Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Education Bill – in the House of Lords at 8:09 pm on 18 October 2011.

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Clause 5 : Repeal of requirement to give notice of detention to parent: England

Amendment 33

Moved by Baroness Walmsley

33: Clause 5, page 10, line 16, after "Wales" insert "or a pupil at a school in England whose parent has not confirmed the receipt by any effective method of a notice from the head teacher of the school that the pupil will be detained after the school session on the day that the notice is issued"

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 8:20, 18 October 2011

My Lords, this amendment seeks to ensure that if a school wishes to keep a child in detention after school, it must ensure that it has successfully contacted the child's parent or carer. When we discussed this matter in Grand Committee, I asked that the school should get the agreement of the parent. I believed that I was offering a compromise when I moved towards simply asking that the school should inform the parent, but I understand that the Minister does not think so.

Clause 13 has the potential to put a child in danger and I hope that I will be given a strong reassurance by the Minister that this will not be so. While I trust the vast majority of teachers, surely the Minister must accept that it takes a while for a young teacher to develop the sort of good judgment and common sense that we believe would prevent them from putting a child in danger on the way home. That is why we need to make it abundantly clear in guidance that no teacher may detain a child after school without informing the parent if it in any way compromises the safety of the child.

My noble friend the Minister made the point in Grand Committee that schools already have a duty of care to their pupils under other legislation. That may well be so, but noble Lords know the difficulty of cross-referencing other Acts when we are considering a current Bill that makes changes to earlier legislation. That is why I am asking the Minister to ensure that in the guidance that accompanies this new power, the school is made aware, on the same page, that it must not use this power if it in any way puts the child in danger. In order to check on this, the school will have to find out what the child's transport arrangements are and ensure that either the detention is so short that it avoids the child missing a bus or that other safe travel arrangements have been made. The school may also need to check on whether the child is a carer, where detaining that child after school may cause another vulnerable person in distress. Schools should already know which children are carers, but they need to be sure in this case. I also think the guidance should make it clear that it is good practice to inform the parents anyway by phone. I can envisage the distress of a parent, waiting at home for a child to step off the school bus, only to find that he does not. The parent will worry herself sick; I know I would have done.

I think that this provision is entirely contrary to the respect with which this Government treat parents otherwise. Only this week, we have received a letter about changes to the way complaints about school admissions arrangements are handled, which said:

"We believe that parents should be given the opportunity to be part of the system that holds schools to account, properly supported and championed by the local authority, the Secretary of State and independent adjudicators".

At the same time, the Government seek to write parents out of their discipline arrangements by letting schools avoid telling them that their child is in detention. As I understand it, this idea has come from one of the head teachers' unions, but not the other one. I can tell the Minister what parents want: they do not want this. They want to be respected and informed.

Points were strongly made in Committee that rural schools, if they adhere to their safeguarding duty, will not be able to use this sanction at all. Yet I can reassure my noble friend that children in rural schools will not run amok because of it. There are many sanctions already in the armoury to ensure good behaviour and most schools use them effectively. Most have maintained good discipline to date without this power. I question the competence of any school that feels it needs this power to maintain good order and discipline. Yet, in order to give them this power, the Government may risk the safety of children unless the guidance is clear, unequivocal and powerful. We want only one more case like that of poor Millie Dowler and the Government's good judgment will be called into question, rightly or wrongly.

This is entirely unnecessary if the Government get the guidance right. Will the Minister assure me that our comments about the guidance, and the strength and clarity that it needs, are taken on board by Ministers and officials? Without that assurance, we will remain with the concerns that I have expressed. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, our Amendment 34 is similar to the one so ably outlined by the noble Baroness. It is a requirement that schools should always give reasonable notice to parents or carers of any detentions and that before going ahead with a detention, they have received from the parent or carer confirmation that they are aware of the detention. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has described, we thought that we were eminently conciliatory in our amendment, that it was common sense and would be warmly welcomed by the Minister. Perhaps it still will be.

We return to this issue after a detailed debate in Grand Committee in which we felt there was consensus that this was a common sense position between, on the one hand, an instant response to bad behaviour, while on the other, ensuring that pupil safety is protected. As it stands, the Bill removes a requirement to give 24 hours notice of detention and as a result schools would not be required to give parents or carers any notice at all. We have had a letter from the Minister today setting out new proposals, but those ask teachers only to judge,

"whether it is appropriate to give notice to parents".

Frankly, we do not think that that is good enough. We recognise that it is usually the case that the nearer the punishment is to the original incident, the more effective it is. However, as a number of noble Lords in Grand Committee recognised, this would potentially create a number of safeguarding issues, which the Minister's letter attempted to address. It would also potentially damage the relationship between parents and schools and could have a knock-on effect on the success of the school's broader behavioural policy.

A number of objections remain to no-notice detentions, specifically because of the damage to the school's relationship with parents. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has outlined some of those, such as it being impracticable for parents to rearrange children's transport at short notice when they might have other commitments -other childcare commitments, and so on. There could be unnecessary worry for parents in rural areas especially on dark evenings, when they are anxious about their child's travel home. There could also be concern if parents think their child is travelling home alone, separately, because they are travelling later, rather than earlier with a group, when they are all leaving school together. There is also the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised about caring responsibilities, of which children might not always have made the school aware. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in this catalogue, there is the basic discourtesy to parents which this Bill would represent and which would do little to help schools forge strong partnerships with parents.

When we discussed this in Committee, the Minister expressed some sympathy with the arguments we had put forward, but went on to argue that head teachers already had to produce behaviour policies which were publicised to parents. She also argued that there were existing legal safeguards that protect children's welfare if they are given detention. However, we do not feel that these points adequately address our concerns and they put the onus on parents to object to the school's actions after the event through the complaints procedure or through legal action. Surely this is making heavy weather over what should be a common-sense policy. To be frank, we have not yet heard any valid arguments against what we are proposing.

The simplest way through is to support our amendment -or, indeed, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley-which make it clear that schools can organise no-notice detention provided the parent has confirmed that they aware that it is happening. This will provide adequate safeguards for children and ensure that parents are kept in the loop and treated with respect. I hope noble Lords and the Minister will feel able to support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat 8:30, 18 October 2011

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, used the right words-"common sense". I cannot understand this. As a parent and as a teacher, I have no objection to same-day detentions. As has been said, if there is to be a sanction or punishment often it is best that it is done straight away. However, the notion that young people, children and students are kept behind at school without their parents or their carers knowing does not seem right and proper.

If a school organises an after-school activity, whether it be football, netball, swimming or whatever, parents give their permission for their children to take part in those activities, understanding that their children will have to make other arrangements to come home. Why cannot that be done for same-day detentions? All we are suggesting, which is eminently sensible and supported by all the unions bar one-of the unions supporting it, even the National Association of Head Teachers thinks that it is right and proper that parents are notified-is that when a same-day detention is held the parent is contacted, not through a message left on a voicemail, an e-mail or a text but actually contacted. If they cannot be contacted, the same-day detention would have to be held the next day. That is the right and proper common-sense approach.

I have had various e-mails today saying that it would be a breach of the law if the child was not safeguarded and so on, but in all this guidance, about which no doubt we will hear in a moment, I cannot find an understanding that the parent comes first-that the parent matters. I hope that in the guidance it is made absolutely clear how we will protect the well-being and safeguarding of children.

We have spoken about rural areas and the school bus, but in urban areas-in my own city-children often have to travel two miles across the city to go to school. On dark nights they are placed in a very vulnerable situation. If the parents know their child is being kept behind, they can make arrangements.

I hope the Minister will understand the real sense of concern about this issue and give an assurance that the guidelines will clearly spell out what we are asking.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

My Lords, I recognised that there would be a number of reasoned arguments and I stand with my colleagues who made them. I took a rather different way on this. During the summer I consulted a number of friends and my family-it was a random experiment-and it became absolutely clear that they did not believe that I was telling the truth when I said that it was the Government's plan that when their child was going to be detained they would not be told. They said, "You are making it up". That was the first response.

The second response from rural parents-I work and have friends in London but I live in a rural area-was, "But there is only one bus. They cannot be detained without notice because if they do not get on the bus they do not get home at all". We have to remember that not every poor parent in a rural area has a car; they depend on that transport. There are no other bus services or taxis; you catch the school bus or you do not get home. The third response was the sheer indignation that this was "my" child, not owned by anyone else.

The common thread through all that was that the parents were quite keen for the child to be disciplined at school. There was no disagreement that the child should not receive their discipline, that detention might be the right answer, or that the closer it was to the incident the better little Jonny would learn from it. The disagreement was that parents had to know that their child was going to be detained so that they could ensure the protection of their child and were not worried out of their minds. I hope noble Lords will forgive my anecdotal bit of research but it was pretty consistent with the reasoned arguments that we have heard this evening.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I also support Amendment 33, which I have added my name to. I will not rehearse the arguments that have been made by noble Lords who have already spoken except to say, as I said in Committee, that these issues about safeguarding are absolutely paramount. There is one area that no one has picked up on but of which I have personal experience. Looked-after children, foster children or children with difficult family arrangements often have complex arrangements at the school gate. For this particular group, it is always vital that the parent with the residency order knows exactly what is happening.

My own experience was at primary school level, where the school was fully on board with all the issues. In a large secondary school with 1,200 pupils, I worry that a teacher or head of department handing out a detention might not be aware of such complex arrangements. For such reasons, which also come back to safeguarding, this is really important. Amendment 33 does not ask for much. The key thing from this Side is for the Minister to please look again at the wording. We want a really clear statement that nothing will be done that will compromise the safety of the child. That is the absolute nub of it. We can all give many more anecdotes but fundamentally, at its root, this is about the safeguarding of children.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, there is clear evidence that good standards of behaviour are vital if children are to receive a high-quality education. We know that a clear and consistently applied behaviour policy, including rewards and sanctions, helps schools to achieve these standards-indeed, noble Lords have acknowledged that in their comments.

There is strong public support for improving the standards of behaviour in schools. A recent survey for the Times Educational Supplement found that 91 per cent of parents and 62 per cent of children favour tougher discipline in secondary schools. The same poll found that 88 per cent of parents and 60 per cent of pupils supported teachers in giving after-school detentions. The head teachers who gave evidence in the other place made clear that detentions are a key part of maintaining good behaviour. As has already been mentioned, Sir Michael Wilshaw went so far as to say that detentions were,

"a crucial plank in our behavioural policy".

