moved Amendment No. 145A:
After Clause 100, insert the following new clause—
"ANNUAL PARENTS' MEETING
(1) It shall be left to the discretion of the headmaster of each maintained school in England and Wales to decide whether or not to hold an annual parents' meeting.
(2) The headmaster shall decide on the nature, length and style of any meeting which is to be held."
We debated the whole issue just before we adjourned. I feel that I should test the feeling of the Committee on the amendment because of the strength of feeling on the whole issue.
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may make explicitly clear what my noble friend was signalling—I thought very clearly—before we adjourned for dinner. We have had a number of important debates about the role of parents generally in the Bill. We debated their role in inspection and in the governance and accountability of the school, as exhibited through annual reports and other mechanisms.
I am signalling to the Committee very clearly that these are absolutely critical issues. We think the role of parents is fundamental to raising school attainment. I am giving as clear signals as possible that we wish to give very serious reflection and consideration to the points that Members of the Committee have made. The Committee knows what that means; it means that we shall go away and reflect on these issues. It does not guarantee that we will completely transform the issue, but it does signal that we are very serious in reflecting on these issues to see whether we can address the concerns of the Committee.
I thank the Minister for that comment. He will have heard the strength of feeling from all sides of the Chamber about this issue earlier in the debate. I should still like to test the feeling of the Committee on this amendment, although obviously there could be further amendments later if this one is not successful.
Just when I thought I was getting the hang of all this, I realise that I do not understand it at all. These amendments are all about Clause 101, which we debated in the previous group of amendments. I shall not detain the Committee any longer, as we have already had a very thorough debate. I agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Lucas said. The Minister said that the profiles were being trialled. Perhaps I could assist the Government with that trial by sending them my questions. If the Minister would be kind enough to answer them, we would be most grateful. I beg to move.
I wish to speak briefly to Amendment No. 146, which is tabled in my name. The clause seems to prevent the governing body providing such information as it may wish as part of its school profile. As drafted, the clause gives the Secretary of State unlimited powers. I would like to add the phrase,
"or which the governing body may wish to provide", in terms of additional information. It frees up the provision.
In addition, the NSPCC has asked me to ask the Government whether the Minister can give an assurance that they envisage the regulations providing for the inclusion of non-academic-related information in the school profiles; for example, the school's safeguarding and child protection arrangements, its contribution to improving well-being, co-operation with other agencies and development of extended services, where appropriate.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for the suggestion. It is an extension of the trial. She will find that many of the questions that she asked in her many amendments on this matter will be answered in the affirmative, because we are making provision already. I shall certainly give her a fuller answer than I can provide today.
Amendment No. 146 would allow the governing bodies to add extra information. We intend to reduce prescription so that schools can reflect aspects other than the important information that they are required to give parents. We are reducing the statutory content, but parents must have a minimum amount of information: that is the role of the profile, and it is what parents want. When we trialled the profile with parents, they really liked it.
We also want schools to provide reliable information about pupil achievement and plans for the future—parents were also keen on that. Within that there will be narrative sections, written by the governing body, which can be tailored. So, for example, they can make a feature of the school's safeguarding arrangements or partnership arrangements. At the same time, we need a basic agreement with schools about what is in them. We must make sure that it is consistent and that schools can, as it were, relate to one another. They would certainly be free to put in a lot of things to show the school off.
I thank the Minister for that reply. If, under the clause, the Secretary of State is to be given absolute discretion about the contents of the profile, where is the deregulation, unless there are clear limits to that discretion? We have to trust the governing bodies to govern. The profile should go to parents. After all, if it does not go to them, what is the point of it? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I say at the outset that I welcome the opportunity that this part of the Bill gives schools to extend their provision towards higher and further education. However, if the provision to be made is genuinely at the higher and possibly tertiary level, the patterns of inspection should be appropriate to that. Thus, I believe that there is a need to seek an agreement between HMCI and the Quality Assurance Agency, which is responsible for the quality assurance of education at tertiary level.
I am not asking for a separate inspection. That would be against the spirit of the Bill and would overburden schools with an additional inspection. However, there ought to be consultation and, ideally, agreement between the two bodies. I believe that the current incumbents are quite capable of reaching that agreement.
There would be two advantages. The first is that it would help the quality of the courses offered in this provision to be seen to be credibly at a higher and tertiary level. Secondly, it would help colleges in the higher and tertiary area to give due credit for such courses, where that was appropriate. Those would be the specific benefits of a clear inspection system involving the agreement of the QAA.
Initially, there will be limited take-up of the option. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. Do the Government expect many schools to take it up? However, its perceived value will grow. Schools with ambition, of which there are an increasing number, will begin to seize the opportunity, especially, I expect, city academies, whose inspection is our business, but also some private schools that have a good record of following HMCI protocols in inspection. It would be an encouragement to them to ensure that the inspection of such courses, which may well flourish in private schools and city academies, is appropriate.
Lastly, the option to extend the range of school education into this area will be increasingly attractive, as university fees begin to bite. It could become a de facto extension of the number of places offering some form of tertiary education, albeit within the school sector.
Although it will not happen immediately or quickly, people will see it as an opportunity. Private schools, city academies and others will follow that route, hence the need now to make adequate provision for the proper type of inspection. I beg to move.
I apologise: I was not quick enough to my feet. In speaking to Clause 102 stand part, I shall speak also in support of Amendment No. 147, which is tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland. I wish to associate these Benches with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said.
Shocking as it might seem, I find myself in one of those rare positions where I can support a government proposal—in this case, the concept of a school being able to offer its pupils courses in higher education. However, we have questioned that Clause 102 stand part of the Bill because there are a number of important questions that need to be answered.
This is a sensible step forward, which will allow head teachers the freedom to provide a greater variety of education in their schools that will act as a stepping stone from school to university. We are also pleased that such courses should not be offered if they would have a detrimental impact on the provision of other education offered in a school. Teachers are already under immense pressure simply coping with their existing duties. We would not want them swamped by additional responsibilities.
