HC Deb 22 July 1986 vol 102 cc285-303

'The Secretary of State may prescribe one or more categories of persons who may be appointed governors of schools to which sections 3 and 4 above apply.'. — [Mr.Andrew F. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 11 —Involvement of pupils in the governing body'In any school to which sections 3 and 4 above apply where that school admits pupils aged 16 years and over the governing body shall admit as observers to the governors' proceedings such members of the school council or other pupil-representatives as shall be specified in the articles of governance.'. New clause 26—Pupil observers`Where the school admits pupils aged 16 years and over, the governing body shall admit two such pupils elected by the pupils over 16 in a secret ballot by proportional representation as observers and non-voting members of the governing body, subject to the articles of governance as may be adopted by the governing body to exclude pupil governors, from matters arising under sections 22 to 25 and 32 to 39 of this Act.'. Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 39, leave out subsections (2) to (6) and insert— `(2) The instrument of government of such a school shall provide for the governing body to comprise equal numbers of—

  1. (a) parent governors, including pupil representatives where the local education authority make a determination under subsection (5) below;
  2. (b) staff governors, including at least one representative from the teaching staff and at least one representative from the support staff at the school;
  3. (c) governors appointed by the local education authority, whether directly or on the nomination of a minor authority;
  4. (d)
  1. (i) co-opted governors and foundation governors in the case of a controlled school including at least one co-opted governor and at least one foundation governor;
  2. (ii) co-opted governors in any other case.
(3) The overall number of members of a governing body to which this section applies shall be decided by the relevant local education authority, providing that no governing body shall have fewer than eight members. (4) In determining the size of each governing body under subsection (3) of this section, the local education authority shall:
  1. (i) undertake consultation with the headteacher, existing governors and, so far as practicable, parents of registered pupils at the school;
  2. (ii) have regard to the desirability of a broadly uniform size of governing bodies in relation to the following categories of size of schools:
  1. (a) less than 100 registered pupils;
  2. (b) more than 99, but less than 300, registered pupils;
  3. (c) more than 299, but less than 600, registered pupils;
  4. (d) more than 599 registered pupils.
(5) The local education authority may determine, for the purposes of subsection (1) of this section, that one or more of the places to be allocated to parents' representatives on any governing body of a school admitting pupils at 16 years of age and over shall be allocated to pupil representatives providing that there shall be at least a majority of parents over pupil representatives in that category on any governing body. (6) No representative shall be elected as a pupil representative under subsection (5) of this section unless he has attained the age of 16 years and any such election shall take place among pupils who have attained the same age.'. Amendment No. 3, in line 39, leave out from 'school' to end of line 20 on page 5 and insert 'shall provide for a governing body to include—
  1. (a) at least two parent governors;
  2. (b) at least two governors appointed by the local education authority;
  3. (c) at least two teacher governors;
  4. (d) the head teacher, unless he chooses not to be a governor; and
  5. 287
  6. (e) either—
  1. (i) at least three co-opted governors, or
  2. (ii) at least two foundation governors and at least one co-opted governor, in the case of a controlled school.'.
Amendment No. 4, in page 4, line 2, leave out '(and no others)'.

Amendment No. 5, in line 3, leave out 'two' and insert `four'.

Amendment No. 6, in line 6, after `(c)', insert 'at least'.

Amendment No. 8, in line 7, leave out '(d)' and insert `who shall be'.

Amendment No. 9, in line 16, leave out `(and no others)'.

Amendment No. 10, in line 17, leave out 'three' and insert 'six'.

Amendment No. 11, in line 20, after `(c)', insert 'at least'.

Amendment No. 12, in line 21, leave out 1d)' and insert 'who shall be'.

Amendment No. 13, in line 26, at end insert— '(f) two pupil governors as observers, in the case of a school admitting pupils of 16 years of age and over.'. Amendment No. 14, in line 30, leave out '(and no others)'.

Amendment No. 15, in line 31, leave out 'four' and insert 'eight'.

Amendment No. 16, in line 34, after `(c)' insert 'at least'.

Amendment No. 17, in line 35, leave out (d) and insert `one of whom shall be'. Amendment No. 18, in line 40, at end insert— '(f) two pupil governors as observers, in the case of a school admitting pupils of 16 years of age and over.'. Amendment No. 19, in page 5, line 3, leave out '(and no others)'.

Amendment No. 20, in line 5, leave out 'five' and insert `eight'.

Amendment No. 21, in line 8, after `(c)', insert, 'at least'.

Amendment No. 22, in line 9, leave out `(d)' and insert 'one of whom shall be'.

Amendment No. 23, in line 14, at end insert— '(f) two pupil governors as observers, in the case of a school admitting pupils of 16 years of age and over.'. No. 26, in line 20, at end insert— '(8) In any school to which this section applies where that school is a sixth-form college the instrument of government may in addition include two pupil governors aged 16 years and over, subject to the exclusion of those pupil governors from matters arising under sections 22, 23, 33 to 39 of this Act.'. No. 27, in line 20, at end insert— '(8) In any school to which this section applies where that school admits pupils age 16 and over, the instrument of government may in addition inculde two pupils aged 16 years and over subject to the exclusion of those pupils from matters arising under sections 22, 23, 33 to 39 of this Act.'. No. 31, in clause 4, page 6, line 21, at end insert— '(7) In any school to which this section applies where that school is a sixth-form college, the instrument of government may in addition include two pupil governors aged 16 years and over, subject to the exclusion of those pupil governors from matters arising under sections 22, 23, 33 to 39 of this Act.'. No. 32, in line 21, at end add— '(7) In any school to which this section applies where that school admits pupils aged 16 and over, the instrument of government may in addition include two pupils aged 16 years and over subject to the exclusions of those pupils from matters arising under sections 22, 23, 33 to 39 of this Act.'. No. 59, in clause 15, page 19, line 25, leave out `eighteen', and insert 'sixteen'.

