§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Hooper.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 42 [Duty of Secretary of State to maintain certain schools]:
The Lord Bishop of London moved Amendment No. 202C:
Page 36, line 22, after ("Chapter") insert ("and the granting of approval to proposals submitted under Section 52(2) below in accordance with the provisions of that section").
§ The right reverend Prelate said: The amendment provides that the duty of the Secretary of State to maintain any school shall be limited beyond peradventure to the schools for which he has granted approval of the proposals permitted under Clause 52(2) in accordance with the provisions of that clause.
To my mind, as a layman in the legal sense, it seems that what I seek to secure is covered by Clause 42(1) and (4) in that for a school or government body to be incorporated requires approval by the Secretary of State of the proposals under Clause 42(4)(c). Clause 42(1) specifically refers to:
any school conducted by a governing body incorporated under this Chapter".
However, I am advised that this amendment is necessary to make certain that the Secretary of State does not find himself under any obligation to maintain a school which was established as a grant-maintained school for which this procedure had not been adopted. I am advised that that is the case.
§ This amendment means that there can be do doubt about the limitations of the duty of the Secretary of State to maintain any grant-maintained school unless he has approved actual proposals which meet the requirements set out under Clause 52(2). It may be that the noble Baroness will assure me that this is not necessary but I am advised that this point needs to be settled so that it is beyond doubt. I beg to move.
§ Baroness David
Before the right reverend Prelate sits down, perhaps I could ask him whether, as is listed in the groupings, he is also speaking to Amendment No. 214A.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
In that case, perhaps I may continue to speak to Amendment No. 214A. When we come to Amendment No. 214A I find it quite astonishing that I should have to move this simple and straightforward amendment. Whatever is the Committee's view on grant-maintained schools, I believe it is agreed on all sides of the Committee that this represents a major change in our educational system. It introduces a new partner into the whole operation of schools. It seems to me quite extraordinary that such a proposal should be allowed 1225 to take place on what inevitably will be a minority vote.
If the Government intend to establish the means by which schools are allowed to opt out of the local authority system, then it must be a fair system and one which serves the majority of parents. The Government claim to be very keen to give parents as much choice as possible in the education of their children and, as I have said, these proposals form a key part of the Government plan. Why then are the Government not willing to accept the principle that the majority of those eligible to vote should be required to make the decision for a school to opt out? If the Government wish to provide parents with a choice in the education of their children, logically this should mean a greater choice for the majority of parents; yet the Bill does not ensure that choice for the majority in the opting out. On the contrary, I maintain it inevitably allows a minority of parents to decide the future of the school simply because one must assume, human nature being what it is, that for a variety of reasons not all parents will vote even in a secret ballot.
For example, there will be those whose children will be leaving in the next year or two; there will be those who do not feel moved to take part in the vote, or parents who are away. One knows of the situations which arise. It will be quite unreasonable to assume that all parents will vote in the ballot on this matter. Even if one takes a reasonable application in a school of, say, 320 children—which is not much above the limit that is set and below which this procedure cannot be carried out—and assuming that there are two parents per child, that is 640 parents. If one thinks of the number in the top classes, the number who might be away and so on, it is not unreasonable to say that there might be 200 parents who, for one reason or another, will not exercise their vote. That leaves 440 parents. If one takes half of that number, with a few more to make the majority, then 225 parents out of the 640 in that school would be able to vote on this matter. That seems a most unreasonable and undemocratic number upon which to make such a major change.
There are other problems in connection with voting, but I am not proposing to talk about them this afternoon. For example, there is the definition of a parent and the question of information being required to be given to the Secretary of State when a proposal is put forward. Those are all matters that need to be attended to. Today I am concentrating on the one point—that we should ensure that a majority of parents are eligible to vote and not merely be concerned with those who actually vote.
Once the decision has been made to ballot parents it does not matter how few the number of parents who vote in the ballot so long as there is one more in favour of opting out than there is for staying with the authority. In theory, it would therefore be possible—I agree it is a very extreme case—for one parent to vote in favour of the grant maintained status and, if no other parent voted against, there would be the necessary majority for opting out. It may be argued that in a case of that kind not for one moment would the Secretary of State dream of 1226 approving the proposals. However, since he is apparently prepared to act on a minority vote anyway I am not given great confidence in the way he will act if there is a minority which votes in favour. As I say, it is impossible to know how many parents are likely to vote in a ballot, so I cannot see why on earth the Government should resist this amendment.
It is particularly important that a majority of the parents eligible should make the decision as the decision is irreversible. It is not as though they can return and attempt to change their minds. The provisions do not allow for the possibility of a further ballot to be taken at some time in the future in order that the school may be given the opportunity of opting back into the authority system.
From what I have heard, I imagine that the Government will argue that the elections of representatives in local and central government require only a simple majority of those voting and not a majority of the electorate as a whole. But the decisions made in such elections are not irreversible, and that is one of the really significant factors in this case. Surely the Government must accept that in many instances a simple majority is not appropriate. Perhaps I may say that their own legislation shows this to be the view of the Government. At the moment they are putting forward proposals in the Housing Bill which contradict the arguments they are putting forward as regards this Bill. How can it be logical that where it is acceptable for a minority of parents at a school to decide its future, it is necessary for a majority of council tenants to decide to remain with a local authority? I am afraid one is driven to the point—much as I regret having to make the suggestion—that one purpose of the minority is to encourage schools to opt out. I cannot avoid drawing that conclusion.
There are a number of other areas of legislation in which the Government prefer a different system from a simple majority. For example, in company law the Government have laid down that changes require a 75 per cent. majority; in the Employment Act 1982 for the status quo to be changed inside a bargaining unit there must be a majority of either 85 per cent. of those voting or 80 per cent. of those eligible to vote. In the Standing Committee for that legislation the argument was put forward by the then Under-Secretary of State for Employment that the closed shop raised major issues for individuals' rights, so that a larger majority was required.
If that is true for those matters then it must also be true for the future of the education of children. It is on the future of our children's education that I base my plea to this Committee to support the amendment. At Second Reading of the Bill I said,To my mind it is not a question of a simple, plain franchise or a fancy franchise but a question of what is an appropriate franchise".—[Official Report, 18/4/88; col. 1233.]Bearing in mind what I have said about parents voting, I still maintain that it is unreasonable to expect a vote of 100 per cent. It is unreasonable to expect more than the average kind of voting that one gets in these affairs. It may be said that parents are desperately concerned about the education of their children, but there are also involved parents of older children who will not be affected by the issue. In 1227 addition, we must face the fact that there are parents who do not pay great attention to the education of their children.
What worries me is that this legislation is really an open invitation for any small group—albeit on the extreme Left or the extreme Right, it does not matter from where it comes—to press certain parents to exercise their vote to ensure the necessary majority in a minority vote for the proposals go forward. As I say, we must bear in mind that parents whose children will be in the school once the decision on the school's status has been implemented will have no say; and other parents whose children will have left by the implementation date will have no vote.
My amendment does not deal with that situation but it takes the effect of it into account by saying that we can at best not expect a complete vote. Once it has been accepted that not all parents will vote then, if one accepts a bare majority of those who do vote, one is inevitably committed to saying that the decision will be taken by a minority of parents. For the sake of our children's education, I beg the Committee to support the amendment so that it is education issues and the wishes of the parents together that affect our children's education. I beg to move.
§ Lord Alexander of Potterhill
I very much want to support the right reverend Prelate, especially on Amendment No. 214A. I suppose that I have longer experience of the education service than most members of the Committee. I spent 50 years of my life in the service. I have great experience of the reaction of parents. I remember a school with 1,600 pupils calling an important parents' meeting. Twenty-five attended. The most recent survey of attendance at parents' meetings in the schools of our country showed an average of 16 per cent. Members of the Committee should combine that knowledge with the intention of the Bill and ask how many more would vote and would take the trouble to attend an important meeting of parents. I can find no evidence that the figure would exceed 50 per cent. anywhere. Therefore I very much hope that the Committee will accept Amendment No. 214A.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
The right reverend Prelate has already mentioned the various other percentages that are required for ballots in other walks of life. He mentioned the majority required for council house tenants to move out of local authority control. He mentioned the change in company law, requiring 75 per cent. The Building Societies Act 1986 requires a 50 per cent. majority of shareholders not weighted by their shareholding to support a contested merger.
Those are interesting percentages for different purposes but the most important consideration in my mind is that this is a constitutional change in the nature and method of the governance of a school. I was recently involved in various prolonged arguments about changing the constitution of the party to which I belong. But I know of no arrangements to change the constitution of a body that require less than a 50 per cent. majority of those entitled to vote or possibly a further requirement of a two-thirds majority of those voting. We are talking about a constitutional change. This is the essential 1228 difference in this type of ballot and other types of ballot.
In Standing Committee in another place the Secretary of State, Mr. Baker, referred to the referendum on Europe. He said correctly that this had required only a simple majority. The essential difference is that a referendum is a consultative exercise and is not binding on Parliament. A vote taken by parents on this issue would be binding. There is an essential difference between a referendum and a binding vote for the changing of the constitution of a school.
In Standing Committee J the Secretary of State advanced a further argument which I did not find convincing. He said:If a small and unrepresentative group of parents was behind the proposal, there would be powerful objections from the local community which would weigh heavily in the Secretary of State's decision".If that is the case, why not avoid the necessity of making the difficult and invidious decision that would be placed on the Secretary of State's doorstep by a rather small and unconvincing ballot of parents, albeit that there was a majority of those voting to take the school out of the maintained sector? I cannot understand why the Secretary of State should wish to put himself in the position of having to make invidious decisions on the basis of a small ballot. Surely the Secretary of State should be making his decision in the confidence that a clear majority of the community want the change to take place.
On those grounds—and I am sure there are many others—I put my name to the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. The Secretary of State coined this rather colourful phrase "fancy franchise", which the right reverend Prelate mentioned, as a way of condemning anything other than the simple majority. However, I think that all the arguments put forward by the right reverend Prelate, and I hope by me, show that this is not a fancy franchise. It is a minimum franchise for a constitutional decision. That is the point behind the amendment and I hope the Committee will support it.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
It seems to me that there is a singular difference between the two halves of the noble Lord's argument. He talked about a constitutional change as though the vote of the parents is the final settlement of the issue. Then he went on to expatiate on what is more important—the role of the Secretary of State in considering, among other things, when asked to make such a decision what the voting of the parents had been. It is important to remember that this initial ballot—by whatever majority and out of whatever proportion—is a triggering instrument for a process that is likely, as the noble Lord said, to take considerable time and bring other voices into its consideration.
If such a display of parental feeling fell short of what might be thought conclusive evidence the Secretary of State might say that it was not good enough. On the other hand, even a ballot of that kind would surely have the great merit of showing to the local authority concerned that at least a considerable number of parents were dissatisfied, and the opting- 1229 out procedure would be fulfilling what I believe to be its main purpose of bringing pressure on some local authorities to mend their ways.
§ Baroness Seear
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is skilful at defending the indefensible. He is underlining the fact that the powers of the Secretary of State in this matter are once again very considerable and that there is a greater concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State than many of us are prepared to accept. It has been denied that the Bill gives more powers to the Secretary of State. This is a good example of the way in which it does.
I do not wish to detain the Committee but I want to underline one point made by the right reverend Prelate. Once taken, this decision is irreversible. Some of us will try later to alter that. We may or may not be successful. A school can be taken out of local authority control, but however much it wishes later with the evidence and experience of what has happened to reverse that decision, it is not able to do so. Surely an irreversible decision should be taken only if there is overwhelming support by parents that it should be done.
§ Baroness Young
If we return to the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London when he moved the amendment, I think it would clarify the position. He said that he was only concerned with the voting of parents. It is most important to consider all the stages which, as I understand it, must be gone through before a school can become a grant-maintained school.
My noble friend Lord Beloff touched on some of the difficulties in this connection. As I understand it, it must be a joint decision of the parents and of the governors, and that the governors must then make detailed statutory proposals for consideration by the Secretary of State. Further, that all interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on the outcome of such considerations before anything happens and before a decision is taken. Therefore, the process must pass through many stages of careful consideration before the school can become a grant-maintained school. The main principle behind the two amendments is a great concern about the whole concept of a grant-maintained school.
However, if one considers what might trigger parents off to decide to take up the option, it should at least cause the local education authority to consider why people want grant-maintained schools. When I consider the position, based on the schools that I have looked at which might conceivably wish to take up the option, it seems to me that such schools are more likely to want to become grant-maintained schools if the school, the parents and the governors are concerned about the proposals for the possible change in the character of the school; its possible closure; and possibly about its amalgamation with another school. Those are all issues which in my experience have motivated parents to be so active in wanting to maintain their school as they perceive it to be.
Although the right reverend Prelate said that parents of children in the top classes would not really 1230 count because their children would not be involved, the truth of the matter is that many schools have a considerable following of old members who have always supported them and who would, no doubt, again rally to their support. The parents would do likewise because they would want to maintain the school for subsequent generations. Therefore one cannot say that that constitutes a minority of parents.
The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, quoted the example of the annual meetings. I share his view. It is most disappointing when one realises how many annual meetings have been so badly attended. However, one never quite knows how much notice was given or how much effort was made to ensure that people attended. Therefore until one has all the evidence on that point one could not write off parents as not having properly fulfilled their duties by attending the meeting, any more than one should write off the publication of information about schools because, sadly, only one-third of parents—if this is the case—take the trouble to visit schools. The whole emphasis of the matter is to achieve greater parental involvement; all the emphasis must be on the provision of better information about schools, meetings and other such matters. If, at the end of all this, parents are not interested—if that is indeed the argument—and they decide to vote on the matter, then something is seriously amiss. The whole grant-maintained provision merely provides another alternative for parents to express their views. I understand why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made these proposals.
