Education Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:48 pm on 2nd March 2005.

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Read a third time.

Clause 2 [Functions of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England]:

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I am grateful to the opposition parties for their agreement to the tabling of this set of amendments to the Bill. As the House will appreciate, we have an opportunity to ensure that the Bill leaves here in the best possible shape.

Let me start by addressing the amendment relating to Clause 2 on self-evaluation, which is largely as moved on Report. At the suggestion of parliamentary counsel, we are seeking to make minor changes which do not impact on the effect of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

On behaviour, we have considered in detail the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and believe that the effect of the amendment could be improved with some minor changes. First, as "behaviour" will encompass "discipline", we have omitted that one word. Secondly, while acknowledging the importance of looking at levels of truancy, we do not want to limit this duty to looking at unauthorised absence alone. The chief inspector should report on all aspects of attendance.

On the quality of inspectors, the intention behind the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and accepted by the House, was to ensure that all additional inspectors satisfy the chief inspector that they have the necessary skills, expertise and experience to perform their functions. Our amendments, which inserted the new subparagraphs (3) and (4) in paragraph 2 to Schedule 1 were intended to cover this. As the Bill now stands, we therefore have a conflicting set of amendments.

The Bill as amended on Report requires the chief inspector to satisfy himself on every aspect of the additional inspectors' skills, before allowing them to conduct a school inspection. Our intention is that the inspection service providers will employ the additional inspectors and the performance management of these inspectors will fall to them. Were this provision to remain in its present form, it would have a detrimental affect on Ofsted's ability to deliver the inspection system within its agreed budget and significantly reduce the chief inspector's capacity to maintain a strategic leadership of the inspection system.

I therefore propose a similar amendment to be inserted before subparagraph (3) which, taken with (3) and (4), ties in the contractual arrangements while meeting the House's concern that strong emphasis be placed on the chief inspector being under a duty to ensure that additional inspectors have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills. He will do this in part by the mechanism in subparagraphs (3) and (4). Subparagraph (3), as it stands, and subparagraph (4) provide that the chief inspector shall publish a statement of the qualifications or experience required and the standards that additional inspectors are required to meet. Any arrangements that the chief inspector enters into must be made on terms that require compliance with this published statement.

On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, emphasised the importance of inspectors having the necessary skills to deliver inspections in the appropriate manner. We agree the importance of this and therefore propose adding to sub-paragraph (3) the phrase,

"the skills that they are to be required to demonstrate in the exercise of those functions".

I turn to the matter of induction of inspectors. As it stands, the Bill does not, for technical reasons, meet the intentions as described by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and others on Report. We therefore propose a similar amendment which would place a new duty on the chief inspector, requiring him to ensure that all additional inspectors undergo an inspection to the satisfaction of an HMI before they can participate in an inspection without the supervision of an HMI.

The amendment does not specify a particular number of inspections. Ofsted is already committed to ensuring that all additional inspectors will have to undergo one or more inspections supervised by an HMI to their satisfaction. Our amendment secures that no additional inspector will be allowed to inspect unsupervised until HMI is satisfied. We believe it is right to leave to the discretion of the HMI how many supervised inspections should be required.

On publishing a list of inspectors, the Bill was to provide for a list of additional inspectors to be published annually. Again, for technical reasons, this would not meet the intentions of the House. We have therefore tabled an amendment which will ensure that the ·chief inspector would have to publish a list at intervals of no more than 12 months—and, indeed, he may publish this list more frequently—of the names of inspectors given to him by the inspection service providers that they intend using. I believe that the amendment fully meets the points that were raised on Report.

We hope we have demonstrated that we have listened seriously to the will of the House on all these issues. With the amendments tabled with the compliance of the opposition parties, we have sought to ensure that the Bill is in a legally sound form and can therefore move forward after Third Reading in the most efficient way possible. I thank the opposition parties for their co-operation.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said. From Second Reading onwards—certainly in Committee and on Report—we all agreed that the Ofsted inspection process should be speeded up, with a lighter touch and self-evaluation. However, we felt there were problems in the way it might operate, and my noble friend Lady Perry put those arguments very well. She sends her apologies for not being here, but is on her way to Korea, no doubt to sort out the inspection regime there. She thanks the Minister and the Government for taking a lot of the points on board. One or two matters have not been covered, such as the number of inspections in which new inspectors should participate before they become fully fledged. My noble friend said at the time that she was not sure whether three was the right figure and wanted the Government to come back with a suggestion.

I thank the Government, and accept that they have gone virtually all the way with this amendment. I realise that they had to put it in a form that makes the Bill acceptable to everyone else before it goes to the other place. I thank the Minister and the Government for reconsidering these matters and for accepting the will of the House. We support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, we, too, feel that the Government have gone to some trouble to incorporate the spirit of the amendments that were passed on Report into their amendments. We have no objection to them and will be supporting them.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, I echo those sentiments, having sat through a number of debates on this issue. I am very pleased that the Government have listened and acted accordingly.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, had it been possible for him to have been present, my noble friend Lord Sutherland of Houndwood would have wished to thank the Government for these further amendments. As one who also spoke on them, I thought the ingenuity with which the Government, in Amendment No. 21, have replaced paragraph (2)(5) of Schedule 1 is the most practical and effective way of ensuring that additional inspectors are up to the job. It seems a very cost-effective, non-bureaucratic way of doing the job, and I congratulate the Government on it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Conservative

moved Amendment No. 3:

After Clause 69, insert the following new clause—

"CLOSURE OF RURAL PRIMARY SCHOOLS

(1) No primary school located in a rural area in England or Wales, as defined by the Office of National Statistics under its Rural and Urban Area Classification 2004, may be closed without—

(a) full consultation with the registered parents of the school,

(b) full consultation with the relevant parish, borough and district council in England or the community council in Wales,

(c) consideration of transport implications, including the future welfare and safety of children living in the area served by the school, the recurrent transport cost likely to be incurred by the local education authority, the quality and availability of other transport links and the environmental impact of the closure, including traffic congestion,

(d) consideration of the overall and long-term impact on the local community of closure, including the loss of the building as a community facility, and

(e) consideration of alternatives to closure, including the potential for federation with other local schools and the scope for transforming the school into an extended school or children's or community centre to provide an extended range of local community services.

(2) The relevant parish, borough and district council for the purposes of this section are those parish, borough and district councils having competence in the geographical area in which the school is located."

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Conservative

My Lords, rural schools have an importance far beyond the simple costs of bricks and mortar. They are, in many cases, the lifeblood and focus of community life, and we remain passionately convinced of their worth. That sentiment has been shared equally in your Lordships' House during the two excellent debates we have had on this subject in Committee and on Report.

On Report I acknowledged that we needed to reflect further on the points made by the Minister and other noble Lords. In moving Amendment No. 3 we have sought to answer the valid criticisms of our earlier amendments. In her answer to me at Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, spoke of the interests of children being paramount. She also explained that the interests of parents are a key consideration and that the Government had clear and widespread protocols for informing and consulting them about all proposals.

So when I was thinking about how we could amend our amendment, I took a tour through the DfES website. I had a most enjoyable time. Eventually, I found the decision-makers' guidance, section 1. I could not find section 2, but it did not matter, because no. 52 in section 1 is the guidance on rural schools and sites. Although I read this section several times, I could find no mention of a requirement to consult with parents. This may happen in best practice but it certainly is not, as far as I could see, a necessity in the guidelines. However, under this section there were a number of excellent criteria that decision-makers must have carefully considered before closure of a rural school.

Your Lordships may remember that on Second Reading I extended a warm welcome to a number of clauses that had been copied straight from the Conservative Acts of 1994 and 1996. In this amendment, we thought we would repay the compliment, so if a good deal of it is familiar to Ministers, it is because, from paragraph (c) to paragraph (e), it comes almost word for word from the decision-makers' guidance. We have added the requirement to consult parents and democratically elected local councillors.

Throughout the Bill's proceedings, we have been struggling to find something that goes a little further than presumption against closure but does not leave the decision in the hands of too few people. We hope that with this amendment we have the balance right. There can be no doubt that the issue of the closure of rural schools is as important as it is sensitive. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills 4:15 pm, 2nd March 2005

My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment. My very first political campaign, before I was really political, was to try to keep a small rural school open, not because my children went there but because they might go there. The only improvement I might have wanted for this amendment is to consider the parents of children who are not quite old enough to go to the school but might choose to go there in a couple of years. However, that might seem a little excessive to your Lordships.

We were very happy to work closely with the Conservative Front Bench on putting this amendment together. Indeed, I believe it was we who suggested consultation with individual democratically elected councillors. I think it was clear that we were not keen on supporting the previous version of this amendment; despite the fact that we very much agreed with the spirit and the principle, we could not live with the wording. This we can live with, and we support it enthusiastically.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

My Lords, I support this amendment, but I hope very much that it will not be assumed that it has been put forward entirely with parents and rural communities in mind. I entirely agree with what has been said about the importance of the school in a village or rural community. However, I emphasise how tremendously important it is for the local children as well. The argument in respect of the best interests of the children is also supported by the amendment.

