HL Deb 21 January 1986 vol 470 cc176-84

7.34 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Hooper.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Exclusion of certain remuneration from Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965]:

Lord Ritchie of Dundee moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 17, at end insert ("and, in the interests of clarity, "midday supervision" shall only include the minding of pupils before, during and after the provision of a midday meal.").

The noble Lord said: I pointed out at Second Reading that the term "midday supervision" was insufficiently clear because it could be interpreted as including the many extra-curricular activities that teachers engage in during the lunch break. I am referring to such things as choir practice, dance classes, sports practice, computer studies and so on. These activities are not intended to be covered in the Bill, and I think it is important that it should say so explicitly.

Both functions—that is to say, the supervision of the meal and the conducting of extra-curricular activities—have traditionally been performed voluntarily by teachers. During the present dispute teachers have withdrawn their voluntary goodwill services from both. It is the intention of this Bill that teachers should be largely replaced by external supervisors in the first function as an emergency measure. In the second, they cannot be so replaced: professional teachers are indispensable.

It seems to me that this might give rise to an undesirable situation in which external ancillary supervisors and teachers under special contract were receiving payment while other teachers engaged in extra-curricular activities were not. Under the Bill as it stands, theoretically they could claim payment. This is extremely unlikely to happen. One really cannot imagine a teacher accepting (shall we say?) £1.25 for playing chess with some first-year secondary children for half an hour in the midday break.

Indeed, it is this very attitude towards their services and the suggestion that they will have carefully fixed payment for exact contributions that teachers so bitterly resent. They want to perform such services voluntarily or not at all. But they want to do so in return for a fair valuation of their worth in the form of a fair settlement of the dispute. This clause of the Bill seems to me to be in need of clarification, and also, I think, care should be taken not to anticipate in any way the settlement of the dispute. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter and discuss it further with his right honourable friend.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In supporting this amendment I want to make it clear (and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, would agree with me) that we are very conscious of the drafting defect of this and any other amendment to this Bill. The Long Title of the Bill refers only to amendment of the Education (Grants and Awards) Act 1984 and the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965. Any amendment which is proposed which has any substance, as does the noble Lord's amendment to change (in his case) the definition of "midday supervison", or, in the case of subsequent amendments, to talk about training or minimum standards, ought not to be dependent upon the Remuneration of Teachers Act; in other words, the remuneration of teachers ought not to be dependent upon the provisons made in these amendments.

We perfectly recognise (so the noble Earl can cross out that part of his brief) that there would be a bizarre effect if these amendments were to be carried. This is done simply because the Long Title of the Bill is framed in such a way that there is no other way of doing it than by putting down an amendment which is out of order because it conflicts with the Long Title.

It seems to me that the noble Lord, with his life-time of experience, has made a perfectly valid and resonable point about the definition of "midday supervision". It is unclear as it stands, and could lead to a further prejudging of the issue of restructuring, on which the Government are so keen. If the Government seriously mean that the £1¼ billion which they say they have set aside for restructuring is really open for negotiation and that only a very small part of it is to be taken up by the proposals in this Bill, then surely it is in the Government's interest to agree to this amendment, which more adequately defines and restricts the purposes for which these grants are to be made.

The Earl of Swinton

First, I must reassure the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that I have not got that in my brief at all. I was not crossing out that bit: I was crossing out the nasty bit which, if the noble Lords were nasty to me, I was going to say back. But they have both been so very kind about this that it was that bit that I was actually crossing out.

In fact, I share the appreciation which has been expressed of the many extra-curricular activities which may take place at lunchtime, but neither those activities nor some of the schools' most basic functions can occur if there is no provision for supervision. When children are barred from the premises at midday the school day is disrupted, discipline may suffer and some pupils may not be willing or able to return for the afternoon's lessons. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, is right when he draws a distinction between supervising the meal and the school generally at midday and the many extracurricular activities which may take place at that time or at times outside the normal school timetable. The latter activities are much more akin to the teachers' normal teaching duties, and it is certainly not our intention that they should be the subject of separate payments.

But I do not believe that the "clarification" offered in this amendment is clarification at all. The meaning of the exclusion from the Remuneration of Teachers Act in Clause 2 of the Bill—namely, remuneration paid to teachers by local education authorities under contracts relating exclusively to the provision of midday supervision of pupils in schools"— is quite clear. This amendment introduces a potential source of ambiguity, since it could be taken to exclude supervision of pupils not taking school meals or supervision in classrooms and playgrounds away from dining areas, where many pupils now bring their own packed lunches to eat.