I would like briefly to outline our support for Amendment No. 147. As the Bill stands there exists no mechanism for either inspecting or assessing how effective such courses would be. I have seven practical questions. Going through them now would require a detailed analysis. If the Minister does not mind, I am happy to let her have the questions, to which she can reply in writing. I hope that she will be able to provide the assurances that we seek.
The volume of correspondence that the noble Baroness and I will have in the next week will, I think, reach mega proportions. If she has detailed questions, we will be delighted to answer them.
Perhaps I may reiterate my thanks to the two noble Lords who have welcomed this clause. It is a very exciting development to offer courses at a level higher than A-level as an enrichment activity alongside the main course of study. That shows what we are beginning to achieve in terms of stretching not just the most able students, because these courses could come from different directions. The courses would meet the needs of individual students as well as raising their aspirations.
As regards take-up, at present there are a small number of innovative maintained schools working to stretch their most able students with vocational and professional qualifications and modules of Open University courses, which lend themselves very well. This clause would ensure that all schools which consider such high-level provision would be of benefit are able to develop similar enrichment programmes. It is hard to tell what the take-up will be. My feeling is that it presents a wonderful opportunity for many good schools. I hope that we will be surprised by the take-up.
However, this clause will not enable schools to offer full degrees or full first years of degrees. It will not and must not displace the statutory learning of 14 to 19 year-olds, but it will offer an opportunity to develop independent learning skills for those students going on to higher education, which will be very useful.
Amendment No. 147 focuses on quality assurance. I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that he did not think that an independent inspection was appropriate. We are clear that the Ofsted inspection framework will be quite adequate. Perhaps I may explain why. I would hazard that it is not in the Bill because it does not need to be in order to be included.
Under the current school framework and the proposed new inspection arrangements such provision can be assessed by Ofsted as part of its assessment of enrichment activities provided for pupils. That will be appropriate and consistent with the small proportion of students likely to be involved. Estyn in Wales can also assess such provision.
The QAA has a role as part of its broader responsibilities to ensure that higher education institutions have systems in place to assure quality and standards wherever it is delivered. Ofsted and Estyn will need to consult and agree with the QAA the most appropriate way of inspecting such provision.
Our view is that those arrangements are best left flexible, reflecting the varying nature and style of delivery of such provision locally in schools. Clearly, we are in a moving situation, which we will keep under review. We will work together to address any changes necessary to take account of future developments. That may not be quite the answer that the noble Lord wanted, but I hope he will be content to let us keep watching the situation for a while.
Members on these Benches simply want to know how this will work, how it will be funded, and ensure that any final decision remains with heads and governing bodies.
I thank the noble Baroness for her helpful reply, although there is still a question of quite how the QAA will be involved. I would hate a situation to develop where personalities made it difficult. At the moment that would not be the case, and the advantage of having something either written down or on the record is that personalities would have to overcome any such risks. However, I shall think about it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 148:
Page 138, leave out lines 26 and 27 and insert—
"(2) In sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) at the beginning insert "Subject to sub-paragraph (1A),", and
(b) in paragraph (a), after "paragraph 5(4)(c)" insert "or 5(4B)(c)"."
In moving Amendment No. 148, I shall speak also to the other government amendments in the group. Schedule 17 is intended to ensure that publicly funded land no longer required for a foundation school remains available for alternative educational use. A governing body or foundation body wishing to dispose of land must seek the consent of the Secretary of State or the Assembly.
Schedule 17 closes the loophole that currently arises where land is transferred from the governing body of a foundation school to its trustees, who would not be caught by the prohibition on disposal. The subsequent amendments in the group are necessary to ensure that the legislation takes full account of all the circumstances in which trustees may acquire land for foundation schools. Our intention is to provide adequate protection for all former local authority land held by trustees. In order to do this, the legislation must set out clearly all the circumstances in which they might acquire the land.
As it stands, new paragraph 2A of Schedule 22 to the 1998 Act, which is inserted by Schedule 17, would not impose restrictions on the subsequent disposal of land by foundation school trustees who acquired it as a result of such a direction. The effect of Amendments Nos. 148 to 151 is to capture land transferred to trustees in the circumstances I have described within the definition of land which may not be disposed of without the consent of the Secretary of State or the Assembly.
The effect of Amendment No. 152 is different. It enables the Secretary of State or the Assembly to direct that where trustees hold land on trust for a foundation school which is discontinued, the same body of trustees may continue to hold the land for the purposes of a different school. This further amendment is intended to ensure that the legislation is comprehensive in its coverage so that all publicly funded foundation school land is subject to the same restrictions on disposal. I hope that the Committee will support the amendments. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 149 and 150:
Page 139, line 7, after "enactment)" insert ", under paragraph 5(4B)(c) of this Schedule"
Page 139, line 14, at end insert "or of another foundation or foundation special school"
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 150ZA:
Page 139, line 25, at end insert—
"( ) The trustees of a foundation school or foundation special school shall not make any disposal where land is designated or used for recreational or sports use by pupils of that school or members of that local community unless alternative provision has been acquired."
Amendment No. 150ZA would effectively forbid the trustees of a foundation school or foundation special school disposing of land used by either the pupils of the relevant school or members of the local community for recreational or sporting purposes unless alternative provision has been acquired.
Recreational space is a vital part of every community, especially the land offered by schools. But despite its importance, an average of one playing field every day comes under threat from building development. There is no statutory protection for our playing fields, so the country's irreplaceable recreational heritage and future sporting facilities are constantly at risk.
Statistics produced by the DfES for October 1998 to December 2002 show that the number of applications received for playing field disposals where the area is larger than a sports pitch was 168. Of those, 118 were approved, 19 were withdrawn and only two were rejected. The number of applications received for playing field disposals where the area is smaller than a sports pitch was 102, of which 84 were approved, 10 were withdrawn and four were rejected. Therefore the overall picture during the period was 202 approvals and only six rejections.