A school that has the enthusiastic support of parents and the whole community is the best possible environment in which to learn. It is extremely important that primary school children in particular have continuity. Schools should, on the whole, be small, so that children know their neighbours and contemporaries in the community.

I support the amendment not only because such schools are central to their community but because they are best for the children.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, before I speak to the amendment, I should like, without erring and straying like a lost shepherd too much, to avoid letting this week pass without noting the impending retirement of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. He has been a good friend of education in his diocese and beyond. His quiet, wise and business-like way of bishoping—which is in stark contrast to anything that could be said about me—has been appreciated here and elsewhere.

The amendment has been doing the rounds and there has been an engaging relentlessness about the particular issue of rural schools and how their future should be determined. The House will have heard my agnosticism in Committee and that of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on Report. Now we have before us an extended version. But I fear that for my money it is not sufficiently extended to everyone who could be consulted to be listed—except, in my own case, the local diocese; and, by further extension, other ecclesiastical and religious authorities.

There is some irony here in view of the sheer number of Church of England primary schools: they form one quarter of the total. However, in our politically correct age the last thing we must ever do is mention what the established Church gets up to—but I do not want to labour that point. Lest it be said that the Bishops were not in their place, I assure your Lordships that I have been assured that either I or one of my colleagues have been in the House for every stage of the Bill. However, I do not want any kind of edge to be read into what I have just said.

The point that my noble friend raised from these Benches on Report should be paramount—namely, the educational viability of a school. I have clergy in the Portsmouth diocese who help to run schools of various shapes and sizes. Nearly all of them are strongly community oriented. As your Lordships can tell from the way in which I am speaking, I am in something of a dilemma. However, at the end of the day, I do not think that the amendment is in the best interests of the children concerned. On balance the safeguards already in the Bill, although perhaps not quite enough, are better than those in the amendment. Therefore, I reluctantly and respectfully would resist it.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. We had thoughtful, even passionate, debates about the issue at every stage. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, began by saying that she was passionately convinced about the worth of rural schools. Amen, my Lords—we are all passionately convinced of the worth of rural schools; we are absolutely at one.

We have established that there is widespread agreement between us on their importance and that there is support across the House for what has been done in policy and practice across England and Wales to secure what we can. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding us that this is all about the interests of the children and getting right the balance of those interests. That ethical concern inspired not least the changes brought forward in the amendment. We are grateful for the assiduous way in which the noble Baroness has tried to reconcile some of our concerns and to table an amendment that we can discuss further.

We have some sympathy with the revised amendment. It identifies one area where we can certainly strengthen guidance and points to other areas. On the latter, I hope I can reassure all noble Lords that not only does very recent guidance, to which the noble Baroness referred, match their concerns; it is better, more appropriate and more effective to have those requirements in guidance rather than pinned on to the Bill, as the amendment seeks. Perhaps I may explain why. There are issues of principle and of practice. We are deliberately moving towards a more light-touch regulatory regime. Throughout the debate on the Bill my noble friend and I have referred many times to why we think that it is important. I believe that we have the House's support on that point. We all want to let schools and authorities get on with what they have to do.

To that end, while the amendment sets out a list of specific persons to be consulted, we believe that it is more appropriate to keep that in guidance than in legislation, not least where it can be easily amended and extended. The right reverend Prelate just gave us the example that the diocesan authorities have been left out of the list. It is possible to amend the provision in guidance; it would be a much greater and slower task if we had to introduce primary legislation to do so. That is an instance of why we have to be careful of not why but how we do things in legislation.

We have a robust legislative framework for the requirement on the consideration on closures. Section 29(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 states:

"Before publishing any proposals under this section, the relevant body shall consult such persons as appear to them to be appropriate; and in discharging their duty under this subsection the relevant body shall have regard to any guidance given from time to time".

The noble Baroness has been assiduous in checking on the website. I understand some of the difficulties in manoeuvring and negotiating through it. She may have found—it was probably tucked away at the back—the additional specific guidance on consultation that is appended to the guidance for decision makers, which looks at those who must be consulted about statutory proposals. I will certainly give her the full hard copy. Among a long list in paragraph (13), it includes parents of pupils at feeder primary schools and those who live or have children attending a school in the area of an adjoining education authority. The statutory guidance makes it clear that all those who bring forward proposals have to consult parents and teachers.

We want this provision in guidance because guidance works. As I mentioned on Report, the average number of closures of rural schools in England has been reduced from 30 per year to only 5 per year. In Wales, which has a far greater proportion of rural schools, we are getting parents signed up to the reasons for closures for the reasons outlined by the right reverend Prelate.

The guidance is working because it is being observed. It does not have the force of statute, but local authorities and decision-makers know that if they ignore it their decisions are much more susceptible to successful legal action. That is a major deterrent. They are not bound by guidance, but they must have an extremely good reason to act otherwise. We have found that local authorities and decision-makers are almost always keen to abide by guidance.

What the guidance does not do—this is where the noble Baroness has hit on a gap towards which the amendment directs us—is specifically mention parish, borough and district councils. Although I know that many local authorities consult minor authorities—and of course they can make their views known—we are very happy to give an undertaking that we will fill the gap and amend the statutory guidance to include specific consultation of parish, borough and district councils and community councils in Wales.

Other aspects of the amendment refer to consultation and consideration, which, as the noble Baroness said, is set out in our guidance. We strengthened the statutory guidance in respect of rural primary schools as recently as last October and made reference to the need for careful consideration of transport implications, including welfare and safety; the recurrent cost to LEAs of transporting pupils to schools further away; the quality and availability of transport links; the effect on road traffic congestion; and the environmental costs.

In relation to proposed new paragraphs (d) and (e), we also insisted that decision-makers must consider the overall and long-term impact on local people and the community of closure of the village school and of the loss of the building as a community facility; and, in paragraph (e), alternatives to closure including the potential for federation with other schools; and the scope for extended schools or children's centres. There is a lot of detail in guidance. That is why this should be dealt with in guidance. It has to be kept under review and bed down. It has been in place for only three or four months and has to be tested in practice.

The guidance is under constant review. I hope that the noble Baroness will take this in the spirit in which it is meant. We are happy to give a commitment to look again carefully and consider whether other aspects could be strengthened. As I said, we will certainly amend it in relation to the minor authority.

I have to draw two problem areas to your Lordships' attention. I have to return to Wales because the amendment sweeps up Wales. Education in Wales is a devolved matter. We must think long and hard before imposing any changes on Wales, no matter how benign we think they are, especially when they relate to challenges that are different in terms of educational choice that are more marked in Wales than in England.

I know that noble Lords would agree that when Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998 devolving functions in relation to education and other matters to the National Assembly, the intention was that the devolved Administration should be able to chart its own course in these matters, to arrange and conduct its affairs in Wales in ways that reflect the needs of its people and communities. This is the essence of the settlement; this is the nature of devolution. It would be against this principle for us to legislate in such a detailed manner, here at Westminster, for the people of Wales. That would be the effect of the amendment: it would override regulations and guidance made and issued in Cardiff. I shall not rehearse my comments about Wales and why it was different, because that stands on the record in detail.

I have to say that the amendment is seriously flawed in several respects. The right reverend Prelate drew attention to one of these. I shall point out a few more problems that would be created if it were incorporated. First, Section 29 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 deals with closures, so the amendment should relate to the provisions of that section.

Secondly, and more seriously, it is not clear on whom the duty is placed to consult and consider the various implications. Is it placed on those bringing forward the proposals or on the local decision maker? That ambiguity could cause serious difficulty.

Thirdly, another area of potential confusion is over the term "full" which adds nothing to the concept of consultation, but which might lead to extremely lively arguments about whether there has indeed been "full consultation". It is different from the simple reference to "consultation" used elsewhere in school organisation legislation.

Finally, any such changes to legislation would have to involve transitional arrangements so that proposals that had been properly consulted on and considered under current legislation would not have to start again under the new arrangements.

I hope that I have stressed the positive spirit in which we have received this debate at various stages of the Bill. We are sympathetic to all the concerns raised. We have addressed them in policy and in practice. I hope, however, that what I have proposed meets with the good will of the House and that it will also take into consideration the difficulties with which the amendment will present us. The noble Baroness has been a most assiduous champion, but I hope that she will now feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for, as always, her thoughtful and full reply. I apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth for having missed out the need to consult the Churches.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, no apology is needed. There was no edge in what I said.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Conservative

My Lords, anyway, it was a huge oversight and I still proffer my apologies. The right reverend Prelate also said in Committee that he would resist the temptation to support it and I am sorry that we have not been able even to tempt him that little bit more.

