools how to spend their money. SEN funding is changing, in ways discussed in the guidance document that we issued last year, The Distribution of Resources to Support Inclusion. Not only has there been a large increase in the delegation of SEN funding but LEAs have been reconsidering the ways in which they allocate it. New funding methods are often designed to encourage schools to manage SEN resources on a whole school basis, rather than treat funding as a collection of more or less earmarked amounts. That is not just a matter of regarding a school's SEN budget itself as a totality. A whole school approach to SEN and to inclusion in general implies a readiness to deploy resources creatively, which can be inhibited if a school sees a particular amount in its budget as being exclusively for special educational needs. Too easily, that amount can be tacitly converted into a limit.
There is no reason for that approach to put pupils' interests at risk. Whether funding is delegated or not, governing bodies are under a duty to use their best endeavours to make the provision for which a child's learning difficulties call—including the provision specified in a statement. Moreover if funding is delegated for pupils with statements, LEAs can reserve the right to intervene if pupils do not receive the provision specified in their statements. In that event, the LEA can make the requisite provision itself and charge the cost to the school's budget. It is right that LEAs should have to tell schools about the SEN elements of their budgets but the substance of the amendment is reflected in existing secondary legislation.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her lengthy reassurances on both issues. It is useful to have on record that there will be limits on the degree to which an LEA budget will be delegated and that a number of central services relating to SEN will remain centralised, which is a useful facility. As to Amendment No. 70, the Minister's reassurance that the emphasis will be on the whole school approach and that the budget will be incorporated within the whole school budget is extremely useful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 69, 71 and 72, which also relate to the new funding system that gives powers to the proposed schools forums—about which there was considerable debate in Committee—to determine that part of a school's budget that relates directly to pupils. That provision was clearly described in Committee by my noble friend Lady Sharp.
Our problem with the proposals boils down to two matters of principle—the first of which is Clause 39(4)(c). Should an unelected body have ultimate responsibility for deploying a school's budget when a perfectly suitable, legitimately elected body already exists for that purpose—the local education authority? I believe in the slogan "No taxation without representation" and thought that a Labour Government would do so too. The proposed school forums would be unelected and contain representatives of heads and governors. Forums would have no democratic accountability. Practical problems of how representative and balanced they would be pale into insignificance in the face of the overarching principle that in this country councillors are elected to do the job. If we do not like the way that councillors perform that duty, we can throw them out at the next election—and do. We shall not be able to do that with the people who serve on school forums.
Although the present regulations give forums powers over only a small part of the budget, there is nothing to stop a future Secretary of State changing the regulations, to give forums much greater power in future. The proposal is a small but significant wedge in a large door and we do not want to see it opened further. There is already pressure for that to happen. The National Association of Head Teachers' briefing on this part of the Bill comments:
"Whilst having a number of concerns regarding the limited powers of the School Forum as currently proposed".
That is a clear indication that some head teachers will press for regulations to be changed in future, to give unelected bodies more power.
The second principle relates to the desirability of devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level. Giving the Secretary of State the reserve power to intervene and impose a prescribed minimum level of schools budget where the council's provision is thought to be inadequate is an attempt to make a major change to the balance of power between national and local government. No amount of assurances from the Minister that the power would be used sparingly addresses the fact that the power would be there.
Ring-fencing erodes the power and authority of local government in two ways. It takes away the power itself and undermines the whole reputation of local government for the future—such that the public believe that local councils do little and do not bother to vote for them. The low turnout in local government elections encourages people to say, "Nobody votes for them anyway"—creating a vicious spiral that leads to a complete collapse of confidence in local government. Is that what the present controlling Government want?
The Government contradict themselves. The finance Green Paper published in September 2000 stated that ring-fencing weakens local accountability and democracy, whereas delegating power to local authorities strengthens democracy and encourages participation and serious local responsibility. What are we to think if, in total contradiction, the Secretary of State wants to take to herself a power that has always been in the hands of locally elected representatives? That is being done in the name of curbing the excesses of a small number of inefficient LEAs that are anyway subject to the scrutiny of Ofsted and the local electorate.
The only conclusion that one can draw is that the Government do not trust real democracy where it results in a body that does not do what the Government tell it to do. My late husband suffered a number of bitter electoral defeats but always said to me, "In the end, in a democracy, people will democ". A joke perhaps but one with a serious message. Clauses 39 and 40 are an attack on local democracy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness's spirited speech. I speak in support of the Minister's Clauses 39 and 40 and with the specified budget of LEAs in mind. In the previous Parliament the previous Secretary of State found it necessary to publish a list of LEAs that had not played fair. Those LEAs did not spend the moneys allocated to them by central government and they did not spend them in the way that central government expected. Therefore, they were named. Their titles were promulgated in the press of our country and perhaps beyond.
One presumes that Clauses 39 and 40 aim to improve matters. Do local authorities continue to misbehave as they did in the previous Parliament? What report will the Minister give on such matters? Is the money that is now being allocated by the department to LEAs being spent on schools? Can we be absolutely sure that that is the case? Is the money getting into the classrooms? Is the money providing more teachers? Does the money buy more library books? The Government provides money for those things.
I ask the Minister what intelligence she has on local education authorities' spending records as of now? How does she know that the treasure of the state being pumped into the service is being spent on the children? That is the Government's aim. I believe that the Government have a splendid record, but I would like to be reassured every month of the year that no LEA is in effect siphoning-off the money. Can she tell the House how the department currently checks to ensure that the money goes where it is intended, to the children and on their books? Can she also say what checks take place to ensure that the money is not secretively siphoned-off by local authorities to be spent under other council spending headings? That is my suspicion. Are the Government sufficiently equipped to monitor effectively our LEAs in that respect?
By asking those questions I am indicating my support for the clauses and I presume that the Government are determined that our children shall receive a better deal, that our councils will do better and that the Government's objectives will be achieved.
My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jones, because I believe that he has posed pertinent questions. I cannot answer what progress has been made by local authorities since the previous Parliament. It would be helpful to have on record whether there has been any improvement. Certainly the funding regime was changed. We were promised more clarity and the percentage of money that had to be passported on to schools was deemed important enough to be made a legal obligation. We now know that there are ways and means for the Government, without this Bill, to do something about breaches. It would be helpful to have the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, answered.