No. 60, in line 26, at end insert `or aged 16 and over if he is a registered pupil at the school at the date of his election or appointment'. No. 180, in page 60, line 34, leave out Clause 56.

Government amendments Nos. 181 and 182.

Mr. Bennett

The new clause takes us directly back to matters in the Bill. It seeks to provide a measure of flexibility. The amendments that accompany the clause address the problems which the Opposition believe are contained in the Government's scheme.

We were a little unhappy that the Government, having passed the Education Act 1980, which set up new provisions for governing bodies, shortly afterwards produced a Green Paper in which they suggesteded conferring greater powers on parents in relation to governing bodies and reducing the powers of almost everyone else. We felt that the Government were rather premature. In producing their Green Paper they took evidence on the position that applied before the 1980 Act was implemented, rather than on what had happened.

Many people believed that the 1980 Act resulted in a very good partnership on the new governing bodies between parents and teachers, the local authority and the co-opted representatives. All the evidence showed that the Government had gone overboard in their attempt to increase the number of parents on governing bodies and that the balance was not right. We welcome the fact that the Government have sought to improve the balance.

If governing bodies are to work, there has to be a partnership between parents and teachers, the local authority and the co-opted representatives. They must work together. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the Bill has been drafted, there will be conflict. The number of teachers on governing bodies is to be reduced. That is not the best way to obtain their co-operation. There is absolutely no reason for the Government not to maintain a slightly higher teacher representation on the governing bodies.

We have approached this aspect in a number of ways. Amendment No. 2 proposes that representation should be in four parts. Amendment No. 3 proposes that state schools should adopt the same formula as applies to voluntary and state-aided schools.

The Government ought to allow greater teacher representation on governing bodies. In small schools, where teachers have only one representative on the governing body, there will be occasions when that individual will be unable to be present at meetings. Teachers will then be completely unrepresented. It is an advantage if somebody is present at meetings, not necessarily formally to second a resolution, but to nod agreement, thus signifying that that is the view not just of one person but that it is supported by others. [Interruption.] That is a fact. Governing bodies are concerned with obtaining a consensus, not with obtaining decisions and taking votes. Narrow majority votes on governing bodies—a win of three to two, or 231 to 230 — will not produce solutions. The Secretary of State seems to be amused by all this. My impression was that he was quite relieved by the result of the vote. Governing bodies should not be pressed into taking decisions as a result of votes. We want consensus on governing bodies. Greater teacher representation would help to achieve that aim.

There has also been an experiment in which pupils have participated as school governors. The evidence is that that experiment has worked well. In our Second Reading and Committee debates the Government could not provide a single example of unsuccessful pupil governors, or of pupil governors who had caused problems. It would be worth while if the Government were to introduce sufficient flexibility to allow pupil governors to participate on governing bodies.

Many local authorities have also allowed ancillary staff to be represented on governing bodies. It will cause considerable resentment in towns such as Sheffield if ancillary staff—those who provide dinners, or who work in the office, or caretakers — are pushed off the governing bodies. That is not the way to achieve cooperation and consensus. A flexible approach would allow pupils and ancillary staff to serve as governors, and it would also provide for greater teacher representation.

Even at this late stage I plead with the Government to introduce flexibility. The reforms carried out in 1980 have worked in the majority of local authority areas. The governing bodies have settled down and in most cases have produced partnership rather than conflict. It would be sad if, as a result of the passage of this Bill and the removal from governing bodies of the groups that I have mentioned, we produced a situation worse than the present one.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)

I should like to speak briefly to amendments Nos. 10, 12, 15, 17, 20 and 22 which are in my name. These amendments would increase the number of parent governors and reduce the number of teacher governors by one where the head teacher chose to be a governor. The effect would he to give parents a bigger say. Indeed, the amendments would give parents the majority say on all governing bodies before co-options were carried out.

The route towards greater parent power is popular with parents and with people who are concerned about quality in our education system. I can see no reason why we should not have the courage of our convictions and decide to trust the parents by giving them a majority on the governing bodies. A whole series of safeguards are written into other parts of the Bill and for that reason the Government ought to have the courage to give majority power to the parents.

Parent governors already make a valuable contribution to our schools but in the smaller schools the Bill would restrict the number of parent governors to two. That is too restrictive because we know that many parents are overawed, if not diffident, about the way in which schools are run. As a result, some of them get involved on governing bodies only when their children have been pupils for some years. By increasing the number of parent governors we would increase the scope and the opportunity for parents to become involved at an earlier stage.

I appreciate that, because the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is trying to pull the Government in one direction and I am trying to pull them in the opposite direction, my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say that he has the balance about right. I hope this will give him an opportunity to explain why the Government do not yet feel able to give parents a majority say on all governing bodies.

Mr. Weetch

I should like to speak to amendment No. 2.