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the Minister said about strengthening the guidance. However, I had difficulty wading my way through and trying to find the guidance and I do think that it would be better to have it on the face of the Bill. I accept that the amendment might not be technically perfect. I accept that it might not be in the right place; but, undoubtedly, the Government could take it away, as they did with the Ofsted amendments, tidy it up, make it look pretty and put it in the right place. On that basis, I would like to test the will of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 138; Not-Contents, 136.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Education Bill [HL]

Aye: 136 Members of the House of Lords

No: 134 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs 4:44 pm, 2nd March 2005

moved Amendment No. 4:

After Clause 70, insert the following new clause—

"CLOSURE OF SPECIAL SCHOOLS: STATUTORY CONSULTATION

No local authority in England or Wales shall close a special school without first consulting—

(a) all local authorities that send pupils to the special school in question, and

(b) all registered parents of registered pupils in attendance at the special school in question."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, with Amendment No. 4 we return to the emotive and sensitive issue of the closure of special schools. We discussed this issue at considerable length in Committee and on Report. The debate showed that there is widespread support for the work undertaken by such schools and they are valued and held in regard by parents and pupils alike. I pay tribute to the outstanding, and often challenging, work undertaken by many dedicated professionals who work in such schools. Without such individuals and their skills and commitment, it would not be possible for any of these schools to exist.

Throughout the stages of the Bill, we have stressed that the most important factor in the debate is the education and welfare of these young people. None of us disagree with that. We cannot afford to get this issue wrong. Despite the support in Committee on this issue, we still have serious reservations about the Government's existing policy. We feel that it could be flawed. There is a danger that the policy of inclusion has gone too far and too fast. We on these Benches want to ensure that children with disabilities or learning problems are not suffering educationally from that policy. We believe that every child deserves to be treated in the most appropriate learning environment, whatever that might be, and should expect it.

There is concern because in 1983 there were 1,562 special schools in England but that figure has deceased by more than 400 in the past few years. Yet the number of children with the most severe needs in mainstream schools has gone up by 49 per cent in the past decade. I am sure that noble Lords are aware that about a quarter of pupils will suffer from some form of special needs—whether a passing behavioural problem or severe permanent disability—during the course of their schooling. Teachers in mainstream schools are often finding it difficult to cope with an increasing number of pupils with special needs.

We are under no illusion about the sensitivity of this question, but we all have an obligation to do everything we possibly can to make certain that children with special needs receive the best possible care and education. However, it must be realised that some children with very severe conditions will never be able to be incorporated in mainstream schools and that that should not be attempted. That is why we must protect the variety of special schools and the excellent work that they do.

I thank the Minister for his contribution to the debate. As he said several times, it is his day job. I am sure that he will have something to say a little later. He has brought clarity to a difficult area.

There is some way to go before we are content to let this issue pass. That is why we restructured our amendment after the last debate. Many schools are multi-authority. As we heard in the last debate, many schools are multi-authority and a local authority could close a school serving several local authorities. That would deprive those local authorities which could be short of placements. We are also concerned about the consultation of parents when children come to such schools from a wide area. I have recent experience of that: my own authority did not consult widely enough and did not consult all the parents of pupils in one of its schools.

So, we should like serious consideration to be given to a relatively mild amendment, which provides that, before any potential closure of a special school takes place, all local authorities that send children to that school should be involved and consulted and all the parents should be involved in that consultation.

On Report I said that I was in the middle of a difficult problem relating to the consultation of parents. In fact, I spent much of this morning on that. The parents at these schools receive tremendous support from the schools, but they have often had to fight to get what they have. A mistake in our system is that many of these parents feel that they have to fight and fight again to get the school they want for their child. Somehow we must get over that. I have been trying to wrestle with that this morning, so I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says. Somehow we have got the matter slightly wrong. We do not put parents high enough on the agenda. That is why I tabled the amendment.

Even if the amendment is not technically correct, I hope that the Government will accept that we should involve the parents and all the local authorities, and that we should be more reluctant than we have been to go down the road of closing special schools. Provision and needs change, but I see no necessity to reduce the number of special schools even if some of the requirements are different. So, I hope that the House will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, these Benches would like to support the Conservatives on this amendment. We had a number of reservations about earlier amendments that they put forward because we felt they placed too much emphasis on referring closures to the Secretary of State. We were unhappy with that. The new amendment, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, is a very mild amendment, merely asks that any closure should be discussed with all parents and all local authorities who send pupils to that school.

We argue that that is merely good practice and that we would expect any proposed closure to be discussed with those two partners. So the amendment is really only a prompt for good practice. I have no doubt whatever that, as with the previous amendment, the Minister will tell us that we have no need to have this prompt in the Bill because the provision is already in guidance and that the guidance is adequate and more flexible.

The amendment is sufficiently broad in asking for all parents of children registered at the school and all local authorities involved with sending pupils to the school to be consulted. It does not need any extra flexibility.

The case for having the prompt on the face of the Bill is, first, that not all local authorities adhere to good practice. When local authorities' budgets are being squeezed as much as they are, many local authorities are only too anxious to find economies where they can.

We all know that providing facilities for those with special educational needs, particularly for those with both physical and learning difficulties, can be extremely expensive. Some authorities look at the money they spend on special schools and at the amount spent on each pupil and say, "Surely, we can find economies here?". Sometimes they can find economies, and sometimes that is right.

These Benches supported the Government throughout the debates on the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Bill on their inclusion agenda because we agree that, by and large, where possible it is better to include children within daily school routines rather than to put them in special schools.

There are some occasions when special schools are necessary. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, sits behind me. She uses the term "fragile" children. These children may not have major disabilities but they cannot cope with the rough and tumble of an ordinary school environment. They are not the only ones. There are some children whose disabilities are so great that they need a special school.

The Government have never really provided the money necessary to carry out that inclusion agenda. So one sympathises with local authorities when they want to close these facilities, but nevertheless it is necessary that they should carry out a very careful consultation and analysis of whether they really should keep the facility open.

Secondly, it is also true that local authorities which run special schools do not always recognise that other local authorities are involved. Many special schools have been closed. The schools are often run for a group of local authorities. Yet when such decisions are made, it is a matter for one local authority's budget. Therefore, they forget that others are involved. We feel this prompt on the face of the Bill is worth while and we therefore support the Conservatives on the amendment.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly. When we previously discussed the matter, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, argued against the amendment because it placed the responsibility on the Secretary of State. He argued convincingly that it was unrealistic to expect the Secretary of State to be able to take good decisions for the whole country from his office.

The amendment struck me as being no more than you would expect should be done as a matter of course. I was particularly moved by the description of these children as "fragile" children. I think that it is right sometimes to raise the banner for some particular vulnerable groups. The amendment does just that.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I also support the amendment. The Minister has introduced a general clause into the Bill which requires that looked-after children—another very special group of children—are given preference over other pupils because they are moved around to such an extent. This is another example of a very special, fragile group of children, where there is a feeling that, perhaps for very good reasons, the Government have gone a little too far in wishing to close the schools and have special units within mainstream schools. It is for that reason that I hope they will consider accepting the amendment.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, I rise to support what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and others have said in favour of the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, I too would like to support the amendment. Wherever possible, disabled children should be in mainstream schools. But there are some children, as has been said—and I think particularly of those who are deaf and blind—who are extraordinarily disabled. The teachers are marvellous. They say that the children can always learn something, and they have the special skills needed to deal with very disabled children. Parents need choice.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I am almost tempted to shock the House by saying that I also would want to support the amendment, given the chorus. That is except for the rather good reason that it is already the current system. I do not want us to over-excite ourselves and think that were we so unpersuaded by my arguments, the world would change much if the provision was passed.

I start by addressing a few misapprehensions because it is important that our debates are informed by facts rather than perhaps by misunderstanding. There has not been a substantial reduction in maintained special schools. They have reduced by about 90 since 1997. Much more significantly, the number of places in maintained special schools has hardly reduced at all since 1997.

The implication that the Government have an agenda to close special schools is untrue. We are clear that special schools in the maintained, non-maintained and independent sectors form an important part of the overall provision available for children with special educational needs. We firmly believe that special schools have an important ongoing role within the overarching framework of inclusion, educating pupils with severe and complex educational needs. They also provide outreach support to maintained schools using their expertise in SEN to support the development of good SEN teaching in mainstream schools. We are clear about this issue and we are strong on it. It is what Removing Barriers makes clear.

I will turn to the specifics of the amendment, and then return to some of the points that were made in our previous debate and touched upon again this time—good points, I thought, about regional planning and how we ensure that there is proper provision that spans needs wider than the individual local authority.

The amendment is unnecessary because there is already a statutory requirement for local authorities to consult widely when they propose to discontinue a maintained special school; more widely, in fact, than the amendment would require. They must do this both before publication of a decision—in other words, when they are thinking about whether they should close a school—and after they have decided to do so. The requirement to consult is already in primary legislation—Section 31 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

The guidance in England containing DfES circular 15/99 specifies who should be consulted prior to the decision to close, including the parents of pupils at the school, wherever they come from, and any local authority that maintains a statement in relation to a child attending the school—exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, rightly draws attention to. Other local authorities could be affected by the decision. That is already covered. Local authorities are obliged to consult others but I will not weary the House by setting those out.