There is a certain level of agreement among us that behaviour patterns and detentions are part of a way in which a school operates effectively.

This clause removes the requirement for schools to provide 24 hours' written notice of detention outside school hours. In doing this, we seek to enable head teachers and teachers to use detention in the way most suited to the circumstances of their individual schools and in the way that is most appropriate to the pupil or incident with which they are dealing.

Various concerns have been raised today. It might be helpful to noble Lords if I set out what a school has to do, by law, to issue an after-school detention at the moment. First, under Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the head teacher must determine and make generally known in the school and to parents whether the school issues detentions outside school hours.

Secondly, Section 91 of the same Act requires that detentions must be reasonable and constitute a proportionate punishment in all the circumstances. There must also be strong assurances that, when issuing a detention, school staff must have regard to any known special circumstances of the pupil, including the pupil's age, any special educational needs, disability or religious requirements. That would certainly affect any looked-after children or children with caring responsibilities.

Thirdly, a further safeguard in Section 92(5) of the Act provides that if arrangements have to be made for a pupil to travel home after a detention then, when deciding whether a detention is reasonable, the member of staff must take into account whether suitable travel arrangements can be reasonably made by the pupil's parents. Many noble Lords have raised concerns about children being unable to get home after detentions in rural areas but we believe this safeguard is designed to address that concern. It is already there, as one of the safeguards that the school must have regard to. A detention that left a child unable to get home in a safe way would not be reasonable in the circumstances and would be in breach of the existing safeguards. I can well understand my noble friend's point about children with caring responsibilities, and with these other difficulties that we have outlined, but the safeguards above prevent a young carer being given an out-of-hours detention if it is unreasonable, given their individual circumstances.

There is one additional requirement: that parents must be given 24 hours' written notice of a detention outside school hours. So, in the long list of requirements that schools must follow before issuing an after-school detention we want to remove just one. Why do the Government want to remove the requirement for 24 hours' written notice? We have had briefing from the Association of School and College Leaders, which made it clear that,

"generally such punishments are most effective if they take place as soon as reasonably practical".

Indeed, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Howarth, both acknowledged the fact that immediacy of punishment for a crime is a much more effective way of disciplining young people.

The requirement as it stands also places many good schools that issue 15-minute detentions at the end of the school day in breach of the law. These schools do not and would never for a moment consider jeopardising a pupil's safety or damaging relations with parents. Of course, even with the present requirement for written notice in place there is no guarantee that parents will be aware that a detention is happening. Schools may send the notice home with pupils, who may or may not pass it on to the parent. Equally, an e-mail from the school may not be read that day or parents may not be contactable by telephone. This means there may be cases where parents have not been aware of detentions in advance, but we have absolutely no evidence that this has led to children's safety being compromised.

My noble friends' amendment seeks to replace the present requirement, which I think we agree is problematic, with one under which parents must confirm that they are aware of a same-day detention after school, or must receive 24 hours' notice of it. We well understand their intentions; we would all want parents to play a full part in ensuring high standards of behaviour and to be aware when their child is at school. I fear, however, that the amendments would cause similar problems to the current requirement. Asking that a parent confirms that they are aware of a same-day detention means that a teacher would be prevented from keeping a pupil back, even for 15 minutes at the end of the last lesson of the day, without first making arrangements to contact the parents. Noble Lords can imagine how long that could take and that on many occasions it will be impossible to gain confirmation at short notice that a parent is aware of a detention. I remind noble Lords of all the safeguards which are already in place to make quite sure that transport is there and that the young people do not have caring responsibilities, where after-hours detention would obviously not be appropriate.

There are other cases where an unco-operative parent could, in knowledge of such a requirement, ignore attempts by a school to contact them in order to prevent a same-day detention. They could simply let phone calls go to voicemail or not answer an e-mail, so the whole thing could escalate way beyond the 24 hours -and way past the time when the young person had done the disciplinary matter-and escalate the punishment to a level which was never intended. It is because of these consequences of well intended regulation that we believe it is necessary to remove the requirement and rely on the extensive existing safeguards, which require schools to act reasonably in all the circumstances.

Having said that we are not attracted to regulation we take immensely seriously the concerns raised today and in Grand Committee. We therefore propose that advice to schools on this matter could be strengthened to make sure that schools understand what they should do to act reasonably. An addition to the guidance on behaviour and discipline in schools will say:

"When judging whether a detention outside school hours is reasonable teachers should consider whether it is appropriate to give notice to parents".

They should obviously make every effort to contact parents, but with all the other safeguards in place, and never in any circumstances take actions that would compromise the safety of the child.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 8:45, 18 October 2011

I am grateful for the Minister giving way. Will she consider this point? She is stressing that the other requirements, particularly that the school act reasonably, are sufficient safeguards. Would she agree that in removing the requirement to give parents notice she is, in a sense, changing the threshold of what schools could regard as reasonable? Reasonableness is going to mean something else and it could mean-would mean I would argue-that it would be reasonable for the school not to try to inform parents. Therefore, the stress she is putting on the safeguard of reasonableness would actually be completely diminished.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I take the point the noble Baroness makes. However, we have to accept that schools take massive care of the children in their care and do not take these measures lightly. We are talking about short periods of detention after school for pupils who can get home safely; those who do not need to catch the school bus and so on. All those are already enshrined in the care and the regulation. We seek-and we hear the very grave concerns being expressed by noble Lords-to make quite sure the guidance is strengthened to ensure that child safety is never compromised by the school's actions. We feel that the safeguards already in place strike the right balance between ensuring that children are safe and allowing schools to take proportionate action-to use their discretion and professional judgment-to establish the arrangements that work best for them.

We hope that my noble friends and the noble Baronesses will agree to work with us to see how we can strengthen the guidance that goes with these measures and meanwhile will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I want to clarify when she is proposing now. We were sent a copy of a draft document on detention, which says:

"When judging whether a detention outside school hours is reasonable teachers should consider whether it is appropriate to give notice to parents".

Is the noble Baroness now saying that is going to be strengthened or is that the wording that is on offer? I want to clarify that point.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

These are draft guidance documents at the moment. We hear the strength of feeling that has been expressed around the House and would certainly welcome consultation to see if we can find a form of words that reassures noble Lords. We feel that all the measures are in place, but obviously some noble Lords feel that they are not strong enough, so we will be looking at the draft guidance to make quite sure the wording is appropriate.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply. We would all agree with some of her opening remarks that there is strong public support for good behaviour in schools. We all know that that helps children to learn. However, I do not accept there is strong public support for this particular measure and like the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, I, too, did some research over the summer with some ordinary parents and I had exactly the same responses as the noble Baroness.

The Minister said that schools must do this in a way which is most appropriate for the pupils with whom they are dealing. Where does it say that? It certainly does not say it in the legislation. It must say it, or something like it, in the guidance. My noble friend carefully went through the other duties that schools have to safeguard children, which have been laid into other statutes. I accept all that. Punishments have to be proportionate and reasonable and travel arrangements have to be considered. They are already there, but the question for a teacher looking at the guidance is: where are they? The guidance needs to have these duties clearly spelt out on the same page where a teacher is being told what they can do under this new law. It needs to be very clear.

I often wonder where this idea came from. My noble friend the Minister has told us that it came from the ASCL. Why does the ASCL have such influence over this Government? The other head teachers' union does not have the same influence and other ordinary teachers' unions do not. I am afraid I have a nasty suspicion that this bit of the Bill seeks to enable legislation to catch up with practice, and that some schools are following this practice without giving 24 hours' notice. I accept that notes in satchels do not always get to parents and that the current requirement for 24 hours' written notice often does not reach the parent and the parent is not notified. We are asking for something better than that. We are suggesting a way of ensuring that the parent is informed to enable them to make other arrangements for the child to get home safely, if possible. If they are not able to do so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said, because they do not have a car and an alternative bus is not available, they can make the school aware that there could be a safeguarding problem if the child is kept in. It is then up to the school under the other duties that my noble friend has outlined to punish the child at a different time.

My noble friend suggested that some unco-operative parents may fail to answer the phone and let the message be recorded on the answerphone. I do not think that these parents have a crystal ball. When the phone rings, they cannot possibly know that it is the school ringing up to say that little Johnny will be kept in after school that day. That is stretching things beyond reality.

I am delighted that my noble friend has accepted that there is scope for strengthening the guidance. I was very pleased to hear that. She made it very clear on the record from the Dispatch Box that teachers should not do anything that compromises the safeguarding of the child. That gives me comfort. If we can work together to ensure that that is made crystal clear in the guidance, I will not feel that I need to return to this at a later stage. Can my noble friend nod and affirm that we can do that work and get the guidance to say something of that nature? It is vital that we help teachers to make good decisions about when to use this weapon in their armoury.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Yardley Baroness Morris of Yardley Labour

Before the noble Baroness concludes, will she also reflect that essentially what we are setting in place is a two-tier style of punishment? If you think of it from the teacher's point of view, what is underpinning this is that a detention on the same day as the crime that has been committed is more effective because it is closer in time to that crime. We will now have schools with two groups of pupils-those pupils who are eligible to receive that punishment and those who are not.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I apologise to the noble Baroness but I am double tasking as a government spokesman and a Whip today. The rules at Report state that a noble Lord may not come back after the Minister has spoken.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I may complete my remarks. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. As I have said, rural schools will not be able to use this measure but some urban schools will. However, as my noble friend Lord Storey said, not all urban schools will be able to use it because there may well be safeguarding issues in urban schools as well. However, as I said, I am comforted by what my noble friend the Minister has said. I look forward to further discussions with officials on how we can produce guidance that really helps teachers to do what they need to do but at the same time not compromise the safeguarding of children. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Amendment 34 not moved.

Amendment 35

Moved by Baroness Hughes of Stretford

35: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause-

"Locally based cooperation and collaboration

The Government must issue guidance to encourage locally based cooperation and collaboration between schools in areas including-

(a) behaviour,

(b) attendance and registration,

(c) peer improvement,

(d) raising standards."