I can answer another question posed by the noble Lord. He asked whether the money is reaching the schools. The answer is no, it is not. But the villain of the piece is not necessarily local authorities. Like the noble Lord, Lord Jones, I accept that some local authorities go to enormous lengths to camouflage the way in which they fund their local authority schools and do not serve their local schools well. My personal friend, Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education, will soon produce a pamphlet on the amount of money that is held back by local authorities, which by anyone's judgment should be money that goes into schools and into classrooms.
However, there is a real lack of clarity about the information that we need to make judgments on whether the money is being passed on to schools. At the moment we have a Government that are holding back unprecedented sums of money from schools. On a number of occasions when we have spoken on this subject, I have said that almost by the week we hear of another tranche of money that is being spent nationally by Government, and every pound that is spent nationally, with a national Government tag on it, is money that does not necessarily find its way into the classroom through the core funding mechanism.
This afternoon a handout of today's sum of money has been handed to me. It is £43 million. Unless that money comes from even more additional money, it will come from money that could be spent in individual schools. We know that it will be spent somewhere in the education system, but there will be a great deal of bureaucracy involved in the spending of that money. Sums of money will be dissipated and they will not find their way into schools. So the villain of the piece is not local government.
A third point, which I make with some feeling as my own local authority has suffered from it, relates to what I believe is called "brown money". The Chancellor of the Exchequer decided that rather than trust local authorities, he would send some money direct to head teachers. The money would be sent to the head teachers as a cheque in the post and they would spend it directly.
There were also other sums of money that the Government exhorted local authorities to passport on to schools and if they did not passport them on, they would be punished. Many such local authorities, my own included, were spending either at or above their standard spending assessments that the Government deem to be the sums of money that they should spend on their services to provide a normal level of service in each authority. It is almost offensive to a local authority to say that it should passport more money down when it already spends at or above its SSAs. I have no objection to encouraging local authorities to pass down to schools as much money as possible, but I would like the Government to accept that message. I would like to put a clause into the Bill that tells the Government to passport money down through the local education authorities into schools.
There is still a need for greater clarity. We were promised greater clarity by the Government; we were told that everything would become transparent, but we know that it is not. We know that it is difficult to ascertain the kind of information that we need to make a judgment about whether a local authority is doing right by its schools, or whether schools are receiving a fair deal. A school that is badly served by its local authority—we are talking about a minority of local authorities that fall into that category, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said—experiences a double jeopardy. It has a Government that are holding back unprecedented sums of money and it has a local authority that is also holding back unprecedented sums of money.
I agree with the principle that was outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. If there is to be determination of an aspect of the budget, I believe that those responsible should be accountable through the ballot box. We have a system of accountability for local authorities, which I support. Can the Minister say why it is that the Government have found it necessary to remove from local authorities the power to determine that aspect of the budget set out in the clause and give it to unelected, unaccountable groups of people in authorities to make the determination? Yet, they have not chosen to do that for the Learning and Skills Councils that will fund sixth forms.
A school for 11 to 18-year olds will have two separate streams of funding. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, referred to that the other day. There will be separate streams of funding for sixth forms from the Learning and Skills Councils, a separate funding stream from the local authority and a decision made by an unelected, unaccountable third body that is set up by this part of the Bill. There is a great deal wanting in this part of the Bill. We certainly wish to support the removal of this power. I have a later amendment dealing with Clause 41, to which I shall not refer at this moment.
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. It is fascinating to watch the Government bearing down on the individual pet projects of local education authorities while multiplying their own. It should be that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I know it is hard when in government and thinking that at last there is a chance to do something to resist the opportunity to pocket all the money that might be going to schools and use it as you wish. It is a discipline which Ministers ought to be rather better at in exercising on themselves.
I particularly support Amendment No. 68 in this group of amendments. It is unacceptable that an unelected schools forum which, as the right reverend Prelate has said on previous occasions, may well not include important elements of the local school set-up because they are not seen to be sufficiently significant in that particular area and may have a very partial view of what is going on—it is certainly not elected— should set the budget. It should advise, yes, but it should not put local education authorities in the position where, if they reject the advice, they are in public trouble or in the middle of a public argument. I remember what it was like even to dare thinking about going against the advice of SEAC when we were in the middle of the BSE crisis. You could not do it.
If a committee is properly constituted and representative and represents the views of schools and others around the local education authority, the LEA will not be able to go against its advice to any degree or will do so at its peril. But to have the statutory final responsibility given to an unelected body rather than to the elected body is entirely wrong. I do not believe that the Government would do it to themselves and they should not do it to LEAs.
My Lords, if I had not already guessed, I am aware that when we reach Clause 41 there will no doubt be a good deal of debate on the role of schools forums.
Amendment No. 68 arises at this point because, as noble Lords have indicated, one of the proposed functions of the schools forums is to take decisions as to whether certain categories of expenditure should be retained by the local education authority or be delegated to schools. As will become clear when we reach Clause 41, the schools forums are primarily advisory bodies. They are in no sense a replacement for the local education authority and neither will they have the scope to usurp its functions or accountability. However, we do believe that it is appropriate to give the forums a limited role—
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She has just said that schools forums are purely advisory. My understanding is that they have been given a power to determine an aspect of the budget.
My Lords, I am sorry; I said "primarily advisory" and not "purely advisory". I hope that clarifies it for the noble Baroness and I apologise for that. I shall speak more clearly.
As I have said, in no sense are they a replacement for the local education authority, but we do believe that it is important to give them this very limited role.
We are in consultation about our proposals. We have listed the areas of expenditure which we propose should be remitted to the forums for decisions on delegation. The most significant of these is primary and special school meals. It is important to note that such a decision might be in the direction of taking such expenditure back into central control where it has already been delegated. Primary and special schools can already opt for meals delegation on an individual basis and we believe that it is acceptable that the forum should be able to take a collective view on whether this is right for that item of expenditure. The other expenditure items are much smaller: museum and library services and licence/copyright fees. Again, there are often local reasons for schools to prefer one outcome or the other and the forum can usefully address these. This is a modest exercise in giving schools a little more responsibility. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment No. 69 is more or less a duplicate of Amendment No. 68. We have considered this amendment and wondered whether it had been tabled in error because, if agreed to, it would leave the new Section 45A(4)(c) simply reading,
"enable any prescribed determination to be made".
My Lords, in that case I hope that the noble Baroness will not mind if I do not speak to it.