I really do not think it is in anyone's interest that such confusion could be created by the use of the word "clarification". This clause, as originally drafted, provides for the exclusion of contracts relating to midday supervision only to be outside the scope of the Remuneration of Teachers Act. I think this amendment is unnecessary, and I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I thank the noble Lord for his words on the subject. I feel I can say no more, if it is believed that this is sufficiently clear. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 17, at end insert— (" (2) This section shall not have effect until national minimum standards on the level of supervisory staff have been established.").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, it was intended that this amendment should be in my name and that the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, should be added to it. I make the preliminary comment about the difficulty of amendment of this Bill and I ask that that be "read into the record", if that phrase is possible this side of the Atlantic.

Let me make it clear that in moving this amendment it is not my intention to delay or wreck the Government's plans in bringing forward this Bill but rather to draw attention to the lack of consideration, the bad timing and the lack of consultation that have taken place in the way in which this Bill has been introduced.

I said at Second Reading that I was a strong supporter of school meals. Even as a child, I was a strong supporter of school meals—and that is saying something, considering the nutritional values and the standards of cooking which prevailed in the schools I went to! I am a strong supporter of school meals both from a nutritional point of view and from a social and educational point of view. I want to make it clear from the outset that any attempt which might be made from any quarter to suggest that school meals no longer have a part to play in the school day or that, for example, one should go over to a Continental day which started earlier, ended earlier and did not have a meal break, I should totally deplore. I believe that my party would feel the same about that.

I should also like to make it clear that our intention is not in any way to delay the implementation of the Bill. I understand that the Inner London Education Authority has already advertised for 1,700 supervisory staff and that the issue is still open to them as to whether applications should come from teachers or not and whether teachers should be encouraged or discouraged as to taking those posts. Clearly, ILEA and a number of other local education authorities, such as Durham, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and so on, feel strongly that there is a need for urgent action on this matter, and nothing that I am saying now is intended to make it more difficult for them to pursue those objectives.

However, there are problems about the standards of supervision and in particular there are problems if a large number of the posts are filled by people who are not teachers. Perhaps on reflection, a national minimum standard is not the right way to do it and perhaps the Government could propose some less draconian way of doing it than the words I have suggested in the amendment. I am always open to suggestions about that. Certainly, if we look at the task which would face anybody not familiar with schools, coming in for perhaps one and a half hours a day—that may be seven and a half hours a week, which, at the rate of pay which the National Association of Head Teachers suggests might be available from the funds, would come to a total of £20 a week—there is not a great deal of financial incentive and it may well be that there will be a shortage of people who have an understanding of the way schools operate. They will not know the pupils in the school; they will not know the way in which the school operates or the way in which its own internal self-discipline operates. In some cases I fear they will be very much at risk from indiscipline, both in the dining areas and in the grounds or other parts of the school. I should have thought it not unreasonable to suggest that some help might be given by the Government, perhaps not in the form of national minimum standards but certainly in the form of some guidance on the quality of people required and the sort of help that they might need from the teachers and from the heads in order to do an effective job. It is in that context that I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and that of other noble Lords.

Lord Kilmarnock

I think the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, whose amendment I certainly support, is right not to specify absolutely that there should be national minimum standards laid down. That indeed may not perhaps be the way to go about it, but I should like to remind the noble Earl of his speech on Second Reading on 14th January at col. 967, when he said: The Government envisage that the additional resources will be used to employ supervisors charged with the responsibility for seeing that pupils are effectively supervised at mid-day. "Effectively" is the operative word there and, for reasons which have been given by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, at Second Reading regarding the difficulties that could be experienced by outside staff unfamiliar with the working of the school or even with the names of the pupils, coming in and preserving effective control at mealtimes, I think it is reasonable to ask the noble Earl whether the Government are contemplating, as has been suggested, setting out some guidelines or making some suggestions to local authorities on how they should proceed in selecting staff of this sort. Possibly retired teachers might be prepared to come forward: one does not know. But it seems to me that some sort of guidance is required and I should be very interested to hear the noble Earl's answer.