The section of the Bill that deals with governors and governor representation gives teachers a raw deal. I understand why that is so, but I do not understand why the Government have made no serious attempt to put it right. If this Bill passes without major surgery, governing bodies will emerge according to a standard pattern. I am not opposed to more of a pattern, but I am opposed to this pattern. The statistical pattern of representation on governing bodies in their new shape shows that, as the school grows, teacher representation will be at a bigger proportional disadvantage.

In a school with up to 99 pupils, the first category mentioned in the Bill, teacher representation is one, plus the headmaster. As the school increases in size to 600 or more pupils, the parent representation is increased from two to five, the local education authority representation is increased from two to five, the co-opted representation is increased from three to six, but the teacher representation goes from one to two. There is no justice in that and it is a poor way to establish, or shall I say re-establish, the partnership that must exist if education is to succeed. I am talking about the partnership of parents, the local education authority, central Government and the teachers.

Amendment No. 2 says that there shall be a principle of equality of representation, with equal numbers of … parent governors . … staff governors … governors appointed by the local education authority ….co-opted governors". All through, there is equality of representation. I know that in this world, one cannot get mathematically equal representation without some other distortion, but as the pattern of represenation exists now, teachers have a raw deal. The nature and numbers of their representation are unjust.

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I shall not take too much more of the time of the House, because, unfortunately, I have already lost this argument. I was not impressed with the case that the Government put up in Committee against increasing teacher representation. I should like to hear the answer from the Minister, to see whether the Government have a sense of shame about the whole matter. The professional teacher organisations are dissatisifed with the gross under-representation of professional teachers, and have every reason to be so. One can see at a glance that this is unjust, and I hope that even at this late stage, the Government will put the matter right.

Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)

I wish to speak on new clause 26 and amendments Nos. 13 18 and 23, which stand in my name. Through these, I wish to change what is already a permissive sanction of allowing student governors as observers into a mandatory one. To do otherwise allows governing bodies to object to, and deny opportunities for, young people to participate. For what reasons do they do so? Is it because young people have nothing worth contributing? Is it because young people have nothing to say that is worth listening to? Is it part of our educational philosophy to treat young people as irresponsible? Do we give them an education, and then say that they are not capable of using it in a responsible way? If so that is an indictment of the education that they have received. By making this a permissive sanction, we are seen to condone such arguments, which is why I wish that it were a mandatory sanction.

Perhaps if we had listened more to the view of students before, we should have done something much earlier about what is seen by many to be the irrelevant last two or three years of school life, and could have stemmed some of the disillusionment that has come from that. It is not unreasonable that the client group should have a say in the service that it is receiving. If it is accepted that pupils have a view, governing bodies should hear it.

Is not participating an education in itself, not only for those young people who are governors, but for those who elect the governors, and so all those involved in the democratic process? This is recognised by the Government, and has been recognised by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State in his response to the Thompson report. He said: The Secretary of State believes that a service which is concerned with the personal development of young people must seek to encourage their involvement in decision taking, and in accepting the implication of those decisions". At the first conference of Ministers responsible for youth in Strasbourg, recommendations endorsed by the Government include: enhance a dialogue between young people and public authorities at all levels on issues that concern their lives, such as education". There was another recommendation to encourage the participation of young people in the decision-making process in areas that concern them". My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, speaking at a conference on participation in November of last year said: I therefore stress my belief in participation. Those are fine words, and tonight we have an opportunity to apply them and to allow young people to participate in something that definitely affects them—their education. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister referred to his dislike of having two tiers of governors or second-class governors. But If there are only two classes on a train, it is surely better to be travelling second class than to be left behind. As governors with speaking rights but no voting rights, as I advocate, students could make a major contribution to discussions on those governing bodies. They could make their views known to the governors who are making the decisions, and could thus ensure that their views are taken into account by them.

Of course there are sensitive areas in which student governors should not be involved, and that is covered by the amendment. It is not impractical to exclude student governors from such discussions. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to young people going in and out of the room like yo-yos. As the president of a students' union, I was heavily involved in discussions on university committees, and the matter was simply dealt with by having two parts to the agenda: the first involving student representatives, and the second involving reserved business, where students were asked to leave the room. I see no reason why a similar structure should not apply to school governors' meetings.

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

When I was chairman of a board of governors I found that our pupil governors were only interested in the bits from which they were excluded, and did not speak on any other subject. Will my hon. Friend take that into account?

Mr. Lawler

It is a bit difficult to speak on a subject when one has been excluded from the meeting. As a student participant, I was often very interested in the matters on the reserved part of the agenda, but I recognisd that they were not entirely appropriate for me to be involved in. I think, for example, of disciplinary matters relating to students, or matters relating to university staff. That is why I seek to exclude student governors from similar discussions on school governing bodies.

I argue that student governors may not be able to play a full part but should at least be able to play a part. It might be argued that we need only have school councils in schools. I recommend setting up such councils in schools, because they have a role to play. That is particularly true for the younger pupils, as they give practice at participation and democracy. But all school councils are only talking shops. In most schools there is no direct link between them and the governing bodies, and no direct input. That is why we need student governors as observers on the governing body.