In considering Amendment No. 71, which seeks to delete the whole of Clause 39, I hope that we can focus on what this clause is really about. There are links with Clauses 40 and 41, but the role of the schools forums in the context of Clause 39 is really a self-contained issue, while Clause 40 is the subject of a separate amendment.
The essential purpose of Clause 39 is to modify the budgetary framework within which local education authorities fund their schools. The present "fair funding" framework, based on a broadly defined local school budget, was introduced in 1999 and has worked well. The level of financial delegation to schools has risen sharply. Local education authorities on average delegated over 86 per cent of their school budgets last year, compared with 79 per cent in 1998. There have also been improvements in the transparency of the system.
However, there is still too much "funding fog". In terms of the range of expenditure which it covers, the local schools budget which forms the basis of the school funding system does not match with the education standard spending assessment which forms the basis of the local education authority funding system, and the fairness of the present ESSA has been widely criticised. All of this makes it unnecessarily difficult to judge whether an education authority's spending is too low, needlessly high or about right.
We are therefore proposing to replace the education standard spending assessment with two separate spending needs assessments: a school assessment and an education authority assessment. The school assessment will relate essentially to the cost of making provision for pupils and the education authority assessment will cover the education authority's essential functions. This will reflect the differing needs of the local education authority in a fairer and clearer way than the present system.
The new needs assessments will be introduced under existing local government legislation. Clause 39 brings the school funding system into line with the new education authority funding system by replacing the present local schools budget with a schools budget and a local education authority budget corresponding to the two assessments.
With the separation of the budgets provided for by Clause 39, schools and other interests will be able to see exactly how much their education authorities are spending on front-line provision for pupils as distinct from back-up services and regulatory functions. They will be able to compare their education authority spending on front-line provision with a needs assessment, which itself relates to front-line provision. This will make it easier to scrutinise education authority spending plans in an informed way and we believe it will thus promote improved accountability.
I hope that all noble Lords can agree that this is a worthwhile aim. Naturally, we believe that they will be even more effectively achieved if Clause 39 is supported by Clauses 40 and 41. But Clause 39 would bring about important improvements whether it is supported in this way or not. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness will feel about to withdraw her amendment.
I turn now to Amendment No. 72. As noble Lords have said, this clause gives the Secretary of State a power, to be used in exceptional circumstances, to set a minimum level for an authority's school budget as defined by Clause 39 where it is considered that the budget is seriously inadequate. The level may apply to the next financial year or the financial year after that.
We are introducing this measure to help to ensure that funding increases for schools made available by central government are passed onto schools by local authorities. We expect that the proposals we have made to require local authorities to provide a transparent account of school funding will perhaps put a little pressure on authorities to pass on funding increases, but where that does not achieve sufficient progress we believe that we need a reserve power.
The way in which we look at what happens as regards adult education, and in response to the question from my noble friend Lord Jones, is that every year in January we check that local education authorities are passing on increases in the education standard spending assessment to education and we check through the budget statements of the local education authorities in April and May of each year. I am not in a position to give the noble Lord a list; and neither do I believe that it would be appropriate in this context. But we have said that we do believe that it is important to have this reserve power.
In setting the minimum level, I want to reassure noble Lords that the Secretary of State must have regard to all relevant circumstances. We have set out in the Explanatory Notes some of those circumstances: how the authority's proposed budget for schools compares with its school funding assessment; the performance of an education authority's schools; pressures from other services and the degree to which the authority has failed to pass on the increase in funding to its schools. That is not an exhaustive list. There may be other criteria that we want to consider. We do not want to list all such criteria in the Bill, only to find that we have admitted a criterion that we would not then be allowed to consider and which is of importance.
The clause sets out the timetable for use of the power. We shall be asking local authorities to let us know their proposed budgets for schools by the end of January. That is no earlier than this year and a little later than previous years when we have approached authorities early in January to ask them to indicate whether or not they intend to pass on increases in education SSA. We could not set a later deadline for authorities because that would not allow sufficient time for the rest of the process. If a local authority fails to let us know its proposed budget for schools by the end of January the Secretary of State will also be able to set a minimum level.
The timetable also allows authorities to make representations if they object to the level of budget set for their schools. For example, they will be able to explain the impact that the proposed minimum budget would have on other services run by the council. Where there is an objection, the clause allows, but does not require, the Secretary of State to make an order setting the level of budget to be subject to affirmative resolution in another place.
The Government believe that the clause is important for our plans on schools and local education authority funding. It allows for the dialogue between central and local government on the minimum level of the school's budget. On that basis, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answer. Our main objection to Clause 39 is the involvement of the schools forum—an unelected and unaccountable body—in decision making. Our objection to Clause 40 is the matter of the reserved power of the Secretary of State. We believe in devolving decision making down to the most appropriate level and when one has democracy one has to trust it. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned that there are few local authorities that do not pass all of the school's budget on to schools—even of those there are very few that have had a poor Ofsted.
Therefore, there is little case and necessity for the measure. However, it is clearly one that we shall be returning to at the next stage of the Bill. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 73 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 74, 75 and 77. Those amendments refer to Clause 41 which sets up the schools forums. My contention on the first three of those four amendments is that if Clause 41 should eventually find its way into the Act, at the very least schools forums should only be advisory.
The arguments that I have already made for the principle that such decisions should be made by the legitimately elected local education authority are also relevant here. The forums would be both unelected and unnecessary. Local authorities already consult widely with stakeholders when setting their budgets. Many do it well and there are many examples of best practice. If the Department for Education and Skills is unhappy about the way a few of them do it, in order to rectify the situation it would be far better to find ways of persuading them to emulate best practice rather than take away the democratic rights of LEAs all over the country.
I have already made the arguments for Amendment No. 77 to delete Clause 41 which sets up schools forums themselves. I stand by those arguments. However, in addition, here we have a small group of amendments that would give this part of the Bill the virtue of not overriding the principle that elected and accountable people should decide on the deployment of public money, but that stakeholders have a right to be consulted and to advise. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 76 which is included in this grouping. I must say that, the matter of faith schools apart, I have had more correspondence and lobbying on the matter of schools forums than on almost any other part of this long Bill.