We are aware of the then Education Secretary's move, announced last summer, in strengthening guidance on school playing fields disposals that would require town halls which wanted to sell off fields having to show that they had no other means of raising the cash. They would also have to reinvest any proceeds from the sales in new outdoor facilities "wherever possible", such as floodlighting or new drainage systems for remaining sports pitches.
However, such guidance does not apply to foundation, voluntary or foundation special schools. This is a serious loophole that the amendment attempts both to highlight and close.
Furthermore, the Government's new position on protecting playing fields applies only to proposals which are for disposals of land capable of being used as a sports pitch of at least 1.2 hectares, or half an acre. The new requirements relating to the use of proceeds will not apply to disposals of smaller parcels of land. We believe the amendment is an important means of protecting such sporting and recreational facilities under the control of foundation schools. I beg to move.
The Government are committed to the protection of school playing fields. Since 1998 we have ensured that only school pitches that are surplus to the needs of local schools and their communities are sold and that all the money is ploughed back into improving sports or educational facilities.
Schedule 22 to the 1998 Act, which this schedule amends, provides protection for land held by the governing bodies or trustees of foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools, and by foundation bodies. We are extending the protection for former local authority land held by the trustees of foundation schools. Section 77 of the 1998 Act provides further protection for school playing fields in particular, including land owned by local authorities and governing bodies and foundation bodies. The legislation protects school playgrounds and recreation areas as well as whole sports fields.
Local authorities and schools wishing to dispose of playing fields must satisfy rigorous criteria before their applications can be approved. These are set out in the department's guidance, which makes clear that disposal of playing fields will be allowed only if the sports and curriculum needs of the school disposing of the land and neighbouring schools continue to be met. Community usage of the school playing fields is also a consideration in decisions.
With reference to the substance of the amendment, it is the Secretary of State's policy that any sale proceeds must be reinvested first in outdoor sports facilities where possible; or, if not, in indoor sport or education facilities. This means that where school playing fields are disposed of there is no diminution in the standard of recreational facilities available to schools and local communities.
The Secretary of State has established an independent school playing fields advisory panel to advise on the extent to which applications meet the criteria.
These measures demonstrate our commitment to protection. We have set out rigorous criteria which those wishing to dispose of land must satisfy. We have put in place an independent panel of experts and we insist that any proceeds must normally be ploughed back into alternative sports provision.
There might be circumstances where local authorities or schools wishing to dispose of playing fields can demonstrate that recreational provision in the area is already of a sufficiently high quality and that the proceeds of sale should be used to provide better education or community facilities. Where they do this, having met the criteria set out and having satisfied the Secretary of State and the independent panel, we believe that they should not be prevented from investing in such facilities. Hence I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his detailed reply but, despite that answer, we feel that under the Government too many schools have lost too many playing fields and too many children have lost too vital a part of their education. This waste of resource and of children's talents and health must not be allowed to continue. For the moment I shall withdraw the amendment, but I am sure that we shall return to it at Report stage.
The education system in this country is not over-generously resourced and it is a pity that the value of any land that is not needed for one educational purpose should not be put to another educational purpose. In fact, the land itself could well be used for a different educational purpose if no longer needed for a school because of falling rolls.
Let me give two examples. The new children's centres will need a large amount of land and large buildings if all the different services are to be drawn together in one place. Schools are usually built in the centre of communities, which are exactly the sort of places where you would want to have children's centres.
Another example is further education colleges. An awful lot of them are in a terrible state. They need rebuilding; we need modern buildings for a modern further education system. Either the land itself or the proceeds from the sale of the land could very well be deployed in strengthening that part of our tertiary system.
I have tabled the amendment to probe the Government's feelings about these issues. The Government certainly have a lot of ideas about children's centres. Where will they get the premises? Where will they get the land? Where will they get the money? This is an opportunity to address those matters. I beg to move.
I broadly support the thrust of the noble Baroness's agenda. However, I will explain why I think that the amendment is not necessary and would perhaps frustrate what she seeks to achieve, although I recognise it is a probing amendment.
The purpose of the amendments that we are proposing to Schedule 22 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 is to ensure proper protection for local authority land transferred to the trustees of foundation schools. The amendments reinforce existing protection for such land so as to enable the Secretary of State to ensure that, in the event that it is no longer required for the purposes of the school which it was originally transferred to, any proceeds of sale may be retained for public benefit.
The Bill gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to determine to what use such proceeds of sale might be put. He might direct, for example, that they be paid to the local authority, retained by the school for other purposes, or made available to the governors or trustees of a different school.
The powers we are proposing for the Secretary of State in this sub-paragraph are identical to the Secretary of State's existing powers under Schedule 22(1)(3).
Where the trustees of a foundation school sought the Secretary of State's consent to dispose of land, they would submit details of the proposed disposal and how they intended to use any sale proceeds. The Secretary of State will consider each on its merits. It would first need to be considered by the independent School Playing Fields Advisory Panel, which would recommend to the Secretary of State whether consent should be given. When consenting to the disposal, the Secretary of State generally insists that any proceeds are used for capital purposes.
The amendment seeks to ensure that any proceeds of sale would be retained for educational purposes. I understand the objective, and while I do not object to the spirit of the amendment, I point out that the purposes of a school may extend beyond purely educational ones. The Government are committed to promoting and developing schools which provide a comprehensive range of services for pupils, their families and the wider community. These services might include childcare and health services, which go beyond what may be defined as "educational purposes" in statute.
I am delighted that schools and local authorities are embracing the extended schools agenda enthusiastically. Against that background, we would not want to prevent schools reinvesting the proceeds of sale from surplus land in other, non-educational activities benefiting pupils, their families and the wider community. But of course, they would have to meet the test on this amendment and the previous one.
I hope that that explanation is helpful, and that the noble Baroness feels comforted and not minded to press the amendment.
moved Amendments Nos. 151 and 152:
Page 140, leave out line 9 and insert—
"(2) In sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) at the beginning insert "Subject to sub-paragraph (2A),", and
(b) in paragraph (a), after "enactment)" insert "under paragraph 5(4B)(c) of this Schedule"."