The Earl of Swinton

I personally believe that there are a number of very responsible people around who can carry out midday supervision. They may well include teachers or of course there may be other people. There are many other situations where children are supervised by adults who are not teachers. It has been suggested that this reduces the midday supervision to mere child-minding, as if that function were not in itself important. I doubt whether many parents would agree. Their first concern must be to see that their children are safe and that their welfare is safeguarded. Many parents have found their lives disrupted because they have been asked, often at short notice, to take responsibility for their children at midday when they had already undertaken other commitments on the reasonable expectation that their children would be looked after by the school.

I think the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, spoke of "strangers"—or perhaps he did not go quite as far as that, but he suggested that perhaps strangers might be brought in off the streets and they would not know the buildings, the children or the school. Perhaps I am exaggerating here, but I should have thought that that was much more likely to be the result of an ad hoc arrangement made to maintain supervision when teachers withdraw at short notice. It is just that sort of situation that we are determined to avoid, and the purpose of our initiative is to encourage authorities to make arrangements which make clear who is responsible for supervision. If people other than teachers are used, there is no reason why they should not be employed on a long-term basis in the same school, so that they can get to know its ways.

I also know a little about school dinners. I know that very often the dinner ladies are some of the most popular people in a school and all the children in the school get to know them well and often look upon them as surrogate mums. I see the children rushing up to get second helpings and so on.

I do not think there is any national scheme by which such people are employed. The Government do not intend to lay down minimum staffing standards for supervisory staff. Generally, matters of this kind are left to the discretion of local education authorities, and rightly so. There are, for example, no minimum staffing levels laid down for teaching staff in schools. We see no reason why the staffing of new supervision arrangements should be treated differently. That does not mean that we are not concerned about the safety, welfare and discipline of pupils in our schools. Far from it. It is just such a concern which has motivated us to introduce this Bill. But we believe very strongly that local education authorities are best placed to decide what is best for their areas.

I hark back for a bit to the time when the Front Bench spokesman on education on the other side of the House was not the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Very often, the noble Baroness accused me of trying to tell local authorities what to do and how to do it, and here we are giving them their heads and letting them decide that they are the best people to do it. I thought that the noble Lord would welcome this, and I was rather surprised that he did not.

The circumstances of authorities vary widely, as do those of schools. It is evident from the proposals already submitted for education support grant approval for this new activity that authorities are approaching the issue in a variety of ways. Those differences no doubt reflect, in large part, differences in their circumstances; differences which it would be difficult to allow for in setting national standards. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to enshrine a requirement for national minimum staffing standards in legislation.

I do not know about the question of a circular, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, suggested. I think that this would be unusual, but I will certainly bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend and ask whether he would consider doing such a thing when this Bill gets the Royal Assent. However, I obviously could not give an undertaking. Having listened to what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw this amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am far from totally convinced by the arguments used by the noble Earl. I am bound to say that I do not think it is appropriate for him to contrast the long-term plans, which I assume are the purpose of this legislation, with what we hope is the short-term position of uncertainty created by the industrial dispute between the teachers and the Government. I was going to say "local authorities", but in fact the dispute is with the Government. I do not want to say any more on that. We must all hope that the talks now taking place at ACAS—and I hope that they are continuing tomorrow, although I have not seen the late news on this—will succeed and that the uncertainty which does indeed plague parents at this time comes to a speedy end.

But the contrast is not with the situation during the present dispute, but between the situation that is now proposed and the generally prevailing situation in schools. I entirely agree with the noble Earl that uncertainty for parents is very damaging; indeed, it is very damaging for the pupils themselves not to know where they are, where they are going to be, whether they are going to be sent home, whether their lessons are going to continue uninterrupted. We must all be in agreement on that.

It is quite true, as the noble Earl said, that since 1969 there have not been nationally determined staffing levels for teachers themselves. But, in effect, the Government in introducing this legislation are not saying that there will be no staffing levels. They are just not coming clean about the way in which those staffing levels are going to be imposed. There is a sum of money to be made available for this purpose and that sum of money, as we have learned from debates in another place, is to be divided among local authorities in proportion to the number of pupils in the authority and in the schools, with due provision for schools in, for example, rural areas where the pupils find it more difficult to get home and are more likely to be staving at school.