I do not have strong feelings one way or the other about the matter though I believe that I can see a role for them. Perhaps I may suggest a general point. There are clearly some issues about transparency and funding between what the local education authority receives and what the school receives. There are some issues there that need to be addressed. There is perhaps the question of the extension of good practice to all areas and not just to those areas who want to adopt it. Therefore, there may be a need for legislation to deal with that.
Amendment No. 76 assumes—rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—that schools forums may remain on the face of the Bill and may come into existence. Therefore, this deals with the specific point which we debated and I withdrew in Committee stage.
The original amendment asked for head teachers and governors of the various categories of schools within a local education authority to be represented on the forum. We are concerned to protect the interests and rights of voluntary schools as well as other schools in those particular forums. We have modified the amendment in the light of conversations with the Minister and we are now asking for a wider group—namely, persons representing each of the categories. As far as the voluntary Church of England and Roman Catholic schools are concerned, that would allow diocesan appointees to represent a group of schools.
We take the point that it is not possible for people directly engaged in the schools within that particular forum to be there. However, we believe that it is essential if forums come into existence—and I really have no great desire for or against them—that there should be a way in which the decisions which have to be taken affecting budgeting in voluntary schools should be represented.
I understand that the Minister has offered regulation to provide for that, but we believe that it should be on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I tabled Amendment No. 76
My Lords, I withdrew my amendment because on reading it I believed it did something that I did not want done. The difficulty I have with Clause 41 is that in many cases it will replace something that is working well in good local authorities with something that is less satisfactory. It is more prescriptive and less flexible. If Clause 41 remains in the Bill I should like to see it as a reserve power that could be invoked by the local education authority when necessary, which is what my amendment would have done. Alternatively—or what my amendment did not do—it could be invoked by a group or sufficient number of schools if they wanted something of that sort to be in place.
In other words it could be there as a reserve arrangement, but if the local education authority and the school community could come to arrangements which were better and would work better in their own particular circumstances, then they should be allowed to do that. I agree that under those circumstances the schools forum cannot be given power to make certain decisions. However, I do not believe that it should have those powers anyway.
I apologise if I nip out for a moment to look after my ducklings, but I shall return quickly.
My Lords, the mind boggles—ducklings outside the door!
I have sympathy with what my noble friend has just said. If I thought his amendment actually achieved that objective I would be supportive of it. I was disappointed that the Government do not believe that it would be appropriate for a majority of schools in an area to say that they would like a forum and to set one up. It seemed to be right. If schools are crying out for the power to enable them to understand what local authorities are doing with the money, the schools would simply say that that is what they want and would set it up.
I remember saying at the previous stage of the Bill that the better run local authorities have the equivalent of a schools forum. They do what is right and tailor make it to their own area. Anything that comes through regulations is not tailor made; it is a one size fits all. I have yet to see a regulation that allows for the kind of flexibility that says, "Set up a forum and do it in your own way. Have the number of people on it you want". The size of the forum is prescribed—up to and no more than 50. The people who cannot sit on it are prescribed by the Government, and so forth. It becomes a very rigid framework. If I thought my noble friend's amendment achieved what he would like it to achieve, I should certainly want to support it.
In the previous debate the noble Baroness said—it is pertinent to this debate—that we should not worry about the powers to be given to the forums because they are extremely minor; they concern only libraries and museums; they concern only insignificant matters. But in this Bill a regulation power is being taken under the negative instrument procedures to add anything in the future. This is the thin end of a wedge where, in order to get the power through Parliament, the noble Baroness talks about libraries and museums. But, once it is through, serious items of budget-making could be added to the list and we could do nothing to stop that, other than praying against an instrument which we could not modify; we could only vote against it. The Minister is making light of a serious point.
The right reverend Prelate mentioned the lobbying that has taken place in relation to this amendment. It is extraordinary that of all the provisions in this Bill, many of which I regard as extremely serious, this specific one has excited two camps. One camp says, "We must have these forums. It is about time we got to know what local authorities are doing. We want the power." The people who argue in that way, with great feeling, believe that if they have a schools forum, they will get a great deal more money into their schools. That is the simplistic understanding of the matter.
On the other side of the argument, people are saying, "For goodness sake get schools forums out of this Bill. We will support any effort to do that". I want to take the provision out of the Bill. That is the purpose of my amendment. I believe that we should go down the road of saying to local authorities that they should be more clear about what they are doing; there should be a great deal more transparency. The Government could do more to make the system transparent. They could do more about putting their own house in order before invoking local authorities to put order in theirs .
I believe also that where a local authority has the equivalent of a forum which is working well, tailor-made to their own ways of doing things, and where the schools, the head teachers and the governors are entirely happy, they should be allowed to continue. Indeed, in many local authorities, and mine is one, they take the whole budgetary process out on to the road; they have a road show. They discuss it with local communities, with parish councils and with district councils as well as with their primary and secondary schools forums. That is the road to go down. If, as my noble friend who is outside looking after his ducklings suggests, we could achieve the same end by his amendment, gaining flexibility where the schools themselves wished to have such a set-up, then we should go down that road. But, like my noble friend too, I am concerned about the power. It is genuinely the thin end of the wedge.
My Lords, I am afraid I cannot think of a quip on ducklings; it is beyond me.
I turn first to Amendments Nos. 73 to 75. In our proposals for schools forums, which we have begun to talk about with all the appropriate bodies, we made clear that we proposed four main functions. Three of those were consultation on the funding formula for schools; consultation on various aspects of the management of the schools budget as specified in regulations; and consultation on aspects of local education authority contracts for services. I accept that the primary role of forums is to be advisory. We see the forums as acting in partnership with their authorities. We hope that they will bring the opportunity of a collective opinion on the way that the schools budget should be managed.
However, as I said, we believe it right that they should have a limited role in taking decisions. In the consultation we are talking about, the areas of expenditure which we propose should be remitted to the forums for decisions on delegation. I have outlined the most significant of those as being primary and secondary school meals. I have also indicated the other areas of museum and library services, and licensed copyright fees.
There are often local reasons why schools prefer one outcome or the other, and we hope that the forums can usefully address those. It is a modest exercise in giving schools more responsibility. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I turn to Amendment No. 76 and say at once that I understand the concerns of the right reverend Prelate that on current plans there is to be no requirement for separate categories of school to be automatically represented on schools forums. However, the draft regulations on which we are currently consulting contain an explicit power for a local education authority to order its elections so as to achieve that result if it wishes.