If the local authority then decides that it wishes to close a special school, again, it must consult such other persons as prescribed in regulations and send them a copy of the proposals. Those to be consulted include each authority that maintains a statement in respect of a registered pupil in the school. It also covers the registered parents of each registered pupil at the school. These points are already covered in statute and in regulations.

The decision on closure of a special school cannot be made by a local authority in this country. It can be made only by the school organisation committee, which is again required by regulations to consider the views that have been made to it by anyone as part of the consultation process, or anyone who makes representations to it, as part of its decision. The committee must take account of the views of parents and other local residents, and the views of any local education authority affected by the proposals. So what the House is debating is already there in statute, regulation and guidance.

There is an extensive list of people who are required to be consulted, as your Lordships would expect. It is common sense that this is what should happen. The requirement to consult is statutory and goes further than the need to consult parents. If a school organisation committee's decision then goes to an adjudicator, the adjudicator also has to consider all the representations made by people affected by that decision. There is a hearing at that point as well.

On the second day of Report important points were made about the need for a regional overview of special school provision. I agree with that; it is right and necessary. Let me put to the House for the first time what we are doing on that.

I have asked the special educational needs advisers to support a more consistent application by local authorities of the approaches set out in Removing Barriers to Achievement, published last year. They send out clear messages to local authorities on their strategy to meet special educational needs. As part of the initial discussions, they have already visited all the local authorities in England. I have asked them to establish the position in each local authority regarding the development of special schools—in other words, the current provision of special schools in their areas, any present plans for changing the provision in their areas, and whether they have any future plans to change. I will be meeting with those advisers in about a month's time, before Easter, to discuss with them the picture that they tell me, so that I am sure I have my finger on exactly what is happening across England in total and can therefore take a clear view of the situation nationwide.

We are going further than that. We have already set in motion a national audit of specialist provision of support on a region-by-region basis. It is an audit of low-incidence special educational needs. The House will understand why. If the incidence is high, we can expect it to be dealt with locally. We should be concerned about low incidence. Again, the specialist advisers are tracking this. They are looking at provision nationwide and I expect them to report back to me by September 2005. That audit will establish how local authorities meet the needs of children in an area with low-incidence SEN. It will explore gaps in service support and provision, and how those gaps are being addressed. I will then be meeting them to discuss what that says in terms of whether local authorities are planning sensibly for how provision in their area might meet with regional needs.

If I find issues that cause me concern in either of the two reviews I have indicated, I will be seeking, both through my SEN advisers and through direct ministerial discussions, to talk to local authorities to ensure that we stimulate sensible planning for provision of special schools generally, and for low-incidence needs in particular.

I hope that is helpful. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised good questions earlier and she deserved a proper answer. That is the process that is under way.

I would be delighted to support the amendment were it not for the fact that what it seeks is already in statute, regulations and guidance. I do not believe we should legislate twice.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs 5:00 pm, 2nd March 2005

My Lords, I am afraid I do not quite agree with the Minister on the way that the guidance is currently worded. It is not firm enough on consultation with parents. One could get away with simply calling a meeting of parents, which is what happens. Therefore all the parents are not consulted fully.

We have had an interesting debate. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said. It is important that we fly the flag for these schools, for these young people and, as I said earlier, for the parental support that they get. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, we have looked at other parts of this legislation, and there is not really anything in it about special educational needs. Whether the Minister knows it or not, there is fear among parents. We saw one accost the Prime Minister only two weeks ago—that was about a special school in my local authority that is not likely to close.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for giving way.

I am well aware that there is anxiety, which is why I was as clear as I possibly could be in putting on the record the Government's policy in this respect. The policy is not to say to local authorities "You are expected to close your special schools", but to meet best the needs of children with special educational needs. That is why I also laboured the point about how thorough the process of consultation is, and how I intend to ensure that there is thoughtfulness in local authorities in how they plan their provision in the future.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that. I was going to thank him for the latter part of his contribution, where he set out some of the things he is doing to raise awareness of the issue, so that parents are more assured about the Government's intentions regarding the education and support of their children.

I do not think the parent consultation part of the legislation is strong enough at present, and I should like the Government to strengthen it. Therefore, I should like to test the feeling of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 148; Not-Contents, 126.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Education Bill [HL]

Aye: 146 Members of the House of Lords

No: 124 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 73 [Functions of Agency]:

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions) 5:19 pm, 2nd March 2005

moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 42, leave out lines 21 to 24 and insert—

"(a) to promote the spiritual, moral, behavioural, social, cultural, mental and physical development of children and young people,

(b) to contribute to their well-being, and

(c) to prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life."

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 add the well-being of children and young people to the list of considerations to which the Training and Development Agency for Schools must have regard in exercising its function. I undertook on Report to table amendments to that effect in response to representations from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and other noble Lords, and I hope that the House will agree that the amendments meet that commitment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, I and the NSPCC, with which I have a voluntary association, are very pleased to thank the Government sincerely for tabling the amendment, as they promised on Report.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, will he confirm that the word "well-being" in the amendment includes "safeguarding and promoting welfare", as it appears in the Children Act 2004? Secondly, why have the Government used the word "contribute" in subsection (b) of the amendment? The Children Act refers to "improving" children's well-being. Why has "contribute" been used instead of "improve"? Apart from asking those minor questions, I welcome the amendments and will support them.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister referred to my intervention on the matter. I am truly grateful for the amendments.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, I add my thanks to the Government for tabling the amendments after due consideration in Committee and on Report.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, I rise to support the amendments and gently to disagree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. The word "moral" sits better before "behavioural". He thought that "behavioural" should come before "moral". It is a very good list.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I thank the House for its support for the amendments. I confirm that the definition of "well-being" has been arrived at by reference to Section 10 of the Children Act. This is the same definition that is employed elsewhere in the Bill. I think that that is the assurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was seeking. She asked why we had written,

"contribute to their well-being" as opposed to "improve their well-being". The TDA is not alone in the delivery of well-being, and it is right, in legal terms, that it contributes rather than carries the sole burden. I hope that is helpful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 42, line 24, at end insert—

"(3A) In subsection (3)(b) "well-being", in relation to children and young people, is a reference to their well-being having regard to the matters mentioned in section 10(2) of the Children Act 2004."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

moved Amendment No. 7:

After Clause 97, insert the following new clause—

"REDUCING THE BURDEN OF BUREAUCRACY ON SCHOOLS

The Secretary of State shall exercise his functions with regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens on governing bodies, head teachers, teachers and other school staff of all maintained schools, special schools, pupil referral units and local education authorities in England and—

(a) shall lay before Parliament for approval an annual report detailing the general level of administration within all types of maintained schools and local education authorities and the steps both taken and planned to reduce such burdens, and

(b) the report shall include an evaluation of the effectiveness of such measures."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, as I explained on Report, the amendment would introduce a new clause to place a duty on the Secretary of State, in everything that her department does, to reduce the level of needless paperwork and bureaucracy with which schools and teachers must contend. It would compel the Secretary of State to report to Parliament once a year on what measures she had taken and how effective they had been in reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for our schools and teachers.

The Minister said on Report that he was not opposed to the amendment in principle, but that he could not agree to it in practice. I hope to have one final go at persuading him that such an amendment is required even more in practice than it is in principle.

The Minister stated that Section 38 of the Education Act 2002 already placed duties on the Secretary of State to consider the desirability of sending materials to schools. He stated that he was strongly committed to reducing the burdens and bureaucracy placed on schools and LEAs. He mentioned also that the Government had established in 2003 a body to look at, and report on, the level of bureaucracy. We obviously fully support all those actions and measures. However, in our view and, more importantly, in the view of thousands of teachers up and down the country, it is clear that such steps neither go far enough nor have any serious and sustained impact on bureaucracy. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, hit the nail on the head when he said on Report that steps were taken 10 years ago to address red tape and bureaucracy and that here we were, 10 years later, still addressing the same issues and discussing the same problems.

The Government have quite failed to get to grips with the issue. Any teacher will say that the problem has become considerably worse over the past few years. We believe that teachers' first priority must be to deliver quality education and not to please officialdom in Whitehall or in local authorities. We all know that one of the biggest reasons why teachers are disillusioned with their jobs and are leaving the profession is that they often face too much red tape.

As I mentioned on Report, teachers whom I meet express concerns about workload, not always in the context of time spent teaching but in the time spent on the unnecessary diversions of filling in forms et cetera.

We have a duty to control the volume of paper and red tape pumped in the direction of schools. I challenge the Government once again to say that they support the amendment. Those involved in education throughout the country will want to see solid evidence that the Government really want to do something about the problem.

