Clause 19

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 4th February 2010.

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School improvement partners

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 68, in clause 19, page 17, line 33, after ‘other’, insert ‘educational’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 198, in clause 19, page 17, leave out lines 35 to 38.

Amendment 194, in clause 19, page 17, line 38, at end insert—

‘(2A) After subsection (2) there is inserted—

“(2A) A person may not be appointed as, or remain, a school improvement partner unless he is for the time being approved by the governing body and head teacher of the school.”’.

Amendment 87, in clause 19, page 18, line 3, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’.

Amendment 199, in clause 19, page 18, line 5, leave out subsection (4).

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Clause 19 extends the role of SIPs from that of improving standards at a school to that of improving the well-being of pupils. It is odd that the Government want to widen the role of SIPs beyond that of education when they were established only in 2006.  There has been no proper evaluation of whether they are a useful development and provide value for money. I have spoken to heads throughout the country about SIPs, and I have found mixed views. Some see them as an expensive distraction. The NASUWT shares that perception, and states:

“The NASUWT already has concerns about the effectiveness of the SIP programme and whether it does provide appropriate support and challenge to head teachers and governing bodies on school standards.”

On clause 19, it says:

“The NASUWT remains unconvinced that it is necessary to widen the scope of the role of School Improvement Partners...so that they provide not only advice...for the purpose of improving standards at the school but also other prescribed services to improve the wellbeing of pupils in the school.”

The General Teaching Council appears concerned and says that there

“are risks associated with this development.”

It fears that enhancing the role might restrict the ability to recruit

“if the SIP role became onerous for many serving head teachers, there would be a loss to the system in terms of knowledge transfer.”

It goes on:

“The GTC is also concerned about the local authority being over-reliant on the SIP for evidence of school performance, given its responsibility to intervene in underperforming schools.”

It seems that the role of a SIP is transforming and has transformed over the past three years from one of providing advice to more of an accountability mechanism. Amendment 68 would insert the word “educational” into the clause before “services” to confine the advice that SIPs offer to educational matters. The key role of SIPs should be to help raise educational standards. If they are meant to give both educational advice and advice about well-being, we move beyond the expertise of any one person into the realm of poor quality either of educational advice or advice on well-being. It is easier to be an amateur in someone else’s field than a professional in our own. The danger with the policy is that we would be encouraging amateurism.

Amendment 194 was inspired by the worries of the NUT, which states:

“The NUT believes that it would be desirable for this clause to be amended to introduce an appeals process for governing bodies, in the event that they consider a designated SIP to be unsuitable.”

The amendment requires the approval of both the head teacher and the governing body of a school before a SIP is appointed. As the purpose of a SIP is to help and advise rather than to inspect or criticise, I cannot see why the amendment would be a problem for the Government. A SIP need not be somehow independent, like some form of inspector. A SIP is meant to be a critical friend, so schools should have a say in who that critical friend ends up being.

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

I should like to talk to the amendments we have tabled on the clause. Although we are all conscious of the limited time left for scrutinising the Bill, the clause is important. According to the Government’s impact assessment, the clause is the most expensive part of what is quite an expensive and bureaucratic Bill, with an estimated cost of some £325 million, in net present value terms, for the school improvement partners.

As ever, the impact assessment gives us an interesting insight into the Government’s present view of the role of SIPs. Yet again, the individual writing those frank impact assessments is to be commended for their clarity in describing and criticising existing Government policy. The impact assessment says that the

“current role of the SIP in schools is an inefficient use of resources as the role of the SIP is too heavily focused on educational attainment, where schools could better benefit from challenge”, and that

“the role of the SIP is often duplicated by other LA staff.”

Inevitably, for the Government, it says that government intervention is necessary to correct the inefficiency.

The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.