We have spent some time considering this issue. However, the position on schools forums is very different to that for some similar bodies such as school organisation committees. First, the recurrent funding of maintained schools is hardly affected at all by its category. Therefore separate representation on the forum is not a clear necessity. Secondly, in many authorities the number of schools in certain categories is very low. Having an absolute requirement in the manner proposed by the right reverend Prelate's amendment would make the election process throughout the country more complex for little reason.
That is why we feel that the discretionary power in the draft regulations is sufficient. There will be authorities with large numbers of voluntary or perhaps foundation schools which will wish to consider using it because of their local circumstances, and we shall be happy to see them doing so. But we feel that a universal requirement goes too far.
However, I remind noble Lords that forums will also have non-schools members. In our consultation paper we made clear that we see diocesan authorities as obvious candidates for nomination to such membership. When we come to issue guidance to authorities on setting up forums we shall say that we expect them to take full account of the need to have diocesan authorities in membership. I hope that that commitment meets the spirit of the right reverend Prelate's concern to ensure that those interests are represented.
As we come to Amendment No. 77, after discussion of various aspects of the schools forums policy, I want to emphasise some principal points. I have made clear that we see the forums as mainly advisory bodies with a modest decision-making role. We want them to be meaningful. We want them to have a real job to do. Essentially, we trust that they will be vehicles for partnership, and we hope that local education authorities will increasingly come to value them.
We do not want them to be, and they will not be, another layer of top-heavy bureaucracy taking away significant sums from schools. In the average local education authority the cost per school will be around £200 for schools to play a proper part in managing the new schools budget. They will be a resource for schools and education authorities.
I know, and noble Lords have mentioned it—I address my remarks specifically to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—that the House has been concerned at the possibility that local consultation arrangements, some of them working satisfactorily and indeed praised by Ofsted, would be damaged by the introduction of the forums. Our aim is to spread best practice and not destroy it. That is why we shall be considering carefully the responses to the consultation exercise.
I readily concede that the debate remains open. I accept that the noble Baroness made some strong points as to what is already happening in different local authority areas, such as the road show in Cambridgeshire. The Secretary of State is mindful of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and others in Committee about the need for flexibility in this matter to avoid displacing good existing arrangements. I can say today that, when we consider responses to the consultation, we shall be looking to find a way to create sufficient flexibility to allow local education authorities the scope to keep the best features of their existing arrangements while making sure that effective forums are put in place in education authorities throughout the country.
I reiterate a point I made in response to concerns expressed earlier in our debate about the impact of increased delegation on SEN services. The existence of forums will provide the assurance of local scrutiny that will enable us to cease to set delegation targets for LEAs. They play an important role in our reforms of the funding system.
In conclusion I want to emphasise this. Schools have come of age in managing themselves. They now have larger budgets. They make most expenditure decisions for themselves. They take responsibility. But they do not operate in isolation. They are part of a community. The establishment of schools forums will add meaning to that and will become a vital component of it. By establishing forums we signal to schools that they should be taking part in the process of managing public resources, not in a way which usurps the overall responsibility of the democratically elected authority, but in a way which recognises that schools have come a long way since the first experiments in local financial management.
In the light of those assurances on the regulations and our search to find sufficient flexibility, and from her experience of the well-known experiments in Cambridgeshire, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall raise two points arising from those remarks. When arrangements become formal under the law, as opposed to being informal arrangements, they tend to take on a life of their own. We are talking about travelling subsistence for up to 50 people, service provision, and all the formality that will surround the information that will be collected, collated, checked and monitored. The Minister talked about £200 per school, which is a very modest sum. It also has to include supply cover for each teacher who takes half a day or more out of term time.
My second point relates to SSAs, which the noble Baroness said would no longer be a feature of education funding. Can I take it that SSAs for all other services will be swept away? Unless they are swept away for all services, it would make no sense to sweep them away for education only.
My Lords, the calculation of £200 per school is a real one. We talked about schools forums meeting three times a term as a possibility. We are keen to have flexibility on how forums are set up and that, as far as possible, they retain the most important aspects. We took incredibly seriously what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said in Committee about not wanting to tear down arrangements that are working successfully. The intention of schools forums is to bring about successful arrangements across the country. We shall have some early indications before Third Reading from the consultation that is taking place, and I shall be happy to write to the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, to set out our first thoughts. I recognise that I am unable today to give the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, more assurances about these issues.
The answer to the noble Baroness's second point is that all SSAs are being replaced.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response. She is aware that we are unhappy with schools forums. Although the area in which schools forums will be more than advisory is small and relatively insignificant, we wonder why the Government want to put the measure in place to achieve that. That could be achieved just as easily by extending consultations with schools on these subjects. We have nasty, suspicious minds about the purpose of these clauses and we shall certainly return to them at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I listened carefully to the Minister's remarks, and I am enormously grateful to her for the time that she has taken. I genuinely believe that she and her department have worked very hard, but I am extremely unhappy at the outcome. I am sorry about that, as it is my final amendment to the Bill.
We should be taking into account the special relationship between voluntary schools and money. We are dealing with governors who, on behalf of trustees, have a particular responsibility for the buildings. Large sums of expenditure are involved and unless their voices and views are heard, there will be dissatisfaction. There will always be a claim that there is prejudice and bias.
We all bring a certain amount of experience or baggage to such debates. In my 12 years as director of education in the diocese of Durham, there were times when various authorities within the diocese, of which there were four—I shall not name any particular one—sought to disadvantage the voluntary schools by not enabling them to provide nursery units and other things that were popular at the time, and which had a direct effect on recruitment to such schools.
I am disappointed that that point has not been acknowledged. I feel that perhaps I have been unable to express the nature of what we are discussing. It is not about expenditure on the running of schools, such as teaching and so on, but the fact that voluntary school governors have particular responsibilities with regard to the buildings, and ultimate responsibility if buildings deteriorate. Those future problems are not being addressed.
We shall have to consider further our attitude to schools forums.
My Lords, Clause 42 deals with yet more regulations—our perennial favourite—requiring,
"the governing body of a maintained school ... to keep prescribed accounts and prescribed records in relation to the accounts".
I am amazed that we are only just legislating for that as governing bodies have been required under the law to keep accounts since Adam was a boy. The clause continues that such bodies will be required,
"to prepare prescribed financial statements or reports", which they already do under law, and,
"to comply with prescribed conditions with respect to audit".