My hon. Friend the Minister has spoken about a yob society emerging from our education system. One factor that contributes towards that is the feeling of alienation experienced by young people because they believe that no one listens to them. They believe that no one thinks that they have anything to contribute. Consequently, it is not surprising that they feel frustrated. As Hargreaves said in his report it is clear from the fifth form survey that a further cause of disaffection amongst some pupils is their gradually accommodated conviction that they have no real voice in matters of school policies and decision-making pertaining to the curriculum, distribution of resources, the physical environment and rules and sanctions. One important role of education is to ensure that young people do not feel alienated and are taught how to be involved in decision-making processes and are allowed to get the most out of them.

In that way the governing bodies too would have much to gain, because they would have the benefit of young people participating.

My hon. Friend the Minister has already accepted most of my points.

As he said in Committee: I stress that we recognise that it is desirable for senior pupils to be involved in the work of a governing body". —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 19 June 1986; c. 86.] If my hon. Friend recognises that it is important that young people should be involved as observers in the role of our governing bodies, he should ask all schools to participate. Governing bodies and young people will benefit from the contribution that they have to make.

Mr. Freud

The lead new clause of this group is new clause 3, on additional categories of governors. Those of us who were fortunate enough to serve on the Committee, and who spent 15 sessions arguing about that, very much welcome the new voices that we hear on Report. I have considerable sympathy for the new clause that has just been spoken to by the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler).

The alliance position is that, while involvement and institution-based governorships are all very well and much better than nothing, the fundamental principle should be that of qualification by age. Although new clause 11 argues for involvement only and amendment Nos. 26 and 31 argue for governors in sixth form colleges, they are not the most desirable positions, although perhaps the best that we are able to get.

Our argument is that, having accepted the principle of pupil governorship in our own amendments to clause 56, on pupil governorship in colleges of further education, the Minister of State should apply the principle consistently throughout education. That consistency should either be on the principle of common factors between institutions as the basis, or of age as the basis. I do not believe that one FE college should have it, and, in the same town, a comprehensive or sixth form college should not.

It is illogical if some 16-year-olds are eligible and others are not. The institution attended does not seem a relevant way of dividing them up. It is incumbent on the Minister of State, having accepted the principle of pupil governorship, to defend the dividing line that he is seeking to draw. It is weak in the extreme, not least because of the arbitrariness of the provision that I mentioned earlier, to claim that students in further education colleges are magically and automatically wiser and more mature than those in other institutions.

When I asked the Minister of State in Committee whether he genuinely believed that, he answered with the memorable line, "I am saying what I have said."

If lines between 16-years-olds are to be drawn, the alliance wants as many young people as possible to be on the side of the angels, and thus to include those at sixth form colleges. There are overwhelming arguments in favour of statutory pupil involvement, not least that many local education authorities already include them. The Government have not produced a shred of evidence that those governors do not work well. In addition, educational evidence suggests that involvement is always a good thing.

Michael Rutter, in "15,000 Hours", wrote: It appears that the schools' giving of responsibility … plays a part in developing an overall school climate, which itself helps to shape pupil behaviour". He also observed that children tend to live up or down to the expectations that teachers and schools have of them. That message clearly got through to the Minister of State when he spoke recently about the need to expect more of able children. Rutter continued: the message of confidence that the pupils can be trusted to act with maturity and responsibility is likely to encourage pupils to fulfil those expectations". David Hargreaves of ILEA — transposed as David Hargreaves of India in the Committee Hansard—in his report, "Improving Secondary Schools", also wrote of the benefits of general involvement, saying: schools which involve people in their running are 'better schools' with better discipline and spirit, and in some better examination results … It is clear from the fifth form survey that a further cause of disaffection amongst some pupils is gradually accumulated conviction that they have no real voice in matters of school policies and decision making pertaining to the curriculum, distribution of resources, the physical environment and rules and sanctions. I am sorry to take time on Report on something that I pointed to in Committee, but I am desperately disappointed, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said in Committee, that the Minister has taken some account of the argument and given us such an extraordinarily legally fallacious resolution.

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In France, each secondary school has a conseil d'établissement. In West Germany, schools have a schulkonferenz which has decision-making powers on discipline and daily routine. There is no questioning the fact that the schools in France and West Germany benefit from these bodies. I do not understand why the Minister is holding out from introducing this in Britain.

Thus, on the grounds of educating young people for citizenship and for participation in democracy, involving the real consumers of education and encouraging maturity among pupils, as well as avoiding the alienation which is all too common in some young people, there are excellent reasons for extending the principle, accepted by the Government in FE colleges, and applying it throughout education above the age of 16.

The recent Gillick judgment has implications for the issue of pupil governors, as it involved the concept of increasing quasi-legal responsibility for young people. In giving that judgment, Lord Scarman, sensibly observed, that the capacity of a young person to make his or her own decision depends upon the minor having sufficient understanding and intelligence to make the decision and is not to be determined by reference to any judicially fixed age limit. The Government, having accepted the case for pupil governors in the FE institutions, should accept them for all institutions — sixth form colleges and all. The Government's position on FE institutions is not tenable without also permitting pupil governors elsewhere. If the Government accept the wider principle of pupil governors per se, they have to accept them given the application of the most relevant criterion, which is that of age.

The alliance amendments allow the governing bodies to exclude the young people from certain matters. I totally agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, North,who also referred to this. As the chairman of a court of a university I know that it is perfectly normal to have business below the line when the press and when certain members leave the court. It does not mean that pupil governors are second class but it does mean that they are on board. The amendments recognise that there are things which it would not be proper for pupil governors to discuss, but it recognises that pupils have a legitmate place regarding other matters before a governing body.