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, this amendment relates to Clause 6 which repeals the duty on secondary schools to co-operate with other schools to promote good behaviour, discipline and attendance and to make an annual report to the children's trust board on how they have done so. Through behaviour and attendance partnerships, schools have worked together; for example, to help children at risk of exclusion, or to place in another mainstream school, through managed moves. Partnerships enable groups of schools to collectively fund specialist support for children with behavioural problems; for example, to employ a parent support worker, or whatever, and to provide the resources that individual schools, especially small schools, may not be able to afford on their own. That means that parents' ability to access specialist support for a child with, for example, behavioural problems could be reduced.

This amendment takes at face value the Government's commitment, stated at Grand Committee, that although they want to repeal the requirement on schools to engage in behaviour and attendance partnerships, they support the principle that schools should co-operate and work together to resolve a range of issues, rather than work alone. The original behaviour and attendance partnerships came into being following Sir Alan Steer's Behaviour Review: an Initial Response, which said:

"It remains my firm view that all secondary schools-including new and existing Academies, Foundation schools and Pupil Referral Units-should participate in behaviour partnerships".

I recognise-we discussed this in Committee-that partnerships work best when all the partners are committed to working together and are not simply ticking boxes to meet requirements. However, as I mentioned in Grand Committee, Sir Alan Steer also said:

"Good collaboration between schools is often prevented by what are perceived as unfair practices operated by a minority of schools in admissions and exclusions".

So without partnership working being required and in addition to the broader fragmentation of the education system that this Government risk bringing in, there is a real risk that schools will stop collaborating in this important area. There is also a real danger that this may signal to schools that the general collaboration and co-operation that the Government say they want to foster is not something that schools are required to do or that the Government are particularly concerned about. That could have a negative impact on partnerships that exist, albeit voluntarily, at the moment. So while our amendment would not maintain behaviour and attendance partnerships in statute, it would require the Government to issue a clear statement of their view that partnership working is beneficial and is to be expected from schools. It would require the Government to issue guidance to encourage local co-operation and collaboration between schools in areas including behaviour, attendance and registration, peer improvement-schools working together-and raising standards. It could address other issues as well: for instance, schools co-operating on what happens to excluded pupils; identifying children missing from any school in a locality; and so on.

If we are all agreed-and I think we are-that schools working together will achieve the best outcomes for children generally, and particularly those with behavioural difficulties or at risk of exclusion, then it makes sense for the Government to signal their clear expectation by providing guidance to schools to help them work together and to set out what they would like schools to do. I hope, given the comments in Grand Committee and the Government's commitment to school collaboration and working together, that the Minister will accept the amendment and I look forward very much to his response. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 9:00, 18 October 2011

My Lords, I understand the intention of the amendment, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, which is to promote co-operation and collaboration between schools to improve behaviour, attendance and standards. I agree with her about the importance of this. It goes with the grain of the existing culture in schools, which by its nature tends to be collegiate. I also agreed with her when she said that these kinds of partnerships work better when they are formed voluntarily, when they bubble up and take the shape that individual schools want them to take. I hope that I am as keen as her to encourage co-operation and schools learning from each other.

Where we differ-perhaps the only point in this amendment-is that I am not convinced that government guidance on these issues will deliver change locally. We think that it is best led by professionals on the ground. I accept that in some cases, legislation can help, such as for example, the duty on all state-funded schools to participate in a fair access protocol, which will remain. That is a good example of a solution to a specific problem. But we know that the previous set of guidance on behaviour and bullying from the department ran to some 600 pages, which is difficult for schools to take on board. The direction that we seek is to help schools to learn from each other. I just want to mention a few of those today. One would be our proposals for teaching schools. We are hoping to set up a network of teaching schools around the country and have announced the first 100. Those schools have a track record of working with others to raise standards for children and young people beyond their own school.

Under that model, groups of schools will work together within a teaching school alliance supported by the leadership of a teaching school. These alliances can work across local authorities and involve many different types of organisations. This first wave of teaching schools will be given the opportunity to take the lead in a variety of specialist areas including improving pupil performance and behaviour in schools. We have also asked the national college to build on the work started under the previous Government, designating excellent head teachers to be local and national leaders of education who will work to support underperforming schools. The college is now creating a new group of specialist leaders in education. They will be outstanding leaders in their particular field of expertise, which could include pupil achievement, quality of teaching or behaviour management. Teaching schools will designate specialist leaders and deploy them into schools that need support, thus ensuring a school-driven approach to improvement.

The noble Baroness talked about academies briefly. I know that she has some concerns but one of the features has been partnerships that have been formed to support school improvement in the widest sense. Before entering into a funding agreement with an academy, we ask them to identify a school or group of schools that they will work with to improve their performance. That collaboration is a vital part of our overall strategy to tackle long-term problems and inequalities that sadly exist in parts of our education system. The practical benefits of this collaboration are obvious. Young people can enjoy a wider range of facilities and try out new subjects; underused resources will be employed better; teachers will have more opportunities themselves for learning and professional development.

These partnerships with academies are a natural progression from those informal, local partnerships between schools that have been developing for a number of years and which I know the previous Government were keen to encourage. The fact that these ideas are emerging from within the system rather than being imposed by central or local government to my mind makes the effect all the more significant and the benefits likely to be greater. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, will agree that these systems for peer-to-peer and school-to-school support will make a contribution to improving standards of attainment, behaviour and attendance. I recognise that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating but I believe that they build on the ideas behind some of the previous Government's successful initiatives, and we think that that is a better way forward than issuing more guidance. We are committed to ensuring that all schools will have access to the expertise that they may need to address these issues. With that, I hope that the noble Baroness may feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I welcome the information he has given us about teaching schools. I support that initiative. In a sense, the whole idea of teaching schools substantiates the points I was making in support of guidance: those schools that are designated as teaching schools will be under no illusion that in order to be so designated they will have to accept the expectation that they will collaborate and disseminate good practice with other schools-it will part of the deal for being a teaching school.

I had hoped that the Minister would see the distinction in this amendment. It is not placing a duty on schools at all, but rather placing a duty on the Secretary of State to signal the clear expectation of the Government that schools, in taking public money and being responsible for the education of our children, will understand that there is an expectation that they work together and collaborate. I think most schools are willing to do that, but, as Sir Alan Steer said, not all schools are. That is why we thought that this would be an appropriate signal for the Government to send. I can see that the Minister is not minded to accept the amendment. While I am disappointed in that, I accept that that is the Government's position, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.

Amendment 36

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

36: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause-

"Register of teachers

The Secretary of State shall have a duty to maintain a register of qualified teachers."

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, the Bill abolishes the General Teaching Council for England. However, in abolishing it, there is a fear that the Government are getting rid of some of the crucial features and functions that it has previously carried out. One of those crucial functions is to maintain a register of teachers.

The register and the requirement to be qualified, to which we will come later, are important for maintaining the professional status of teachers. The register of those qualified and entitled to teach in our schools has been successful in enabling employers to make recruitment checks and is valued by employers and teachers alike. Under the Government's proposals, all that will be held is a database of those prohibited from teaching, which is a very different thing.

The Bill sets out that certain GTCE functions will transfer to the Secretary of State and others will stop completely. In his letter to us of 13 June, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, confirmed the Government's intention that they will not continue to maintain a register of teachers. I acknowledge that he has subsequently written setting out how the Government believe that the database of teachers prohibited from teaching will be established. To be frank, we do not accept that that meets our concerns.

There does not appear to be any pressure from educationists for the register to be discontinued. Indeed, as I reported in Grand Committee, the ASCL told us that,

"abolition of the GTCE and discontinuation of the registers removes the public's guarantee that all registered teachers are, 'eligible, suitable, properly qualified and of good standing'".

In Grand Committee we were also told that independent schools value the existence of the register. Parents and pupils want high quality, qualified teachers. They want an assurance that the profession is regulated. As I mentioned in Grand Committee, a survey showed that,

"93 per cent of parents want teachers to be regulated, to have an agreed level of training and to be registered with a regulatory body before taking up a teaching post".-[Official Report, 4/7/11; col. GC 55.]

The GTCE has told us that it carries out something in the region of 676,000 checks on teachers' registration each year, saving employers significant time and money. At the Committee stage in the Commons, the Minister acknowledged the benefit of a register of people with qualified teacher status and said:

"We recognise the central benefits of providing head teachers and employers with access to a central record of who holds qualified teacher status. We will explore whether and how to provide that in future".-[Official Report, Commons, Education Bill Committee, 17/3/11; col. 498.]

Our amendment would go further than that and make the Secretary of State accountable for an up-to-date register.

If the register of teachers in England is abolished, we will be left with a farcical situation where up-to-date registers are maintained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not in England. Those three nations have seen the sense in keeping the register. What are the implications of England not keeping the information? Will rogue teachers slip through the net? Will the lack of an English register undermine those being kept by other countries, as teachers move between the four nations? What does that say about how England perceives the professionalism of teachers, compared to the other nations?

The abolition of the English register is unnecessary and provocative. All other professional sectors in this country keep a register of those entitled to practise. Some-for example, the General Medical Council-share the information publicly on a website, along with details of any disciplinary action that has been taken against a doctor. Is this not the way that we should be moving if we believe in empowering parents?

The abolition of the register is a retrograde step that the Secretary of State will grow to regret. In the past, the GTC has administered the register, but it does not have to be this body in future. The Secretary of State is equally able to carry out this function. Given that he has been so keen to take on so many additional powers himself, we hope that he will see the sense in also taking on this responsibility. We trust that noble Lords will see the sense of these amendments and hope that the Minister will feel able to support them.

Photo of Lord Puttnam Lord Puttnam Labour

My Lords, I rise to support both amendments in this group. I will not go into detail because they have been beautifully set out by my noble friend Lady Jones. I must point out that in passing these clauses we will effectively be officiating at the funeral of the General Teaching Council. It would be quite wrong of me, as a former chairman, to allow that to happen without saying a few words about why it is a catastrophic mistake.

It is not just a catastrophic mistake. I have absolutely no doubt that within 10, 15 or 20 years, this or another Government will come to the Dispatch Box and announce the creation of something remarkably similar to the General Teaching Council. The reason goes to the heart of the paradox that the Government have embraced in their approach to the teaching profession. Unless I misheard the Minister, he referred just now to the emergence of an outstanding generation of leaders, particularly in the teaching schools. I celebrate and support that. However, these are leaders of a very peculiar type: they somehow fall short of being allowed professional status. I am not sure that there is any other area of British public life where that is true: where we seek and promote outstanding leadership but refuse to acknowledge the professional status that ought to go with it.