§ Lord Glenamara
The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, described his experience, going back 50 years to the time when he was a distinguished director of education in a large city authority. I should like to tell the Committee of my experience, although it was admittedly 40 years ago. I count mothers and fathers separately. Incidentally, I must ask: do mothers and fathers each receive a vote? If that is so, is that not unfair to single-parent families of whom there are many these days? However, counting mothers and fathers separately, if I received 10 per cent. of parents at a meeting—I held a meeting once a month—it was a mass meeting; if 5 per cent. attended, I regarded it as a very good meeting.
Further, my wife has been a headmistress much more recently than that. She tells me that it is even more difficult now. People who have fought elections and tried to hold political meetings know that television has changed attendances at any meeting. In fact, there are only two nights a week when one can hold a meeting. For example, Mondays and Wednesdays are out because of "Coronation Street"; Wednesdays are out because of "Dallas"; and Fridays are also out because of "Dynasty".
§ Lord Glenamara
I do not count "Eastenders" because to me that belongs to an alien part of the country—although, I suppose, that makes the situation even worse. However, in all seriousness, I feel that something along the lines proposed in the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate is essential if the process is to be carried out fairly.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
I shall try to reply to one or two of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It is correct to say that behind the amendment lies a deep concern about the whole principle of opting out and grant-maintained schools. It would of course be difficult to deny that fact. Yet, the fact of the matter is that, presumably, a great majority of members of the Committee have accepted that that is the intention of the other place. Somehow it must be made as effective as possible if it is to succeed.
The fact that the decision should be irreversible is vital. It is a decision about a school's future which will be taken at a certain point in time. We all accept that this is part of a considered process as outlined in the Bill. However, I was most unhappy with what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said. It seemed to me that he was almost saying that because the vote takes place in the initial stages it is not as serious as all that; it could even be represented as some kind of charade in view of what is to come later. However, it will be treated very seriously indeed, not least by the parents themselves who will have voted in the schools concerned. Therefore I believe that the terms upon which the response is set up, and what the ballot is to do, are absolutely vital.
On Second Reading, although I was not able to be here, I thought the noble Lord, Lord Bramall, put his finger right on the point when he said:we could face the prospect that these very parents, or worse, an unrepresentative and politically motivated minority of them (although a marginal majority of those who voted—and of course it could be politically motivated on either side), could set the school on a certain independent path from which subsequently there could be no turning back. Surely this House must try to ensure that there is a sounder basis for such an irrevocable and potentially damaging change".—[Official Report 18/4/88; col. 1259.]I think that is the main problem with which we are faced.
§ Baroness Young
I hope the right reverend Prelate will give way for one moment. Is he not himself confusing the two points: the one about the vote that triggers off the process, and the other being the whole process itself? The whole process itself will be far more than just the vote of the parents.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
No, I do not think I am confusing the issue at all. I have already said that we recognise that there is this process and that that is generally respected. I am saying that the initial vote is a most important one and therefore it should not be taken on a simple majority. One of the points which I think is difficult for us to recognise is that many parents find it hard to proceed on the basis of postal ballots; they do not live in that sort of world. This concept is very remote, if I may say so, from the kind of world which most of us inhabit. We must have as clear a perception as we possibly can as to what postal voting actually means to parents in inner-city schools, on large council estates or wherever they may live.
If we return to the original intention of the grant-maintained schools, and read what the Minister said at the outset of Second Reading, we will see that she said:But above all the provisions for grant-maintained schools in Chapter IV offer parents and governors who are not satisfied with the 1232 service offered by their local authority, an effective alternative at no extra cost to themselves."—[Official Report 18/4/88; col. 1215.]Well, standards of local authorities come and go; they change. No one will deny that there are cases where local education authorities fall down on the job and that there is some dissatisfaction. Surely it is the duty of this Chamber to recognise that the dissastisfaction expressed by some parents is of such a level that it cannot be ignored. That is why a simple majority should not be maintained. We need a majority of all the parents who are eligible, as indicated by the amendment.
Perhaps I may make a further point. One difficulty that worries a great many people who are much better educationally informed than I am is that education is a co-operative venture across a very wide field. It is not only the individual parents who are concerned; it is not only the individual school which is concerned. We are concerned with education provisions which affect a very wide area, and decisions made by one school may well affect other schools or education provision in general. Surely those sorts of considerations also ought to be thought about carefully by parents. The difficulty is getting them to think beyond the immediate future. I believe that making the hoop a little more difficult to get through would help to ensure that.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
I doubt whether I shall put my finger on the point again, as the right reverend Prelate so kindly suggested. I was going to apologise to the Minister for rather straying off my subject expertise. However, I understand that my erstwhile colleague, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, may be dealing with the amendments on grant-maintained schools and opting out; therefore I do not feel quite so embarrassed.
When I spoke on the Second Reading of the Bill I expressed considerable apprehension about the opting out proposals on three main counts. I should like quickly to mention them in relation to the amendment: first, on the machinery with which the amendment deals for bringing about grant-maintained schools; secondly, on the subsequent financial arrangements for these schools, should they take the irrevocable step; and finally what would happen to the remaining schools in the system if individual schools were encouraged and able to negotiate the considerable hurdles of opting out. All these have a bearing on the desirability, necessity and practicability of opting out and therefore on how easy or difficult one makes the arrangements in the first place.
As regards this point in the amendment, it seems to me inconceivable that such an important step in the life of a school should be taken without widespread, and manifestly widespread, parental and other support. Bearing in mind that parents with children at school would in any case be committing parents with children not yet at school, the very least that would suffice, to be at all convincing and credible, would be a clear majority of all the current parents and not a simple majority of those voting.
As the Conservative Education Association itself so aptly puts it, in favouring (as I do) such a change in the ballot arrangements, any school that cannot 1233 get a majority of its parents to do something as simple as putting a cross on a ballot paper and posting it, would not have the necessary support to sustain it over a period of time, once it became independent of its local education authority. I therefore most earnestly hope that the Government will consider accepting this amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
I am sorry not to see the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in his place but is he not, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, asking us to forget the policy objectives of the Bill? Very senior Ministers, indeed the Prime Minister herself, have made it clear that one of the central thrusts of the Bill is that the Government wish to see as many schools as possible contract out. That is why the Secretary of State has to say that he thinks that a great number of schools will contract out and that is why the figures are so low. This is the central thrust of the Bill.
Why should we believe that if majorities are passed as specified in the Bill, and if this is the central aim of the Bill, the Government will not take it any further?
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
I was surprised to hear that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement is to reply to this debate. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has already fled the field. The Minister is present but is apparently not training her guns on us for the moment and only the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is left to defend the indefensible.
I am bound to say that I am horrified at this proposal. If it were put forward in any other connection—in relation to public companies' prospects, and certainly in relation to trade unions—can we not imagine the formulations that would come from the Benches opposite about a proposition of this enormity? I say to the Government, as I have said in the past, that there are good things about the Bill, but this is not one which can be defended on any democratic grounds at all. I believe that it is impossible for anyone to put his heart into the defence, even though his intellect may enable him to construct one or two rather weaker arguments for its purpose.
Let me put this to the Minister who is to reply. The Government try to have it on both grounds. First, they say, "We shall give powers to the local community which they may take. We are giving them freedom, we are giving them greater powers". Then they say, "Ah, but if the local community gets it wrong, we have got a long stop because the Minister will come in. He will be able to assess much more correctly, in the light of further information, what is the real view of the parents and what is the degree of dissatisfaction".
Let us take that step by step. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, says, "Yes, but if even a minority of parents is dissatisfied and expresses its dissatisfaction in that way, the Minister clearly has a signal hoisted which enables him to say that he is aware of the dissatisfaction, and as he is there he will be able to express it thoroughly". Let us carry that argument one step further. If a small minority of parents is capable of alarming the Minister in this way, how much more alarmed would he be, and how much 1234 more likely would it be that he was correct to be alarmed, if a majority were to express itself in this way? The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is on a totally intellectual hobbyhorse when he argues that it is enough for a small minority of parents to express their dissatisfaction.
One argument has not been adduced. None of us in this House is elected by anybody, so far as I know, perhaps with the exception of the Bishops' Bench. Very few of us are elected and some of us have been elected more recently than others. One group which has clearly emerged over the past 20 years in the body politic is the minority single interest group. As I have constantly argued, that group is opposed to the cohesion of society in this country today. That group looks at things through a very narrow focus; it does not examine the body as a whole; it pursues only its own interest.
I should like to place my own experience before the Committee. I shall not go into details on how single interest groups can manipulate opinion in a way that was not known 30 or 40 years ago when I first entered politics. I am telling the Government that they are opening a Pandora's box here. Any single interest group can organise, get funds and then place itself in a position where it can organise a ballot and get a temporary majority. I have seen such temporary majorities obtained. I have seen them obtained in trade unions. But in all these cases—whether of local councillors in a ward or trade unions—these decisions are reversible. New ballots are taken. The decision can be changed. In this case, as the Bill stands, the decision cannot be changed. Once taken, the decision stands.
Let me put another point to the Government. Let us suppose that we have a Conservative Secretary of State for Education—because a great deal is placed upon him as a long stop—who is totally opposed to opting out. That is possible. The present theory may not stay for ever. Suppose a minority votes in favour and he says, "Oh no, because I can interpret the position much better than the local community, I am now going to use my powers to oppose this and to refuse to allow an opting out." Let me put the contrary. Suppose we have a Labour Secretary of State for Education—which I must say is much more likely to happen after the next election—who is very much in favour of opting out. He may take the same view. He may decide that, despite all these minority views, he is going to allow opting out, even at a time when we know that it is not the view of the parents.
There is too much power left to the Secretary of State in this connection. If the Government are to follow through their philosophy of giving power and freedom to the local community, and if they are really to exert it, they should say that they wish to have a vote by the majority of people in the local community. That is really the only way in which this proposition is at all defensible.
For myself, I am not very much in favour of opting out. I express my prejudice quite clearly. But having expressed that prejudice let us at least say that if we are going to give this power to the local community it should be a real power. We must avoid the problems that the Government may well run into where well organised minority groups with particular views twist local opinion and break up a community.
1235 There are very few occasions on which this Chamber is entitled to set its opinion against that of another place, but I believe that on a matter of this kind in which we have all been inundated with correspondence from all over the country, from governors, from headmasters, headmistresses, parents and pretty well everybody representing local opinion, this Chamber is entitled to ask another place to think again on this matter.
§ Lord Monson
As somebody who at three o'clock this morning was hit in no uncertain fashion by the malady which has afflicted so many Members of the Committee over the past few days, I was not intending to speak to this amendment. But may I just point out that when Scottish devolution was being debated a few years ago the Conservative Party was almost unanimous in supporting the amendment moved by, I believe it was, the honourable Member for West Lothian, which stipulated a much larger majority than a simple majority of those voting before devolution could take place. Surely the analogy between the two situations is an extremely close one?
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
If the noble Lord will permit me to interrupt him, I must say that the final decision in that case, as in these other cases, rested with Parliament. In the case that the noble Lord mentioned the decision was to be taken by Parliament. The vote was to be an advisory one. They had to secure a certain majority, but at the end of the day it was for Parliament to take the decision. That is not so in this case.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
Before the Minister replies I wish to take up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that this is in fact one element in a process. Of course she is perfectly correct in saying that, but we are debating the point of the parental ballot before we are debating the vote on the board of governors as to whether the process shall be initiated.
As the Bill is written at the moment, the requirement on the board of governors to initiate the process of calling a parental ballot is again by a simple majority. So in fact what we are faced with in the Bill as it stands is not only a weak requirement for the parental ballot, but an extremely weak requirement for the trigger mechanism in the governing body.
If we had a strong parental ballot perhaps we could accept a lower governmental trigger mechanism or vice versa; but what we have are two very easy hoops through which to jump, and we cannot accept this.
§ Baroness David
I think that the case has been made so well for the amendment of the right reverend Prelate that I really need say nothing myself. However, I would say that I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, although he has now gone, made 1236 rather a poor effort to speak against it. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, made a slightly better effort but it was still a very poor one, and it has been dealt with, too. I only wish to say therefore that we from these Benches will be supporting the right reverend Prelate.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
Before the Minister replies, I should like to join my noble friends Lord Beloff and Lady Young and defend not the indefensible but I believe the defensible. Much has been made about the objectives of this Bill, and I think that the reference made by at least one Member of the Committee was that the objective was that all our schools, or as many as possible of them, should contract out.
The objective of the Bill is in fact to place some power in the hands of parents to make decisions about their children. The powers of the Secretary of State have been much talked about in this debate. I believe it is appropriate that that is where the power should lie. When a school is going to be closed—and I have been on the painful end of trying to do that in a local authority—I have always argued, even if I have agreed with the proposals that the school should close, that it is absolutely right that having gone through all the processes at a local level somebody at government level should be the final arbiter. There should be a final arbiter to consider everything that is to be taken into account.
In the case of this particular proposal that includes not only the results of a ballot however many people in a school vote, but also the views and representations from governing bodies, from the local community, from those people who do not believe it is a good idea, from those who do believe it is a good idea, from the staff and others involved. All of those factors are taken into account.
As has been said by my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Beloff, this is a very small part of the process. It is the initial part of the process. There is not a single school in the land that simply sends out an envelope and asks parents whether they want to vote on the future of their school. Something has to lead up to that action. A number of parents have to get together to decide that it would be a good idea if, for various reasons, the school were to follow the road of grant maintained status.
I think it is unfortunate that we have only talked about the negative reasons for opting out. On Second Reading I said that I believed that there were two reasons for opting out. One of course is negative, and I believe that we should be thinking very seriously about those people for whom the opting out proposals and the power to do this is an absolute lifeline. One has only to think of the limited powers of the Secretary of State in the Maureen McGoldrick affair to believe that this is a very important power for parents.