The fact that the new governing bodies will have more matters under their remit than existing ones is not a strong reason for deliberately excluding from them the consumers of education. Pupils have a legitimate point of view and can often bring a fresh opinion to matters which concern them directly.

There is a huge difference between being an observer and speaking when one is spoken to and being a full member and having the right to bring up matters of one's own accord. Education should include learning about decision taking and representation and it is difficult to believe that the Government do not recognise their duty to do something about this in the Bill.

Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)

I wish to speak in support of the amendments which have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope)—amendments Nos. 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20 and 22.

These amendments are crucial. It is disappointing in a Bill which has done so much to increase accountability to parents and choice in education that we should be considering the composition of the governing bodies in such a way as will result in the continued domination of the producer interest. The amendments would achieve a far better balance. At the moment, the number of parents governors is matched by the number of governors appointed by the local education authority.

My hon. Friend is looking at me rather quizzically, but people appointed by the local authority are the representatives of the administrators and the producer side of education. Teachers and head teachers are in the same category. Parents, even allowing for the co-opted governors, are clearly outnumbered on those governing bodies.

If one thing is common ground on this side of the House, it is that one of the biggest problems in our schools is that they have long since ceased to represent the interests of parents and their children. They have been captured by the producer interest. That is reflected in the debate. It is one of the reasons why we hear constantly about inputs in to education, pupil-teacher ratios, the amount being spent on schools, the amount being spent on salaries, and teachers' duties, terms and conditions, and very little about the end product—the achievement of children.

The amendments are important. Parents should have representation and be able to make their voice heard. I know that some people will say that it is difficult to get parents interested in being governors, or that only certain types of parent will become involved.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is difficult to get some parents to become governors because of the lack of power exercised by governing boards? Does he agree that, if they had more control over finances, staffing and maintenance, more people, and people of a higher calibre, would be attracted?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend has taken the argument out of my mouth. He has obviously thought about the matter carefully. I agree with him. Even if the Bill does not go as far as my hon. Friend would like in transferring power to governors, it goes a great deal further than has been possible hitherto. My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on that. It would be a pity if, at the last jump, we were to lose the opportunity to strengthen the parents' role on boards and to give them the opportunity to participate with increased powers and responsibilities.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the amendments. They are important. If parent governors are always to be outnumbered by the vested interests and the professionals, it will be hard to get people of good calibre to serve on the boards.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I do not bring to the debate the experience that members of the Committee gained—I am sure that they are knowledgeable on these matters—I bring a more simple, but still relevant, approach.

I ponder occasionally on what I think is a special problem. It concerns what is happening in inner cities, especially with regard to governorships of schools. During the past few days, there have been some difficulties in a part of London where a governor was appointed to a school. The appointment has attracted adverse publicity in the press. Some people might wish to make political advantage out of that. It demonstrates, however, a major problem to which all political parties should address themselves. What is going on in schools and who are being made governors? What type of people are becoming governors as political appointments?

I have come to the view that the party hack often has very little to contribute. I am not saying that I would want boards of governors to be dominated by Tories. On the contrary, there are many people of my political persuasion who would never normally surface and become available for selection as governors. Such people should surface, especially in inner-city areas. They should make an effort to be appointed because only they, working with progressive elements in local authorities, can make important and necessary changes. We do not solve the problems of education simply by throwing money at the processes of education. We solve them by bringing new ideas into the consideration of all the issues as school governors make decisions.

I hope that Ministers, in observing the case that occurred in south London recently, will accept that excesses exist on all sides. Everything must be done to see that governors of the highest quality are appointed, as that will help to ensure that we are not faced with that type of embarrassment again.

What occurred in that case is part of a minority problem, in the main geared to the inner cities. There are great swathes of the country in which there is great competition among people who want to be school governors. In my constituency there is even competition in my party among people seeking nomination to be appointed school governors, and I am sure that the same applies to other parties and that the competition extends to parents and teachers. That occurs because people appreciate the great contribution that governors can play, particularly in local communities.

I say that because in many constituencies, particularly in rural ones, schools are the focus of community endeavour. The community spirit in some areas is centred round the educational establishment in the same way as in other communities it is centred round the local church and parish hall. That is why the Government should heed carefully the views of those who participate in the work of parish and town councils.

In an unashamedly constituency way, I draw the attention of hon. Members to correspondence that I have received from the members of governing bodies of schools in my constituency and members of parish councils. The people in question are deeply concerned about some aspects of the Bill and have asked me to intervene in the hope that the Government will realise that they are set on a dangerous course that could undermine the position of many governing bodies.

My correspondent from Papcastle parish council —Papcastle is near the town of Cockermouth, which borders the Lake District—writes under the heading: Minor authority representation on boards of governors — Bridekirk/Dovenby School and Fairfield School, Cockermouth. The letter reads: The above matter has been the cause of concern for the Parish Council for some time. The last Instrument of Government has resulted in the Parish Council relinquishing its minor authority representation on the Board of Governors of Bridekirk/Dovenby School and has been the cause of a `fight' with Cockermouth Town Council over a place on the Board of Governors of Fairfield School in Cockermouth. We understand that the Education Bill, which proposes to reduce the number of governors yet again, is under discussion in the House of Commons. This is of grave concern to the Parish Council and I have today written to the Secretary of State for Education giving the Parish Council's view on the matter. I should be obliged if you would consider the above points when the Bill is being discussed. That cannot be described as a politically motivated letter. It represents the view of people of all political persuasions who are concerned about the effect of the Bill on the number of governors who can be appointed.