I do not for one moment defend the clumsy and frankly inadequate legislation that led to the creation of the General Teaching Council. It was not good enough and I and many others suffered from trying to make it work. However, it was a dream and an ambition that was worth while. In rejecting and scrapping it, the Government must acknowledge that they are flying in the face of the ambitions for the profession of every leading educationalist of the 20th century, from Sir Alec Clegg onwards. Every single educationalist sought, promoted and fought for professional recognition for teachers.

There is a very simple line to draw. Skilled, professional teachers lead to well educated children, who in turn give us some hope of a successful society. The key is the skill of the professional teacher. The notion that you can have a successful education system without the wholehearted buy-in and support of the entire profession is a fantasy that all noble Lords in this Chamber would agree is unsustainable. We will not get the profession buying into educational reform and improvement until it comes to understand that it is just that: a profession.

The disastrous mistake that my Government made was in ever contemplating the notion that we could have a professional body that was not paid for by the profession. I am afraid that what is happening here-it is a tough thing to say-is the infantilisation of the profession. We are scrapping its professional status because no one has the courage to say to the profession: "Grow up, understand the responsibilities you have, understand that there is no possible success for this country unless a generation of brilliant teachers emerges, and understand that along with that responsibility comes the need to be professionals-and professionals pay for their professional status". We will have something like the General Teaching Council. I hope it will be in my lifetime, but it may be after it. Today, I want to register the fact that this is a sad day for the profession, a sad day for the Government and a sad day for the future of education because, as I say, we will have to return to it. When we do so, I hope we will return to it in a more constructive spirit than the manner in which we are scrapping it.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 9:15, 18 October 2011

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I find it very difficult to support this part of the Bill at all because for many years we have struggled to establish a proper professional organisation for teachers. I find it quite extraordinary that we are now destroying it. It gives teachers a sense of profession and of belonging to that profession. It is quite out of kilter with what is happening in the further education profession where those who get QTLS are being required to register with the IFL. I cannot support the Government on this issue.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, as always, I listened to the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, with a great deal of care. I thought that with his customary honesty he made the point clearly about some of the shortcomings of the GTC which are linked directly to the decision that the Government took to bring about its abolition. The point he raised powerfully about the disinclination of the profession to pay for its membership and the fact that it is largely taxpayer-funded is important and one on which we should all reflect. I would not disagree with a word that he or my noble friend Lady Sharp said about professionalism and the need to have a profession and raising the status, esteem and standing of teachers as professionals.

Earlier today, we spoke about the importance of trust. Before I talk about the specific amendments, where we disagree on the fundamental principle is on whether the GTC as constituted is an embodiment of professional status. We contend that it is not, although I agree with the noble Lord that it is perfectly possible, indeed likely, that in future years something will well up that captures and speaks for the professionalism that he advocates and that I know he feels strongly about, but it probably will not be the GTCE.

When we discussed this in Committee, I set out some of the things that the Government are trying to do to raise the status of the profession and the quality of entrants to it and to help existing teachers to develop and improve. As we discussed on the last group, one of the overall themes that we are trying to develop is to give teachers and head teachers greater responsibility for improving teacher quality. I think that is a very good symbol of greater professionalism. I am as keen as other noble Lords to support schools and head teachers to recruit high-quality teachers and to ensure that they are able to access the information that they need to do so. At present, the GTC has a register that contains detailed information from every teacher and employer in the country. This ranges from personal data and qualifications through to information on the types of posts held in previous employments. Schools and teachers are required to update this information at least three times a year. I am told that that costs around £500,000 a year, and that is before one counts the cost of the time spent on it in schools. I do not believe that maintaining that amount of information at a national level is desirable or necessary.

However, we have been persuaded by concerns raised in this House and elsewhere that there is a genuine need for the Government to help schools to know who has qualified teacher status and who has passed induction. The profession proposed an alternative to the GTCE register that I think achieves this objective, and the two leading head teacher unions wrote to the Secretary of State to express their strong belief in the need for an online database of all qualified teachers that is accessible by schools to replace the GTCE register.

We talked about this in Grand Committee but I can confirm that, having considered this, the Secretary of State has agreed that the teaching agency will establish and maintain a database that will record which teachers have attained qualified teacher status and which have passed their statutory induction period. That database will be available online to all employers from April 2012 and will be in addition to the prohibited list database, which will also be available to employers online. Together, the QTS database and the prohibited list will give employers an important resource in assessing qualifications as well as establishing who should not be employed as a teacher.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend a question. Will these two databases be linked? I can imagine a head taking on a teacher might look at the original database to see if that person has been qualified and done the induction but they will not necessarily look at the other database to see if that person has been struck off since. Will there be a suggestion for somebody using the first database that they really ought to check the prohibited one as well?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

That sounds a very sensible suggestion. I will need to check where we have got to on developing the two databases but that sounds eminently sensible because clearly one would want to make sure that there was read-across.

I hope in light of the reassurance about providing the information, which I accept there has been widespread agreement that we need, including from the party opposite, and about maintaining such a register, that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, may feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I listened to my noble friend Lord Puttnam with a great deal of sadness as he described the demise of the GTC and what it had originally intended to represent, which was a strong professional standard for the teaching profession and something that they could all aspire to. It is a very sad day that we are here reflecting on its demise. The Minister said very warmly to my noble friend Lord Puttnam that he would not disagree with a word that he had said about teachers' professionalism, and he went on to say that he hoped that something would "well up" to replace it. That is not much of a response to the profession. In the intervening period, while we are waiting for this welling up, the teaching profession will have been sent a signal that the Government really do not think that it is terribly important and it has got to bide its time before anything appears from the ether to be a standard for it again as a professional body. I echo the comments that have been made about the messages that this sends to the profession.

My noble friend Lord Puttnam went on to say that we would end up recreating the GTC and I think that is really where we are ending up. As we have heard, we have got one list, or maybe two. Somebody is going to have to administer those lists. At a very basic level, if they are not a register then they are moving towards becoming a register, and I acknowledge that the Minister has made some gestures towards what we were arguing. The question that has been raised about whether they will speak to each other is very valid.

I also think that there is a difference between a database of those who are qualified to teach and a register of those who are currently teaching. A register of those who are qualified to teach would very quickly get out of date. It would become a moribund list of people who have potentially not taught for 20 years or more, whereas the idea of a register is as a current, lively thing that enables access to people's current status. It seems that we have got two poor substitutes for what was a perfectly reasonable arrangement in the first place. More work needs to be done on this.

As for this applying only to England and what happens to the other three nations. I am not sure that I heard the Minister address that issue. Three registers are going to exist in the other three UK nations, and England will be the only one which does not have one. We have made heavy weather of this. It would have been a lot easier if we had just kept the register as well, and be done with it.

I am absolutely sure that the thinking behind this is that the GTCE, for whatever reason, was not in favour with the current Government, and this is why we have ended up where we are. A lot more work needs to be done on this, but I take on board the Minister's intention to come back and clarify some of these issues. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36 withdrawn.

Clause 18 : Abolition of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body

Amendment 37 not moved.

Amendment 38

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

38: Clause 8, page 12, line 26, at end insert-

"( ) Where subsection (1) applies, the employer must provide information about the teacher to the Secretary of State."

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, as the Bill stands, where a teacher may have been dismissed due to serious misconduct or dismissed due to serious misconduct had they not already resigned, the employer,

"must consider whether it would be appropriate to provide prescribed information about the teacher to the Secretary of State".

The same holds for teachers employed through an agency.

Also, as the Bill stands, the Secretary of State,

"must keep a list containing"- the names which we have just been discussing, of those-

"to whom a prohibition order has effect".

But as we have heard, under the Bill there is no requirement for the Secretary of State to maintain a register of qualified teachers. Again, this is an issue which we have just been rehearsing, and on which we require further clarification.

The original requirements that this clause now removes were put in place to ensure that any future potential employers were aware of previous dismissals for serious misconduct. It protected employers from a safeguarding and quality perspective and it protected the pupils in these schools. We believe that these protections are still essential. Our amendments would make it compulsory and not discretionary for employers to inform the Secretary of State about cases where an employed teacher or an agency teacher has been dismissed due to serious misconduct.

If the Bill went through unamended, there would no doubt be a variation in treatment from employer to employer, and the picture held by the Secretary of State on the database that we have been talking about would be incomplete. It would mean that checks by potential employers would not be complete, and the risk of employers unknowingly hiring teachers previously guilty of serious misconduct would rise. This would reduce confidence in the whole referral system. And more importantly, it could put pupils at risk.

In Grand Committee, the Minister argued that the proposals made no change to the duty on all schools to refer any cases of serious misconduct relating to children to the Independent Safeguarding Authority. But this does not appear to provide the safeguards that are necessary. For example, what about other cases of misconduct, for example financial misconduct? And what does the ISA do with the information that would stop the teacher being hired by an unwitting employer in the future?

The proposals are a recipe for confusion, with employers not being clear where to send information on misconduct, and a danger that several agencies will end up holding partial records. Surely the safest way out of this is to require all information to be held in one place-in this case, as we propose, to be held by the Secretary of State.

I know it has been argued that the current system does not work well in that different employers are providing different levels of information to the GTCE. But surely the solution to this is to provide a clear national obligation on employers to inform the centre not to give them even more discretion and therefore make an even more patchy picture of what is happening out in the schools.

This issue is too important to brush aside. It is not about the bureaucratic flow of information; it is about pupil safety and the guarantees that parents rightly expect as regards proper checks being carried out on teachers before they are employed. That can work only if the Secretary of State provides clear leadership to schools and ensures that his department receives a consistent and comprehensive picture of the misconduct issues taking place in them. I therefore hope that noble Lords will support our amendment.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat 9:30, 18 October 2011

My Lords, this matter is very important and I very much look forward to what the Minister has to say on this. We are rightly concerned about safeguarding. All staff in schools rightly have CRB checks and the CRB register is regularly maintained. It is equally important that when a member of staff commits an act of gross misconduct which goes to the disciplinary processes and is dismissed, we have a mechanism whereby that teacher cannot move to another authority, job or school. As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, we would put at risk the whole basis of the safeguarding of schools. In the Minister's reply, I hope that he will give us comfort in that we can be assured that this situation cannot arise.