They have a legal obligation to do that without the Bill.
Clause 42 also requires governing bodies,
"to send copies of the accounts, together with such financial statements or reports as may be prescribed, to the local education authority".
That is the point at which I suggest it should stop, but the clause continues with the words,
Local authorities, in addition to preparing their accounts, and complying with all the rules that I have just read out, must also produce an annual report and accounts, which is a public document. They must provide all that information for auditors, whose report is part of the public accounts. They are inspected by Ofsted and every Ofsted report has to include a section on the way in which the school is managed and how its report and accounts are produced. All the information contained in every Ofsted report is held in public libraries and is available to the community and the parents. In addition, a copy of every Ofsted report is sent to the Secretary of State.
I should like Clause 42 to be removed from the Bill altogether. I suspect that there will be some reason why all previous statutes should be superseded by this clause as I cannot believe that it is not already a legal requirement to do all those things listed in Clause 42(1). It is taking it a little far if each school has to do that. If the information has to go to local authorities, which the amendment would allow, let them provide the information for the Secretary of State. Schools should be relieved of that duty. I beg to move.
My Lords, this clause supports the introduction of the consistent financial reporting initiative that will provide data so that all schools will be able to bench-mark their expenditure against a good range of comparator schools. We believe that this is an important new initiative that is already under way. The clause has been introduced to give it a specific legal basis rather than relying upon a set of current legislative provisions that were not designed with the CFR in mind.
We anticipate that returns from schools will usually go via their local education authority for quality assurance. Onward submission to the Secretary of State, or the National Assembly for Wales, for national aggregation of data could be required under Clause 42(4). However, we have inserted into Clause 42(1) the facility to require direct submission of material to the Secretary of State. Upon reflection, we have decided that that is unnecessary. The noble Baroness is right in this respect. It will be sufficient to rely on documents being routed via the LEA. We are, therefore, extremely happy to accept the noble Baroness's amendment.
I feel faint, my Lords; I am having an attack of the vapours! I am grateful for that acceptance. I was about to say that it was inconceivable that the good sense of this amendment would not be seen. However, it has been seen. I am eternally grateful to the Minister. I commend the amendment to the House.
moved Amendment No. 79:
Before Clause 44, insert the following new clause—
After section 106 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (ballot regulations: eligibility of the parents to request or vote in ballot) there is inserted—
"106A RESTRICTIONS RELATING TO PETITIONS AND BALLOTS
Where a petition of parents has been initiated and failed to acquire the requisite number of signatures within the prescribed time limit, or a ballot has been held and no change to admissions arrangements has been agreed, no further ballot may take place within a period of six years.""
My Lords, I do not suppose that I shall be as lucky with this amendment. The Government are very fond of referring to the Ripon petition and ballot process as a panacea for the answers to absolutely every point that one raises as regards a problem with both petitioning and balloting. However, I should like for a moment to explain just how unsettling it is for any school to be threatened with the collection of signatures for a petition. That applies even more so when that process begins to gather apace, although very often it is abandoned. Indeed, that has happened in almost all cases, except in the Ripon grammar school petition and ballot. After it is abandoned, the school stops worrying and gets back to what it should be doing with the children but then another group of parents appear and the whole process starts all over again.
This process can continue for year after year in some parts of the country, so it is important for there to be some respite. A child starting in the first year at a grammar school can have his or her life of education disrupted by this kind of political—that is, "political" with both a small "p" and a big "P"—activity in the local area, which causes tension and is most unsettling for the staff, the head teacher, the parents, and the children.
I addressed the point fairly raised by the Minister during the previous stage of the Bill; namely, that if it were to count from the initiation of the petition, one had only to collect one signature and the clock would start ticking. Therefore, my amendment says:
"Where a petition ... has been initiated and failed", because, if it has failed, the process cannot start again until the following academic year. However, if a petition has been initiated but,
"has failed to acquire the requisite number of signatures",
I believe that there should be a respite for a least the life of one child passing through one school. That is why I have chosen the period of six years. It is arguable whether it should be five or six years, but most of the schools about which we are talking are 11 to 18 schools. It is only fair that that should be so. It would not remove the petitions and ballots, and it would not remove the system—indeed, I accepted defeat on that during the previous stage of the Bill. There is a very real argument for allowing these young people to go through school without the constant war of attrition on their education by political activists, with both a small "p" and a big "P", in their local area. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness starts from the position that she has asserted to your Lordships on several occasions; namely, that she favours academic selection at the age of 11, and the continuation of grammar schools. Therefore, it is not in the least surprising that she should take every opportunity to speak on matters relating to the ballot, and so on.
I share one view with the noble Baroness. I am totally opposed to petitions and ballots, the reason being that I am opposed to grammar schools. After all the wasted years, I had assumed that a Labour Government elected with a massive majority would have stuck to their fundamental philosophy of simply abolishing the grammar schools. Having achieved this great majority that those of us in the early days never had and, therefore, could not do what we thought was right, I was very taken aback when this Government decided to go down the petitions and ballots route. I say to the noble Baroness that, yes, we should not have petitions and ballots; but, equally, we should not have selection at the age of 11.
The bias involved in petitions and ballots has made things practically impossible for any parents' group. Most of the groups that I know are not party political; they are just people who believe that selection at the age of 11 is immensely damaging to children—a subject to which I shall return if we ever reach my amendment this evening. It is news to me that such ballots have actually been damaging to the education of children. When speaking to parents, I have heard nothing about the slight possibility that, via a ballot, a grammar schools might one day get itself abolished and, as a result, somehow affect the education of any children. I repeat a remark that I have made on other topics. I know of no research that suggests that the ballot process has led to that outcome. If we were to undertake the usual kind of survey, my guess is that on questioning the young children about the ballot we would discover that 1 per cent would say "yes", 1 per cent would say "no", and the remaining 98 per cent would respond by asking "What's a ballot?".
The argument put forward by the noble Baroness is simply not a valid argument to which we ought to pay attention. The valid argument is the one that she does not put forward; namely, that she likes the grammar schools, she wants them protected, and she does not want any means put forward that would assist people in getting rid of them. That seems to me a totally forthright and straightforward position and something with which one could come to grips. However, that is not the argument that has been put forward. I assume that the amendment is proposed as a debating point. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will produce a debating answer. I honestly do not believe that it is about reality in terms of education in our schools.