A letter from the Bridekirk Dovenby school governing body, signed by Mrs. Meredyth Bell, chairman of the school governors, states: We are governors of Bridekirk Dovenby Primary School, which is in your constituency, and we are a voluntary controlled school. We understand that the proposed changes in the 1986 Education Bill concern, among other things, a reduction in the number of school governors from 12 to nine. I am sure that the Minister would have risen to correct me if the writer of that letter was wrong. She goes on: We are totally against this proposal, as our particular school represents four parishes, all of which were in the past guaranteed an effective voice on the governing body following the closure of their own local schools. The Minister knows what we are talking about. We have had to rationalise primary education, and local authorities and Ministers have had to take difficult decisions. They have been fought, and we all know of the arguments to and fro, the appeals and the representations to Departments. At the end of the day local authorities have taken decisions and given undertakings, mainly about the nature of representation on boards of governors to secure continuity within particular communities.

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Mrs. Bell continues: This promise has been totally disregarded and the proposed changes are calculated to undermine the support and influence of the rural communities involved. We would be grateful if you could let us know your own views on this subject and whether there is any chance of influencing this part of the proposed Education Bill. Those letters were unsolicited by me and came from people without political motivation. They are putting a simple case to Parliament and saying, "Why reduce the number of school governors? Give us a chance. Let local authorities keep to the undertakings given when our schools were closed."

I hope that the Minister will reply specifically to those letters tonight. The local newspapers in Workington regard these matters as of great importance, and if his words tonight are pearls of wisdom, he will be well reported. They await what he has to say and I hope that he will address himself specifically to these great concerns which are being legitimately expressed by people in west Cumbria.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

I rise to support the amendments in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) and for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). I am sure that the remark of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that party hacks have little to offer governing bodies will have struck a chord throughout the House. That is probably at the root of these amendments.

We fear that the Government's proposed structure for governing bodies will allow the vested interests which are producers to predominate. We do not believe that this is the correct emphasis. Many parents are becoming upset at having to take what is on offer and dished out by the present governing bodies where the local education authority has a monopoly. The Bill does not tip the balance in favour of parents.

Schools should not be run for the benefit of teachers or local politicians. There is increasing evidence that the malign influence of politicians and, to a lesser extent, of local education authorities, is causing grave anxiety among parents and, in some cases, is an affront to them. In Haringey, for example, we hear that the council's new lesbian and gay unit is advising schools and colleges to develop courses to promote positive images of lesbians and gays, and to submit proposals by the end of this month. That type of development is thoroughly objected to by parents, but they have little choice because they do not have a controlling interest on the governing body. In a school in my constituency parents have even been dissuaded by the headmaster from having a parent-teacher association. That is the wrong approach and would be rejected throughout the House.

Many people tend to forget that education is not free. Parents may not pay directly by cheque to their local education authority, but they pay for it. I believe that parents are in a position to know what is best for their children, and that education is too important to be left to educationists.

Further evidence that the education system is not working and that all is not well, with grave concern that schools are not performing under the present system, comes from a MORI poll to be published next week. It was commissioned by the Audit Commission, which audits value-for-money in local services. Only 31 per cent. of those interviewed were happy with the standards of secondary education. That demonstrates that there is dissatisfaction, and that so long as we operate a system in which the consumers — the parents — are not given a major say we shall not begin to tackle the problems in our schools. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to accept the amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen, for in this way we shall be able to give parents more power, and they will be able to take tougher action, to produce better schools.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I should like to say a few words, particularly in support of the remarks made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and also the speech of the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler).

In this House, we frequently enact good laws and, I suspect, frequently bad or muddled laws, but since the European Court of Human Rights started to exert its influence on the laws of this country, as we saw earlier this evening, we have from time to time enacted laws that are plain wrong.

I have a specific question for the Minister of State tonight, which I hope he will deal with in due course. Is the Minister of State satisfied — are the Government satisfied — that the proposals in relation to pupil governors in further education colleges as compared with the lack of pupil governors in schools will pass muster if it is challenged in the European Court of Human Rights?

The proposals lack logic. If a 16-year-old at a further education college is good enough to be a governor of that college and take a minority role in the decisions affecting that college, at least so far as they concern interests that can be legitimately dealt with by pupil governors, why on earth cannot pupils in sixth forms of high schools be governors of those schools?

Indeed, it could be argued that high school sixth form pupils over the age of 16 play a far more significant role in the management of their schools than their counterparts in further education colleges. One could go further and say that we know of many cases in which pupils of 16 to 18 have gone to further education colleges because they have failed examinations and were unable to stay on in the sixth form of their schools, whereas their colleagues, who have passed examinations, are able to stay at school; yet the latter are to be deprived of the right to be governors of those schools. That is manifestly absurd and illogical.

I hope that the legal point has been carefully considered by the Government and I look forward to the Minister's assurance that it has been. Let us assume, as is likely, that a case is taken through the courts of this country on behalf of a pupil who wishes to be a governor of his or her school, and thereafter to the European Court of Human Rights. Will that court uphold the decision that the Government appear to be determined upon tonight? If not, we shall face yet another of those decisions one example of which led to the Interception of Communications Act 1985 on telephone tapping; another related to corporal punishment, which has been debated tonight.