Teachers want the freedom to teach and to have a breathing space from the torrent of regulations placed on them. They want an explicit statutory requirement that will give some relief from the Government's overregulation and centralisation of education, even as they claim that their objective is to deregulate, decentralise and allow greater autonomy. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the matter again and support this type of amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I am sometimes advised by my noble friends behind me not to waste too much time on days like today trying to persuade the House, because sometimes it feels as if people have already made up their mind before we have had a debate and because the audience for the debates is perhaps wider than just the Chamber. I do not take their advice of course, because I know that noble Lords listen attentively to every word that we say and are persuaded by the debate rather than by preconceptions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, signalled, I agree with him that it is the responsibility of government, local education authorities and schools constantly to strive to reduce bureaucracy and any cost that does not help to attain better outcomes for children. I do not agree that putting another bureaucratic burden on the Secretary of State to produce another report for Parliament would do anything whatever apart from increase costs.

I yet again make clear the measures that the department has taken to monitor, challenge and reduce the burden of bureaucracy. Section 38 of the Education Act 2002 already places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of avoiding the sending of excessive material to governing bodies or to head teachers and the imposition of excessive administrative burdens on governing bodies or head teachers. It is already in statute. By way of illustration, the department has now stopped "the batch"—the automatic mailing of a small mountain of paper to schools—and replaced it with an online system.

Furthermore, we have put in place a sequence of measures constantly to challenge the tendency of any organisation, perhaps including the Conservative Party, to move towards the generation of bureaucracy almost by nature of its existence. The implementation review unit, which is a group of people outside the department, looks at policies. It has a serious work programme to challenge whether some functions or actions are necessary. It has already had a significant impact, and it has identified means of delivering the kind of progress that we expect.

In addition, we have established a panel of senior officials which must assess and authorise any policy that impacts on 10 or more schools. We have established also a star chamber of senior DfES officials, the QCA, Ofsted, the TTA, the LGA, the Audit Commission and two head teachers. All requests made by the department for information from schools and local authorities require the prior approval of the star chamber. We cannot ask for information unless that body, which is much wider than the department, agrees that it is desirable and necessary to do so.

The implementation review unit has the task of overseeing the implementation of the 2003 Cabinet Office report, Making a Difference: Reducing School Paperwork. It identified 125 actions to reduce burdens; 97 have been completed and the rest are on target to be completed.

We have also included in this Bill a number of changes to reduce the burden of Ofsted inspection. The Bill sits on the platform of a new relationship with schools, which is fundamentally about giving space to schools, freeing them from burdens, unnecessary controls and bureaucracy, and giving them the power and resources and do the job of raising attainment. The whole Bill is fundamentally about allowing them to focus their resources on getting real value rather than producing paper.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that there should be a ministerial champion. He is right. There is one. It could not be higher and more powerful. She is called the Secretary of State for Education. She has explicit responsibility for reducing bureaucracy. The Secretary of State takes a wide view of burdens—it is not just a question of looking at what the department does, but also at what local authorities might do.

Could Ofsted do more? In a sense, of course, the whole Bill—or parts of the Bill—is about reducing the burden of Ofsted on schools while keeping the benefits. I am glad that there is a consensus around the House that that is right and proper. That is where we are going.

Perhaps HMCI could play a role in keeping the Secretary of State informed about this wider view of the burdens. In practice, the thematic studies that HMCI undertakes look at those things, and it is open to us to ask HMCI to carry out a specific thematic study of burdens on schools when we think that is necessary and appropriate. We will bear that in mind.

I do not think that now is the time to do that, however, because we already have such a study underway, looking at the impact of the new relationship on schools in reducing burdens upon them. The National Foundation for Educational Research is to make an independent evaluation of the new relationship with schools trials, including the effectiveness with which it reduced bureaucracy for schools. It will report in July 2005. Let us not have another review set on top of another review. We would be barking if we behaved in that way.

We agree with the objective. We agree that one needs to be relentless and to have senior political leadership to achieve it, and involvement from those who suffer from bureaucracy as well as those who believe that their little measure is not too bad.

I will not go into detail about why the amendment is technically flawed. I do not think that will necessarily persuade the House one way or the other. I hope that the House accepts that we are committed to this objective, however. We have a range of strong measures in place, the statutory obligation to reduce bureaucracy and some powerful processes. We are seeing signs of early and significant success in this respect.

I hope that that has been helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and that he does not feel minded to press his amendment to a Division.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench 5:30 pm, 2nd March 2005

My Lords, I welcome that indication that HMCI might be invited to undertake a thematic review. In my view, that is the right way to go about it. Yes, there is a massive problem. There needs to be action. This approach, however, looks a bit bureaucratic. I much prefer the independent thematic review by the inspector.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, this is an issue which is not going to go away. We are all concerned about it, and I am grateful to the Minister because he has expressed his views and is obviously concerned about it.

I do not want to add to the bureaucratic nature of reviews of reviews of reviews. One could shoot oneself in the foot by continually asking for another review. I am inclined, therefore, to note what the Minister says. Of course, it will be a different government looking at the issue in July. We might then get the chance really to reduce the level of bureaucracy.

I will not press the amendment today. I am concerned about the issue, and I hope everyone here continues to be. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 101 [Removal of requirements for governors' reports and parents' meetings]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 54, line 19, leave out subsection (2).

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to say that I shall not be moving Amendment No. 9.

This amendment has the effect of removing subsection (2) of Clause 101, which is about annual parents' meetings. Subsection (2) effectively means that only in Wales do annual parents' meetings have to be held. As noble Lords who look it up wondering what subsection (2) does will find, it amends Section 33 of the 2002 Act.

Some noble Lords may remember that we spent a good deal of time in 2002 debating an Education Bill which contained a lot about the new system of governance in schools—what boards of governors should be doing. One of the duties it imposed on boards of governors was to hold an annual parents' meeting. I shall refresh noble Lords' memories about what the obligations were under Clause 33 of the 2002 Act.

Clause 33 states:

"(1) Once in every school year the governing body of a maintained school shall hold a meeting (an 'annual parents' meeting') which is open to—

(a) all parents of registered pupils at the school,

(b) the head teacher, and

(c) other such persons as the governing body may invite.

(2) The purpose of the meeting is to provide an opportunity for discussion of the manner in which the school has been, and is to be, conducted, and of any other matters relating to the school raised by parents of registered pupils.

(3) Regulations may make provision as to circumstances in which a governing body are to be exempt from the obligation imposed by subsection (1)."

In other words, regulations may set out some reasons why a meeting should not be held.

In Committee and on Report we had substantial discussion of the relationships with parents, annual meetings and annual reports and the concept of the profile which is replacing the annual report. I think there was agreement all round the House that it is important that schools should have good communication between the head teacher, the body of the teaching staff in the school and the parents. We know that the Government are actively developing ideas to encourage schools to develop such relationships. We are sensitive to the fact that they are working on these issues.

We also know that research has shown time and again that pupils benefit when their parents are involved in the workings of the school and understand its aims and objectives. There are many schools in the country that are exemplars of good practice, where there is an extremely good relationship between the parents and the staff, and the parents are not only welcomed but frequently work with the staff to enhance what the school offers and the well-being of the children. One sees this very often in infant and primary schools. It is, perhaps, sometimes less true of secondary schools, but there are nevertheless many which apply good practice. Equally, there are some schools which are less good at making contact with the parents and where the relationship is somewhat difficult.

For that reason, we on these Benches—and this is a hesitation which I know is shared by the Conservative Benches and others in the Chamber—have been uneasy about abandoning completely the commitment to the annual meeting. We feel there should be an opportunity for parents to get together with the staff if they want to if there are no other opportunities to do so. Therefore we welcome the concept of the annual meeting because it provides at least once a year an opportunity for the governors, the head teacher and usually other members of staff to meet parents and listen to their worries, if they have them.

We would have preferred to table an amendment giving the head and the governing body a measure of discretion over holding an annual meeting, with the proviso that a note should be sent out with the compulsory annual profile explaining why they feel that the meeting is unnecessary. It may be that lots of other meetings with parents are held and we recognise that an annual meeting could be superfluous. However, if no meetings are held, such a provision would put pressure on schools to do so.

We also wanted to suggest that if 20 parents put forward a request in writing for an annual meeting, the school should hold one. Unfortunately we did not get our act together on the drafting. When we came to table it, the Public Bill Office objected, saying that it was too close to the one on which we voted in Committee. The amendment before us is effectively a fallback position.

This amendment would ensure that the provisions set out in the 2002 Act remain on the statute book. However, some flexibility is provided in Section 33(3) of that Act, which states:

"Regulations may make provision as to the circumstances in which the governing body are exempt from the obligation imposed by subsection (1)", which obliges the governing body to hold an annual meeting. I would argue, therefore, that the 2002 Act already provides a degree of flexibility. A school does not have to hold an annual meeting, but essentially it is required to do so unless it already meets the requirements of the regulations.