My Lords, this proposed new clause has two purposes. It changes the current moratorium period of five years from the date on which the ballot result is announced to six years. Because, in practice, it will usually take the better part of a year for campaigners to gather names for a petition and for the ballot company to check its validity and hold a ballot, this aspect of the new clause would have little practical effect. More significantly, it would introduce a new moratorium in the event of an unsuccessful petition when a ballot has not actually been held.
I dwell on the Ripon example only for a few moments. When a ballot clearly demonstrates local support for the existing admission arrangements, as, for example, in Ripon, it is of course right that the school concerned should enjoy a period of stability. That is why our procedures allow a five-year moratorium on further campaigns. However, where there has been no ballot and, therefore, no expression of local feeling, it cannot be right to deny parents the opportunity to reconsider the issue.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, I spoke in Committee of my concern that the introduction of a moratorium following an unsuccessful petition could be open to abuse. The clause now before us, although worded slightly differently, does nothing to address that possibility. Someone would have only to register a request for a petition threshold to be set with the ballot company to prevent any attempt in the next six years to gauge support for change among local parents. The effect of introducing such a provision would only be negative. It would prevent local parents who, after consideration of local issues, came to believe that a grammar school was no longer appropriate for their community from testing opinion in a measurable way.
The question of grammar school ballot arrangements has been aired on a number of occasions in this House and in another place. I believe that we have had the opportunity during the debates on this Bill to put forward arguments. We on this side of the House continue to believe—well, nearly all of us—that the arrangements currently in place strike a sensible balance between the stability that schools need and parents' right to express a view. I hope that the explanations I have given will be sufficient to persuade the noble Baroness to withdraw this proposed new clause.
My Lords, I thought that trotting out Ripon yet again would be irresistible. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that I make no secret of my preference for the continuation and even the extension of grammar schools. But the point that I was making in my amendment was that, whether or not one is for or against grammar schools, there ought to be a concern for the relentless and—what I would describe as—the "disruptive" activity of the petitioners. They create quite a fuss, standing outside school gates, in the market square and stopping people as they are shopping in the area.
The threat of closure is the outcome of a successful ballot: the grammar school is closed. If there are places in the area it may not even re-open as a comprehensive school. It may be merged with another school. If the noble Lord remembers the Act where that was enacted, he will know that the organisation of the school on ceasing to become a grammar school is a matter for discussion after and not at the time of the decision. That closure threat is unsettling for the parents and for the staff. I must also argue that that can have an effect on the education of the children. It is disruptive. It pre-occupies the minds of those who oppose the notion of closing the grammar school.
Therefore, the parents who support it—and they are not always the parents of children at the school but those in the area—the children, the teachers and certainly the governors and the head teacher will become involved in a campaign. Their energies are dissipated in the activity of opposing the closure. I return to Ripon. Ripon is not the example that should be used here because it had a successful petition. There was a ballot. It was determined by the local parents that the grammar school should continue. And there is a moratorium in place.
That is not the point of my amendment. If those who collect the signatures for a petition are unsuccessful—they may collect half or three-quarters, or even 99.9 per cent of the signatures—and do not collect 100 per cent of the required signatures, the petition fails. They are allowed to return to that year after year. I am simply saying that that is unacceptable. It creates a relentless war of attrition on the schools. I do not think that in putting that on the statute book the Government made a principled point. I think that the politics of envy are at play here. Somehow or other they see grammar schools as some creature of middle England that should be lost from the system. Mr Blunkett said that he frankly could not care less whether or not they survived. He does not see them as an important part of the tapestry of education.
However, if there is a principle at stake here, why, if it is so important for parents to have a view about whether grammar schools should continue, is it not the same for city academies—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, agrees with me—city technology colleges, specialist, music and drama schools? They all select children. For every child that is selected, many children are not. Those parents could feel equally aggrieved. As I say, I do not think that there is a principle here: it is the politics of envy. Sadly, there are too many people who oppose the existence of grammar schools. That is a great pity because I think that they are an important part of the tapestry of education in this country. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we have rehearsed the arguments with regard to Amendment No. 80. They are similar to those for schools forums. We are now talking about admission forums. I again want to argue for all those authorities with good arrangements in place which work well. Some operate a collegiate system, others operate a system akin to the UCAS. Those plans go on.
Where there is dissatisfaction or grievance about the admission arrangements not working in an authority, and a group of schools say that they would like to have an admission forum, I believe that one should be set up. If that is not the case, and what is working in the authority works well with the approval of the schools, I see no reason why that system should not continue. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to use the amendment in order to ask a question. Mine is the next amendment which is also connected with admission forums. I have one problem: I have great difficulty in understanding the composition of the admission forum. Who will be on the admission forum? I cottoned on late to the composition of the schools forums. I was therefore able to follow our debates on that subject.
I wonder whether I am alone in being the only person who does not understand what the composition of the admission forum will be. I am hoping therefore that, best of all, the Minister will stand up and tell me who will be on the admission forums, but if my noble friend does not know—which I cannot believe for one minute—then maybe the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will tell me if she knows. It has held me back a little in terms of my approach to the matter.
That is my only reason for intervening at this point on admission forums. It would be helpful to know rather more precisely who will be doing this.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 82 which is grouped with Amendment No. 80. It seeks to add city technology colleges and city academies among those included in the admission forums' discussions. We had a fairly lengthy discussion on this matter in Committee.
The outcome of our discussion on admission forums was, first, that the forums are to be purely advisory. Their aim is to help smooth the admissions arrangements in any local area. Normally that local area will be smaller than that of the local education authority. It will revolve around a sub-area of a town or a particular rural district area.
City technology colleges are totally independent. They will be outside, but will be invited to participate as the Minister said. We would very much like them to join in. We want to encourage city technology colleges to participate in forum discussions. We shall, by way of regulations, require forums to invite city technology colleges to attend meetings. All academies, through their funding arrangements, will be obliged to comply with the requirements of admissions law as it applies to maintained schools. They will be required, therefore, to take part in the statutory admissions forums. Since that is the case, our view is that it would be sensible to include them on the face of the Bill.
