Clause 208

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 am on 26th March 2009.

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Amendments consequential on Chapter 2

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I beg to move amendment 536, in clause 208, page 120, line 7, at end insert—

‘(2) In paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) (the Commission), after sub-paragraph (2B) (inserted by the Health Act 2009) insert—

“(2C) A Local Commissioner may not investigate a complaint against a school under Chapter 2 of Part 10 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 if the Local Commissioner—

(a) is a governor of the school;

(b) is a parent of—

(i) a registered pupil at the school, or

(ii) a person who has been a registered pupil at the school within the five years ending with the making of the complaint; or

(c) works at the school or has worked at the school within those five years.

(2D) In sub-paragraph (2C) “registered pupil” has the same meaning as in the Education Act 1996.”’.

The amendment prohibits a local commissioner from investigating a complaint against a school where they are a governor, where they have a child who is or was a pupil within the last five years, or where they have worked within that period. There could otherwise be a conflict of interest, which would not be in the interest of anyone.

I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Amendment 536 agreed to.

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

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

It would be tempting to breeze past this clause, particularly at this early hour. However, I would like to ask the Minister for more information, as the clause is dealt with rather sketchily. The explanatory notes state:

“The Local Commissioner will be able to consider complaints relating to the National Curriculum where it affects an individual pupil. Previously, local education authorities had a role in the complaints process under section 409 of the Education Act 1996 and paragraphs 6(3) and (4) of Schedule 1 of the Education Act 1996”— no doubt we were all aware of that. Those sections have been repealed so that complainants are able to approach the local commissioner under the new scheme. Why has the Minister decided to shift from the existing mechanism of complaints to the new one, given that in respect of exclusions, he has said that he does not propose to make any changes to the existing appeal and complaints mechanism?

I would like to probe further what the explanatory notes to clause 208 mean when they state that the local commissioner will be able to consider complaints that relate to the national curriculum where it affects an individual pupil. What types of complaints are likely to be acceptable, and what complaints have been made in respect of this to the Secretary of State over the past few years? Does the Minister have any indication of the numbers of complaints that have been made?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

It is sensible to align the current complaints handling system as much as possible when introducing the commissioner. Under current arrangements, the local authority has a role in considering complaints about a school’s curriculum, Christian collective worship, attendance at Sunday school and exemptions from non-curricular sex education. However, local authorities have no legal obligation to consider any other type of complaint.

That system does not always work well. There are up to three stages for parents to go through from the governing body to the local authority and the Secretary of State. That process can often be lengthy and frustrating for all concerned. In exempting local authorities from considering those types of complaints, the new arrangements will introduce a more streamlined and coherent system.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am not entirely convinced by that explanation. In our view, the right of appeal should be to the local authority, which would remove the Minister’s concerns about an additional tier of bureaucracy involving the Secretary of State. The Minister was a little sketchy about concerns surrounding the national curriculum that relate to one pupil. He gave us no statistics about the number of complaints that have been received in that area over the last five years. That might be another issue on which he would like to write to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 208, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.