It would do the Government and the people of this country little service if this legal problem — this is a serious question that I am putting to the Minister—were brushed aside in the hope that it will go away.

Mr. Chris Patten

This is an important group of new clauses and amendments that is directed to the composition of governing bodies. Its aim principally is to alter the key provisions in clause 3, either by substituting a new formula for the composition of governing bodies or by modifying the Bill's present proposals. I think that all of us who had the enjoyable experience of sitting through the Committee could be forgiven for a sense of déjà vu in considering the new clauses and amendments, because we gave most of the issues a pretty heavy bashing in Committee. It is always pleasant, however, to take a second tour.

I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will receive the coverage in the Workington Bugle which it undoubtedly deserves. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of governors and the contribution which they have to make. I agree wholeheartedly with him that there is no place for party hacks on school governing bodies. The effect of the Bill's provisions on the south London school to which he referred would be to reduce political nominees from about 12 to three. This should encourage local education authorities to be a good deal more discriminating in whom they appoint.

The hon. Member for Workington spoke of two particular instances, and he has correspondence on them. I shall, of course, consider these cases. The Bill preserves the minimum position that was established by the 1980 Act. I suggest that minor authority representatives, valuable though they are, no longer have to represent the community given the increased parental representation. Nevertheless, we shall address ourselves to the two instances to which the hon. Gentleman referred if he will allow us to do so.

Our aim in the Bill, as we said on a number of occasions in Committee, is to create vigorous governing bodies that will be the focus for that individuality and sense of purpose that are the invariable hallmarks of a successful school. As an integral part of this aim, we want governing bodies to be the means of encouraging and harnessing greater parental influence and involvement in the way that their children's schools develop as part of local provision. That point was addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). I shall respond later to his other remarks.

Consequently, we see it as essential that each governing body should, as necessary, be able to speak for the school and the wider community it serves with a voice that is separate and distinct from — though obviously informed by—the professionals in the maintaining LEA on the one hand and the staff in the school on the other. At the same time, we need to ensure that governing bodies are reasonably compact so that they can discharge their important functions effectively. If size were no object, there might well be other categories of person who might usefully be represented. But we want and need effective bodies and not mere talking shops.

The outcome of all these considerations is the carefully balanced formulae in clauses 3 and 7. Tailored to the size of school, these remove the scope for LEAs to appoint the majority of governors. They strengthen the parental voice and retain the representation of other key interests guaranteed by the 1980 Act. This is not as rigid as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was suggesting, but that is a point which is often wilfully misrepresented. The Bill allows a substantial degree of flexibility through the category of co-opted governors. But that flexibility is in the hands of the governing body itself. It is not to be imposed by the LEA in making the school's instrument of government. We shall trust the governors to decide what additional expertise they wish to add.

As I have said, our main aim is to set up governing bodies that are separate and distinct from LEAs on the one hand and teachers on the other. The local partnership which makes for successful schools exists principally not in the governing body itself but in the interaction of the governing body, the head teacher and the LEA, all within the framework of functions proposed in part 111. I must emphasise that these functions have been carefully designed to complement the composition proposals in part II. They would probably have to look different if the composition were significantly changes.

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The partnership to which I have referred cannot work effectively if the governing body is, as one of the partners, dominated by the others. This is why the Bill removes the LEA's majority. Given that the LEA is at arm's length from the school it seemed right to give it a share of governorships equal to that for elected parents. By the very nature of their work, however, teachers are intimately involved in the day-to-day life of the school. While their voice should clearly be heard on the governing body, our judgment is that more than the provision proposed — which continues the representation guaranteed for the first time under our 1980 Act — would give them a disproportionate influence in the overall local partnership. That is in no way to denigrate teachers whose expertise is obviously crucial to the success of schools. Indeed, it is worth pointing out that, as governing bodies will be generally smaller under this Bill than previously, the teachers' voice will be proportionately stronger.

The plain fact is that the Opposition amendments generally demonstrate a fundamental disagreement between their movers and the Government over our reasoning and the conclusions that I have just outlined. I have heard nothing that has even begun to persuade me that the Government's very carefully considered conclusions in this key area are wrong. Indeed, I am more than over convinced of their soundness as a means of reinvigorating our schools. I point out again in passing—not hoping to bring Opposition Members to their feet—that the Opposition are on the one hand obsessed with increasing the involvement of this or that group on the governing body and, on the other hand, move amendments at the drop of a hat to limit the powers of governing bodies.

Amendments Nos. 5, 10, 15, 20, 8, 12, 17 and 22 were moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) and referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth). The amendments aim to strengthen parental representation. The Government have been persuaded—and now firmly believe—that an equal balance of places between the LEA and the parents is the right way to make progress. That was not our original view. When the Green Paper was discussed, long before I had anything to do with these weighty matters, the Government came to another conclusion. However, after taking account of the representations from parents and bodies representing parents we came to the conclusion that equal weight should be given to parents and LEAs.

The provisions of clauses 28 and 29 will also strengthen the accountability of the governing body to the parent body as a whole through the annual report and parents' meeting. We could not accept the proposed reduction in the number of teacher governors.

Mr. Alan Howarth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and his colleagues for giving weight to the representations received from parents. Many of us would be interested to know what finally persuaded him to come down in favour of a balance between the LEA and the parents, rather than a predominance of parents.