The regulations make it clear that if there is a good reason not to hold an annual meeting because the governing body is already meeting with parents on many other occasions, it need not be held. We accept that. Good practice may make the annual meeting unnecessary.

I have said already that this amendment is not our first choice, but I believe it would cover the situation. Behind the Members on these Benches is a good number of parent bodies which are uneasy about the loss of the right to an annual meeting for parents. So I speak not only for the Opposition Benches, but also for a somewhat wider audience around the country. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness in her amendment. When we debated this issue on Report, I agreed with virtually everything the Minister said. He stressed that the Government are seeking greater parental involvement and that events have moved on. But I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that removing the signal that it is a good idea to hold a parents' meeting is a mistake.

The legislation before us will not reflect the Minister's wish that in future parents should be more closely involved in schools. Therefore it is a retrograde step to take away the likelihood of holding an annual meeting, or at least the desire to do so. While such meetings are not always well attended, as least they are held. At some schools the meetings are very well supported, while for other schools tackling big issues, it provides an opportunity for parents to debate them.

This is an unnecessary step and I do not know why the Government want to take it. We can think of other ways of supporting parents' involvement in schools. I support the amendment.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 5:45 pm, 2nd March 2005

My Lords, I apologise for not being in my place at the start of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in support of her amendment. I am afraid that my agnostic hesitation about Amendment No. 3 now gives way to a deeper scepticism about this amendment. That is not born out of a sense of looking at this from an ivory tower, but from experience as serving both as the chair of governors of a school and, shall we say, serving as a parent of children in other schools at the time when the legislation specifying a meeting was brought in. I hasten to add that those are two different kinds of service.

This is not the time to be anecdotal, rather I shall make a general point. We are facing the need to find new ways of being a society that is just, sustainable and participatory. The parents' meeting is one example of that simply not working. I acknowledge the pressure to keep it, but I should like a little more detail about where that pressure is coming from. I am facing a profound disaffection with them. We need to find other ways of achieving our aims. Indeed, we may have to debate how to find people to serve on school governing bodies. I hear stories that parents do not attend annual meetings because they are scared of being dragooned into serving as school governors. That shows the profound scepticism that needs to balance well intentioned amendments.

Because something does not work, it does not mean that one should persist in doing it. I am sufficiently sceptical to oppose this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I am afraid that I must disagree with the right reverend Prelate. It is a great pity that this annual event is not to be proceeded with. It is argued that only those who are interested attend, while the rest of the parents feel even more excluded. While I am not against efforts to find new methods of involving parents—of course teachers and governors should find new ways and means of communicating with parents—it must be said that we have not yet found them. Given that, why, for goodness' sake, are we destroying a provision which enables some parents to attend the sort of meeting that they find valuable? They can learn about areas which perhaps they have not thought about, which in turn may influence their own approach to the school.

While I am sorry that the amendment before us may not be perfect, I certainly feel that we should take the opportunity to air the reasons why Members on the Opposition Benches and other groups think that the provision of an annual meeting is important. Perhaps it is now a tradition, even though it has existed for only a certain length of time. I have served on many governing bodies and I have a rather different view of the annual meeting from that of the right reverend Prelate. I support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I raised a number of issues in relation to the annual meeting of the governing body at Second Reading because of my experience at a school where there was a lack of communication between the governing body and the parents. I posed the question of whether the annual meeting, notwithstanding the frequent problem of lack of attendance, provided a way of giving parents at least one opportunity to raise issues.

I would be grateful for clarification from my noble friend because we have made considerable progress with the Bill since Second Reading, in particular on new Clause 7 covering Ofsted inspections. It now provides a,

"Duty to have regard to views of certain persons".

That provides a great deal of comfort for those concerned about whether parents' concerns are being listened to.

The point of clarification I seek is this. Given that we are to have more frequent Ofsted inspections, I take it that one of the questions to be asked by the inspection team is whether the school has a satisfactory record of maintaining good links with parents. That being so, it might be the best way to ensure that there is good communication between parents and the school. If my noble friend can assure me of that, I shall be greatly comforted. The amendment would not then be necessary.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I shall not speak for excessively long as it is probably one of those afternoons.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is right that there is a strong measure of agreement on the objective. The debate is more about the detail and how to get there.

We have spoken at length about the importance of involving parents in their children's education for very good reasons. We have discussed schools behaving to parents as if their involvement in their child's education fundamentally matters and seeing them as partners rather than problems and best left out of the school. We have talked about the importance of parents feeling that they are active stakeholders in the governance, values and leadership of schools. We have referred to opportunities and said that the school must consult, inform, listen, govern and manage its corporate affairs in partnership with parents.

There is no debate between us on what the future should be, or about how schools behave at present. The debate is how to do it, and I am slightly hamstrung in that I cannot outline the conclusion of all the government work that we talked about previously.

Let me make it clear that we do not think that schools will fulfil their duties to parents just by holding an annual meeting. We all know that if schools behave only in that way, they are not listening to us or understanding the shift that this House wants.

The Education Select Committee strongly recommended in 1999 that the annual parents meeting should be abolished and that processes should be put in place to ensure that the school engaged much more creatively in the variety of ways that I described, rather than just having an annual meeting with its parents.

Levers are in place in the Bill and elsewhere to ensure that that happens without having a statutory obligation to hold an annual meeting. The anxiety of the Liberal Democrats and others at heart is that if we get away with not having a statutory obligation, we may throw everything away and have nothing in its place to ensure that parents are treated seriously.

I shall summarise a number of issues. First, as my noble friend Lord Hunt said, the importance of parents will be attached to Ofsted inspections. I shall not second guess what Ofsted will do about schools that do not relate well to, communicate with, consult, listen to or are influenced by parents, but it will consider such issues. That is on the inspection agenda and we know how powerful that lever is.

Secondly, the school improvement partner will be a lever for change and will discuss with schools how they relate to parents. Thirdly, there is a new statutory complaints procedure. Fourthly, there are procedures through local authorities and their leadership in working with schools and partnership arrangements at local level.

I shall go further in signalling to the House that these are not mere words. In response to the concerns of the House we intend to amend the regulations in force under Section 21 of the Education Act 2002 which deals with the roles and responsibilities of school governing bodies. I propose to add to the regulations a specific reference to the role of parents in the school. I cannot put the final wording of that before the House but it is likely to be something like, "We believe that the duty of the governing body should be to have regard to the views of parents". It will be in that territory. The school will have a statutory obligation that is put into force through regulation.

For a school to respond properly to the term, "have regard to the views of parents", it is self-evident that it will have to then think about the processes by which it engages with parents. Are there processes in place so that they can listen to, consult, inform, allow for dialogue with or involvement in the governance, thereby affirming the importance of the parent in the child's education? What are the schools doing in those respects?

I commit that we shall amend regulations to put such a duty on governing bodies. Off that will hang the sort of reviews that we discussed, which will then be inspected by Ofsted every three years or less when it comes to look at what is happening in practice.

In response to debates in the House, we are moving significantly to ensure that there is a shift. That is better than doing what the amendment suggests, which would leave the annual parents meeting in place and allow those in sleepy hollows who think that staying there and doing nothing else complies with their obligation. We shall remove that and put in its place through regulation a much wider challenge to governing bodies that will be respected by Ofsted.

I hope that that is helpful to the Opposition and all who have spoken in the debate.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I recognise that he has moved in this direction, and he will be delighted to hear that that movement is sufficient for us not to wish to test the opinion of the House.

I acknowledge that the governing body shall "have regard to" the views of parents. I take that as being more than just consultation with parents. I also accept the degree to which the annual meeting is a totem. In a sense on the face of the Bill there is an element of a totem of good parental relationships that could be abused.

In the light of what the Minister has said today, and the debates that we have had in Committee and on Report, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 108 [Supply of information: free school lunches etc.]:

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 59, line 9, leave out "that Act" and insert "the Education Act 1996"

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, this is a purely technical amendment that is designed to correct a drafting inaccuracy that was left as a result of this House agreeing to previous government amendments on Report. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

moved Amendment No. 11:

After Clause 114, insert the following new clause—

"REQUIREMENTS TO BE REGISTERED

In section 134 of the 2002 Act (requirement upon teachers to be registered), in subsection (5)(a) leave out "or" at the end of the paragraph and after paragraph (b) insert—

"(c) an Academy,

(d) a city technology college, or

(e) a city college for the technology of the arts.""

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 12, which is grouped with this.

The purpose of the two amendments is to ensure that all teachers, including those in academies and CTCs are to be registered and regulated by the General Teaching Council in line with other teachers in the maintained sector. The amendments are similar to those tabled on Report, apart from removing the reference to pupil referral units, because we listened to the Minister when he said they were not necessary.