But there is the other positive reason for opting out. Why should a school that is able to manage itself well, look after its budget well as it will be given powers to so do under the proposals of this Bill, which has a good relationship with its local authority and its parents and which has a fine governing body, not be allowed to exercise that power if it feels able to 1237 go it alone? Why should it not be able to request that the Secretary of State considers the school for opting out?
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about opting out, as though, somehow or other once grant maintained status occurs without the umbrella of the local authority the world will fall apart for that school. But the teachers are still there, the children are still there, the school is still there, the buildings are still there, the resources are there and indeed all the requirements of the national curriculum and the requirements of this Bill are also still there. That school is still accountable to the Government and to the inspectorate for the way in which it conducts its affairs.
There is no compulsion to opt out. A school does not have to opt out. But I wish to come straight back to the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate about a minority of parents. If for example a number of parents have decided that they would like to be considered for grant maintained status and a secret ballot is called, and the case as regards opting out is put to the parents, it is my view that if a majority of the parents simply do not even bother to send back the envelope saying that they have a view one way or the other, that also says something about the school. That is a very important decision. Going back again to first-hand practical experience of considering a school for amalgamation—
§ Baroness Blatch
I am speaking precisely to the amendment. I am speaking about the effect of a minority of parents initiating the process for opting out. I am also talking about the majority, who have been referred to many times in this debate. I am simply saying that if the majority show such a degree of apathy that they do not take part in that vote, that also says something about the school.
If a request went to the Secretary of State, it having been asked for by a minority of parents and where the majority of parents have no view one way or the other as regards the future of that school, at least the Secretary of State would take a long hard look at that school. Only if that silent majority were motivated in some way to defend the continuance of that school in the system would the Secretary of State also take their views into account. As I believe that this is the start of a process and not the end of a process, and because I believe that parents will get involved in such a decision, this proposal certainly has my support.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)
I shall deal very briefly with Amendment No. 202C which I hope I can persuade the right reverend Prelate is in fact unnecessary. No school may become grant maintained unless it has followed all the procedures set out in Clauses 50 to 52 of the Bill. These culminate in the making of a formal proposal to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State which he may approve or reject. Only if he approves the proposal will the school become grant maintained. His duty in Clause 42(1) of the Bill 1238 extends only so far as to maintain grant-maintained schools. With respect, the amendment is tautological, and I hope that the right reverend Prelate, on reflection, will see that that is so.
Turning to Amendment No. 214A—
§ Lord Peston
Perhaps I may interrupt the Minister for a moment. My understanding of the word "tautological" is that it means self-evidently right. Did the Minister mean to say "tautological"?
§ Lord Trefgarne
What more can I say, other than to underline the observation which was made from a sedentary position from the Privy Counsellors' Bench on my right.
Turning to Amendment No. 214A, which was moved by the right reverend Prelate, the arguments on that are almost identical to those on Amendment No. 214, which stands in the name of other Members of the Committee. Amendment No. 214A relates to the procedure by which a school may become grant maintained. It suggests that a ballot of parents should be valid only where a simple majority of parents eligible to vote are in favour of seeking grant-maintained status. If I have understood the amendment correctly, it requires that where there are, say, 1,000 parents on the electoral roll, at least 501 must be in favour. I believe that that is a tall order, even given the high turnout which one would expect to see in a ballot of that kind.
§ Baroness Seear
The noble Lord will not have forgotten that that was obtained in the London parents ballot.
§ Lord Trefgarne
That was not a ballot of the kind which is envisaged under the Bill. If 800 parents vote—that would be a very respectable turnout—at least 501 of them must still be in favour. To take my example further, 499 of the 800 parents could be in favour, and yet the application would not go forward. I fear that that would lead to discord and disputes about whether one or two names on the admissions register should or should not have been there. Parents will not be able to understand why a proposal which had such strong support is not even to be considered by the Secretary of State. They may begin compaigning immediately for a further ballot to be held the following year. That cannot be good for the stability of the school community. It would be better to have the issue out there and then.
I have listened carefully to the arguments which have been put forward today. I recognise that there are concerns over the ballot. However, the Government believe that those concerns are exaggerated and that the proposed remedies would themselves introduce new dangers and difficulties. A simple majority of voters is a straightforward and widely understood concept. It is the only approach which is difficult to dispute because it underlies so many of our existing democratic procedures.
The main burden of my argument is that the amendments seek to tackle a problem which does not really exist. The minutiae of balloting procedures can 1239 sometimes lead us to lose our sense of proportion. Proponents of these amendments have painted a chilling picture of a very small, unrepresentative and perhaps even dangerous group of parents smuggling an application for grant-maintained status through to fruition, taking advantage of the apathy of the vast majority of the parent body. I find it extremely difficult to take that prospect seriously, however committed and cunning such hypothetical parents may be. Let me spell out how the process will work.
At the very beginning of the process set out in Clauses 50 to 52 of the Bill, such parents will have to mount a petition in order to force the governors to hold a ballot of all parents. They will have to obtain the signatures of a significant number of parents for that petition to be valid. Such a petition will trigger the formal notification of the local education authority and the school's trustees, if any. They are unlikely to stand idly by and to keep quiet if they believe that the parents concerned are unrepresentative or dangerous.
The governors must then hold a secret postal ballot in the course of which they are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that those claiming parental rights in respect of the pupils get a vote. All voters will receive with their ballot papers factual information to enable them to form a judgment on the proposition.
Around three-quarters of adults vote in general elections. They have to leave their homes, often in foul weather and often to travel some distance, to cast their votes at the appointed time and place. All parents have to do in such a ballot as this is to mark their ballot paper and put it in the letterbox the next time they go out. Are Members of the Committee really suggesting that most parents will instead simply throw them into the wastepaper basket? I simply do not believe it.
I adduce one further piece of evidence to support the Government's belief that parental apathy is highly unlikely. This Committee boasts seven former Ministers and Secretaries of State for Education. Each of them will, in his time, have had the sad task of agreeing to the closure or reorganisation of a school. I call it a sad task because, however justified in educational or economic terms that closure or reorganisation may be, it is almost always very plain that a substantial number of parents, pupils, staff and other members of the local community have invested a huge amount of time, energy and commitment—I might almost call it love—in that school over the years. Past and present Ministers will know only too well that in those circumstances the parents have no hesitation whatsoever in making their views known loud and clear about what is being proposed.
That is why both local education authorities and the Department of Education in turn themselves invest a good deal of care and thoughtfulness in formulating and considering each such proposal. I believe that the parallels with consideration of the proposition that a particular school should become grant maintained are self-evident.
In a ballot on grant-maintained status the vast majority of parents will similarly have strong views one way or the other and will be keen to express them. 1240 They will campaign for their point of view in the run-up to the ballot, as will others no doubt. They will do their utmost to ensure that friends and neighbours with children at the school also cast their vote when the time comes. If the ballot supports an application, they will make their views known in commenting on the formal proposal which comes forward to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The procedures in the Bill offer a whole series of opportunities for parents to make their views known. The ballot itself is central to those opportunities, but it is by no means alone.
But just for a moment let me assume for the sake of argument that a very small number of parents vote in the ballot and of those a very small majority favour the making of an application. What would happen then? My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that he will determine each proposal on its merits, taking all relevant factors into account. The formal proposal itself will tell him how many parents voted for and against the proposition in the ballot. One important factor for the Secretary of State will obviously be the extent to which the parents have demonstrated a commitment to grant-maintained status for their children's school, because their interest in and influence over that school will be crucial to its success. I find it very unlikely that my right honourable friend would approve such an application where he was not persuaded that the parent body was sufficiently behind it.
I believe that what I have said makes it clear that the Government do not believe these amendments to be necessary or desirable. They attempt to apply a spurious mathematical precision to what must essentially be a question of judgment. At the same time they complicate a process which should be as simple and straightforward as possible in order to tackle a problem which I do not believe to be a real one. The concept of a simple majority of those voting is clear and widely understood. I expect parents to be keen to make their views known.
In any case, the ballot itself is not decisive. A supportive parental vote is necessary but not sufficient to a successful application, and the Secretary of State will be able to take a broader view of where the balance of the argument lies in considering the subsequent proposal.
If Members of the Committee are genuinely concerned about a group of fanatics silently stealing a school away in the night, and not merely seeking to put additional obstacles in the path of eager but responsible parents, I can assure them that all the safeguards necessary are already in place. I strongly urge the Committee to reject the amendments.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
It will not come as a surprise to the Committee to know that I am very disappointed with the answer which we have just received from the Minister. I find it extraordinary that on what seems to be such a straightforward matter we should have had such a barrage trying to convince us that we are all wrong.
I should like to make one or two remarks. I shall not be able to move Amendment No. 214 for a little while but I hope that the Committee will hold all 1241 these points in mind and not let them escape before the time comes to vote, if that is necessary.
First, the Minister says that this is a problem that does not exist. It does exist. Anybody who knows schools, school governors and the way our small towns operate will know that it is a problem. The Minister says that we have lost our sense of proportion. I do not think that I have lost mine. I think that I am seeing this matter with a singularly clear sense of proportion and seeing what really is at issue.
I speak for the moment for the Church of England and in a sense from my experience as chairman of our Board of Education. There are aspects of this Bill that we have made very clear that we do not like. We have not sought to wreck it; we have not sought to be in total opposition to it. We have sought to work with the Government to see what can be done. We are very grateful for what has been achieved by careful, honest and long negotiation. It is not as though we have taken an ideological stance against anything in the Bill.
I accept, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester says, that there are those in the Church of England who are deeply worried about grant-maintained schools. However, I should like to point out that in such documents that we produced to the Church of England and in our debate in General Synod we did not take a single stand on this matter. We recognise that there is a difference of opinion.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggested that my requirement for this amendment was somehow based upon a dislike of grant-maintained schools. Frankly, I have an open mind on grant-maintained schools. In some cases they may be right and necessary and in other cases they may not be. I do not have a doctrinaire view of this matter. I view the issue which we are discussing today as something quite independent of grant-maintained schools for the reasons that have been set out in the debate.
I could not understand the Minister's argument at one point. He said that people would go out to vote in inclement weather and he then said how much easier it would be in the case of the ballot because they would have a nice paper in their warm home. In that case, why on earth should we not expect a much higher turnout? Why on earth should we not press for a higher vote to be required?
I should like to make three brief points. The first is that there is a fundamental difference here in that, whatever may be said about the process—I entirely accept that—it is an irreversible vote which sets the process in motion. That gives it a significance which none of the other elements in the process has.
Secondly, although I did not mention this earlier, I should like to stress that I have had support for this amendment from an enormously wide range of educationists, teachers, administrators and both parties. This is not a one-party or one-attitude amendment. I believe it expresses a deeply held concern.
The last point I should like to make is that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, misquoted me by saying that I said that the parents did not count. That 1242 is precisely my objection; under the Government's proposals the people who did not vote would not count, and they would be ignored. There is no requirement in the Bill as it stands. The Minister said that the Secretary of State would take into account the percentage of those who had voted against. No mention was made of the percentage who are actually voting and no account is taken of those who, for one reason or another, some of which may be good or bad, do not take part in the vote. I believe that it is essential that the number who can vote should be known and passed to the Secretary of State and that the percentage of those who voted should also he recorded.
I wish of course that I could move this amendment now, but I am not allowed to do so. We have to deal with Amendment No. 202C first, and then perhaps later I may move Amendment No. 214.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 202C) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 141; Not-Contents, 122.1244
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Alexander of Potterhill, L.||Gifford, L.|
|Alport, L.||Glenamara, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Gloucester, Bp.|
|Ardwick, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Gregson, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Grey, E.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Grimond, L.|
|Basnett, L.||Guildford, Bp.|
|Birk, B.||Halsbury, E.|
|Blackstone, B.||Hampton, L.|
|Blease, L.||Hankey, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hart of South Lanark, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Bramall, L.||Hayter, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Hereford, Bp.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Hirshfield, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Hutchinson of Lullington, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Callaghan of Cardiff, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Jay, L.|
|Canterbury, Abp.||Jeger, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Lawrence, L.|
|David, B.||Leatherland, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Denington, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Diamond, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||London, Bp. [Teller.]|
|Edmund-Davies, L.||Longford, E.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Ennals, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||McNair, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Falkland, V.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Mayhew, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Milford, L.|
|Flowers, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Foot, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Monkswell, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Monson, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Morton of Shuna, L.||Somers, L.|
|Mulley, L.||Soper, L.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Southwark, Bp.|
|Nicol, B.||Stallard, L.|
|Oram, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Paget of Northampton, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Peston, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Swann, L.|
|Rathcreedan, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Rea, L.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Reilly, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Robson of Kiddington, B.||Walston, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Sainsbury, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.||White, B.|
|Scanlon, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Seear, B.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Seebohm, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Hesketh, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Hives, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hood, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Bauer, L.||Ilchester, E.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lindsay, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Long, V.|
|Benson, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Luke, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Manchester, D.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Braye, B.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Milne, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Morris, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Nairne, Ly.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Newall, L.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Coleraine, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Colwyn, L.||Pender, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Pym, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Cox, B.||Reay, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Reigate, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Rodney, L.|
|Dormer, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Saint Levan, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Faithfull, B.||Sharples, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Ferrier, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Southborough, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Gridley, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Haig, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Havers, L.||Trafford, L.|
|Henley, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Tweedsmuir, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.||Young, B.|
|Westbury, L.||Young of Graffham, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.44 p.m.
Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 203:
Page 36, line 43, after ("voluntary") insert ("or special").