So, in effect, the staffing levels are being imposed by the Government by financial means, and we have already expressed our distaste for the way in which the Government, on the excuse of the Education (Grants and Awards) Act, are imposing conditions reducing the level of freedom for local education authorities. It is not our proposal in this amendment which is reducing the level of freedom. It is the extension of the Education (Grants and Awards) Act beyond the condition to which it was originally intended to apply which is reducing the freedom of individual local education authorities. It is the Government who are reducing that scope, not those of us who are proposing these amendments. What we are saying in these amendments is that the Government ought to come clean and say that the restriction of financial provision and the availability of financial provision at a certain level is, in effect, a control on staffing levels.

I suppose that we must be grateful to the noble Earl for his response to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. If he is prepared to consider and discuss with his right honourable and honourable friends the possibility of a circular which would give guidance to local authorities, that may be the most that we can hope for at this time. With that prospect in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 17, at end insert— ("(3) Remuneration shall only be paid after local Education Authorities have satisfied the Secretary of State that adequate training has been provided for supervisory staff other than teachers.").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, this amendment should, strictly speaking, have been first in my name. Here, again, the matter was not so closely related as to require that it should be grouped with the previous amendment, but it is an attempt to get the Government to recognise their responsibilities in an area where they themselves are saying on what local education authorities should spend their money. I do not need to go over again the arguments which have been put by those who are more closely connected with education than I am, about the need for care in the selection and indeed in the training of supervisory staff.

The suggestion of older teachers coming out of retirement is an interesting one. It may well be that there are some communities where there will be no difficulty in finding people who need very little training. Certainly, I make it clear in the amendment that there is no suggestion that teachers should undergo additional training for something which most of them have been doing throughout their professional lives. But the recognition of training is something which is common to many parts of the public service. There seems no good reason why it should not apply equally to these supervisory staff other than teachers who have, as all noble Lords who have taken part in these debates have said, a very important role to play.

I hope very much that the noble Earl will feel able to say in terms rather similar to the answer he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, that, at the very least, a circular could give guidance on the kind of training which would be appropriate for these supervisory staff other than teachers. I do not believe that this is a derogation of the responsibilities or rights of local education authorities. In essence, it is no different from the kind of advice that Her Majesty's inspectors give in the teaching area of schools. I think that this is a modest amendment, but I believe that it would be helpful if it had some response from the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I should just like to add one word to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said. It is important not only that any supervisory staff coming from outside should be adequately trained, but—perhaps more important—that they should be of the right personality. The teacher or anyone in charge of children needs to be the right kind of person. Bearing that in mind, I hope that the noble Earl may be able to use his influence to bring it about that head teachers are closely consulted when the supervisory staff in their schools are being selected. Head teachers will have a much better idea than anybody else what kind of people they want in their schools.

The other point which I should like to make has already been made. It has been said to me a number of times that the quality of the ancillary helpers doing this kind of work will largely depend on what they are paid.

The Earl of Swinton

The Government do not accept that additional training should be a statutory requirement—I underline those words—for supervisory staff other than teachers. As with other detailed aspects of new arrangements, we believe that it is right to leave this in the hands of local education authorities. I am sure that authorities will be guided by the principle that new supervisory staff must be capable of performing their tasks and of discharging the authority's duty of care to the pupils in their charge. No doubt some recruits will need short courses of training to fit them for their new role. Authorities have experience of providing training in such circumstances on which they will be able to build.

I can go further than I did on the last amendment in hoping to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The Government have made it clear that, as with other activities funded through education support grant, authorities will be asked to monitor the success of their arrangements. My right honourable friends will wish to be sure that they are achieving their objective of securing adequate supervision before giving approval for ESG support for a further year. There will be a great incentive on authorities to see that their staff are the right kind of people, properly trained and doing the job properly. But in the final analysis it must be left to the good sense of authorities to decide how much training is necessary for staff involved in order to ensure that their schemes are successful. I therefore ask the noble Lord once more to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Earl. It is a sensible suggestion for the Government to make that there should be monitoring and that continuation of the scheme should be dependent upon an evaluation which shows that it is working successfully. I agree with the noble Earl that so far as possible it ought to be local authorities who take the ultimate responsibility for the training. What was being suggested in the amendment was that the Government in their great wisdom might have something to contribute to that debate. The noble Earl seems to think not. Perhaps there is no hope of trying to persuade him on that matter. Perhaps the man in Whitehall—it used to be Whitehall—does not necessarily know best. On the basis of the noble Earl's reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until half-past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.4 until 8.30 p.m.]