Let us take an example. A teacher comes into school under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He or she is sent home and the matter is investigated. Gross misconduct is alleged and the matter goes to a disciplinary hearing of governors. The governors decide to uphold the gross misconduct allegation, after which the teacher appeals. The appeal panel of governors upholds the action and the teacher is removed from his or her job. In that situation, we would want to be assured that that information is retained so that the member of staff cannot move to another authority or school. This is hugely important for the safeguarding and well-being of our children, as well as being important to the parents.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Jones on this issue. In respect of the non-safeguarding issues-the noble Lord, Lord Storey, has just talked about the safeguarding ones-my noble friend mentioned financial irregularity and misconduct. I know that the Minister is likely to repeat the defence that schools have to inform the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which to some extent deals with the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey. But it does not deal with the other issues.

I know that it is a great frustration to governors and head teachers when they find that they have employed someone who clearly is not up to the job and who had not been in their previous job, but the new school did not know about it. In terms of the professionalism of the workforce and teachers, it is very important that we respect that when things go wrong as well as when they go right and ensure that the facility is there to ensure that schools notify a central body. The Secretary of State would seem to be a sensible outcome, which is surprising given that much of my nervousness about this Bill is giving ever more powers to the Secretary of State, but on this occasion it is warranted. I would be interested in the Minister's response if he happened to have in his back pocket any information around the numbers of teachers who are dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct that are not related to safeguarding. That would give us a better understanding of the exposure around this issue than if he relies just on the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I do not think I have that in my back pocket, but I will rootle in my clothing after this and see what information I can find. If there is relevant information which would shed some light on this I will, of course, send it to the noble Lord and circulate it more widely.

I will briefly set out the Government's overall proposals on teacher regulation to try to put them in context. The GTCE currently deals with referrals for both incompetence and misconduct. I start with that because it touches in some way on the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Knight. There is pretty clear evidence that the approach taken by the GTCE on incompetence has not been working and this is one of the things that drove us to try a new approach. In 10 years, the GTCE barred only 17 teachers for incompetence, and research has shown that employers are often reluctant to make referrals relating to competence to a national regulator. As we have discussed, they have previously only had a nuclear option and this has discouraged heads from making referrals, on the understandable basis that someone who might not be guilty of serious misconduct, but might need to move on and try teaching in a different school, finds himself grinding through the GTCE process. We are therefore seeking to separate issues of competence from issues of misconduct.

So far as dealing with incompetence is concerned, we want to put that into the hands of head teachers. To help them carry out this responsibility, we are also currently consulting on some streamlined arrangements for performance management and capability procedures. So far as misconduct is concerned, we certainly think there is a role for a national regulator, but we also want to try to give head teachers an appropriate level of responsibility, with only serious misconduct cases that may warrant the ultimate sanction-a bar from the teaching profession-being dealt with by the national regulator.

On the issue of safeguarding raised by my noble friend Lord Storey, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is partly a response to that. Our proposals will not alter the current arrangements in relation to child protection. The legal duty on employers to refer any issues that relate to safeguarding to the Independent Safeguarding Authority will remain. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked what happens when the Independent Safeguarding Authority is informed. If a person is barred by the ISA, a flag would appear on their CRB check and a head teacher carrying out a check would then know.

The present regulatory regime requires head teachers to refer all teachers who are sacked as a result of misconduct to the national regulator. The regulator then investigates those cases and imposes one of a range of sanctions depending on the severity of the misconduct. Our basic position is that we do not think that a national regulator should need to administer intermediate sanctions such as restrictions on the use of the internet on school computers. The purpose of the national regulator should be to investigate the most serious cases in order to decide whether a teacher should ever be allowed to teach again. Under the current system, only 10 per cent of referrals have resulted in prohibition orders. In other words, a lot of the GTCE's time-and a significant amount of money-has been spent investigating cases of a lower order of significance. Similarly, the current system requires head teachers to go through the process of referring a teacher, even if they believe that there are no grounds for barring them from the profession. This is inefficient and risks placing a perverse incentive on head teachers not to confront issues of conduct, because they think it is inappropriate and unnecessary to refer the case to the national regulator.

The amendments effectively seek to reverse the changes we are proposing to make to the role of the national regulator in relation to misconduct. The reason that I am resisting them is because experience of the current system has shown that requiring employers to refer all cases has had two undesirable consequences. First, as I have said, it means that the regulatory system has spent too much of its time focusing on cases that are not sufficiently serious to warrant the teacher being barred, and secondly, that heads have avoided sacking teachers for misconduct because they know it does not warrant an investigation by the regulator and they would not want them ending up on that path.

There is a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, about inconsistency, which I accept. I agree that arrangements for teacher regulation should seek to achieve consistency, but I do not believe that the current duty which she prefers is delivering that. Research published in 2008 found that between 2001 and 2008, nearly one-third of all local authorities had never made a referral for misconduct. Even when we take into account the different numbers of teachers employed in different local authority areas, the variation of referrals among local authorities indicates significant inconsistency in the current system. To reduce that, and to support head teachers in exercising their discretion, we are developing prohibition advice which sets out the kinds of misconduct that should lead to a teacher being barred from the profession. I circulated a draft on 12 October. We are currently carrying out a consultation on the guidance, which we intend to publish following Royal Assent. I would be happy to receive comments on that consultation from noble Lords to see whether they think it will help us to deliver greater consistency.

We are taking those steps and I hope, by explaining the rationale behind wanting to move to a more differentiated system, that even if the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, does not accept my reasoning she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, made a powerful case on the issue of consistency, and I think that it is the key word in this. We are grappling towards a system that is best going to deliver that consistency. The Minister said that it did not work in the past and that incomplete records were provided by different authorities. My answer to that is that what he is proposing now will make it even more inconsistent and patchy. The draft regulations he has recently sent out show that it will very much be discretionary rather than compulsory for employers as to whether they feed information into the centre. The onus of the wording is that employers "may" decide whether they wish to inform the Secretary of State, members of the public "may" be able to refer cases to the Secretary of State, and the police and the Independent Safeguarding Authority "may" also refer cases to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will have a very patchy and inconsistent picture, and I do not know that that helps anybody. What we really want is a resource that future employers can access and in which they will have some faith.

I understand the steps the Minister is taking, but we need to revisit the draft regulations. We need to make a much better attempt at trying to find a consistent and useful resource for future employers. I do not think that this is it, but there is room for further dialogue. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 38 withdrawn.

Amendments 39 to 41 not moved.

Clause 13 : Restrictions on reporting alleged offences by teachers

Amendment 42

Moved by Lord Hill of Oareford

42: Clause 13, page 20, line 16, after second "is" insert "or may be"

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 9:45, 18 October 2011

I should like to speak briefly to this and the other government amendments which make up the majority of this group. A number of these amendments were prompted by the debate about Clause 13 that we had in Grand Committee. My noble friend Lord Phillips and a number of other Peers were concerned that the way the clause was drafted might lead a judge to place undue weight on the welfare of the teacher involved when considering applications to lift reporting restrictions. It was not our intention to skew the judge's consideration to the disadvantage of the pupil, or pupils, who had made the allegation.

Amendment 44 therefore makes it clear that courts must have regard both to the welfare of the teacher and to the alleged victim of the offence when deciding whether to lift reporting restrictions. My noble friend was also concerned that the clause could lead to one-sided reporting of an allegation. It provided that the written consent of the individual about whom allegations had been made should be a defence to a charge of breaching the restrictions. However, that could lead to a situation where a teacher defended himself publicly against an allegation while those making the allegation were unable to respond.

We thought that my noble friend Lord Phillips was right to say that when a teacher is responsible for a publication identifying him or her as the subject of an allegation, then restrictions should lift and other parties should then be able to publish their side of the story. Amendment 49 and the consequential Amendments 53 and 54 make this change. The remaining amendments are technical improvements to the drafting of parts of Clause 13 following discussions between officials at the Department for Education and officials at the Lord Chief Justice's office. They do not represent a change to the policy intention behind the clause.

Amendment 42 clarifies that tentative allegations that a teacher may be guilty of an offence should be treated in the same way as firmer allegations that they are guilty. Amendment 43 and consequential Amendments 45, 46 and 50 clarify that applications for reporting restrictions to lift should be made to the magistrates' court, with appeals going to the Crown Court. Amendment 50 and the paving Amendment 47 help the clause more accurately to reflect our original policy intention that reporting restrictions should lift automatically when a teacher is charged. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I do not want to oppose any of the amendments that the Minister has tabled but I want to sound a cautionary note and put it on the record following our extensive discussion of the principles underlining the Government's proposals in Clause 13. We had an extensive debate in Grand Committee and part of it was around the question that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, put acutely: whether the Government had made the case that teachers are in a unique position in relation to allegations of abuse, such that the restriction on reporting was justified. He said that,

"if Clause 13 goes through unamended, it will repose in the teaching profession a privilege unique in English law".-[Official Report, 6/7/11; col. GC 158.]

I want to preface my remarks with great concern for any person in any profession against whom allegations of child abuse are made and are not true. I completely understand the concerns about blighting a career and suspending a person in an anxious time while investigations take place. I have a son who is a teacher at a primary school and many sisters and some brothers-in-law who are teachers, so I am appraised of and concerned about that side of the argument. I also understand why the teaching unions make it. However, I am also concerned about safeguarding children and that is the difficult territory that we are in here.

The Government offered, in response to our debate in Grand Committee, to do some research to see what the figures were. That research has now been published and was referred to in the press at the weekend. When noble Lords look at the figures, they will see that of the cases examined-more than 12,000 where allegations were referred to local authority designated officers-under a quarter were in relation to teachers. If you add in the smaller, but none the less substantial, numbers of non-teaching school support staff, it is still well under a half of all the allegations. It is more telling that for teachers-this was the headline in the press-nearly half of the allegations, which came to 2,800 cases, were classified as unsubstantiated.