§ The noble Baroness said: In speaking to Amendment No. 203 I shall also speak to Amendment No. 204 because both endeavour to extend the principle of opting out to types of school not covered in the Bill at present. Perhaps I may emphasise that these are only enabling powers: no school in either category would need ever to consider opting out if it did not wish to do so.
§ Amendment No. 203 would extend the opportunity to apply for grant-maintained status to special schools. That is desirable because at present the clause as it stands does not permit special schools to opt out of local authority control even should they wish to do so. It seems that there is no good reason in principle why they should be denied that freedom, which is available to schools and parents of children who do not have special needs.
It is perhaps particularly important for some special schools to have the opportunity to opt out because it could be a life saver. In some local education authorities some schools may come under threat of closure at some time in the future. For example, in July 1985 Leeds City Council Education Committee stated in its interim report of a working party on special education:
It is the working party's view that the authority should adopt a policy for the long term which has as its ultimate aim the closure of all special schools and the full integration of all pupils with special educational needs into mainstream schools".
In September 1985 the Education Committee reaffirmed its commitment to that aim.
In London in 1986 the Fish report, initially accepted by the Inner London Education Authority, had as its central recommendation:
that the authority adopt a policy which aims to meet all children and young people's special educational needs within nursery, primary and secondary schools and colleges".
Many parents were horrified at the idea of losing their special schools and fought long and hard to encourage ILEA to modify its plans. This to some extent it eventually did but it was not an easy battle. There are about 6,000 children in ILEA special schools and about 12,000 people signed a petition demanding that special schools be saved. Yet last November ILEA was still arguing for implementation of the Fish report recommendations over the long term.
§ Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that it is widely recognised that ILEA has until now had an excellent, indeed an admirable, record of provision for children with special needs. I am not in any way casting aspersions on the record of ILEA in this field until now. It is the future for which one is trying to plan and prepare.
§ It is sometimes said that special schools could not manage without the wealth of support services 1245 provided by their local authority such as educational psychologists and therapists of many kinds. However, there is no reason why they should not be able to buy in those services in the same way as other opted-out or grant-maintained schools could do.
§ It is important to emphasise that the Secretary of State would still retain the right to approve or reject any application for grant-maintained status. He could therefore reject an application from a special school if he thought that it would be in the best interests of the children and of special education to do so.
§ Therefore I would argue that the Bill should permit special schools the freedom to apply to opt out just like any other maintained school. There is no reason that I can see why schools and parents of children with special needs should be discriminated against, as they are effectively at the moment, in the Bill in this way.
§ I turn very briefly to Amendment No. 204. Its purpose is to extend to smaller primary schools the opportunity to apply for grant-maintained status. As it now stands the clause does not permit primary schools with fewer than 200 pupils to apply for grant-maintained status. This means that most primary schools—in fact, around 70 per cent. of the total—will be unable to opt out of local authority control and become grant-maintained schools even should they wish to do so. The effect of the amendment would be to remove that restriction in subsection (6) from the Bill.
§ I suggest there are five lines of argument which support the amendment. First, many small schools, especially village schools, which may be under threat of closure, but also some small urban schools, would welcome the opportunity to apply for grant-maintained status and thus retain the freedom to control their own future. Secondly, small schools are simpler to run than large schools and are therefore intrinsically more suited perhaps to taking on the responsibilities associated with grant-maintained status. Thirdly, recent research by the National Foundation for Education Research has shown that small schools, and small primary schools in particular, are educationally very effective. There is therefore no reason why they should be deemed inappropriate to develop as grant-maintained schools when they think that this would better serve their educational interests. Fourthly, experience abroad, especially in the Netherlands, has shown that large numbers of grant-maintained, small primary schools are both feasible and popular. Schools operating in that way have been in existence there for decades. Finally, 300 seems an arbitrary number. There will therefore be many borderline cases and schools could move in and out of the eligibility criterion as rolls fluctuate from year to year.
§ My final point is that in this case too the Secretary of State will retain the power to reject any particular application that he considers inappropriate. In summary, I see no good reason why the freedom to apply for grant-maintained status should be denied to smaller primary schools and many good reasons why they should be given that freedom. I conclude by reminding the Committee that for some special 1246 schools and primary schools this may be a lifeline without which they could not survive. I beg to move.
§ Lord Charteris of Amisfield
I rise to support this amendment. First, however, I must apologise to the Committee because I shall not be able to stay very long. I am supposed to be in Cambridge in about 55 minutes, so I shall have to hurry.
Perhaps I may say right at the beginning that I make no claim to be an expert in this matter. However, I confess my interest in it because I have a grandchild who is a Down's Syndrome child. I therefore know something about how parents feel in such circumstances. My grand-daughter has had very happy experiences in special schools. She started in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee School, which was an ILEA maintained school, and is now at the Rudolf Steiner/Camphill School near Ringwood. From her experiences I appreciate the value of such special schools.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, the 1981 Education Act changed the atmosphere in regard to special schools. The noble Baroness also told us the views of the Leeds local authority. Everyone agrees that handicapped children have to be integrated into schools and that the schools must be able to look after them in a way which will not interfere with the pupils already there. That is all very sensible and reasonable. I believe however that there is a danger of mixing up the thoroughly proper sentiment that handicapped children should have equal—by which I mean "just as good"—opportunities with the belief that the opportunities must be the same.
I do not question the motives of those who wish to phase out all special schools and meet the needs of handicapped children through ordinary schools. I know that such an aim would be extremely welcome to many parents, but I also know that many other parents would view it as extremely unwelcome. What is of most importance is that the needs of the individual child should be met as far as possible—and those needs can be endlessly varied—and that the maximum choice for parents should be available without recourse to too much sociological theory. Above all one must regard the handicapped child—indeed, any child—with the eye of compassion and especially realism. Special schools and particularly the good ones must be supported and maintained. They should have the freedom of any other maintained school to be released from local authority control if there are good reasons for it. I support the amendment.
§ Baroness Faithfull
Parents of handicapped children must learn to be mature against fearful odds. They need to feel like other parents. If their rights are different from those of other parents then they are diminished. I support this amendment because it brings the parents of children who have special educational needs into line with the parents of other children.
§ Lord Thurlow
I should like to support very strongly Amendment No. 204 in favour of enabling small schools to opt out. I believe many Members of the Committee will share my dismay at the number of small schools that have been closed down for what 1247 were believed to be very good administrative reasons. In the 10 years up to 1986 that happened to 700 such small schools, a terribly large number. The Prime Minister has associated herself publicly with the educational value of small schools and at some stage most people have come into contact with excellent ones. This amendment would give local communities the opportunity to co-operate and take steps to enable serious consideration to be given to providing a status that would enable small schools under threat of closure to continue to be maintained.
The long stop of the Secretary of State's final word remains. If it is approved this amendment will not in any way prevent final and very careful consideration being given in instances where the administrative factors are too strong against continuation of maintained status. As the noble Baroness said, 300 pupils strikes some of us as being a very arbitrary line to draw between a school that deserves maintained status and one that does not. Therefore, I would ask the Committee to support the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 204.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, gave credit to the Prime Minister for having established the value of small schools. I should like to remind the Committee that it was when she was Secretary of State for Education and Science in the early 1970s that she introduced into Parliament a statute which required that the education of mentally handicapped children and of others with special needs should be the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science and not of the Department of Health and Social Security, which it had previously been. She has a good record in this field, and I know this from personal experience.
I too should like to support Amendment No. 203. Amendment No. 204 raises a somewhat separate issue, and I should like to deal with Amendment No. 203 first. Before I do so let me just touch again on a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, when he referred to the way in which special schools vary in their quality, in the way in which they have been treated and in their attitude towards integration. There has been a great deal of confused thinking about integration. There are some special schools which would have done much better if the idea of integration had not been toyed with but instead they had got on with their job of providing the special education that the mentally handicapped need in such schools.
We all know that those schools vary tremendously. In ILEA there are some splendid ones and some not so good. There is the same pattern all over the country. But Amendment No. 203 moved by my noble friend Lady Cox is based upon an important principle. It is a broad and well-established principle, it is a fair one and it is one that the Government have accepted from the 1980 Act onward. It is that parents of children in special schools should, wherever relevant, have the same rights as parents of children in other schools. I do not see why that principle should be challenged, as it has been in this Bill.
I wish I could say that it seems to have been challenged inadvertently, but from the moment that 1248 the Bill was published the Government, for the first time in all these important years of legislation on mental handicap and special needs, have made it clear that they are not accepting the principle so far as this Bill is concerned. I am entitled to ask—and I ask my noble friend—the specific question, why have the Government changed their mind? What fair and logical reasons do they put before the Committee for treating special schools differently in this context?
Apart from that principle of course there are other reasons which have been well deployed (and which I need not repeat) for ensuring that there should be the opportunity for those special schools which are not giving a satisfactory performance or are not well-enough supported by the local education authority to be opted out, subject to all the rather stringent safeguards in this Bill, made more stringent as a result of the last Division.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
I too should like to support Amendment No. 203, and not for the reason of opting in or out but for another reason. Some time ago in your Lordships' House an amendment was passed to stop disabled people being allowed to buy their council houses. I cannot tell the Committee the unhappiness, the sadness, and the struggles that some of these disabled people have had. Even today I have received another letter from Bristol, which is one of many, and I have also received many telephone calls saying that these people have been put in a separate category and they are being discriminated against.
If any Members of the Committee wanted to buy their council house and they were not allowed to, would they not feel unfairly discriminated against just because they had a disablement? These people have families, and they want to leave something as security for their families. This is a similar argument. If you put these handicapped people and their parents in a separate category just because they are disabled, they are being segregated and are being discriminated against. That is the reason why I should like to support Amendment No. 203.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
For a period of nine years I was chairman of special schools in Birmingham, and therefore I have quite a large knowledge of special schools. I do not know any other part of the country, but I would have said that the special schools in Birmingham were providing an excellent service for children who would not get that kind of education if it was not provided by the local authority. Therefore it worries me that we have an amendment such as this. There might be some children who will be debarred from education because they will not be able to afford it when it is a school that has opted out. That is of great concern to me.
If we look at special schools, it is an expensive provision that has to be provided for these children. For the deaf and the partially deaf the classrooms are entirely different. They have the LINK system for listening. They have the two-way system, so that not only can the teacher speak to the child but the child can speak to another person in the classroom. There are all kinds of facilities for the deaf and partially deaf inside schools, and it is the same for the blind 1249 and partially sighted. Extremely expensive equipment has to be brought in.
Not only that but fully trained staff have to be provided, and fully trained staff are thin on the ground at the present moment. I would agree with the noble Lord that the integration that is supposed to have taken place since 1981 has muddled the provision inside special schools. But if we look at them, they have to be at strategic places and therefore one has to think of transport. When you think of special schools—and I know the situation in Birmingham—there are taxis going round picking up the children. It is an expensive form of transporting pupils but they have to get to school. If they are chairbound, if they cannot see, they have to be escorted. If they are not travelling in taxis they are being escorted by guides on public transport.
When we look at special schools we are also looking at the physiotherapists and the speech therapists. Do we not all know, because questions are raised frequently in this House, that there are not enough speech therapists? There are not enough speech therapists being trained. There are not enough physiotherapists. Unless you can employ physiotherapists privately that service has to be provided by the National Health Service on a pro rata basis as to how many hours you can have the nurses and therapists there.
Also in many of these schools there are hydrotherapy pools that have been bought by parents of children who have been going to these schools. To listen this afternoon one would think that all these schools are very small. I know schools in Birmingham where there will be 90 to 120 pupils.
§ Baroness Cox
I wonder whether the noble Baroness is confusing the amendments? One relates to special schools. It was a separate amendment that related to small schools, so I think there is a slight confusion there.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I apologise. I am concentrating on special schools.
I am concerned that the provisions should be available for all the children who need them. It is important that handicapped children recognise handicaps in other children so that they do not feel isolated because they have one particular form of disablement. This is psychologically good for pupils. I observe that the noble Baronesss, Lady Cox, is shaking her head. For eight years I was the chairman of Baskerville School—
§ Baroness Cox
I do not wish the noble Baroness to mis-understand why I am shaking my head. I fully agree with her about the special needs of children. I am shaking my head because I do not think that this relates to the question of whether a school may wish to apply to opt out into grant maintained status.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
With respect to the noble Baroness, I shall say what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, says: I shall come to the point in a moment.
1250 The parents of these children are perhaps not as vocal as some others. This is almost the same argument as that used in the previous debate. Some parents are more vocal than others. Certain handicaps that I know have special groups which feel that they ought to have separate and special schools. This discussion has always gone on. It goes on with educationists as to whether brain-damaged children should in some way be put into certain boxes or categories. If that is done, they will be split off from the benefits of the majority of children, and their opportunities will be lessened. For that reason, I shall not support the noble Baroness. The amendment is shortsighted. Only very vocal people who want to get somewhere very special will benefit.
I close by giving an example to the Committee of how people can use the system. When I was chairman of special schools in Birmingham—we prided ourselves on the type of schools we provided—the schools medical office brought before the committee two special cases to be considered. The parents had come to live in the city of Birmingham and so were moving from another local authority. The local authority and the special schools committee had to consider the special schools provision. At this itime children were classified as delicate. Perhaps I may tell the Committee—I do not exaggerate—that one of the pupils under consideration had been paid for by a local authority to go to Eton, and it wanted to pass the bill to us. The pupil was classified as delicate.