Under Section 134 of the Education Act 2002 the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales may by regulation provide that a specified activity may be carried out in an LEA-maintained school or a non-maintained special school by a qualified teacher only when that teacher is fully registered with the General Teaching Council for England or for Wales. A trainee teacher may undertake a specified course of training leading to qualified teacher status only if he or she is provisionally registered with the GTC. In addition provisional registration may be required of unqualified teachers undertaking specified work in schools.

The regulations do not apply to teachers working in schools such as academies, which are legally defined as independent and often referred to by the Government as independent state schools. I believe that professional registration is a vital safeguard for pupils and the public. The procedures for regulating teachers need to be transparent and open for scrutiny. To operate effectively teachers must have the trust and respect of pupils, parents and society as a whole. Public confidence in the system for regulating teachers is a prerequisite.

That was the guiding principle behind the creation of the General Teaching Council in 2001, putting teachers on a par with doctors and lawyers in having a self-regulatory body. As I mentioned on Report, at its January council meeting the members of the GTC for England expressed grave concern that currently the Government do not plan to bring teachers covered by my amendment within the scope of professional regulation. Stephen Twigg has offered to review the matter if it becomes "a significant issue".

Organisations representing parents, governors, diocesan authorities and the teaching, head teacher and lecturer unions jointly signed a letter to the schools Minister urging him to bring teachers in academies into the scope of professional regulations. I have rarely seen an amendment supported by so many reputable organisations led by the NUT and the General Teaching Council.

In response to the GTC the schools Minister argued that many academies may require their teachers to register and that individual teachers may choose to register, even if not required to do so. In his response to the amendment tabled on Report, the Minister said something very similar. He also argued that,

"Children who attend academies should be taught by staff with at least the same level of qualifications as those who do not. That is precisely why the funding agreements between the Secretary of State and academies set requirements as to the qualifications and health standards of the teachers they employ".—[Hansard, 24/2/05; col. 1454.]

Funding agreements with private hospitals that carry out operations for the NHS may well also set standards, but they do not allow doctors to opt out of GMC registration. The GTC has worked very hard in developing its regulatory function to set standards for the whole profession, akin to that of, say, the Law Society and the General Medical Council. Every solicitor, whether in private practice, in industry or in the public sector, is subject to the same statutory regulatory system of standards. It would not be suggested that that should apply selectively by reference to who happened to be the employer of such a solicitor. None of your Lordships would like to be treated by a doctor who is not registered with the General Medical Council. As we speak, all social workers are also registering or they will not be allowed to work. I really wonder whether the Government were serious when they set up the GTC if they are not now prepared to support it.

The GTC regulatory role is not simply one of disciplining teachers. Discipline is a response to a fault and that is a matter for the employer at the time when a teacher does something wrong. The GTC regulates by deciding whether, in consequence of conduct or lack of competence, a teacher is fit to continue working as a teacher in a state school. During the debate, the Minister also said,

"The GTCE register is, however, only one of the available means of checking the standards of a teacher's past performance".—[Hansard, 24/2/05; col. 1454.]

I really must ask him why he supports multiple processes to achieve the same object. The GTC regulatory function is not to provide a means of checking the standards of a teacher's past performance—that is Ofsted's job—but it is to consider whether a teacher should continue to have the essential benefit of registration for the future. The issue of registration leads to a number of unhelpful anomalies.

So questions arise. Does a newly qualified teacher, working in an academy, need to be registered with the GTC while undertaking induction? Does a teacher undergoing induction in an academy have a right of appeal to the GTC if he or she is deemed to have failed? If, following an appeal, the GTC judges that a teacher should not pass the induction, is that teacher able to continue to work at the academy?

The fact that there is no obligation to register raises all kinds of anomalies and questions and certainly indicates a lack of confidence and support for the General Teaching Council. The supporting organisations were dismayed by the Government's attitude to this amendment on Report. The GTC and its partners want to see a consistent approach to registration so that teachers moving between schools—maintained schools, the academies and the CTCs—do not slip out of the net of professional regulation, which, in the light of the Children Act 2004, is even more important than it was before. I beg to move.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 6:00 pm, 2nd March 2005

My Lords, the sentiments behind the amendment are worthy, timely and just, but should it find a place in the Bill? My view is that it should because these academies are a new breed of school and the more they are seen to show the same collective disciplines as every other kind of school—in this case professional discipline regarding the teaching profession—the better.

The noble Baroness has alluded to the organisations that support this move. The Church of England education division is on record as taking this line in relation to Church of England academies. It would be consistent to extend such a move further. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will find support in your Lordships' House. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for riding the hobby horse of our academies in such a creative way here.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, as we know from previous discussions on various parts of the Bill, academies are registered independent schools. Like all independent schools, they are not bound by the legislative framework that applies to maintained schools. Instead they have their own legislative framework, which includes inspection by Ofsted to obtain registration, which ensures a high standard of professionalism and propriety within the independent sector.

Seeking to bring academies back into all the regulatory constraints, burdens and bureaucracy of the maintained sector is, as we have said previously, to fetter a crucial experiment before it has had the chance and freedom to demonstrate whether it can succeed where so many others have failed before: that is, in turning around some of the most seriously failing schools in our society, which, as a consequence, has meant that very many children have suffered. Therefore, for the reasons that I have given now and before, we do not believe that it is right to change in this respect.

The existence of legally independent schools within the state sector requires the right balance to be struck between safeguards in the form of conditions set by central Government and the freedoms from red tape needed to tackle deep-seated problems of deprivation and underachievement. The Government believe that they have struck the right balance and do not believe that there are the risks or harm that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley is right to probe.

I shall try to illustrate that point. Paragraph 17 of the model funding agreement between the Secretary of State and an academy reads:

"The Academy Trust shall employ as teachers persons who meet the health standards set out in the Education (Health Standards) (England) Regulations 2003 and who are also qualified teachers within the meaning of the Education (School Teachers' Qualifications) (England) Regulations 2003".

Not only does that require academies to employ as teachers only persons with qualified teacher status, but it also backs up that requirement with a very powerful enforcement mechanism, in the form of the contractual agreement, which was mentioned earlier, and the sanctions that are embedded in that.

On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, described registration with the GTCE as "probably the best" mechanism that we have for ensuring the quality of a member of the teaching staff. Reflecting on that, earlier this week my officials took the trouble to seek the advice of a number of head teachers of maintained schools about what happens in the real world and how they would assure themselves of the suitability and competence of a prospective member of staff. That has considerable relevance to this debate.

Head teachers confirm, as one might expect, that they would insist on the usual Criminal Records Bureau check. They would also insist on checking List 99, which has sometimes loosely been called the register of barred teachers who are found, as a result of disciplinary action, to be unsuitable to have care of children; for example, because they have committed child abuse of one dreadful form or another. That is how head teachers behave.

They were then asked how they would verify a candidate's professional competence as a teacher. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, implied that the primary source of that information would be the GTCE, a source of information that would not be open to the head of an academy. But that is not what the heads of maintained schools told us. In every case, they said they would rely first and foremost on the reference they would seek from a candidate's previous employer.

That is for good reason. A teacher would normally be referred to the GTCE on competence grounds only as a result of having already been disciplined by their employer. That would catch only a very small proportion of cases that would be seen as warranting a referral to the GTCE. Therefore, a head is utterly sensible not to have multiple sources but to go to the reference from the previous school or schools and to ask them. It would capture what would have been registered with the GTCE if the teacher was so registered, but, more importantly, would also capture the far wider range of circumstances where aspects of that teacher's behaviour might be germane to an honest reference on whether they were suitable. Heads are not daft in seeing the reference, rather than the GTCE, as their source of information.

I could buttress that by indicating, for example, that on List 99 there are some 3,000-plus teachers registered. Since June 2001 the GTCE has issued only two prohibition orders on the grounds of incompetence. I am not having a poke at the GTCE, but we must not kid ourselves that this is the central way in which a head—whether of an academy or not—validates whether they should employ someone.

The GTCE has a function, a role, but the risks of not forcing academies to say that everybody must be with the GTCE have been talked up. Some trust governing bodies do so, but the risks are not there, for the reasons I have given.

The Criminal Records Bureau, List 99 and the reference cover all these issues. There is no need to add additional burdens. For fundamental reasons, we should minimise the burdens on academies, otherwise they will not have the scope to deliver the improvement that we need of them.

I hope that that has been helpful, if not totally comforting, to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I would like to respond to a few of his points.

He said that academies are independent schools, but they were substantially paid for by government money and will be maintained by the state. The state has enormous interest in their standards.

The Minister seemed to think that the amendment would be an unwarranted fettering of the freedom of the academies. The academies are expected to co-operate, for example, with the duties imposed by the Children Act 2004. I wonder whether the Minister thinks that that is an unwarranted fettering of their freedom. We are talking about basic teaching standards. It is very important.

I wonder whether the Minister thinks of registration as no more than red tape. I would point out that the red tape is more on the teacher than on the academies. It is the teacher who has to get registered. All the academy has to do is check that they have done it.

