Clause 51 - Power of LEA to inspect maintained school for specific purpose

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 22nd March 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The clause allows the LEA to inspect schools and to exercise any function where the local authority requires information in connection with any function discharged by it. I strongly support the clause but I wonder how far it extends. It was regarded as quite a minimalist clause, whereby the local authority simply arrives in a school to inspect whether education maintenance allowances, for example, are administered properly. It can be seen as a much more positive clause. My view is that LEAs should have a strongly supportive role in all their schools and that the LEA’s support is particularly useful in connection with such things as behavioural difficulties. Early intervention, good monitoring and a properly managed transfer from primary to secondary school are crucial in order to keep on top of the problem.

I do not think the Government are opposed to the idea, but I strongly advocate LEAs acting as important partners in ensuring that all the schools in the area are well behaved and well run, that problematic children are in class and that problematic situations are adequately dealt with. That crucial LEA role may be seriously underestimated. In many respects, it would certainly be a cheaper option than establishing hosts of turn-around schools or more pupil referral units.

I do not want to be politically contentious, but it amuses me that the Tory prospect of turn-around schools will create more places than the number of children currently being expelled. That leads me to the irresistible conclusion that children will be worse behaved under the Conservatives. Otherwise, why have all those additional places? Because of the capacity being planned, I can assume only that disciplinary standards will decline sharply and markedly.

The local authority has a key role, for instance, in identifying children at risk or those with behaviour difficulties, and in ensuring that primary schools do not neglect the situation and simply wait to get such children into secondary school. Such work involves a degree of liaison and demands a strong and positive local authority role. If the local authority is to do that job properly, it needs to know about the schools’ behaviour programmes. I believe that the best local authorities already do so. However, they need the right to have the information, and I guess that they can do that only if it is included in the clause as a local   authority function. I want clarification about what we might construe the local authority function to be in the context of the clause.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Minister of State (Education and Skills) (School Standards)

The hon. Gentleman spoke in support of the clause. The clause is important. We do not anticipate the power being used by LEAs to conduct routine school inspections on standards. That is not their role; it is Ofsted’s. However, he is absolutely right to remind the Committee that LEAs have a number of important roles. In some ways, because of the agenda in “Every Child Matters”, it is an increasingly important role on questions of child protection, the inclusion of children and on some of the behavioural issues to which he referred. The clause ensures that the authority has the power to go to a school and to exercise its functions. I take the opportunity to reaffirm the important role that LEAs have to play.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 52 and 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.