Quite clearly, city technology colleges have a major impact on admissions arrangements. Since the forum is only advisory and since its purpose is to try to sort and smooth matters out, the sensible thing would be to have not only the academies which are required to be there—and it is silly not to have them on the face of the Bill if they are going to be there—but to include city technology colleges on the face of the Bill. That is why we tabled the amendment again. I do think that there would be some sense in the Minister agreeing to it.
My Lords, I support the amendments tabled by my noble friend and by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. They seem to be eminently sensible. My noble friend's amendment is essential for this part of the Bill.
Amendment No. 81A is intended to take matters a little further. The Government have never fought shy of giving advice to people who do not want or need it. I do not see why they should fight shy of giving advice to all schools up to and including independent schools where to other schools in the area that seems to be an important part of the way that admissions are handled locally.
Obviously, that does not apply in some towns and cities, such as Winchester. Winchester College might as well be on Mars for all the interface that it has with the other schools in the locality. But there are other independent schools—Manchester Grammar School springs immediately to mind—that would like to be back in the state system if only the right funding arrangements could be organised. Many other independent schools, such as the arts-related schools, have a strong interface, one way or another, with what is the general education pattern in the area. I want the admission forum to have the power to involve those schools and issue advice to them if that is considered right by those schools and others in the locality. That would take the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, a little further.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Peston now feels that he knows what is to be the membership of the forum. For the benefit of any other noble Lords who have doubts, we have issued a policy statement that is available in the Library. When we rise—I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in wanting to move to that point—I am happy to discuss the matter with noble Lords who are in any doubt.
I turn to Amendment No. 80, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, we debated in Committee. I am a great fan of mandatory admission forums. I speak as a parent who was on the receiving end of a good quality one last year, when my son moved from primary to secondary school. It is one of the ways in which we know that we can improve the school admission process for even more parents and children. Every area will benefit from having a forum and the forum's role will be valuable. Many people have told us that forums would have a greater impact if they were in every area and admission authorities were required to have regard to their advice.
They will advise all admission authorities in the area, including the education authority, on admission issues and consider how well existing arrangements serve the interest of local parents and children. They will reach local agreement on new or controversial issues and an important part of their work will be to broker arrangements to ensure that vulnerable and challenging children—and those who arrive in an area outside the normal admission round—have fair access to local schools. Those are matters that are far too important to be left to chance. The schools most likely to vote against the establishment of a forum are those that that would not want to join in such collaboration.
All maintained schools will, of course, have a voice on the forum. We will expect core members to include representatives of head teachers and governors of foundation, community and voluntary schools. Mandatory forums will improve the admission process by ensuring real discussion and consensus between the key admission partners in an local education authority area. That is a matter of real importance and should no longer be voluntary. We do not want every governing body to have to debate, vote and then make a request in order for forums to be established. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I turn to Amendment No. 82, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. As I explained in Committee, city academies, academies and city technology colleges are not maintained schools and are not subject to the admission provisions of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. However, we recognise that certain schools not maintained by local education authorities, such as academies, have an important contribution to make to admission forum discussions and should be included in the membership of the local forum and have regard to its advice.
All academies will be obliged through their funding agreements to comply with the requirements of admission law and the admission codes as if they were maintained schools. Academies will therefore be required by their funding agreements to take part in statutory admission forums and to have regard to the forums' advice. In regulations, we will require education authorities to appoint representatives of academies to be members of the forum.
We have put in place robust arrangements to ensure that academies will be inclusive schools and that they will agree their admission arrangements in partnership with education authorities and other admission authorities. Their admission arrangements will be compatible with those of other schools in the area, and parents will have the same rights when applying for a place at an academy as they would in relation to maintained schools.
I have considerable sympathy with the aims of this amendment and I shall reconsider the involvement of academies in admission forums to see what could be done further to strengthen the provisions. I shall return to the issue, after discussion with the noble Baroness, if needed, at Third Reading.
The situation for city technology colleges is somewhat different. Although we also want to encourage CTCs to participate in forum discussions, and in regulations we will require LEAs to invite representatives of city technology colleges to attend meetings and to appoint members of the forum where nominations by the CTC are made, we have no power to require CTCs to take part or to have regard to the advice of the forums. Their funding agreements have been established for some time and their admission arrangements are required to be in line with their original principle: to provide education for children of different abilities drawn wholly or mainly from their local area. It is not possible at this stage to require them to have regard to the advice of the local forum, although we would greatly encourage them to do so—and, of course, there will be no more new city technology colleges. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.
I turn to Amendment No. 81A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As he said, it would make an admission forum responsible for advising all schools, including those in the private sector, on admission matters. The noble Lord helpfully clarified that what he seeks is an assurance that if a forum wanted to involve the independent sector and the independent sector wanted, that would be allowed. I must say that I do not see great advantage in that. However, if the local education authority and the schools think that there would be benefit from such an arrangement, there will be nothing to stop them doing that. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will be satisfied and not press his amendment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has already mentioned page 41 of the policy statement prepared for Standing Committee G in another place, which has been a helpful document—so helpful that most of what the noble Baroness said is not included. City technology colleges are not mentioned, nor are academies—they are not part of the detailed account of the draft regulations, which runs to several pages. So policy is here being made on the hoof and it would be interesting to know why that change was made and precisely how it will be introduced. It is being introduced only in response to an amendment.
If the noble Lord, Lord Peston, did not realise it, I must tell him that I was being facetious when I asked why the Government put in place petitions for ballots to remove grammar schools but not CTCs, academies and all the rest. The principle is similar. I was not advocating that; I was simply pointing out the inconsistency of the Government's policy. There is an inconsistency here, too, because the admission arrangements for the academies, if they are following the same route as the CTCs—I understand that they are—were laid out in great detail when they were set up. Under their constitutions, they are already legally obliged to follow procedures for admission to their schools. So entering an admissions forum would serve no purpose. As I said, that is new policy made on the hoof and it would be helpful to have either a letter or some other explanation of that later.
I am sorry that it will not be left to a majority of schools in an area to request a forum if they are unhappy and one does not exist. Again, we return to "one size fits all". When the regulations appear, there will be little flexibility, because the Minister's argument was that the Government want uniformity, everyone doing the same and consistency. That means the dull uniformity and greyness of one size fits all. All of those wonderful, flexible, innovative ideas flourishing out there will be disbanded and we shall have to fall into line with Whitehall, which the Government think knows best. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, perhaps I may suggest that further consideration on Report begin again not before 8.39 p.m.