Page 140, line 25, at end insert—
"(aa) where the trustees have power to use the land for the purposes of another foundation or foundation special school or for the purposes of a voluntary school, direct the trustees to exercise that power in such manner as he may specify;"
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 17, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 104 [Supply of information: education maintenance allowances]:
[Amendments Nos. 152A to 152C not moved.]
I will be brief in moving this amendment because I fear that any answers could be quite technical. Although we are happy to support any measures designed to crack down on abuse and unnecessary loss of public funds, every care must be taken when dealing with such personal information that it does not pass into the wrong hands.
Therefore, with these amendments we are seeking an explanation of who will actually receive this personal information and, again, on what grounds. What safeguards will be in place?
The Government's record on administering large IT-based contracts is not good. Therefore, we need all the assurances that the Minister can give us today that this will not end up going the same way as, for example, the passports fiasco or the Criminal Record Bureau problems. I beg to move.
This is one of a group of amendments on data sharing in relation to education maintenance allowances and free school meals. The previous group of amendments was withdrawn and I would have given the noble Baroness a long and detailed explanation of the exact process—about who receives this information and under what conditions.
I will address the amendments, but I will briefly say in relation to EMAs that the scheme is being administered by Capita at the moment. The information has to be provided by the young people themselves. It is basic information about household earnings and so forth. The school has very little to do with the process. It has to account for the registration of the young person. We need data-sharing provisions essentially to make sure that in the best, speediest and least bureaucratic way the information provided to make a claim for EMA can be verified by the Inland Revenue or benefits people. That is a very short outline about what is happening and I will write at length to the noble Baroness so that she understands the process involved. It is complex and technical.
The answer in relation to Amendments Nos. 152CA and 152CB is particularly technical. EMAs are administered under Section 14 of the Education Act 2002. As I said, the scheme is currently administered by Capita. However, Section 17 of the 2000 Act allows the Secretary of State to transfer his functions in future in relation to the administration of EMA to another body. We have chosen not to rely on the use of regulations in the first instance, which is why the provision is in the Bill, but we may use them in the future, so we must have the power to do that. When I write and explain the process, which I will do with pleasure, I will explain how this particular power will be used to secure proper future administration. What the noble Baroness said about the financial accountability, privacy and security of data is extremely important and we are alert to it.
Amendment No. 152CC, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, relates to the devolved administrations. Quite simply, we have a situation in which each of the devolved administrations operates a separate EMA allowance scheme. They are all members of a cross-departmental team that includes officials from the Treasury, the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions. They have been discussing how best to share data in a secure and effective way. They have designed what they think is the best operational process which will cover the devolved administrations by having only one nation sending data and receiving it from the Inland Revenue. Having a lead nation to do that will provide the best and most effective operational process. At the moment, because England has the largest volume of cases, the administrators of EMA in England have agreed to take on the lead nation role. Welsh and Northern Irish administrators will pass information to English administrators to be sent on to the Inland Revenue, which will return the information to the devolved administrations.
Clearly, noble Lords will find it much more helpful if I write and explain in detail how that will happen and the safeguards that are around that in terms of managing a secure process that gets the EMA where it is needed as swiftly and safely as possible.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 152CB and 152CC not moved.]
Clause 104 agreed to.
Clause 105 [Unauthorised disclosure of information received under section 104]:
[Amendment No. 152CD not moved.]
Clause 105 agreed to.
Clause 106 [Supply of information: free school lunches etc.]:
[Amendments Nos. 152D to 152GD not moved.]
Clause 106 agreed to.
Clauses 107 and 108 agreed to.
Clause 109 [Information about the school workforce: introductory]:
In moving Amendment No. 152H, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 152J, which is in my name. The amendments would ensure that the Government established a target annually for the total number of teachers and support staff who should be employed, and for the target to be costed in the annual local government finance settlement. Each school and pupil referral unit could be required to employ a minimum number of teachers, defined by maximum class and group size limits; appropriate distinctions between the work of teachers and support staff; a statutory curriculum framework, which requires a balanced and broadly based curriculum; and the personal and social needs of children and young people.
We have falling pupil rolls, and I have argued before that that should be seen as an opportunity and not a threat, as they represent an opportunity to reduce class sizes and expand the curriculum, establish productive links with parents in other schools, and many other opportunities. In recognising such opportunities, the Government could establish an annual target for the total number of teachers and support staff in employment, as well as what teachers are qualified to teach in, in relation to the need. We all know about subject shortages; this is an opportunity to define what is needed.
I know that the Government are at long last about to do the staff survey, so that before long we should know exactly where the shortages are and how many teachers are in place, against the actual need. So it should not be too difficult to do something like that. The latest publicly available figures show that at least half of all teachers in 2002 were aged 45 or over. Natural wastage is going to come into play before long—so there is a need for the Government to initiate a major and thorough investigation into the future supply of teachers for the next 10 to 15 years, or we might land up with nowhere near enough. I beg to move.
Only 45—I wish.
Clauses 109 and 110 lay the basis for a new, more comprehensive and less burdensome system for collecting data on the school workforce by replacing the stream of existing surveys with a single, streamlined data collection system. That will give us the most accurate picture ever of our school system and will be a powerful management and planning tool, both at national and local level.
The amendment proposed would not increase the transparency we are trying to achieve. Every year, if we take the amendment literally, the Secretary of State would be obliged to publish a figure for the total number of people who should be employed at, or otherwise working in, schools. That would include not only teachers and support staff, but school secretaries, dinner ladies, handymen and so forth.
The figure would not be a target because, even supposing that the Secretary of State could or wanted to get such a national figure, how would such a global figure be distributed between the local authorities and schools? Even if one divided it by 150 or 24,000, in some spurious way, what benefit would it be as a consequence? It would not have any benefit that we can see for schools and certainly not for children.
