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Clause 233

Part of Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:45 am on 26th March 2009.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 8:45 am, 26th March 2009

The clause is another important provision. Amendment 86 would take out lines 36 to 38 on page 136, which actually means removing proposed new section 93A(1)(a), which states that the governing body of a school in England must ensure that a procedure is in place for

“recording each significant incident in which a member of the staff uses force on a pupil for whom education is being provided.”

The amendment would remove the requirement to record those incidents.

Amendment 210 would simply add a phrase to the end of proposed new section 93A(1)(b). As currently drafted the Bill provides that the governing body must ensure that a procedure is in place for

“reporting each use of force each parent of the pupil as soon as practicable after the incident.”

That leaves no discretion for a head teacher or the governing body of a school on reporting an incident to parents. I can understand the purpose of the clause. Of course, if a child is physically restrained at school by a member of staff, a parent has the right to know that has happened. I am aware of incidents in some of my hon. Friends’ constituencies in which force has been used, but no report was made to the parents of the child, and it caused a massive row when the parents eventually found out. There is thus a case for ensuring that all incidents in which force is used are reported to the parents. Amendment 210 does not change that. It just adds the phrase

“subject to the discretion and professional judgement of the headteacher.”

The reason for that requirement of discretion is that there may be circumstances in which reporting the use of physical force may cause that child even further problems at home. It may even lead to abuse at home. That was the view of Chris Keates from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. In our evidence session on 5 March, he said:

“Though it is right to report incidents of this sort to parents, we think it is important that the school has the flexibility to determine how that is done. For example, there could be a child who is at risk of abuse at home, and reporting directly to the parent about an incident might put that child at even further risk of abuse from the family. The school must have the flexibility to  say that it would report to the parent but through an agency that might already be dealing with the family, such as social services. So, reporting to parents is the one area where we think clarification would be helpful.”

Will the Minister respond to the important point made by Chris Keates about whether some guidance or clarity might be provided to schools? However, I cannot see how guidance could overrule the very explicit provision that the school must report the incident to parents. That was also the view of John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers. He said:

“If a head teacher decides not to report a significant incident to a parent because they believe that to do so endangers the child because the parent may take it out physically on that child when that child returns home, you are caught in a bind. Do you seek to protect the child because the incident is over and done with—the restraint has taken place—yet the parent is likely to exacerbate it? We do not know where this has come from and we are concerned about it.”——[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 5 March; c. 88-89, Q221.]

That concern could be quite easily addressed if the Government were to accept amendment 210.

Amendment 87 takes out lines 3 and 4 on page 137, which, in essence, is taking out subsection (3) from proposed new section 93A, which states:

“The procedure must require that a record of a use of force incident is made in writing as soon as practicable after the incident.”

The proposal is similar to amendment 86, which removes the requirement to record such incidents at all.

Amendment 94 would add guidance to the clause. It says:

“Guidance issued under subsection (4) must not advise the retention of incident record forms beyond a period of three years.”

Currently the guidance says that any written record of use of force has to be kept for 10 years, which seems an excessively long period to keep a record. For a school to keep records of every incident for 10 years is a large administrative burden.

To ensure that the provisions are justified, it would be helpful for the Minister to explain why existing guidance states that records must be kept for 10 years. Most records are kept for six years—certainly those for tax purposes. Although the issue is far more serious than tax, I cannot understand why it would be necessary to keep records for such a long time. The concern is that the more administrative burdens that are placed on schools that use powers to maintain order and discipline, the less it is likely that teachers will use those powers. We need to clarify the law, so that there is no risk that teachers inadvertently sway beyond what the law permits.

We need to make the law crisp and clear. We also need to make it simple to administer and functional, which means reducing as far as possible the administrative burdens that can deter a teacher from using powers that are important if a school is to maintain law and order on its premises, which is essential if children are to be happy and safe during their school years. I await the Minister’s response with anticipation.