This does not mean that there was no truth in the allegation but that the threshold of evidence for prosecution could not be reached. This is difficult territory because most of those allegations will depend only on the word of the pupil against that of the teacher. There will not be witnesses present in most of those allegations. "Unsubstantiated" means that there was insufficient evidence to proceed; it is not a judgment about whether the allegations were true. Even more telling than that is that only 2 per cent of the allegations against teachers and FE lecturers were classified as malicious. The guidance issued by the Government in August makes great play of, and refers extensively to, malicious allegations, and yet we now have from the research a finding that only 2 per cent of allegations were malicious.

I am not going to oppose the amendments. I understand why the Government have acceded to the pressure from the unions, although we decided at the time, because of the problems that arise and the concerns about safeguarding, not to accede to that pressure because it opens up the other argument about where to draw the line. As I say, there were smaller but substantial numbers of non-teaching staff-some 1,700-against whom allegations were also made. I simply sound a cautionary note to the Minister. I hope that we do not find further down the line that a serial abuser-there have been serial abusers in schools-gets away with abuse over a long period because none of his-they are generally men-crimes could be reported because the evidence in relation to each one never reached the threshold for prosecution. I hope that in passing this legislation we are not responsible for the preventable abuse of any child. I say this without wanting to castigate the Government, but it is very difficult territory and I am not sure we are in the right place. I understand why the Government have done this but we will have to watch the situation very carefully.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my name is attached to all the government amendments bar one. As the Minister said, these amendments arise out of the debate in Grand Committee and I welcome them all. The only amendment about which I have reservations -because I do not understand it-is the first one, which would insert "or may be" in line 12 on page 20. It would then say that:

"This section applies where a person who is or may be employed or engaged as a teacher".

Perhaps the Minister could explain the purport of that insertion when he responds.

The only thing I cannot resist saying is that sometimes we make life difficult for ourselves-or, more truthfully, for those who have to understand this legislation. There are two references in Amendment 49 to "a matter". It states that,

"the person who is the subject of the allegation includes a matter in a publication".

Such arcane language is surely to be avoided if at all possible. Why we cannot say "includes information in a publication" I do not know, except that there is reference in an earlier subsection to "matter".

Amendments 48 and 51 concern a more important issue. They represent the two most important amendments I put forward in Grand Committee, which the Government decided not to accept. I have reworded the second of these amendments, Amendment 51, but the first is more or less verbatim the amendment that was argued in Committee. I remind the House that in Committee on 6 July-in cols. GC 158 to 178-not a single Member of the Committee objected to any of the amendments put forward, largely for the reasons that we have just heard. In my view, and I think in that of all who have spoken so far in relation to Clause 13, this is utterly wrong in principle. As has already been said, it will be the first time in English law that free speech has been curtailed in this way and where a statement that is true can be the subject of a criminal prosecution. It is not an issue just of press freedom but of individual freedom. It will curtail the freedom of speech no less of worried parents or guardians. The full panoply of criminal law can be arraigned against a parent who suffers the greatest anxiety in relation to a child, where the child maintains that he or she is being abused. The parent is prevented by law from publicising the allegation of the child, however true, and for what? To protect teachers.

There is no one in this House more admiring of teachers than I am. I find myself in a very strange position on this clause. I wish it were not teachers at whom I seem to be aiming my gun. Freedom of speech and protection of children come before the pain and embarrassment which undoubtedly occur for some teachers with regard to false allegations. I have to say-I do not like saying it-that my Government are bending over so far to placate the teaching profession, and perhaps make up a little to that profession for other actions that they have opposed, that they are committing us to a law which our successors will think was a blot on the great and fundamental freedom of speech that is indispensable, particularly today.

I was a governor for 10 years of one comprehensive school and of another comprehensive school as a parent governor. My wife is a state school teacher. The prejudice that I have is for the teaching profession but I do not speak from ignorance. I should quickly say what I said last time: it is almost a declaration of interest. I was unfortunately at a school where a predatory pederast was allowed for 12 years to do his doleful work. He eventually resigned or was dismissed-one does not know which-in the middle of a term. He was never seen again and absolutely nothing was made of it although he had blighted the lives of dozens of children. The reason that nothing was heard of it is the reason why nothing is heard of these cases in today's educational world. It is no good the Minister saying that there are regulations for this and obligations to report on that. For schools that suffer some of the worst abuses-fortunately they are few-the truth is that the cost to the school's reputation and standing of the truth being publicised will be devastating. Often, as in my own case, the governors hushed up the whole grisly affair, as governors today will, if they can, hush up grisly affairs of a comparable nature. That is why I have put forward these amendments and persist in them.

The other thing that needs to be said, loud and clear, is that the law is sometimes unable to deal with all the subtleties of the human condition in a way that perfectly answers all aspects of the matter. That is why we have the burden of proof in criminal law of "beyond reasonable doubt", and that burden of proof which will come to the aid of a teacher if he or she is prosecuted. In the same way as having that bias, which I wholly approve of, there is another bias which is in favour of children, who are even more vulnerable than teachers.

This legislation-let us make no bones about it-tilts the bias in favour of the teaching profession against children. Why? Because the criminal prohibition on any publicity in relation to teacher abuse, prior to charge, will in many cases-I would go so far as to say the majority of cases-come to the aid of the small number of abusive teachers that there are because the necessary evidence to bring a prosecution against a teacher, and a very important prosecution it would be, will never become available to the prosecuting authorities precisely because there is no publicity about the allegation. That publicity may well be the only opportunity of winkling out other pupils who have suffered the same abuse and who have hitherto kept their heads down. There is no jibbing the fact that this prohibition will protect that tiny number of abusive teachers who go about their shameful work by keeping from local communities the fact that, for example, a teacher has been suspended or even dismissed.

As noble Lords will have noticed, my first amendment-Amendment 48-would take off this cap on free speech in circumstances where the teacher in respect of whom the allegation was made by a young person resigned or was dismissed. How can it conceivably be just, fair or prudent, or be balancing the scales of justice fairly, still to prevent any information about that allegation coming into the public realm in those circumstances where a teacher has, I repeat, resigned or been dismissed? It defies my understanding.

I realise what a difficult task the Minister has tonight in defending these provisions. The Government will of course say, and the Minister has said, "You can go to the court and get it to lift the cap on free speech". Yes, you can, but how many parents are going to run up the very considerable cost of going to court? How many are going to do that, even if they are aware of their right under this legislation to go to a court to seek that remedy? Again, it is closing our eyes to reality to pretend that that is a sufficient counter to this cap on free speech. Then it will be said by the Minister, as he said it last time in summing up, that we should leave it to the prosecuting authorities and the regulators. I have an excerpt from his speech: "It is our view"-the Government's view-

"that once allegations have been reported through the proper channels to the police, the local authority and the school, it is for those authorities to investigate and establish if the allegations can be substantiated, and in the mean time to take proper precautions to safeguard the interests of ... children".-[Official Report, 6/7/11; col. GC 169.]

The way to safeguard the proper interests of children is to allow information about this state of affairs to come into the public realm; to allow the newspaper to say a teacher has been suspended or a teacher has resigned in circumstances it will go on to enumerate. To pretend that going through the proper channels, as it was put, is a substitute for free speech and the right of an individual to speak truly about a matter of public interest is, I am afraid, bizarre and so far against the traditions of free speech in this country as to be amazing to me. I am ashamed that my Government are doing this.

I want to say a word, as I did last time, about the difficulties of bringing prosecutions in respect of adult abuse of children. Any lawyer who practises in the court-and I at one stage spent a long time practising as an advocate in criminal court-will tell you that the most difficult prosecution to bring is abuse against a child. The prosecuting authorities quite rightly will only subject a child to the appalling rigours of going into court and reliving the experience in public if they are confident that they can carry the prosecution through.

In that regard I need hardly say that corroboration is the key. Usually an abuser will abuse a child in private. That is patently obvious. Getting corroborative evidence to bring a prosecution is extremely difficult and the best corroboration comes from another pupil or former pupil or another person-it need not be a pupil-who has been abused by the same person. That is another reason why the argument advanced by the Government to deny my Amendment 48 is wholly fallacious. It is no good saying, "Leave it to the police; leave it to the school authorities and the Secretary of State. They will do it all perfectly right and dandy". They will not because the police will in many cases be prevented from bringing the prosecution at all. Until there is a charge the cap on freedom of speech is not lifted.

Similarly, I need hardly say to anybody involved in education or indeed the police that whether or not you get the sort of perfect treatment the Government assume everybody will get in these circumstances depends on the conditions prevailing at the time: the number of police available to do this job rather than 150 others; whether the head teacher at the school concerned has the time and energy to deal with a matter in a certain way when dealing with it properly will possibly bring the school a welter of publicity that could be of the most damaging kind. I am long enough in the tooth to know that the procedures that should be followed are often not, and I repeat that with prosecutions it is an issue of evidence in any event. The curtailment of free speech can only be justified by absolutely compelling and utterly irresistible arguments. We simply have not had them.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights said in answer to the inquiries about the Government that the Government did not routinely collect statistics on these matters and in particular on pre-charge publicity-do not let us forget that this clause is about publicity before charge. It is not about the number of allegations made. It is about the number of cases of publicity before charge that identify a teacher. Noble Lords may remember that the report managed to come up with six cases of publicity before charge. The six cases appear on page 63 of the Joint Committee's June report. Four of them related to newspapers that had reported suspensions and the other two were cases where the newspaper had reported arrests. All those reports are colourless, factual and minimalist. The notion that they are some sort of bandwagon reporting that hypes up the circumstances to the unfair embarrassment of teachers is simply unsustainable. I repeat that the only six cases of pre-charge publicity the report was able to come up with are those six-four involving suspensions and two involving arrests.

NASUWT was asked to see if it could find evidence and it came up with five cases. However, three of those concerned publicity about trials, not pre-charge publicity, so they were irrelevant. The other two concerned acquittals. The latest evidence that we have, which comes from a consultancy-I think that it is called York Consulting LLP-provides completely irrelevant statistics. Not a single statistic that it presents has anything to do with pre-charge publicity.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 10:00, 18 October 2011

I apologise for interrupting my noble friend but he will be aware that the convention of the House is that 15 minutes is normally considered the maximum speaking time, and he has now been speaking for 19 minutes. I wonder whether he would be kind enough to wrap up his comments.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I apologise to the House for overrunning the conventional time. I suppose it is because I take such a profoundly serious view of these curtailments of free speech that I have overrun the 15 minutes. However, I will wrap up my remarks quickly. Not one of the statistics to which I referred relates to the subject matter of Clause 13, which is pre-charge publicity-not allegations but pre-charge publicity. As regards allegations, 28 per cent led to disciplinary proceedings, more than 50 per cent had some substance and 18 per cent involved suspensions.