The second case was of a boy placed at Gordonstoun by a local authority in this country being passed up to Birmingham. He too was a delicate boy. I told the committee that I did not think that those schools had provision for delicate pupils. It was decided that I, the chief education officer and the school medical officer should make a visit to find out what facilities existed at Eton and Gordonstoun for delicate pupils. In both cases the school said that they had no facilities at all. The fact is that some local education authority had paid for them. Birmingham decided in the circumstances that there were no special facilities and at the end of the term we did not pay for them to continue at the schools.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Baroness David
One has some sympathy about special schools and what people may feel about them. I wish to ask the Minister a few questions. I should like to know what safeguards there will be for children in special schools if they opt out. There are at present tremendous support services from the local authorities, which would presumably have to be bought if the school opted out. A great many non-maintained special schools and independent schools deal with children who have special needs. The local authorities often pay the fees of such schools; but, when they do, I understand that the Department of Education and Science has to agree to it. There is therefore a safeguard that the children are being sent to schools where there is proper care and attention and the facilities that they need. What would be the safeguards if a special school opted out? This might be done without the parents and governing body having a great deal of knowledge, although one hopes that that would not be so.
1251 I turn briefly to Amendment No. 204 concerning primary schools. I wonder whether the amendment is necessary. Mrs. Rumbold said in Committee in another place:If a school had financial delegation and fewer than 300 pupils and if on its application to the Secretary of State he deemed the school to be satisfactory and able to operate the system, then the Secretary of State would use his power in Clause 41(7) to allow that school to opt out".I therefore wonder whether the amendment is necessary.
§ Baroness Hooper
The Government considered carefully the option of allowing special schools maintained by local educational authorities to be eligible to apply for grant-maintained status. However, we concluded that such a step would be inappropriate for several reasons. First, the prime objective of our proposals for grant-maintained schools is to increase the scope for parental choice, yet it often happens that the special school is the only one of its particular character for a very large area. I have to say to the noble Baroness that in this case I do not believe that greater parental choice would be the likely outcome.
Secondly, under the 1981 Act, local education authorities are charged with the responsibilities for making statements of special educational needs and for determining the school which a statemented child should attend. This is a very special reason why it would not be compatible with those responsibilities if the special school for the area in which the child lived was not under the control of the local education authority. It is possible that in these circumstances the local education authority might find it extremely difficult to place the child in a suitable school.
Thirdly, most maintained special schools could have considerable difficulty in taking on the responsibilities which grant-maintained status will bring. Many are very small; none currently exceed the 300 pupil level at which we have set eligibility for smaller primary schools, to which I shall turn in a moment. Only 13 maintained special schools have more than 200 pupils. It would not make sense for a tiny special school to be eligible for grant-maintained status while the rather larger primary school next door was not.
Fourthly, special schools vary widely in character depending on type of pupils admitted to them. This means that unit costs of these schools vary widely too. It would be difficult to calculate a budget for a special school that could be said genuinely to represent what the local authority would have spent on it. In practice, the DES would probably have to calculate individual budgets for each school concerned directly. The funding principle would be very different from that applied to primary or secondary schools.
Finally, the amendment as drafted would enable non-maintained special schools, as well as those maintained by local education authorities to apply for grant-maintained status. These are schools catering for special needs pupils, normally administered by major charities or by charitable trusts which have to conform to the same standards as LEA-maintained special schools. They receive 1252 their income from the fees which they charge for pupils placed at them. The Government do not think it is right that such schools, which lie outside the LEA-maintained system, should be able to become grant-maintained and thus receive grant from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
In response to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David, the Government do not believe that it is best for special schools to opt out. If legislation were to be drafted to permit them to opt out, it would be necessary to ensure that they could obtain access to the appropriate services and pay for them. That would affect the budget point to which I referred before.
I hope that my noble friend will accept that the Government have thought carefully about the issue but that they have a number of reasons for remaining unconvinced that the course of action she recommends would be either appropriate or practicable. I trust that in the light of that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment No. 204 would make the smaller primary schools immediately eligible to apply for grant-maintained status. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me if I suggest that in the amendment she is perhaps tempting the Government to run before they can walk. Let me make it absolutely clear that in time we fully intend to make available to every maintained school the option of seeking grant-maintained status if the parents so wish. But we believe it is only prudent to say that for some schools that time is not yet ripe.
Perhaps I should explain to the Committee the two reasons why we have initially restricted eligibility for grant-maintained status in the case of primary schools to those schools that have more than 300 pupils. First, managing a grant-maintained school will be a significant responsibility. There will be a need both for a sufficiently large pool of parents from which to draw the parent governors and, more generally, for sufficient parents who are committed to the grant-maintained concept to provide moral support. There will be significantly greater managerial responsibilities for the head teacher who, in some smaller schools, may have a teaching load as well. Some small primary schools may need to make a more gentle transition to autonomy than their larger neighbours.
Secondly, I must point out that there are nearly 18,000 primary schools with fewer than 300 pupils. That represents nearly three-quarters of all the schools in the country. At this stage we have no way of knowing how many schools might seek to take advantage of opting out of local authority control as soon as the Bill before us becomes law. We have therefore concluded that we must provide for some phasing of applications to ensure that each is carefully assessed. The most sensible approach is to start with the largest schools and phase in eligibility gradually as the concept of grant-maintained status becomes more familiar. Subsection (7) duly gives the Secretary of State the power to remove the 300-pupil restriction either gradually or at a stroke. In time, therefore, I expect the benefits which grant-maintained status can offer a school and its pupils to become a prospect for all.
1253 I hope that, in the light of these assurances my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Cox
I am most grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to the discussion and who have offered their support and clarified certain issues. I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for clarifying the Government's thinking, although I am not totally reassured or convinced by the arguments concerning special schools. I still believe that the amendment—perhaps not drafted perfectly at the moment, but something along those lines—would have been more just and more humane to parents and children with special educational needs. However, I recognise that the problems are immensely complex. I shall therefore consider extremely carefully all that has been said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 204 not moved.]
Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 204A:
Page 37, line 20, at end insert—
("(9) A voluntary school is not eligible for grant-maintained status for the purpose of this Chapter if notice of the governors' intention to discontinue the school has been served under section 14 of the 1944 Act and has not been withdrawn.").
§ The noble Baroness said: Subsection (8) of this clause provides that a county or voluntary school is ineligible to apply for grant-maintained status where proposals have been published by the local education authority under Section 12(1)(c) of the Education Act 1980 and approved by the Secretary of State or, where approval is not required, the local education authority has determined to implement them and notified the Secretary of State of its decision.
§ The amendment addresses similarly the alternative, and fairly uncommon, method of closing a voluntary school under Section 14 of the 1944 Act. This empowers the governors of such a school to give notice of their intention to discontinue the school on a given date at least two years ahead. Such notices are not always subject to the approval of the Secretary of State or the local education authority, although they may not be withdrawn without the local education authority's permission. The school therefore becomes ineligible to apply for grant-maintained status once the governors have served notice of their closure and remains ineligible unless notice is withdrawn. It is therefore in the interests of consistency that we propose the amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 42 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Baroness David
We wish to oppose Clause 42. This is the only opportunity to say that we do not like the principle of opting out. In spite of the recent vote where the ballot has certainly been made fairer than it was, it still seems to me all too easy for a school to apply to opt out. The parents of children coming into the school will have no say as the Bill stands at the moment. The parents of children who are just about 1254 to leave the school will have a say. A very few parents—20 per cent., unless we amend the Bill later—can trigger off the whole system, even if the governing body has decided not to do so. There is much that is unfair about the system still.
But the educational effects on the school and the surrounding area are the issues which perhaps worry us most. The school will become isolated. I worry about the local authority services it will lose: the inspection, the welfare services, and the careers services. The school might be able to buy them in, but it is surely very much easier to have services that are spread over the area by the local authority.
We are also concerned about the staff. It appears there is no consultation with the staff. They are moved from LEA status to grant-maintained status without having any opportunity to object. At Second Reading I said they were moved like luggage. That is how it appears to me. What will happen to contacts with other teachers in the area? What will happen to in-service training? I believe that opting out for grant-maintained schools poses all these problems.
If local financial managment is going well and has been delegated to the schools, surely the schools would have almost as much as they would have from grant-maintained status now and they would still have the benefit of those local authority services that I have mentioned. Whatever anybody may say, there is a danger that these schools could become selective. I know that they are not supposed to change their status for five years. But they can then, without the Secretary of State having to give his permission.
As for planning by local authorities, I see intense difficulties in reorganising the schools and trying to take out surplus places. It could be just when an authority is trying to reorganise its schools and make a sensible plan that a school that is perhaps to have its status changed—maybe its sixth form is to be taken away to enable a tertiary college or a sixth form college to be made— would choose to opt out so that it could keep itself as it is. That would make the planning for the whole area very difficult.
The Audit Commission, the Government's own creation, has very great reservations on this matter. It believes that the general effect will be bad, both in regard to expense, through not being able to take out the surplus places, and achieving a sensible reorganisation. The Bill will have a bad effect on local authority officers. We have some very good local authority education officers. I hope that that will be recognised. We sometimes hear about bad local authorities, but the great majority are very good. Education officers are dedicated people who also do a very good job. If they lose a number of responsibilities and their planning job is made infinitely harder in this way, I believe that fewer good people will apply for that kind of work. That will be very sad for the education service as a whole, and I fear that in the end education might deteriorate in the schools. For those reasons I wish to oppose the Question that this clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
The Government are committed to raising educational standards and enhancing parental choice. Grant-maintained schools offer a 1255 practical route towards those objectives. It is heartening to note that a considerable part of our discussion today has been about the way in which we may further extend the principals of grant-maintained status. The opportunity to apply for grant-maintained status will increase the diversity of the educational provision available within the maintained sector. That will stimulate healthy competition, which in turn will lead to higher standards in all our schools.
The clause and the whole of Chapter IV of the Bill represents a radical and detailed response to those parents who over the years have complained to Ministers in the department that something as important to them as their child's education is presented on a basis of "take it or leave it; like it or lump it". They are deadening slogans. We all know that where choice is limited or non-existent there is likely to be precious little stimulus to develop, change and improve. Complacency and inertia can have no place in a successful education system. We want schools to stretch each child to the utmost of its abilities and to equip pupils to achieve personal success and to contribute something to the community of which they are part.
We believe that in prospect and reality grant-maintained schools will be a spur to local education authorities and existing schools to take greater account of what the public needs and expects from their education system. The end of monopoly will be the beginning of opportunity.
As regards timing, interested groups and local education authorities, I should like to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the timing and procedures for the opting out process are such that there will be ample opportunity for all the groups and bodies to make their views clearly known in relation to a particular school.
The prime duty which the 1944 Education Act lays on my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for Wales is:to promote the education of the people of England and Wales and the progressive development of institutions devoted to that purpose…".It is in that spirit of progressive development of a varied education system that our policy for grant-maintained schools has been conceived. I commend to the Committee Clause 42 of the Bill and the general principles it establishes.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
The noble Baroness has not explained why the introduction of grant-maintained schools should make it possible to improve educational standards. My noble friend Lady David pointed out that such schools must go without a number of the services they now receive from the local authority or must buy them in from elsewhere. That would be a more expensive process for them and it would increase the cost of the educational provision over the country as a whole.
In what way is a school likely to be better because it is grant-maintained rather than run by the local authority? There are several possible answers to that question. The Prime Minister produced an answer when the subject was being informally discussed. She 1256 said brightly that possibly some of the schools could charge fees. As I ventured to say earlier, that cat was hurried back into the bag as soon as was decently possible and we are now assured that that will not happen. However, it is interesting to note the thinking behind the idea. Of course one can make the school better, or give it a good chance of being better, if one can put money into it.
I regret to say that in recent times a number of schools have become more dependent on gifts from parents. They have been made not merely to add special amenities and dignities to the school but to provide for necessary items which should have been provided by the local authority. A school may then be better because its provisons are being properly met with the aid of gifts from parents who are wealthy enough to be able to give them. I suppose that one can understand the feelings of a parent who believes that he lives in a local authority which, either because of its own behaviour or because of the way in which it is treated by the Government, is not able to provide as good a service for his children as he would like and he wishes to supplement that with his own money. The grant-maintained system will make that possible. I do not believe there is much doubt about the fact that one of the reasons why it was devised was in order that that could happen.
In the grant-maintained system one will find a group of people who wish to make their school rather special and better endowed than the rest. If they can obtain grant-maintained status, and if their school is in a more prosperous part of that area covered by the local authority, they can make it a better school, in a sense, by adding gifts from the parents to the money normally available to run the school from public funds. They will then have no difficulty in filling the roll. There will be competition to be admitted to such a school. They will then be able to deal with the situation because when deciding which children to admit to the school, they will ensure that those children whose parents are in a position to subsidise the school have a better chance of being accepted. The word would get round throughout the local authority that it is the better-off school, one where they run school journeys better than anywhere else. However, in that respect one must be the kind of parent able to pay a little more than most.
Such an incident can happen all too easily and there is no safeguard in the Bill to prevent it. I believe that it is significant to note that from the start the Government have wanted schools to opt out. Basically, they dislike local authorities. They want schools to opt out partly because of their dislike and partly because it gives schools in the better-off part of the authority's area an advantage from the start. We shall have greater divisions of schools than before. At the moment there are the wealthy public schools. Then there are the schools run by local authorities. Now we shall have what in some cases will be an intermediate grade; the grant-maintained school where, on the whole, the parents are better off than average and where additional educational benefits can be provided.
We must ask ourselves whether we want that. I believe that there are some elements in the Government who want that and see such a division as 1257 being desirable to promote. That was brought to my attention during the short time that I held the office of Secretary of State for Education, and earlier during my office as Shadow Minister for Education.
I was especially concerned with the argument about comprehensive schools. The significance of that argument was that a large number of people were not tremendously interested in whether a grammar school was intellectually superior or more academic in the kind of education it provided. They wanted to know whether it was a better school socially. One saw that from the kind of letters one received. I remember receiving a letter from an indignant parent who had read a report of a speech that I had made about comprehensive schools. That parent asked whether I realised that people want grammar schools because they want their children to go to a school where they will meet other decent children and not ragamuffins.