None of what I have said means that the Secretary of State does not have clear responsibilities under the 1994 Act to secure an adequate supply of trained teachers. I shall not weary the Committee with the story on that, but over the past few years that story has been remarkable, powerful and successful.
Clause 76(7) obliges the new Training and Development Agency to have regard when providing financial support for training to the Secretary of State's estimates of future demand not only for teachers but also for other members of the school workforce.
While the Secretary of State clearly has to review the total numbers and take cognisance of factors such as the ageing of various workforce populations and increasingly to be thoughtful about how the school workforce is shaping at both national level and local level, just as local authorities will as part of their children's plan, specifying national targets or local targets would no doubt consume an enormous amount of effort, time and argument, and what benefit would flow from it? While I do not wish to be dismissive of the amendment, we struggle to see that it would achieve anything that would be useful.
I am happy to engage further on the matter in case I have missed any of the noble Baroness's points. However, at this point, we can see little benefit in the amendment and ask whether she would consider withdrawing it.
"regulations to require or authorise the proprietor of a school, a children's services authority ... or any person prescribed in regulations to supply information ... to the Secretary of State, the Assembly", or to anyone else prescribed in regulations.
We are rather concerned about who those people "prescribed in regulations" might be and how that information might be passed around. I have a much wider briefing note that I could read, but the simple point is that we need more information on how that information will be shared, how the Government will ensure that it does not go to the wrong people and on who are the prescribed people. I shall not speak further on this now, but I hope that the Minister will let us have more information on exactly how the provision will operate.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, whether he wanted me to dazzle him—or weary him—by reading out my speaking note or whether he would prefer that I correspond with him on these points in more detail.
I shall be pleased to do so. Of course I shall copy it to the other Opposition Front Benchers and to all other participants in the debate.
moved Amendment No. 153:
After Clause 112, insert the following new clause—
(1) Section 52 of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (5) there is inserted—
"(5A) It shall be the duty of all persons and bodies exercising functions under this section—
(a) to have regard to the welfare of the child that is proposed to be excluded, and
(b) to have regard in particular to the child's educational achievement.
(5B) Regulations shall make provision for compliance with the duty under subsection (5A) and in particular to ensure that pupils who are proposed to be excluded or have been excluded under the provisions of this section—
(a) have a proper opportunity to make representations in relation to their exclusion or proposed exclusion, and
(b) receive all information that might be relevant to such representations.""
I declare my interest as a former trustee and council member of Save the Children. This amendment has been suggested to me by that charity. It is also supported by a number of other similar organisations.
The amendment is concerned with the important matter of the exclusion of children from school. In August 2004, Save the Children commissioned a research project specifically aimed at gathering information from children and young people on their experience of the exclusion process. The objectives were to determine what experiences children and young people have of the exclusion process; to elicit the extent to which children and young people are involved in the exclusion process and whether their involvement is systemic or sporadic and inconsistent; to assess whether children and young people are given the necessary information and support to facilitate their full involvement in the process; to determine whether there are any possible or lasting benefits to children and young people being involved in the process; and to assess whether there are any negative effects of not being involved.
Face-to-face individual interviews took place with a number of children and young people who had recently been excluded either permanently or on a fixed time-period exclusion. The amendment before the Committee today is the result of that research.
The findings indicated that the exclusion process is associated with considerable obfuscation, misunderstanding and frustration by many young people. Many who participated in the research appeared confused about what was involved in the exclusion process, the sequence of events and the specific purpose of any meetings held. They regarded themselves as having no influence or control over the exclusion process. It was something that happened around them and about them, but did not directly involve them other than incidentally. Not surprisingly, most of the respondents in the research had a predominantly negative view of the overall merits and value of the process. They often failed to differentiate between initial meetings to consider possible exclusion, disciplinary committee meetings and appeal meetings. Few seemed to be aware of, or understand, the appeal procedures linked to permanent exclusions.
The extent to which young people were involved in the process of their exclusion varied considerably across the research sample. At one end of the spectrum were respondents who often attended meetings and presented their view on what had happened; at the other end were respondents who never went to meetings to do with exclusion and therefore had never given their side of the story. Some respondents expressed anger and frustration at not having been asked to give their side of the story. They suffered a sense not only of disempowerment but also the feeling that justice had not been done because teachers were making exclusion decisions without knowing all the full facts of the case. In several cases it was thought that having the opportunity to speak could well have changed the exclusion decision.
Young people proposed a number of useful suggestions as to how the exclusion process might be improved: first, that discussions focus on what had happened during the specific incident concerned rather than on the young person's general character and behaviour; secondly, that all young people be treated equally; thirdly, that teachers spend more time gathering evidence from all those involved; fourthly, that a young person accused be given a chance to call witnesses of their choice to attend exclusion meetings; and, finally, that young people be allowed to hear the evidence against them before being given the opportunity to present their side of the case.
There is no doubt from the case studies cited in the research that young people excluded are concerned that their education will be disrupted, and this could well cause problems for them in later life. As one of them put it, "You go thick if you're off school too long". There seems to be an expectation that all parents and carers have the information and capacity to present the best interests of their child throughout the process. However, the research undertaken shows that that is not always the case. One young man explained that he had wanted to appeal against what he felt was an unfair exclusion but his mother felt that it would take too much time. He told researchers, "My mum didn't want me to have an appeal to go back as it would take too long. I wanted to go back, but my mum says it takes too long so leave it. I would have told them it wasn't me and that they should not have excluded me in the first place".
Current statutory guidance in England does not enforce statutory involvement of a child in the exclusion process. Not all schools make provision for children and young people to make representations at disciplinary meetings or appeal hearings. Furthermore, the current guidance does not cover the provision of relevant information to children and young people regarding their exclusion. As a result children are not always in a position to make representation at exclusion hearings, even if they are allowed to attend. Research has shown that children most likely to be excluded already suffer reduced life chances.
"States Parties shall assure, to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child".