I am grateful to my noble friend for the concessions he has made. He may have had to battle for some of the concessions that he has wrung out of his colleagues. However, he does not accept my Amendment 48, which deals with the raising of the cap on freedom of speech in the case of a teacher who resigns or is dismissed, or Amendment 51, which allows a parent whose child has come home complaining of an assault to at least e-mail the other parents in the class to ask them whether they have had any experience of Mr Jones doing what he ought not to do, or e-mailing the staff, for example. To prohibit that seems to me utterly wrong. I speak to these two amendments in that spirit.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have some amendments in this group. Like my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I welcome the Government's amendments. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Phillips on his success in persuading the Government to improve this clause as far as they have. However, I join him in urging the Minister to consider whether he could go a little further. There is devastating logic in what my noble friend says. I am also aware of cases where the abusing teacher has been asked to go away quietly so that no more will be said about the matter. Speaking of logic, I have two amendments in this group which seek to follow government policy and prevent an unintended consequence of this section of the Bill.

Noble Lords may remember that in Committee, speaking to Clause 42 stand part, my noble friend Lady Brinton said on behalf of both of us:

"I would also like to ensure that, where there has been abuse, the subsequent inspection overtly inspects what action has been taken, and openly reports whether the failures that allowed the abuse to occur have been put right. ... Parents expect it, and children deserve it".-[Official Report, 12/9/11; col. GC 117.]

I hope that the Minister will agree with that because it was the 22nd recommendation of the report of Sir Roger Singleton of June 2009, which was agreed to by the then DCSF under the previous Government. Significantly, the DfE under this Government also confirmed adherence to that positive response given in June 2009. Indeed, I know that our honourable friend Mr Tim Loughton has been considering how he can implement this and other recommendations of the Singleton report. There was some news of that only this morning.

Of course, I am aware that Clause 13 only prevents a publication identifying a teacher who is the subject of an allegation. However, the difficulty sometimes arises where writing anything at all about an event might lead to readers having a very good idea of who it might have been. For example, if something occurred on a field trip and there had only been one field trip that year, then it would be possible to identify the alleged perpetrator. So my amendments seek to ensure that we do not fetter the ability of a regulator or a responsible Ofsted inspector to do their jobs properly and to write in their reports about what happened and how the school has, or has not, put measures in place to prevent a repetition. This is what Sir Roger Singleton recommended should happen and that wish has since been endorsed by the previous Government and the current one.

So I hope that the Minister will now see that, in tabling Amendments 50A and 50B, I am trying to avoid that unintended consequence. I believe that Clause 13 as currently written could prevent a regulator or inspector from producing an adequate school inspection report following a case of abuse; a report which stated what action the school has taken. Has my noble friend had time to consider these small, but, I hope, helpful amendments, since they seek to implement what I believe to be the intentions of the Government as well as of the previous Government; intentions which were so well set out by Sir Roger Singleton's recommendations?

I support what my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, have said about the research that has been circulated to us from York Consulting. I looked at that myself, quite independently of my noble friend and the noble Baroness, and it occurred to me too that there was not a single fact in there that supports the need for this legislation; not one fact that talked about hyped-up, unwarranted publication of the name of a teacher prior to charge. There were lots of statistics about the increase in the number of allegations, lots of statistics about how many of those were eventually found to be unwarranted, but not a thing about publicity. So I still have great reservations about this legislation, despite the fact that in Amendments 50A and 50B I am trying to improve it, because I just do not feel that the Government have yet disclosed to us the pressing need for it, despite what the teaching unions would perhaps like to see. I really would say to the teaching unions-and I have said to the teaching unions-give me the evidence. Where is the evidence about these large amounts of terrible publicity that have brought the Government to decide that they need this legislation? I simply have not seen it yet.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

My Lords, despite the late hour I think that this debate should not be curtailed, because it is so important. I have to express my great disappointment in the Government for not listening to the arguments that were made so cogently in Committee and again by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I want to ask the Minister whether some of my experiences would not now be possible. For 13 years I was chief executive of Childline, the helpline for children in trouble and in danger, and this month that helpline is 25 years old. During the time it has been operating, it has cracked a large number of rings and groups and situations where teachers have been abusing children. Children have been able to telephone the helpline and describe what has been happening to them.

Let me tell your Lordships about two cases because they are crucial. We had a series of boys ringing independently from a particular school, all telling us about the same teacher and similar abuse. We were able get those boys to talk to their parents, to get the parents to come together, and together to take that issue forward, which ended up in a very serious prosecution of that teacher who went to prison. The other situation was that of Crookham Court, a very famous case, where a group of teachers were preying, just as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, described, on a group of children. We intervened in that situation by getting the proprietor out of the school and getting my chair, who happened to be Esther Rantzen, into the school to bring the whole situation into the open. That was again a very famous case when a series of people went to prison for a long time for serial abuse of children in a school.

I believe that those two cases could not happen under these arrangements. We would be prevented encouraging people to share information that brings serial abusers to court. I do not think that the Government intend that to happen. I do not wish to believe that the Minister and his colleagues would wish that to happen. I do not like speaking at length as it is late and I, too, would like to go home, but the only other point I want to make is that if the Minister had worked for years, as I have, with young people who have to come to court and describe their abuse-the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made this point-he would know that it is extraordinarily difficult for children and young people to make allegations because they know they have to say it again. Would noble Lords like to have to stand up and tell me about their recent sexual experience? We ask children to talk about extraordinarily painful sexual abuse in court, which they find extremely difficult. That is why I spent nine years of my life working towards children, as witnesses, not having to face the court but being able to give their evidence behind a screen. I am proud of that achievement.

If the Government take it through, we will condemn a large number of children and their parents to terrific pain. I ask the Minister to take it back to his masters and convey the message in the strongest possible terms, otherwise I predict there will be cause to rue the day.

Photo of Lord Black of Brentwood Lord Black of Brentwood Conservative

My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for terribly long but I would be grateful if I can say a few words as I raised this issue for the first time at Second Reading and then talked with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, about it in Committee. As this is an issue that affects the media, I declare an interest as executive director of the Telegraph Media Group. On Second Reading, I originally raised three concerns. The first was about the workability of these proposals and whether it was possible to muzzle the printed press and broadcast media in a digital age when gossip at the school gate would simply be transformed into dialogue on social media. The second was about the impact on press freedom and open justice, particularly because of the lack in this legislation of a public interest defence. The third, about which we have heard eloquent testimony this evening, was about the welfare of vulnerable children. Underlying all that was a belief that the case had not been made out for a substantial incursion into freedom of expression. The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, spoke earlier of the latest statistics showing that only 2 per cent of cases related to malicious allegations. That is a very small number and in none of those has it been proved that publicity was responsible for that.

Those were my concerns. All that said, I am very grateful to the Government for having taken a number of those issues on board. Amendment 44 goes a considerable way to protecting the rights of children. It gives the courts the opportunity to balance the victim with the perpetrator of the crime. Amendment 49, which relates to individual teachers putting material into the public domain, again goes some way to dealing with the impact on the media and open justice, and I think helps to bring this legislation much more into line with the Human Rights Act 1998, which protects material which is in the public domain. That seems to me to be of especial importance in view of the concern I expressed about the impact of social media on this legislation.

I wish that the Government had been able to go further. Indeed, I wish that this clause had not been in the Bill in the first place. However, these changes seem practical and welcome, and may go some way to ensuring that these provisions will have a much less significant impact on the rights of children and on the free media than when the Bill was originally drafted.

I should add that, as a result of these amendments, and the explanations that the Minister has given today, I see no need for my own part-although it is still a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Phillips-to press Amendment 48 or Amendment 51, and withdraw my name and support from those.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, we had a very good debate about this issue in Committee, and, although the hour is late, we have just had another such debate this evening. I recognise the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, made at the beginning: this is not a completely straightforward issue. There are difficult interests to balance. I understand the force of the arguments that have been made about the importance of safeguarding children. I am extremely clear that a huge amount of progress has been made over the years in making children safer in school, thanks to steps taken by the last Government, and no doubt Governments before that. To respond to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, we have no desire to do anything to unwind or undermine any of that. I listened with care to the point she made about Childline. My understanding is that the Bill would not prevent children talking to Childline, and Childline talking to parents. However, I understand the force of what she was saying, and I will check that that is the case. Clearly one would not want a measure inadvertently to have the effect which she raised.

At the heart of this, and the reason why the Government are doing this, is the evidence that has been provided to us on this issue. I think that that evidence is not contested: I know that there is a difference of opinion about the strength of the evidence of the number of cases of pre-charge publicity in the press, but there is an acceptance that we have a problem, that there is a growing number of allegations made against teachers, that teachers are fearful of this trend, and that they are fearful of the effect that it has on their ability to exercise their position of authority in the classroom. We think that they have a particular position-

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend the Minister, but he is wrong about these statistics. The JCHR misread the NASUWT statistics. I said in Grand Committee that,

"for the past three years there has been a decline", in the number of allegations-and this is on the statistics in the JCHR report. In 2008, there were not 181, as there had been the previous year,

"but 148; in 2009, 115; and, last year, 107. Yet the Minister in the other place said that the number of allegations had increased, which is simply wrong".-[Official Report, 6/7/11; col. GC 172.]

With great respect, I suggest to the Minister that he does not follow down that fallacious track.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 10:30, 18 October 2011

My Lords, I will look at the figures again in the light of what my noble friend said. I would not want to go down a fallacious track. I recognise the difficulties that the issue poses. I know how strongly my noble friend feels about it. I have been able to discuss it with him on a number of occasions in recent months. He made a very powerful speech tonight and I know that underlying all of this is his passionate commitment to the principle of freedom of expression. I know that that drives him and that it is an important principle.