On one occasion I received what I regard as the most unpleasant kind of letter that one can receive: a letter not only from a child but obviously, if not exactly dictated, then heavily inspired by an adult. The school was to be transformed from a grammar school into a comprehensive school by the local authority. The girl wrote to say, "We do not want rough girls coming to our school". One might sympathise with her; I do not know. I am not sure whether a school full of smooth girls is necessarily better than one full of rough ones. However, it was significant that that was how that child had been encouraged to think about what was a good school. That is the danger which the Government are creating by making it all too easy for the existence of that kind of school, a school whose real difference from other schools is social and economic in the sense of the size of the parents' pockets. I cannot believe that that is a good thing although I believe some people want classes segregated and divided in that manner.
I remember another quotation. Someone was writing to a local newspaper to justify the maintenance of the tripartite system as against comprehensive schools. He said that parents do not like comprehensive schools because it means that they might find their child sitting next to a social outcast. That is a significant phrase. Noble Lords may say, "People are much wiser and more sensible than that". I wish that were true. I do not want to see the opportunity for snobbery and class division to be let loose again in the way in which this grant-maintained business does in this Bill.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
The proposals embodied in Clause 42 are at the very heart of the Bill. I believe that they are sound and desirable both in principle and practice; first and foremost because the opportunity to apply for opted-out status will increase greater public accountability both formally to the Secretary of State and, since grant-maintained schools will need to attract pupils, informally to parents. Accountability is the hallmark of professionalism. It is therefore heartening to hear the incoming president of the Secondary Heads Association say, at his association's Easter conference, that many of his 1258 members were seriously considering the advantages of opting out.
So much in general terms for the principle of accountability. But the question has been quite validly raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David, as to whether such schools will work in practice. Here we are fortunate in that we can look across the North Sea and learn from a system which has already been operational for many years in the Netherlands. Ever since 1917 it has had a school system which encourages what is, in effect, a system of grant-maintained schools. It is so successful that around two-thirds of schools are now opted-out and are grant-maintained schools, and only one-third are run by local authorities.
I suggest that that experience also gives a lie to the claim also heard in Committee on Tuesday, in the debate about open enrolment, that government policies will make it impossible for local educational authorities to plan. In the Netherlands each school has to inform the local authority of its plans for the next few years and the authority can take account of those proposals in making its own plans. Therefore, far from being unworkable, this system of opting out has proved extremely successful for many decades in another country not far from here.
There are many fundamental advantages in the Government's proposals for opted-out status. First, and perhaps most fundamental, they can provide a lifeline for many schools which are threatened in some way by the policies of their local education authority. It is important to remind members of the Committee that proposals to opt out are entirely optional. Where a school is happy and the local education authority is doing a good job in satisfying schools, teachers and parents, then no one will have any incentive to opt out and the question need not arise for consideration. The situation really matters where parents and teachers in schools are unhappy with their local education authority.
Examples of those situations include successful schools threatened by closure or reorganisation; schools where thriving sixth forms are being threatened. Many teachers, parents and pupils believe passionately that the educational opportunities and experience provided by a good sixth form benefits not only the sixth form but the whole school. Many teachers and parents are passionately opposed to policies of sixth form closures. Another category of school which may stand to benefit from the opting-out provisions is village schools, particularly if, as I hope will be the case when a subsequent amendment is discussed, the limit of 300 pupils might be removed. A fourth category of schools which may wish to seriously consider the freedom provided by the opportunities of opted-out status are those threatened by the politicisation of the curriculum or the imposition of policies offensive to parents and, indeed, to many teachers. Examples have been discussed many times in the Committee and I shall not rehearse them now. Therefore, there are some fundamental and practical reasons for opting out being extremely necessary in the interests of parents, teachers and pupils in a number of local authorities in this country.
However, perhaps a more important general point is this. I do not believe that one wishes to play the 1259 numbers game. I do not believe that it matters very much either in the short or long term whether five, 50, 500 or 5,000 schools decide to opt out. What matters is that the possibility of opting out exists, together with the effect that that will have on the accountability of local authorities to the parents, teachers and pupils for whom they are responsible. Therefore, even if very few or no schools opt out, the existence of the possibility will encourage local education authorities to adopt policies in matters both large and small which are more in line with the wishes of parents and the public.
The possibility of opting out, even although perhaps no more at the moment than a small cloud the size of a man's hand on the horizon—a slightly smaller hand than it was at the beginning of this afternoon—is already having an effect on some of the more politically meddlesome local education authorities, even before the Bill is enacted. In several local education authorities it has been reported that school reorganisation plans which had been met with great resistance because they were intensely unpopular among many parents have been recast to take better account of local wishes.
To noble Lords opposite, who sometimes speak as though those of us on this side of the Committee do not have much idea of what is going on in comprehensive schools, I say that all my children attended comprehensive schools in what I may call "the people's republic of Brent". In Brent, which is where I live, it is an open secret that the school reorganisation plan about to be announced has been heavily influenced in a direction which is much more sensitive to local wishes of schools, teachers and parents than that which had been on the cards before the opting-out provisions were under discussion.
For example, a proposal to leave schools with successful sixth forms untouched is being retained instead of closing those sixth forms, which had been very much on the cards. Similarly, the proposal of a Christian voluntary aided school on the site of one of the least popular and most politicised schools in the borough is now up for consideration, and one doubts that that would have happened if this reorganisation in terms of the possibility of opting out had not been present.
As the noble Baroness has argued, despite these advantages, opting out might have a negative effect on other maintained schools. The argument was that it might be all right for the schools that opt out, but what about those left behind? That may well have been said by another noble Lord on the Benches opposite. The argument is that that it is a non-sequitur. The fact that some schools may have exercised the opportunity to opt out does not mean that other schools will suffer. The question of competition will make schools more accountable and sensitive to parental wishes. It is a very sad fact that at the moment there are many—and I do not like the phrase—sink schools already in the area of some of our local education authorities. They will not suddenly appear. My hope is, and experience suggests, that the opportunity to opt out will encourage schools to be more responsive and to provide a better education service.
1260 As Peter Mortimore's research study Schools Matter shows, it is not just a question of social deprivation. There are many very good schools in areas of social deprivation. Therefore, the crux of this particular part of the Bill—and I believe it is one of enormous democratic importance—is that it is a basic freedom in a free society that people should have a right of exit from situations in which they are desperately unhappy. Many parents are desperately unhappy because they are trapped in local education authorities from which they have no escape. They cannot buy their way out and many of them—the maximum possible—have already moved out-borough.
In the borough of Brent nearly one-third of parents now send their children out-borough. The rest are left behind. They cannot afford to move house or to go to independent schools. Opting out gives those parents who are most vulnerable in our society some small measure of freedom for greater determination of their own education provision. I hope passionately that this clause will stand part of the Bill and that the resistance to it will not be effective, because that would be a sad day for many parents and pupils in the poorest parts of our land.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
I should like to say briefly why I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is completely wrong on this matter and why I believe that the powerful and moving speech we heard a few moments ago from the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, has the elements of the right way forward for the education system of this country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke of the way in which many parents are dissatisfied with the present education system. Few of us would deny that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction. After all, the education system is under-funded; there are many grave difficulties facing local authorities and it is very hard indeed to improve the standards of some of our schools. It is not surprising that large numbers of parents, if they have the money, wish to educate their children at independent schools.
I believe that a distorted picture has been given in the past few moments of the problems that face LEA's in our country. The impression has been given that the real problems come from those who are politically motivated, twisting the whole system and stopping parents from doing what they really wish to do. No indication has been given that very often the LEA's are faced with the problems of how to distribute resources and raise standards in schools affected by many very grave environmental problems.
It is argued that one can take into account schools which have comparable problems of the environment—vandalism and similar problems—and that some will come out better than others. I do not deny that, but the opting-out proposals and the attempt to encourage a certain number of schools to have grant-maintained status is in grave danger of damaging the education system as a whole. This is an act of vandalism which could have most damaging effects in the years ahead. I deeply and sincerely regret that these proposals have come before us at the present time. After all, what is the job of an LEA 1261 really meant to be? It is meant to look at the overall local education system, to distribute resources as fairly as possible and also to help improve the quality of all its schools. The problem with the proposals now before us is that they will undoubtedly assist some schools but they will not do anything for many others.
We have heard the Minister say that competition will improve the standards of schools all round, but no arguments have been adduced for this point of view or how it will happen unless more resources are provided. I believe that many of us, particularly in the Churches, are deeply concerned about some of the more deprived areas of our society and the effect on schools there. I was very moved when I read a report about a year ago when these proposals were first notified. A headmaster of a comprehensive school said that he was reasonably certain that his school would opt for the grant-maintained status because it would be to the benefit of the school for some of the reasons mentioned in the past few moments. He believed such a move would be utterly and completely morally wrong in the light of the education system as a whole, but in the interests of the school, and of himself, that is what will be done.
There are many people of a similar mind throughout the country who will press for grant-maintained status but who will also see that this can gravely damage the education system as a whole. For those reasons I believe that the great volume of criticism of these proposals which has come from informed education circles—not least from the Churches—has a real rationale behind it; namely, a concern for some of the poorest and most deprived areas in our society and the effect that this clause will have upon them.
§ Baroness Blackstone
Speaking as a rough girl, and that can be interpreted in a number of ways, I believe that the Minister's reply was nothing much more than a string of rather banal generalisations without any evidence or support for them.
Before I pick up one or two points that she made I refer to some of the matters which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox mentioned. It really is not good enough to make the statement that all over the country parents are desperately unhappy about the schooling of their children. It is not fair to the thousands of teachers who are doing a very good job in our education system. Her remarks give a totally distorted impression of what is going on.
§ Baroness Cox
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way because she is actually distorting what I said. I never said "all over the country". I emphasised that there are many areas where there is political meddling and I gave categories of schools where such opting out would be most appropriate. I never said that this was occurring all over the country. I should like the record to be put straight.
§ Baroness Blackstone
The noble Baroness may not have used the words "all over the country" but she implied that parents are desperately unhappy. I dispute that. Those were the words used by the noble 1262 Baroness and they are not consistent with the evidence. Many surveys have been carried out which have attempted to establish what parental attitudes are to schooling. The vast majority of parents are relatively satisfied with what they get.
However, that does not mean to say that the system is perfect because it is by no means perfect and there is a great deal to be done. I do not believe that the Government's proposals for grant-maintained schools will achieve very much for such problem schools, because the real issue is the quality and nature of the teaching that takes place in such schools and not whether they happen to be run by the local education authority in terms of financing and overall administration or whether they are run by the DES. I believe that to be a fundamental problem.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke about giving parents the right of exit. Let us suppose that some schools opt out and there are parents who achieve that exit. What about the rest? Many of the pupils will be in schools which are less good than the schools that opt out. One cannot assume that the schools which opt out are necessarily the poor schools or what the noble Baroness rather pejoratively called "the sink schools". On the contrary, they may be some of the best schools that are run by the local education authorities but, for the reasons which my noble friend Lord Stewart of Fulham gave, parents of children in those schools want to leave the state-maintained local authority system.
What the noble Baroness Lady Cox said was riddled with illogical comments and points. The noble Baroness referred to a deterrent in regard to the local authorities. That is a terribly simpliste and an ill thought-out term to use. Local authorities do not react in that way. It is a far more complex system. If things are going wrong in some places—the noble Baroness referred frequently to the borough of Brent—I doubt very much whether the existence of grant-maintained schools will suddenly reform the ill-motivated and malicious people who are behaving so badly in such places. The motives of such people are more complex than that. This clause will not solve the problems.
I return to what the Minister said. On a number of occasions she said that the purpose of these provisions is to increase parental choice. I cannot accept that the existence of the opportunity to opt out will increase parental choice for the majority of parents. In fact, for many parents it will reduce their choice. As my noble friend Lady David said earlier, there is every likelihood that these schools will become selective. There will be pressures on them to raise their test scores and reduce their costs. As a result, outside the framework which local authorities have set for common schooling at the secondary stage, head teachers will feel under great pressure to pick out children who are most likely to do extremely well and who are well-disciplined and easily manipulated, and exclude those pupils who are likely to be disruptive and difficult and who have unsupportive parents. The schools will be choosing the parents rather than the parents choosing the schools.
The Minister spoke about greater diversity of provision. There is a fundamental inconsistency in 1263 what the Government are trying to do in the Bill. They are trying to reduce diversity by having a national curriculum right across the board. At the same time they claim that they are creating greater diversity by this structural means. That is inconsistent. The noble Baroness suggested that ending the monopoly will increase opportunity for children. Opportunity for whom? This appears to be terribly simpliste. As the right reverend Prelate has already said, many young people will have their opportunities reduced, because special status will attach to grant-maintained schools, giving them a cachet which can only depress the expectations and support of other institutions. Many of the questions put by my noble friend Lady David about the administrative and financial problems and the inefficiency of two parallel systems were not answered by the Minister.
In conclusion, I should like to reinforce a point made by my noble friend. Why do we have to go through all this? We are creating uncertainty about the future and conflict between parents, between teachers and among governors on the whole question whether it will be desirable to opt out. Is it once again to deal with the problems of Brent, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, suggested? Are we really to have legislation by anecdote?
I am becoming a little fed up with the anecdotes about Brent. The local education authority system is very varied and many local authorities provide excellent schools. They do not interfere with their head teachers or their governors but let them get on with what is properly their role. Do we really need this sledgehammer? Head teachers are strongly opposed to it. There is no evidence that parents want it. It will be divisive and disruptive. I oppose the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Baroness Hooper
I have already spoken once and so I shall be very brief. Some parents will be satisfied by the greater vitality and responsiveness that will result from our reforms of local authority schools. However, if some governors and parents want to go further and take complete responsibility for running their own schools, we believe that they should be free to do so. True choice should not simply be the privilege of the rich who can afford to pay fees. Parents should not have to accept second best within a local authority monopoly of free education. If parents are perfectly happy with the service offered by their local authority, they will see no need to assume the burden themselves. The existence of an alternative should itself help to raise standards in all authorities and schools.