The Minister mentioned head teachers, but two of the organisations that back this amendment are the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers. I also suggest that he remembers that head teachers often have to bring in teachers at very short notice. Yes, of course they have to check police records and List 99. Of course the GTCE registration is not the only way by which a head teacher would satisfy him or herself of the standard of a new teacher coming into the school. However, it is a basic that can be added to the armoury to make sure that a teacher coming in, even at short notice, is of appropriate standard, both for the academies and CTCs, as well as maintained schools.

I wonder why the Government bothered setting up the General Teaching Council for England if they are now about to undermine it by saying "Oh, these wonderful best schools that are going to be do not have to bother with that". It does not seem logical. I beg to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 119; Not-Contents, 125.

Division number 3 Education Bill — Requirements to be Registered with General Teaching Council — rejected

Aye: 115 Members of the House of Lords

No: 122 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 465 Members of the House of Lords

Absents: A-Z by last name

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Clause 117 [Functions to be exercisable by National Assembly for Wales]:

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, this is a purely technical amendment consequential on the amendments to Schedule 18 which were approved in Committee. Its purpose is to ensure that the new powers can be exercised by the Assembly. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 124 [The appropriate authority by whom commencement order is made]:

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 67, line 13, at end insert—

"paragraph 8 of Schedule 16 (and section 99 so far as relating to that paragraph)"

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, as we have discussed several times, the changes to the funding system proposed under Clause 98 amount to a complex piece of legislation. As we said in Committee and on Report, we very much welcome the idea of a three-year funding cycle, and yet we have a number of continuing concerns about the Government's proposals for implementing it and for making certain that it works.

Given the importance of the funding issue and the desire of the whole House to get it right, we feel that it is imperative that the Bill and subsequent regulations or guidance relating to the future of schools' funding receive proper parliamentary scrutiny and are not rushed through in undue haste.

These amendments would ensure that the first set of regulations which bring in Clause 98 and the reformed funding system would have to be debated and agreed by Parliament first. This is a sensible and rational way to proceed. I believe the Government support the intent behind the amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, we did indeed have a discussion in Committee about regulations on school funding being subject to the affirmative procedure. In fact, debating "affirmative or negative" is one of the leitmotivs of this House. I do not mean to be flippant. We signalled that it was excessively burdensome always to have the affirmative procedure, but, recognising the feeling of the House, I accept that the introduction of three-year budgets based on the academic year is an important and significant change and that the House has a legitimate interest in scrutinising the detail of the proposals.

I remain of the view that we do not need this to be done every year, but the amendment does not require that. I am happy therefore to signal that the Government will not resist the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I thank him for his measured thoughtfulness in this respect.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, this is an example of how this place can work. I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment. Given, as I said, that this is complex legislation, this amendment is the right way forward.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools In England]:

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

moved Amendments Nos. 15 to 22:

Page 68, line 12, leave out from "inspector" to end of line 13.

Page 68, line 13, at end insert—

"(2A) The Chief Inspector must ensure that additional inspectors have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills to assist him in the effective discharge of his functions.

Page 68, line 14, at beginning insert "In pursuance of the duty imposed by sub-paragraph (2A),"

Page 68, line 19, at end insert "and the skills that they are to be required to demonstrate in the exercise of those functions"

Page 68, line 24, at end insert—

"(4A) If the Chief Inspector has entered into arrangements with persons who are not themselves additional inspectors ("inspection service providers") for the provision by the inspection service providers of the services of inspectors, the Chief Inspector must publish, at intervals of not more than 12 months, a list of the names of those persons who, as at a specified date, are currently notified to him by any inspection service provider as persons with whom the inspection service provider proposes to make arrangements for the carrying out of inspections on behalf of the Chief Inspector."

Page 68, line 25, leave out sub-paragraph (5).

Page 68, line 30, leave out from "England" to end of line 32 and insert—

"(7) The Chief Inspector may not authorise an additional inspector to conduct an inspection of a school under section 5 unless—

(a) the inspection is to be supervised by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in England, or

(b) the additional inspector has previously conducted an inspection under that section under the supervision of one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in England ("the supervising inspector") to the satisfaction of the supervising inspector."

Page 69, line 15, after "sub-paragraph (3)" insert "and paragraph 2(7)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 16 [Funding of maintained schools]:

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 136, line 35, at end insert—

"(c) following the initial allocation of its schools budget to a local education authority in England, there shall be a 30 day period of consultation and clarification in regard to the amount referred to in subsection (2)."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, I have tabled Amendment No. 23 at this late stage in an attempt to clarify further and to help with regard to the complex issues referred to in previous amendments.

With most funding systems, such as local authority grant settlements, the Government announce a provisional settlement and people are able to make representations and comment on it. A little later, the Government will announce a final settlement. In view of the discussion we had previously about the muddle between Bromley and Buckinghamshire—even if it concerned only capital—I believe that there should be some mechanism to enable schools and local authorities to comment on government settlement arrangements in case there are any anomalies.

Therefore, even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will reflect on this amendment and assure us that something like this will be done. The process should be transparent and schools and local authorities should be able to spot any problems. Given that modern technology does not always work, there could be loops in the system that prevent the delivery of what is expected. Thus, at this late stage of the Bill, I am proposing this amendment in the hope that the Government will give us an assurance about how the process will work. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions) 6:30 pm, 2nd March 2005

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for what I heard as an important probing amendment. The noble Lord is seeking to get on to the record some clarification of the detail of these mechanisms. I will do my best to be as helpful as I can. If there are further points of detail, I will seek to buttress it with further correspondence—copied, of course, to both opposition parties—if that would be helpful.

I should explain that under the new system of three-year budgets, initial allocations of the dedicated schools grant will be based primarily on estimates of future pupil numbers rather than actual data. Those estimates will be used to determine a unit of resource per pupil for each authority, which will then be guaranteed. There will then come a point, of course, when allocations will be finalised based on actual data. I accept entirely the need to consult local authorities at that point to ensure that the underlying data are accurate. That would, for example, parallel the existing system for the local government finance settlement as a whole, under which a provisional settlement is issued for consultation and that is then followed by a final settlement. I am happy to give the House an undertaking that this kind of consultation will take place.

I do not think that it is necessary to put on the face of primary legislation a requirement to consult, because it is in everybody's interest that such consultation takes place. If there were to be a mistake in the underlying data then it is in the Government's interest, as well as in the authorities' interest, to be alerted to that as soon as possible. These are, however, broad framework powers and including detail about exactly how and when consultation should take place would be unnecessarily prescriptive and could get things wrong.

I fully sympathise with the underlying purpose of the amendment but, for the reasons I have explained, it is not necessary to have this requirement on the face of primary legislation. I should also add that, for various technical reasons, the amendment would not achieve its intended effect. I also understand the desire of the noble Lord to see full consultation on the distribution formula as well as on the data underlying the distribution. Of course, any such consultation would in practice have to take place well before allocations were issued to authorities rather than after—as implied by the amendment.

We have made clear that we do not intend to make any significant changes to the existing SFSS formula in the short term. There will be some minor technical changes, and we will consult all interested parties on those in due course, just as we have in recent years. If, in the future, we were proposing to make more fundamental changes to the formula, we would again consult interested parties fully on those. Again, however, it does not make sense to tie such consultations to the determination of the authorities' schools' budget, because, as I have said, the formula will have to be determined well before the DSG is allocated. Nor will there necessarily need to be a consultation every year, since allocations will cover more than one year at a time.

As I have said, I do not think it is necessary to have such a requirement on the face of the Bill. I hope that what I have said is helpful. I shall be happy to amplify anything that is not clear and I hope that I have set, at least partly, the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, at rest.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lord, I thank the Minister for that reply. It does set my mind partly at rest. I was also reassured that he might set out some further thoughts in writing. As we are now probably moving to this legislation becoming law, we want to make certain that three-year funding, which we all support, will work. We want to make certain that the Government have all the procedures in place and the arrangements for consultation.

I thank the Minister for his comments today. I shall certainly read in Hansard what he has said. If he can amplify it further, I would be grateful. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 141, line 6, at end insert—

"8 In section 138 of the 1998 Act (orders and regulations), in subsection (5) (orders and regulations that are subject to affirmative procedure) after paragraph (b) insert "or

(c) the first regulations to be made under section 45AA, or

(d) the first regulations to be made under section 47 in relation to England after the coming into force of paragraph 6 of Schedule 16 to the Education Act 2005,".

On Question, amendment agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, before finally moving that the Bill do now pass, I want to thank the House. The Bill has been well scrutinised. Sometimes, it has felt too well scrutinised—but that is life. It is really important that the measures in the Bill are enacted as soon as possible, as they bring substantial benefits to schools and pupils. We are well on course to doing that with the good support across the House on the fundamentals of the Bill. I thank the House for that.

In conclusion, I should like to thank the officials, who have been resolute in their response to my unreasonable and demanding request that on this Bill we should seek to be highly responsive to the House. I thank them most warmly for that.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.