I know as well that his amendments are designed to improve a clause that he and my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood would rather see removed altogether from the Bill. I thank him for his approach in trying to come up with ways of improving what clearly he thinks is a deficient measure. Two government amendments in this group are improvements that he has prompted to the clause. I am grateful to him for that and for the remarks that my noble friend Lord Black made about those improvements and the reassurance that they provided for him.

The fundamental concern of my noble friend Lord Phillips is that the clause interferes with the principle of freedom of expression. I understand that. That is part of the reason that the Government have sought to draw the clause in a narrow way, limiting it to pre-charge reporting of allegations against teachers by current pupils, despite calls that we faced at the beginning of proceedings on the Bill from various quarters-including a number from this House-for us to go much further in extending these measures. We resisted that pressure and I think that the feeling of the House at this point is that it was right to do that. I understand the principle of which my noble friend is a passionate champion, but I contend that it needs to be balanced with the need to protect teachers against the damage that can be done by false allegations and by press reporting of them. We seek to strike a balance and this debate is about whether we have got it right.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend a question. I apologise and will make it very quick. Can he tell us how many allegations where the teacher has been identified have been reported prior to charge in the past two or three years? My noble friend suggests that there have been six. Another noble Lord said five. Do the Government think that the correct number is a multiple of that? We simply have not been told.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, getting an accurate picture of the extent of the problem is difficult. I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord Phillips that, through the research that the department has carried out by going online and looking at local press reporting as best it can, so far the number of cases that it has come up with is a multiple of five, but not many multiples of five. I think that the number circulated after the recent survey carried out for the department was 15. I accept that that is not a large number. However, the principle and the concern that underlie it are what we seek to address.

I will now address the amendments that my noble friend tabled rather than the general principle. The first area where he thinks that the clause gets the balance wrong is in relation to communication within the school community. His Amendment 51 seeks to ensure that pupils or parents will not breach reporting restrictions by communicating with other parents and other members of school staff. An example of where this might happen is if the parent wishes to communicate with other parents about an allegation that their child has made against a teacher. I should clarify that parents would not breach reporting restrictions by holding private conversations whether in person or online. The reporting restrictions would apply only to communication to the public at large or any section of the public.

My noble friend argued that a parent might wish to communicate with a section of the public in this way in order to seek corroboration of an allegation against a teacher before raising it with the school. We think that the effect of his amendment would be wider than that and would exempt from reporting restrictions communications by any pupil or any person acting on behalf of the pupil to any section of the school community and so reduce the protection the clause gives teachers against malicious or unfounded gossip. For example, it would allow pupils or parents to use a forum on the school network to publish an allegation against a teacher widely within the school community. I agree with my noble friend that parents should be free to follow up allegations made by their children, but I do think-I know he was dismissive of this point-that they should do that through appropriate channels by raising the issue with the school or the relevant authorities rather than by launching their own inquiries or campaigns. He knows, because I have discussed it with him before, that I am aware of a number of cases where e-mail campaigns against teachers are led by parents to whip up a campaign against them. We would not want that to be allowed to happen.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

The Minister is surely aware that if anybody whipped up, as he put it, a campaign that was untrue, they would be subject to very heavy libel or slander damages.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am aware of that, and we have discussed that point before. I know that is the case, and I defer to my noble friend who is a very distinguished lawyer, who I think used to do libel. To expect a teacher who finds himself the subject of a malicious campaign to take a libel case on his own account, financially, emotionally or in any other way, is not a practical course of action.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

In making that comment, does the Minister feel that a teacher cannot take that action but that a parent, with all the distress that they are feeling about their child having accused a teacher of abuse, can go to a judicial review with all that means without the support of other parents? That is simply not the real world. Does the Minister not agree that there is some imbalance in the two things that he has just described?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I did not say that a parent who has concerns would have to go to judicial review. I am arguing that for a parent who has those concerns- I agree 100 per cent with the noble Baroness that a parent would want to have them investigated and taken forward-there are a number of ways, whether through the police, the local authority, the LADO, and so on, to make sure that those concerns are investigated. I am not at all saying that if they have concerns I would expect them to have to go to judicial review.

We are absolutely clear that genuine victims of abuse must be able to disclose the abuse and that such reports must be investigated properly. These provisions do not interfere with that. They do not prevent the police interviewing witnesses. We think that effective investigations are possible without press reporting. The police can seek to lift the reporting restrictions if necessary to draw attention to an issue if they are seeking more information about a particular person.

The other amendment proposed by my noble friend would mean that reporting restrictions would lift when a person who is the subject of an allegation resigned or was dismissed from the relevant employment. He is concerned that without this amendment, Clause 13 may help schools cover up misconduct and argues that press reporting is an important check on such behaviour.

One difficulty with the amendment is that its implications would go well beyond this issue; for example, it would mean that any teacher who resigned to take up a post at another school would lose their protection against the reporting of allegations, even if the allegation was unfounded and had no influence on the teacher's decision to resign. We are committed to ensuring that genuine allegations of abuse are investigated properly by the appropriate authorities. Schools have a statutory duty to investigate allegations and, where appropriate, to refer them to the relevant authority. Our new statutory guidance on this subject makes absolutely clear that if a person tenders his or her resignation or ceases to provide their services, that must not prevent an allegation being investigated. If it is well founded, the investigation will lead to the police bringing a charge or to the regulator holding a hearing. At that point, the reporting restrictions will lift. If there is insufficient evidence to reach this point, we think it is right that the teacher's anonymity is protected and their reputation and career safeguarded.

I accept that a small minority of heads may in theory seek to cover up allegations or may not be as swift in acting on them as we would wish. However, I do not think that press reporting is the best or the only way to counter this possibility. If parents or others are not satisfied that schools are dealing with an allegation, they have recourse other than through the press: they can refer the case to the national regulator; they can ask the Secretary of State to investigate and exercise his powers of direction; they can go directly to the police if they consider a criminal offence may have been committed. In addition, if any person feels that there is a strong public interest in publishing details of identifying information about a teacher against whom allegations of criminal behaviour have been made, they can apply to the local magistrates for reporting restrictions to be lifted.

I will quickly reply to a couple of less contentious points. My noble friend Lord Phillips asked about government Amendment 42. In order to cover ambiguous allegations that someone might be guilty of an offence where, for example, a pupil claims, "I think it was teacher X who did it", we have changed the definition from,

"an allegation that the person is guilty of a relevant criminal offence", to "may be" guilty of an offence.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley was worried that Clause 13 might unintentionally hinder Ofsted from including information in its reports that it would otherwise want to include. I recognise her concerns about that. In cases where a school is found to be failing to implement arrangements for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children appropriately, we expect inspectors to include judgments or commentary about such failings in published reports. In light of her concerns, my officials contacted Ofsted today to ask whether it thinks there is a risk that Clause 13 might constrain inspectors in making their reports. Ofsted said that inspectors would not feel constrained in reporting on a safeguarding issue. As a matter of general policy, they always take care in writing reports to ensure that no individuals can be identified. Of course, if the inspectors uncover safeguarding concerns during an inspection they can and should provide full detail, including the identities of those concerned to the appropriate authorities and the reporting restrictions would not interfere with that in any way.

Those were the less contentious ones. I understand the strength of the feeling of my noble friend Lord Phillips, and the passion with which he has argued this evening. I have been able to agree with him on two of the improvements to the clause that he has proposed. I know he will not agree with me but I think there are difficulties with the two further ones he has put forward-that they would weaken the protection that we are seeking to give to teachers-and I ask him to withdraw his amendments.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I should point out to the House, if I may, that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has not actually moved his amendment. It has not yet come up. My duty at this moment is to ask the House whether it wishes to agree to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, which, if I may, I will now do.

Amendment 42 agreed.

Amendments 43 to 47

Moved by Lord Hill of Oareford

43: Clause 13, page 20, line 22, leave out "an appropriate criminal court" and insert "a magistrates' court"

44: Clause 13, page 20, line 27, at end insert ", and

(b) the victim of the offence to which the allegation relates."

45: Clause 13, page 20, line 28, leave out "of a magistrates' court"

46: Clause 13, page 20, line 30, leave out "of a magistrates' court"

47: Clause 13, page 21, line 3, leave out from "once" to end of line 4 and insert "proceedings for the offence have been instituted."

Amendments 43 to 47 agreed.

Amendment 48

Tabled by Lord Phillips of Sudbury

48: Clause 13, page 21, line 16, at end insert ", or

(c) the person who is the subject of the allegation resigns or is dismissed from the relevant employment or engagement."

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in the light of what the Minister said-if I can put it this way without seeming to be patronising-he made the very best of a lousy hand. Given the time of night and the payroll vote visibly present on the Front Bench, prudence gets the better of passion, and I fear that, for tonight, free speech and the protection of children will have to be left on the sidelines, so I do not move the amendment.

Amendment 48 not moved.

Amendments 49 and 50

Moved by Lord Hill of Oareford

49: Clause 13, page 21, line 16, at end insert-

"(11A) The restrictions in subsection (3) also cease to apply if-

(a) the person who is the subject of the allegation includes a matter in a publication, or

(b) another person includes a matter in a publication with the written consent of the person who is the subject of the allegation; and, in either case, the inclusion of the matter in the publication would otherwise be in breach of subsection (3).

(11B) Written consent is to be ignored for the purposes of subsection (11A)(b) if it is proved that any person interfered unreasonably with the peace or comfort of the person giving the consent, with intent to obtain it."

50: Clause 13, page 21, leave out lines 18 to 20

Amendments 49 and 50 agreed.

Amendments 50A to 51 not moved.

Amendments 52 to 54

Moved by Lord Hill of Oareford

52: Clause 13, page 21, line 38, at end insert-

"( ) For the purposes of this section, proceedings for an offence are instituted at the earliest of the following times-

(a) when a justice of the peace issues a summons or warrant under section 1 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 in respect of the offence;

(b) when a public prosecutor issues a written charge and requisition in respect of the offence;

(c) when a person is charged with the offence after being taken into custody without a warrant;

(d) when a bill of indictment is preferred by virtue of section 2(2)(b) of the Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1933."

53: Clause 13, page 22, line 21, leave out "any" and insert "either"

54: Clause 13, page 22, leave out lines 30 to 35

Amendments 52 to 54 agreed.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 10.46 pm.