Legislative change would ensure that the Government are meeting their obligations under Article 12 by establishing a legal standard that requires schools to listen to children and young people in matters of concern to them in the exclusions process. Fully involving children and young people in the process and supporting them to make representations would help to ensure that they take responsibility for their actions and do not become disengaged from education altogether.
Research has shown that many excluded young people appreciate the chance to be able to tell their side of the story and are only too well aware of the problems that they may face in later life if their education is disrupted by exclusion.
In Scotland and Wales, legislative changes have been introduced that give children the rights sought in this amendment. In order to ensure that all children have the right to access appropriate information and have their voices heard in the school exclusion process, it is crucial that statutory guidance be strengthened through legislative change. I hope that the Government will view this amendment favourably. I beg to move.
I have added my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford to this amendment, and I rise to support it. Being excluded from school can often be a cataclysmic and disastrous life-changing event for a child. It is unbelievable to me that it could happen to a child without him or her having the opportunity properly to express his or her side of the story and give his or her views.
We cannot rely on parents to be able to put the child's point of view. The parent often does not know the truth of the situation and certainly cannot express it in the way that the child can. It is unfortunate that sometimes in the regulations the parent can be a gatekeeper, because the regulations say that the child can give his or her opinion if the parent agrees—that really should go. The UN convention says that it is the child's views that we must hear. When we went through the Children Act 2004, the Government accepted that the child's wishes and feelings should be taken into account in certain parts of the Bill. In a situation as cataclysmic and as damaging to a child's future prospects as exclusion from school, it is absolutely essential. You only have to look at the number of young offenders who have been excluded from school to realise what a very important event exclusion is in the life of a child. It is essential that their voices be heard.
I strongly support this amendment, but with one qualification. On the point of the parents in this case, who are the gatekeepers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, put it, I note that the Princess Royal Trust for Carers supports this amendment. One can well imagine the situation of a young carer with a parent with a mental disability, or with an alcohol or drug addiction, where family circumstances are such that parents in that case are not best placed to make that decision, or cannot helpfully do so, at least where there are difficulties involved in the family. Family circumstances are often closely connected with the child's behaviour in school.
In the research referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, one boy, who I will call Stuart, a 16 year-old from Hull, was interviewed. He was permanently excluded from his school, and he subsequently went into care. At the time of the interview, he was doing fairly well in his new school, but no longer had any contact with his family. In his instance, it may have been that the parental relationship was not such that it would have been helpful to involve the mother or father in the decision about whether the boy could make an appeal.
I have spoken recently with a young woman who was an asylum seeker, who was fostered. Her foster mother had a nervous breakdown in the course of her care. This young woman, who was very resilient, is now starting at university, but in other circumstances that child might have begun to suffer at school, and it would be helpful for the school governors to know her background circumstances.
Another child who was in care in a children's home was telling me that she shared a bedroom with five other children. Again, in the exclusion process, the governors might well wish to know that that was happening in her case, in order to inform that process. It is vital that children have the experience of agency in their lives as far as possible in a proportionate way. The Government recognise that, and they are enshrining that in the Children Act as one of the five outcomes about contributing to society. They need to be involved in the decision-making processes which affect them.
If a child does not feel involved in those processes and if, in the past, he has had experience of the adult world not being sympathetic towards him and treating him badly, as many of these children have, there is a danger that in life he will go on to carry a grievance against the adult world and society. If one creates every opportunity for such children to express their point of view and if one bends over backwards to be fair towards them, there is at least a chance that that sense of grievance will be reduced and perhaps done away with altogether. So, for children who are leaving school, this could be a very educative experience in ensuring that their voice is heard. I hope that, in her response, the Minister can be sympathetic towards the amendment. I think that it fits quite well with government policy.
I support the amendment, which was moved so persuasively by the noble Baroness. It is crucial that, with all the legislation protecting their rights, children have the ability to exercise those rights. Spelling it out in this way within the education system, which is still not seen as part of the total well-being concept in the Children Act, will help very much.
As has already been said, one worrying aspect is the number of children whose parents may not be on their side—perhaps for understandable reasons. But there is a need for an independent person who can speak on their behalf when decisions such as this are taken. I have to say that, quite apart from the examples that we have heard from other noble Lords, a number of these children are in this situation because truancy has been allowed to develop over a long period. On occasion, no doubt the school is all too delighted not to have within its premises children who might be disruptive.
I think that the amendment would spell out the position beautifully and I hope very much that it will receive the consideration that it deserves.
I apologise but I did mention that there was one qualification to my support—that is, I have not heard from teachers or governors on this matter. I imagine that they will be mostly very supportive of the amendment because I think that most of them feel that, so far as possible, children should be involved in important decisions which affect their lives.
As I hope noble Lords would expect, we are entirely sympathetic with the main thrust of the amendment. It is a very important matter. The noble Baroness moved the amendment most eloquently and brought some new and powerful research to our considerations.
By way of preface, everything that the noble Baroness said fits in with what we are trying to do in government—that is, we are trying to be much more responsive to the voice of the child, no matter in what context and no matter what is said and how it is heard. In 2002, we started with Listening to Learn—an action plan for involving children and young people. That was updated in July 2004. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, pointed out, the whole thrust of the Children Act, not least thanks to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was to amplify the voice and the role of the child in helping us to inform our policies in the interests of children. Therefore, we are very much moving towards that agenda. During debate on this Bill, for example, we have already discussed how pupils receive their own feedback as part of the inspection process. They will have their own letter describing what the inspector has found, tailored to their needs.
However, one point that we must bear in mind is the process of exclusion. It is a serious process which, as noble Lords have said, has a very serious impact on young people. We also have to ensure that the balance of interests is satisfied. The welfare of individual pupils is vital, and responsible bodies dealing with exclusions must also consider the welfare of others in the school community. So we are talking very much about getting the balance right. Placing a duty on responsible bodies to have regard only to the welfare and education of an individual child could result in decisions which may adversely affect their overall duty to be able to deliver the welfare and education of the wider school community. We had similar debates earlier in Committee and we should be aware of that matter in context.