Local government will have to decide how to respond to the expressed wishes of the community it serves. That is what democracy is all about. On this side of the Committee we believe in competition. We believe that this option will help to improve standards to the benefit of the children of this country. That is what the Bill is all about.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 42, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?1264
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 131; Not-Contents, 64.1265
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Aldington, L.||Hives, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hood, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Annan, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Ingrow, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Lindsay, E.|
|Beloff, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Belstead, L.||London, Bp.|
|Bessborough, E.||Long, V.|
|Blatch, B.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Braye, B.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Monson, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Morris, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Nairne, Ly.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Newall, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Cathcart, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Coleraine, L.||Pender, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Pennock, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Pym, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Reay, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Cox, B.||Renton, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Renwick, L.|
|Croft, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Saint Levan, L.|
|Deedes, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Seebohm, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Somers, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Sudeley, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Suffield, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Fortescue, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Haig, E.||Trafford, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Hankey, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hanson, L.||Vestey, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Weir, V.|
|Havers, L.||Wise, L.|
|Henley, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Hereford, Bp.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Young of Graffham, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Bottomley, L.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Briginshaw, L.|
|Basnett, L.||Bruce of Donington, L.|
|Birk, B.||Campbell of Eskan, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|David, B.||Lockwood, B.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Longford, E.|
|Denington, B.||McCarthy, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Milford, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Mishcon, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Monkswell, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Oram, L.|
|Hart of South Lanark, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Rea, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Serota, B.|
|Hughes, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Jay, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||White, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 42, as amended, agreed to.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Clause 43 [Constitution of the governing body of a grant-maintained school]:
Lord Somers moved Amendment No. 206:
Page 37, line 32, leave out ("five") and insert ("not more than three").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, and with the permission of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 216, the purpose of which is exactly the same as Amendment No. 206. During his reply to the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of London, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said that it was undesirable to introduce complicated mathematical calculations into these discussions. However, I do not think that it takes a senior wrangler to understand the difference between the figures three and five. Therefore I hope that the main issue will not fall into that category.
§ First, I should like to dispel the rather widely-held opinion that parents have an inborn capacity to understand the problems relating to the running of a school. I can assure the Committee that that situation is rare. However, what they do understand is the type of education they want for their particular child. That is why, above all else, they should have freedom of choice—which of course the Bill goes a long way to produce. But to throw upon them the added weight of actually running the school, except to a limited degree, is I think a mistake. One should leave the problems relating to teaching and other such matters to the staff. Therefore I suggest to the Committee that three parent governors on a board would be quite adequate rather than five. I beg to move.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I am not speaking directly to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, but to the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Renton and myself; namely, Amendment No. 218. That amendment has been grouped together with the other amendments 1266 because it touches upon the number of governors. The effect of my amendment, should it be agreed to, would be to increase still further the total number of governors.
Amendment No. 218 is a relatively small matter and not a great issue of principle, so I can be quite brief in what I say about it. The amendment merely concerns the position of maintaining the school after the decision to opt out has been taken. That is, when the Secretary of State has agreed to it; the school has been set up and the new governors (made up to a large extent of parents) have started to run the school. It suggests that they should then turn their minds to the problems with regard to the future, when the children of those parents have left school and their interest in it has diminished.
The problems of maintaining the general spirit of the governors, their strength and enthusiasm, will of course grow as the years go by. Privately-maintained schools outside the state system—the great public schools—all have powerful old students' associations. It is that golden thread through the generations—and indeed through the centuries—that has kept such schools going and maintained their fame and quality. Such an organisation would need to be set up in the school which has opted out. Having been an active member of an LEA in the past, I am most conscious of the type of problems that an opted-out school will have to face. Perhaps the Secretary of State will be able to assist in appointing governors in the future, but, my word, the school will need all the help it can get!
If there is to be continuity in the future, I am sure that all opted-out schools will need an old students' association and they will have to work hard to build it up in the decades after their original formation. It is to that end that my noble friend and I have tabled the amendment. We have not suggested that the governors should tackle this task immediately—they will have plenty of other problems—but we think that perhaps after three years they should turn their minds to setting up such an association. I do not expect that my noble friend will accept our amendment in its present form—I can see he is already getting out his knife to chop its head off. In fact, it clearly would not fit in. However, I hope that he will consider it to be a sensible point and that he is prepared to think about it.
§ Lord Renton
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Nugent. It is not surprising that the amendment has been grouped with certain other amendments; but of course it has a much wider scope than merely the question of the appointment of governors.
I find it very interesting that Amendment No. 206ZA is not grouped with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Somers; nor is our amendment because, in the case of a secondary school, there is a reference to one pupil governor being appointed. So we seem to have a certain consensus on the desirability of old boys or old girls being represented on the governing body, which is not a bad idea. There is one very famous school in this country where the governing body comprises old boys, although that does not necessarily have to be the case.
1267 As my noble friend Lord Nugent said, in these cases there is a golden thread. As this is the right moment, perhaps I may go beyond the limited scope of appointments to the governing body and briefly urge the consideration by the Government in due course of the setting up of an old students' association. Perhaps noble Lords would be so kind as to turn to Amendment No. 218, on which we claim no credit for good drafting or anything like that. We merely want to raise the principle and put forward some possible machinery. To establish an old students' association within five years does not seem to be rushing it, nor is it unreasonable. All former students should be invited to join. Obviously, when it has been formed, the new management committee will be convened and then make rules. That is sensible. Then we deal specifically with expenses in case it is alleged that they have not been covered. Apart from those very limited expenses incurred by the initial governing body, no expense, or only a very light one, will fall on the public purse.
Then we have the admirable aim that:The old students' association shall use its best endeavours to raise funds for the support and development of the school".That is a very common practice in the case of many schools in both the public and private sectors. So I hope that the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford will at a later stage bear fruit.
§ Lord Trefgarne
Perhaps I may deal first with the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Somers. I think I am right in saying that in moving Amendment No. 206 the noble Lord spoke at the same time to Amendments Nos. 206B, 207, 216 and 217. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford and my noble friend Lord Renton have also spoken to Amendment No. 218.
First, Amendments Nos. 206 and 216, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, would reduce from five to three the number of elected parent governors on the governing body of a grant-maintained school. I am afraid that the Government cannot see their way clear to accepting those. With respect to the noble Lord, such amendments are entirely inconsistent with the Government's express intention in bringing forward our proposals for grant-maintained schools: that is, to give parents, as the best judges of their children's educational needs, a greater influence in the management and conduct of schools than they have hitherto enjoyed. Indeed, in a good many schools this would in practice mean that the parental representation on the governing body would be reduced if the school were to become grant-maintained. That surely cannot be right.
We believe that to have five elected parent governors on the governing body of a grant-maintained school strikes the right balance. It gives parents substantial representation without giving them untrammelled responsibility. The head teacher and teacher governors will continue to contribute a great deal in terms of professional insight; and the first or foundation governors will bring a longer-term pespective to the needs of the school over time. Together they will form a harmonious and effective partnership. But to have fewer parent governors would be to risk their marginalisation in the life of the 1268 school. That is precisely what the Government are committed to preventing.
I am afraid that I am equally unable to accept the noble Lord's Amendments Nos. 206B, 207 and 217, relating to the definition of a parent governor. Our proposals for grant-maintained schools are based on the principle that parents are the best judges of the educational needs of their children and that the performance of schools is likely to be enhanced if their accountability to parents is reinforced. But it is essential, if our proposals are to be fully effective, that in each case the parents' insight into the school and its affairs is soundly based. That means that parent governors must, wherever possible, have children at the school which they serve. It is sensible that parent governors, once elected, should be able to serve out their term of office if they wish even if their children have left the school a little before. But I do not believe that those whose children attended the school at some time in the distant past, or who have children at other schools in the area, are the best equipped to be parent governors.
That is not, of course, to say that those in the community who have a more general interest in the community have nothing to contribute; simply that their role should not be that of a parent governor. The governing bodies of grant-maintained schools will have places for first or foundation governors, who will provide a broader perspective on the role and needs of the school, and that is, I think, the right place for the people whom the noble Lord, Lord Somers had in mind.
I note the concern expressed during discussion on this Bill that we are being unduly optimistic about the number of parents we expect to put themselves forward to be governors. But I do not accept that those concerns are justified. Rather, I believe that the more challenging and influential role which our proposals will offer to school governing bodies will in fact stimulate interest among potential governors. They will know that service as a school governor will be a valuable contribution both to the efficient and effective running of the school, and to the wider community which that school exists to serve. We are currently conducting a publicity campaign to make just these points. At the same time we are considering how best the training needs of all school governors can be met, to ensure that they are properly equipped to tackle their new responsibilities with confidence. I hope that in the light of these considerations the noble Lord, Lord Somers, will feel able to withdraw his amendments.
Perhaps I may turn now to Amendment No. 218, moved by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that a thriving old students' association can be a valuable asset to any school. It links the present and the past, and the school with the wider community it is there to serve; and it helps to build up the traditions and reputation of the school, by giving current pupils people whom they can strive to emulate. But the thrust of all the Government's proposals in this Bill is towards autonomy, towards choice.
I do not believe that it would be desirable for the Government to lay down, in the way my noble friend suggests, precise details of how an old students' 1269 association should be established and managed. Nor do I believe that we should specify in statute the precise representation of former pupils on the governing body. These must be matters for each grant-maintained school to consider. There is nothing to prevent such a school from setting aside one or more first or foundation governorships to be filled by former pupils if they wish. I suggest that that is the right way to approach this subject. An absence of constraint is preferable to detailed statutory prescription. But I am sure that many schools will wish to take my noble friend's wise words to heart, and I hope that on reflection he will see that that is the best way in which to proceed in these circumstances.
§ Lord Somers
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his very full answer. What he said showed me one thing very clearly—that he has never taught in a school. I can assure him that parents are very seldom the best judges of what their children need. However, in view of what he has said and the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.30 p.m.
Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 206ZA:
Page 37, line 33, at end insert—
("( ) in the case of a secondary school, one pupil governor;").
§ The noble Lord said: I do not necessarily want to comment on the groupings, but clearly this is part of the general argument about governing bodies and who should be on them. The argument here really does concern the role of pupil governors in grant-maintained schools, but I think it is of slightly broader interest and perhaps it is one that again outlines certain differences between us.
§ Certainly my own personal experience of pupil governors is that their contribution to schools is altogether valuable and that, apart from anything else, they add to a sense of a school community when one or more of them sits on the governing body. That is something of which I approve a very great deal.
§ I can remember when my daughter was a school governor. Of course there was one slight problem, namely that her view of several of the other governors, notably the local authority governors, was little short of contempt. One sometimes wonders whether the reason why one is trying to keep young people off governing bodies is because their standards are so high and most of the adults who are present cannot quite meet those standards. But that is another matter.
§ But more generally it seems to me overwhelmingly the fact that whatever concept one has of the school it is a concept of community. I cannot believe that the protagonists of the grant-maintained secondary schools are arguing that they do not wish to see them as community schools or as part of the community. Therefore it seems to me that the various interrelated amendments here add the possibility of not crowding out or squeezing out any other governors, but genuinely seek to add an additional elected student governor. I believe that is a good idea.1270
§ I do not wish to go over the whole ground about pupil or student governors in maintained secondary schools except to repeat that we remain fully committed to this and are grievously disappointed that the Government moved in the other direction on that matter. Therefore I simply commend the amendment to the Committee and hope that the Committee will be sympathetic to giving a role to young people on governing bodies which I think they can fulfil very well indeed. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Seear
I should very much like to support this amendment to which I have appended my name. Those of us who have had experience of students sitting on governing bodies and sub-committees know that they make a very valuable addition. It helps the non-student members to have some idea of what is going on, whether or not it is totally representative, and it has a very good educative effect for the young people concerned. I hope that this modest suggestion of one student governor will be accepted by the Committee.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, having moved Amendment No. 206ZA, was speaking at the same time to Amendments Nos. 207DA, 215DA, 215DB, 216ZA, 217ZA, 217ZB and 217ZC. I mention those only because I believe it is of help to the chair to indicate precisely which amendments we are discussing at this time.
The commitment of pupils to their school and its objectives is an important factor in that school's success. But I do not accept that these amendments provide a sensible way of fostering that commitment, or applying it in the most appropriate way. They seek to place pupils on the governing body of a grant-maintained secondary school. I do not believe that that would be in the best interests of the school, because I do not believe that it would assist the governing body in exercising effectively the duties and responsibilities it is given under the Bill.
The governing body is intended to be an efficient managerial organisation, dedicated to making the best use of the resources available to it in delivering a high quality education: it is not intended to be a "school Parliament", representing all possible interests. That would be a sure recipe for inefficiency and delay, however worthy it may seem in the abstract.
The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 does not provide for the pupils to have formal representation on the governing body of a local authority school. Moreover, it provides in Section 15(14) that no person shall be qualified for membership of the governing body of any county, voluntary or maintained special school unless he is aged 18 or over at the date of the election or appointment. That must be right, when such heavy responsibilities are involved. We intend that the exclusion of minors from the governing body shall be a requirement included in the instrument of government of a grant-maintained school.
In any case, it is surely common sense to say that the significant responsibilities given to a grant-maintained school's governing body make it 1271 inappropriate for young pupils to participate in them. These amendments would permit a child of as little as 11 years of age to act in highly complex matters of finance, or in decisions on the provision of sex education or religious instruction, of which they could have little knowledge or understanding. While no doubt their views would count for little in discussion, if the issue were to be pressed to a vote they might be decisive.