Mr. Chris Patten

I wish that I could answer that question as directly as my hon. Friend has asked it. The decision — the correct decision, I believe — to favour equal weighting was taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends when they drafted the White Paper "Better Schools". In that respect, the Bill faithfully reflects the views expressed in "Better Schools". As I said several times in Committee, I think that we have struck the right balance in the composition of the governing body and—as could not be said of the amendments moved regularly by the Opposition—between the composition and the functions of the new governing bodies.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for, albeit reluctantly, giving way. I had rather hoped that he would have had the courtesy to answer a specific question which I put to him. He has not and so I shall put it again. Has the hon. Gentleman taken and received advice on whether what is proposed will satisfy the requirements of the European Convention, and, if so, on what grounds will it do so?

Mr. Patten

I knew that I should not have given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I shall come to precisely that point in the course of my remarks after I have referred to the amendments moved by his ever-courteous hon. Friend, the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud).

New clauses 11 and 26 and amendments Nos. 26, 27, 31, 32, 60, 13, 18 and 23 seek to involve pupils more in school government either as observers or as governors proper. The Government fully accept — again, we had these debates in Committee — that it is desirable for senior pupils to be involved in some way in the work of the governing body. We have agreed to include guidance on this in the post-Act circular. This could well he done through observerships but there are other ways of achieving this, perhaps through separate meetings with selected groups, which would avoid observers having to keep bobbing in and out depending on the item under discussion.

However, I can see nothing in new clause 11 which would actually enable a governing body to require such observers to leave during particular items of business. Generally, it would be wrong to compel governing bodies to admit pupils or, indeed, any other observers to their meetings, though I repeat the undertaking to advise governing bodies that they should explore ways, and observerships will be one of them, of involving senior pupils and other persons as they think fit in their work.

I listened with considerable interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) developing his arguments on that point. I realise that he will be disappointed by the fact that my reply this evening is exactly the same as my reply on several occasions in Committee and I am sorry that we disagree on that point. To repeat myself, there is a strong case against second class governors coming in and out of meetings according to what is on the agenda. However, I repeat what I have said about the guidance that we shall be giving to local education authorities and governing bodies about the relationship with pupils.

Amendment No. 59 to clause 15 would allow persons aged 16 and over to be governors in any category. In this clause and in clause 56, to which I shall come shortly, we are not resting on our long-held opinion that a school or college governor holds an office of public or pecuniary trust. Such an office maynot be held by a minor. We accept that there are contrary legal opinions; that is why we have taken the opportunity to put the matter beyond doubt. I see no case for allowing LEAs to appoint 16-year-olds, as has happened, as their representatives on school governing bodies. It may be argued that 18 is an arbitrary age, but it has good legal precedents, I must remind the House again that we are giving school governors new and enhanced powers. School governorship will not be a soft option.

I therefore ask the House to reject amendment No. 59 and, for the same reason, amendment No. 180 which seeks to delete clause 56 on the minimum age for governors in further education. Given the different nature, structure and traditions of institutional government in further education and the more adult environment of that sector, however, the Government have been persuaded to make an exception to the rule in clause 56 in the case of a governor who is a student of the college concerned. This concession must, however, be safeguarded.

There are matters, such as the appointment, promotion and discipline of staff where it would not be appropriate for a student to be involved. Amendments Nos. 181 and 182, which honour our Committee stage undertaking, therefore provide for regulations to specify the circumstances and the degree in which the participation of student governors at meetings should be limited. The notion of "reserved business" in further education is not new. Many instruments already contain provisions which will meet the new regulations' requirements.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) raised a particular point, which he came back to in an intervention, about the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights. We were not remotely aware that any problem such as he suggested existed. I should be interested to know which specific provision of the convention he had in mind and any point that he cares to bring to our attention we shall look into. However, I do not think that there is a problem such as he identified.

In conclusion, I commend Government amendments Nos. 181 and 182 to clause 56. However, I must ask the House to reject the other amendments in this group in favour of retaining the carefully constructed composition provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

It is not surprising that the Government have not changed their view. We heard the same disappointing answers in Committee. I hope that when the Minister and the Secretary of State go to the Tory party conference and announce proudly that they facilitated the ending of corporal punishment in schools and get a standing ovation for that, they will recognise that although the traditional Tory party conference gesture of allowing a 16 or 17-year-old to get to the rostrum to praise the Government's record will be made, under the Bill they will deny that youngster the right to serve on a governing body. It is a sad reflection on the Government's belief in democracy that they cannot allow a 16 or 17-year-old to participate in a governing body.

I do not think that we will be able to persuade the Government to change their mind by pursuing the matter to a Division. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) will consider pressing his amendment No. 13 when it comes up for consideration. Perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will allow a Division on this amendment so that the House can express a clear wish that it would like to see pupil governors appointed as observers. I do not suggest that we vote on the amendment tonight. The amendment will be much later in our consideration of the Bill, and I do not think that we will come to it later tonight. Indeed, we may not come to it until October.

The Minister might get a few messages at the party conference, one of which might be to ask him to allow the appointment of pupil governors. After the conference he might be able to rectify the position either by supporting amendment No. 13, or even by the Government tabling their own amendment to provide for pupil governors. As we would not achieve that as a result of a vote on new clause 3, I hope that I shall have the leave of the House to withdraw the motion in a moment or two, in the hope that we can have a vote on amendment No. 13 later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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