Regarding excluded pupils missing out on education, since September 2002 all local authorities have made a commitment to provide full-time education for all permanently excluded pupils and the vast majority of authorities are doing this. We are working with those that are finding it more difficult.
Guidance is issued both in England and Wales, which goes to appeal panels and governing bodies. That certainly advises that if they wish to do so and the parent agrees, young people would be allowed to speak and to give their accounts of events at each stage of the exclusions process. Schools which are not doing that are not following the guidance. A message should be sent to those schools. We agree with the spirit of the amendment, but since our guidance makes it clear that head teachers and reviewing bodies should involve pupils, we do not believe that legislation is necessary. That will disappoint my noble friend and other noble Lords who have spoken.
However, we would like to reflect on the research that she has mentioned and the arguments that she has made. In the light of my assurance regarding the guidance that we use, especially regarding some of the arguments put about the importance of the child speaking when sometimes the parent is either unwilling or reluctant to come forward, perhaps the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment and allow us to consider what she and other noble Lords have said.
I am grateful to my noble friend for her comments. There was much support from all sides of the House for the principles in the amendment and the Government have taken on board the need to involve the children. I noted with satisfaction her comments about the research carried out by Save the Children and I am willing to provide her with a copy. If that can be reflected on between now and Report, it is to be hoped that the Government might themselves propose a suitable amendment if they do not like my wording. I thank those noble Lords who have participated and, meanwhile, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 153ZA:
After Clause 112, insert the following new clause—
"EXTRA-CURRICULA ACTIVITIES: RISK
(1) A school or its servant or agent which, in addition to its curriculum, provides formal or informal educational activities for its students may provide to any parent or guardian a statement that the activities it provides may involve risks or personal injury or harm or risks to the property of the student.
(2) The statement shall be in writing and shall explain that the parent or guardian accept that participation of their child in the activities provided by the organisation may involve risks of personal injury or harm or risks to the property of the student.
(3) The risks shall only be those covered by the activity, including travel to and from the point where the organisation takes over the supervision of the student.
(4) The acceptance of the risks by the parent or guardian shall not exclude the organisation or its servants or agents from any criminal liability.
(5) The statement shall not apply to any activity which the student concerned is obliged to undertake.
(6) Where, in accordance with the Act, such a statement has been issued and accepted by the parent or guardian, this must be taken into account by any subsequent court proceeding for negligence or breach of duty, in considering the liability of the school or its servant or agent."
I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that extra-curricular activities are enriching to a child's education and development—their mental, social, physical development and so on. Those activities that involve physical adventure are particularly enriching, because they help develop the person's character and their team-building skills. Many organisations other than schools also lead and organise such activities but, unfortunately, I was not able to include them in the amendment, due to the Long Title—I had to stick to schools. But I would like your Lordships to keep in mind credible and responsible organisations such as the Scout Association, the Guide Association and Outward Bound, which, in addition to schools, lead such activities.
A difficulty is that many schools and other agencies feel constrained about organising such activities—that stretch young people and are good for them—because we live in a litigious society, where some people believe that you should not do anything with any risk attached at all. But the very risk itself helps young people to develop. They need the opportunity to practice assessing the risks and behaving in a responsible manner, taking into account not only their own safety, but that of the group in which they are working. So I am sure we would all agree on this, but the problem is the constraint posed by the danger and the organiser's career being completely destroyed if something goes wrong.
I would never suggest a measure that would protect people who are genuinely at fault, who behave in an irresponsible manner and who put the safety of children at risk, but there is an inherent risk in some activities. If both the children and their parents undertake such activities in full knowledge of the risks, and accept them, it is reasonable to suggest that, should something go wrong, the fact that they have accepted those risks should be taken into account in any legal proceedings that might ensue.
I would hope that once parents understand and accept risks, they would not go running to the courts if something goes wrong, and they can see that it is "just one of those things" and not the result of criminal irresponsibility, which can never be condoned. I believe that it would be reasonable to insert into the Bill this new clause to allow for the risks to be assessed, to be agreed to in the full knowledge of what they entail and to be taken into consideration in any legal proceedings. I ask the Minister to bear in mind in his reply that such a provision could apply equally to non-school organisations that carry out similar activities. I beg to move.
Whether or not this clause is exactly right, we support a provision of this kind being included in the legislation.
The Committee will recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I raised this issue in connection with school trips some time ago. I accepted the Minister's comment to me at that time that very few suits are initiated, but this proposal is wider. I know that there is great anxiety among teachers about such matters. The Government are very committed to encouraging much more physical activity and games in schools and they are putting a lot of money into that. If this is to fructify to the fullest possible extent, it will involve extra-curricular activities by teachers; for example, refereeing matches. I know that they can be at risk for allowing an activity to take place.
I believe that this amendment constitutes very good practice and should be standard practice. Perhaps it should be in the Bill although perhaps the final subsection is not quite right. I believe that this new clause makes good sense and practice.
I understand the intent, but the amendment certainly does not achieve its intent, as I shall explain. As yet, we remain unpersuaded that the route to solving the problem is through legislation, although solving it is undoubtedly important. As the Committee knows from previous debates, the issue is as much about the perception of the fear of litigation as of litigation itself. The Better Regulation Task Force was very clear on that. Nevertheless, that does not mean there is no problem, but what is the right way to solve it?
Clearly, we strongly support the aim of offering children the opportunity to learn through experience in the world outside the classroom. There is a consensus in the Committee on that. We are also glad to know from local authorities that the number of school visits overall remains stable or is increasing. So we are not facing a reduction in activities and the world is not about to collapse.
Our belief is that we need to respond by supporting and spreading the wealth of good practice shown by teachers and employers which we know is taking place in schools. I shall set out what we are doing to achieve that. The amendment would entitle any school, or any member of its staff, when providing extra-curricular activity for educational purposes, to provide a statement that there are risks associated with the activity. Where that statement has been accepted by the parents of a student, a court would be required to take this matter into account in any subsequent proceedings for negligence or breach of duty. That might appear to provide some incentive to schools.
In reality it may have the contrary effect, in that, by reducing the legal protection of pupils against the negligence of a school or its staff, parents and schools may be less inclined to allow children to participate in such activities. Clearly, that would not be the intent; but it is certainly plausible that it may be the consequence.
We are also concerned that it might only serve to obscure the legal position while not actually contributing to the culture and mindset that undoubtedly the noble Baroness and the Government want to promote.
I shall set out what we are doing to support and spread further the wealth of existing good practice. We have issued guidance for local authorities, teachers and schools regarding safety, especially on school visits. That has been warmly received by local authorities and described by them as a "quiet revolution". It recommends that local authorities and schools ask parents to sign a consent form, which is designed to inform parents about the risks of the activity, the measures taken and the need for their child to behave responsibly. The guidance encourages schools to involve pupils, so far as is practical, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, wanted—and she is right—in assessing and managing the risks themselves so that they both own that and also use it as a learning experience in future. It is vital that children taking part in these events are risk-aware, not risk-averse.
At each stage of the planning of the event, schools are encouraged to discuss safety and other issues with parents and pupils, while ensuring that risks are managed in context. This kind of close working relationship is fundamental.
Also, my right honourable friend Charles Clarke, previously Secretary of State for Education, in November said in his speech to heads that we recognise that, when accidents occur, teachers and schools can face investigations and possible penalties. Parents should expect a school to tell them the full story and explain how they did all they reasonably could. By the same token, a school and its members of staff have the right to expect parents to support them by taking a fair view. We need to investigate serious incidents and to take all necessary steps to manage risks. Where negligence is proven, it is of course right that the law should take its course. But we absolutely agree that teachers deserve the starting point of a presumption that they have carried out their duties conscientiously.
We have also recognised the concerns of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers on school visits, and we are in active consultation with them and other teachers' groups on whether we might take any further steps to maintain and promote both safety, and fair treatment for all concerned.
I shall finally set out my concerns on the possible legal implications. First, the provision seeks to restrict the likelihood of claims in negligence. We fear that its effect would be to lead schools to believe they could afford to take less care of a student whose parents had accepted a statement of this kind. Clearly, that would not be the intent but we think that it is at least plausible. It requires a court to treat a claim by an injured child whose parents have accepted a statement differently from a claim where no statement is accepted. We are concerned that this should not be the case, as any harm to a child arising from the negligence of another party should be treated with the utmost seriousness irrespectively. We are doubtful, therefore, whether a court would, in any event, treat cases arising in that way.
As drafted, the amendment extends to risks involved in travel even where the children concerned are not under the supervision of the school.
It is proposed that the provision of a statement applies only to non-compulsory extra-curricular activities. We fear that this will lead to uncertainty; the amendment would also result in the law of negligence for some activity by schools being different from the law for other activity by schools or others. That is not what the noble Baroness wanted to hear. She did not want a legal diatribe on why it was the wrong amendment, even though we think that that is the case.
The issue is whether it is realistic to find the solution to this through legislation or other means. Our current mindset is that it should be through other means, while recognising that the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs is looking seriously at the broader issue about trying to deter unnecessary litigation when people should be accepting that accidents do happen and that that is part of life.
Therefore, we want our department to take promoting a culture of trust and awareness very seriously. We would like to continue to involve Members of the Chamber in our progress, so that we give you the fullest picture on how we seek to address the issue. I will make sure that we will do that in the future.
In conclusion, we share the objective; we do not think that this is the right means; and we are doubtful whether legislation is the right means. No doubt we shall all reflect on that issue. We certainly want to give noble Lords a fuller picture of what we are doing and what is being done across government to seek to make these issues better managed in the future by parents and by schools. I hope that that is helpful.
I thank those who have supported the amendment and the Minister for his response. It is very difficult to table an appropriate and watertight amendment to cover this issue. My noble friend Lady Sharp and I looked at three or four different alternatives for the opportunity to discuss the matter, before eventually tabling this amendment. If the Government felt that legislation were the right approach, they could bring all their legal brains to bear on producing the right amendment. However, the Government clearly do not. I—and, I am sure, other Members of the Committee—look forward to hearing the ongoing story of the Government's efforts to address the issue, albeit that it is a perception, not a reality. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 153A:
Page 143, line 7, leave out "funding" and insert "prescribed"
I have a short but perfectly formed speaking note on the amendment. We had a full debate on three-year budgets earlier and a number of detailed questions were raised, but there was general support for the principle. The amendments are consequential on the introduction of three-year budgets. They will allow us to adapt the existing requirements on LEAs relating to the provision of information on school funding to fit the new three-year regime. For example, they will allow us to require LEAs, once they have fixed their overall school budgets for three years ahead, to include the relevant figures in their annual budget statement. That budget is sent to all schools, as well as to the Secretary of State. The details of the requirements will be set out in regulations, as some minor amendments are needed to the primary legislation to ensure that we have the necessary flexibility. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 153B to 153D:
Page 143, line 8, at end insert—
"(2A) After subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) The periods prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1)—
(a) must consist of one or more funding periods, and
(b) may include funding periods in respect of which (by virtue of their inclusion in one or more earlier periods prescribed for the purposes of that subsection) information relating to planned expenditure has previously been required under that subsection.""
Page 143, line 10, leave out "funding" and insert "prescribed"
Page 143, line 11, at end insert—
"(4) After subsection (2A) insert—
"(2B) The periods prescribed for the purposes of subsection (2) must consist of one or more funding periods.""
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 18, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 114 to 119 agreed to.
Schedule 19 [Repeals]:
moved Amendments Nos. 154 and 155:
Page 145, line 43, column 2, after "(6)," insert "and"
Page 145, column 2, leave out lines 46 and 47.
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 19, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 120 to 124 agreed to.
House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.