Furthermore, the governing body will be responsible for discipline and the appointment and dismissal of individual members of staff; I cannot believe that the presence of pupil governors at such discussions could be conducive to good discipline within the school as a whole. It might be suggested that the pupil governors could be excluded from some of the business that I have described, but I do not consider this to be a satisfactory solution. The governors of a grant-maintained school will together form a statutory corporation, enjoined to act collectively in the exercise of their responsibilities; it would not be desirable to have "first class" and "second class" governors in this fashion.
Nor are these amendments necessary. The Bill already provides alternative mechanisms by which pupils may make a more appropriate contribution to the conduct of the school if the governors so desire. Clause 45(4)(b) provides for a school's instrument of government to regulate the:establishment, constitution, meetings and proceedings of committeesof the governing body.
It expressly permits such committees:to include persons who are not members of the governing body".It is therefore open to the governors to set up an advisory committee of pupils which they can consult about those matters on which a genuinely useful contribution can be made. And among the governors themselves there will be no shortage of conduits for the children's views. The head teacher and teacher governors should know and can report their views on matters of moment. The parent governors will be aware of the views of their own children and those of friends. But in the last resort I believe that the governing body must be enabled to manage efficiently, and that parents, with the professional advice of the staff, are the best judges of children's educational needs, and not the children themselves. These amendments are incompatible with those beliefs, and I hope the Committee will not accept them.
§ Lord Peston
I just have one brief point to make and then I shall sit down. I should just like to go on record for saying that I believe that in many cases children are very much better judges of their educational needs and of the education that they are receiving than their parents are. That follows on from a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, earlier.
I thought that I would put that on record to show that I disagree with the Minister on that matter. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 206A, 206B and 207 not moved.]1272
Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 207A:
Page 37, line 45, leave out from ("for") to end of line 46 and insert ("a number of first or (as the case may require) foundation governors which").
§ The noble Baroness said: Perhaps I should start by saying that in speaking to Amendment No. 207A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 207C, 207E, 207F, 207G, 207H, 224A, 224B and 225E. The Government have made every effort to consider sympathetically the views of the Churches in respect of our proposals, and I hope the Committee will agree that wherever possible we have responded constructively to the concerns they have expressed.
§ My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made clear his intention to secure that if a grant-maintained school should at any stage need the assistance of additional governors appointed by the Secretary of State, the trustees will have the right to appoint more foundation governors to preserve their majority on the governing body. The amendments we have tabled to Clause 43 fulfil that commitment. Clause 43(6) empowers the Secretary of State to appoint up to two additional governors where it appears to him that the existing governors of a grant-maintained school are finding it difficult to carry out their responsibilities for its conduct or management.
§ Our amendment to Clause 43 will require the school's instrument of government to ensure, in the case of a school which was formerly a voluntary school, that the trustees can, if they wish, appoint the same number of additional foundation governors in those circumstances. In the case of a school which was formerly a county school, the other governors will, if they wish, be able to appoint the same number of additional first governors. By this means the Government have made clear their view that any temporary accretion of fresh blood and expertise to the school, while it may be invaluable, cannot and should not detract from the fundamental responsibilities of those who are already its trustees or governors.
§ The amendments we have tabled to Clause 46 are largely consequential on these changes. It is intended that any additional governors appointed by the Secretary of State will serve only for so long as their skills are needed. Since any appointment by the trustees or governors of additional foundation or first governors under those provisions will therefore be a response to a temporary measure, it is right that they too should serve for a briefer period than their peers. Each such governor will therefore be appointed for a specified period of no more than five years; it will not be possible to make an ex-officio appointment, which might well be of indeterminate length, to such a governorship.
§ I turn now to our amendments to Clause 77. That clause provides that the governors of a grant-maintained school may change the character of that school only if they have previously published a formal proposal to that effect, on which all interested parties may comment or object, and the Secretary of State has approved it.
§ The Government have consistently made it clear that they define "significant change of character" to include a change in the religious ethos of the school. But speaking in another place on 23rd March, my 1273 right honourable friend the Secretary of State agreed that the safeguards against any perceived risk to the religious character of the school could be made stronger still. These amendments fulfil his commitment to provide that no grant-maintained school will be able to propose a change in its religious ethos without the prior consent of the trustees. This means that, in the unlikely event that the governors of a denominational grant-maintained school wanted to change the denominational character of the school, or to make it non-denominational, they would need to secure the permission of the trustees before publishing a proposal to that effect. I am sure that the Committee will welcome that step, and I commend the amendments to it.
§ The government amendment to Clause 90 is intended to set at rest one other concern expressed by the churches. It makes it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State is under a duty to consult both the governing body and the trustees of a school, if any, before modifying by order any trust deed relating to the school. This power is in any case intended simply to facilitate the smooth transition of a school to grant-maintained status, and any subsequent changes made to the school in that new status.
§ I hope that the amendments will be accepted as further and compelling evidence that grant-maintained status presents no threat whatsoever to Church schools. The partnership between Church and school will remain as valuable and as valued as before. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
As the Minister has said, the amendments have arisen out of approaches made by the Churches to the Government. We very much appreciate them. I entirely agree with the Minister that they maintain a link between Church and school. However, from our point of view, there is the problem that they do not maintain the link between Church, school and the authority. However, in so far as the grant-maintained schools are here, we are grateful for the amendments. I hope the Committee will support them.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)
In calling Amendment No. 207B, I must point out that if the Committee agrees to the amendment, I cannot call Amendment No. 207C.
Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 207B:
Page 38, line 4, leave out subsection (6).
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendment would leave out subsection (6) on page 38 of the Bill on the grounds that it once again underlines the extreme powers of the Secretary of State. In the subsection he is empowered to appoint not more than two additional governors if it appears to him—there is nothing in the clause which suggests any safeguard as to how he will arrive at the conclusion—that the governing body of the school is not adequately carrying out its responsibilities.
§ I am perfectly prepared to accept that the present Secretary of State would use those powers with 1274 discretion and reasonableness. However, there are other people who may be Secretary of State and who may be very different. Such a person could form the view that a school was acting in a way which seemed to be, for instance, too radical or experimental. Without any need to explain or justify his actions, the Secretary of State could put in two governors of his own choosing to shift the balance of power within the governing body so that it would not be able to carry out its plans.
§ We are deeply concerned about the arbitrary powers of the Secretary of State throughout the Bill. We feel that this is an example of excessive power and we wish to have it removed. I beg to move.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I believe that the noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that the amendments are not acceptable to the Government. Let me make it absolutely clear that the fears expressed in connection with subsections (6) and (7) are wholly groundless. These provisions are not, as some have claimed, the Trojan horse through which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be able to exercise ruthless, centralising control over grant-maintained schools, and it is preposterous to suggest otherwise. Indeed, the noble Baroness was kind enough to say that she did not think that my right honourable friend was likely to do any such thing.
Speaking more generally, extensive accusations have been made about the centralising nature of the Bill. In our earlier debate, the noble Baroness made the same point. The fact is that the Secretary of State (whoever he may be) has enjoyed considerable powers under the 1944 Act regarding direction of schools.
Our discussions on the past few amendments were not extensive. However, the implications have underlined that point. We have made it clear that, where my right honourable friend appoints additional governors under subsection (6), the existing governors or the trustees of the school may appoint the same number of additional first or foundation governors respectively to preserve their majority. If that is a Trojan horse, it is a rather lame one.
Let me read to the Committee the text of these two subsections which the proponents of the amendments would omit. Subsection (6) states that the Secretary of State may:appoint not more than two additional governors if it appears to him that the governing body of the school are not adequately carrying out their responsibilities with respect to the conduct or management of the school".Subsection (7) reads:make such provision as he thinks fit for filling vacancies for [first] governors if it appears to him that the governing body are unable or unwilling to fill the vacancies".As will be seen, the provisions are carefully circumscribed.
My right honourable friend may appoint a maximum of two additional governors in the first case; and, in the second, will be able to fill first governor vacancies only when the governors themselves cannot or will not. He will do these things for one reason only: to assist a grant-maintained school for a short period when it is in difficulties. 1275 Under subsection (6) he will be able to give the school a limited but useful transfusion of commitment and expertise to help it get back on the right track. Under subsection (7) he will be able to ensure that the governing body continues to be equipped to run the school effectively during a period when it is finding it difficult to embed itself as far as it would wish into the local community. Such appointees will hardly be in a position to dominate the governing body as a whole; they will be there to help, not to take it over. That help can only be to the benefit of the school and its pupils.
I should like to remind the House of the alternative. If my right honourable friend cannot assist a grant-maintained school in difficulties in these ways, he will have to consider, perhaps at a much earlier stage than he would otherwise have wished, whether he needs to terminate the school's grant under Clause 81. I cannot believe that this approach, with all that it implies in upheaval for the pupils, the staff, the wider community and the local education authority, is what the supporters of these amendments really have in mind. Termination of grant should always be a last resort, when all other remedies have failed. These amendments would forbid the doctor to cure, and, in doing so, might perhaps oblige him to kill. I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness will not wish to press her amendments.
§ Baroness Seear
I think the Minister somewhat gave the game away when he used the analogy of the doctor to cure. The assumption is that the Secretary of State always knows best. There is nothing written into these amendments to allow anyone to challenge his decision that the school governors are not acting properly. It is a one-sided arbitrary decision that can be made by the Secretary of State with no rights of challenge. I do not think that the present Secretary of State would be likely to do this and to act in an arbitrary way because he disapproved of the views or experimental interests and approach of the existing board of governors, or for any other reason. I do not wish to drag in names, but if the Secretary of State was Mr. Ken Livingstone, would the Minister have the same confidence that the Secretary of State would never intervene with a governing body behaving in a way which did not conform with the kind of approach to education that he might wish to introduce?
This Bill is not just for the lifetime in office of Mr. Kenneth Baker or even of this Government, which is not for all eternity, we on these Benches believe. It is for all Secretaries of State in the future. I do not intend to press the amendment but I am totally unconvinced by the answer that the Minister has given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 207C:
Page 38, line 8, at end insert ("; and
(b) for the appropriate appointing authority to have power, during any period when any additional governors appointed by the Secretary of State by virtue of paragraph (a) above are in office, to appoint a number of additional first or foundation governors not greater than the number of additional governors appointed by the Secretary of State who are then in office.
In paragraph (b) above "the appropriate appointing authority" means, in relation to first governors, the governing body and in relation to foundation governors, the person entitled to appoint the foundation governors on the governing body or, if more than one person is so entitled, the persons so entitled acting jointly.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 207D and 207DA not moved.]
§ Clause 43, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 44 and 45 agreed to.
§ Clause 46 [Governors' tenure of office]:
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 207DB:
Page 40, line 20, at end insert ("except for parent governors whose tenure should cease when they no longer have a child in the school.").
§ The noble Baroness said: Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, who was to have moved this amendment, is ill. I was not quite sure whether I was expected to take his place or whether somebody from the Liberal Benches intended to move this amendment.
§ We are considering the make-up of the governing body. The purpose of the amendment is to make a parent governor's tenure of office dependent upon having a child in the school, because that is not clear from the Bill. It allows parent governors to continue when their children have left the school. It could be argued that they do not have the same interest and involvement in the school when the children have gone as they had when they were there. They might have the same interest, in which case they could be there in a different capacity, but not as parents. However, other parents who have children in the school could be prevented from getting on to the governing body.
§ One may argue for continuity, but this could lead to inconsistencies. For example, although parent governors will be elected for a period of four years, many schools provide education for much less than four years. Sixth-form colleges provide education for only two years and occasionally three; 13 to 16 age group high schools for three years and 12 to 16 age group secondary schools for four years. Then there are infant schools and nursery schools; they provide education for a maximum of two or three years. Therefore it would be possible for a situation to arise where none of the parent governors of these sorts of schools had any children at the school. That seems ridiculous.
§ The only way of ensuring that this does not happen is to require parent governors to vacate office once their children have left the school. If children leave in the middle of an academic year it would be sensible for parents to remain until the end of that year, but otherwise the end of the academic year. I hope that the Minister is listening.
§ Baroness David
Good, both of them. I do not know who is going to be dealing with this. I do not think parent governors should stay after the end of the year in which their child has left the school. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
I hope that the Minister will not be minded to accept this amendment. There seems to be a compromise here judging from some of the remarks that have been made by noble Lords opposite. They were asking: are parents the right people to be judges of education? I happen to believe they are. I also happen to believe that parents have a value as governors of schools immediately their children have left. There is a period—and it would not be more than a maximum of three years beyond—when a parent could be a governor of a school.
I believe that the build-up of experience is important. If you are a governor for one or two years, it is not long enough to build up experience. Thirdly, when a governor is elected, and the parent governor is elected by a body of parents, they know the year group in which the children are. Therefore, they know when a parent will have children in the school and the period beyond that. They would vote for a parents' representative in the full knowledge that this was a parent for one or two years, or maybe three, and an immediate past parent of a child in school for a very short period of time. However, throughout the whole period of their governorship they are accountable to the body of parents. There is great value in having a parent who may well overlap between being a parent of a child in school and an immediate past parent of a child in school.
§ Baroness David
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness how long she thinks they should go on being members of a governing body.
§ Baroness Blatch
I can give the direct example of myself. My children left school last year. If I had been a parent governor rather than an LEA governor, I believe that my contribution to the school this year when my children are not at the school—and perhaps up to a maximum of three years—could be really valuable. I had a child go all the way through the school. I believe that if I had the backing of the body of parents who had voted me into office—
§ Baroness David
I asked the noble Baroness how long she thought parents should go on being governors after their children have left.
§ Lord Monkswell
Perhaps I may enter this debate. The last speaker has introduced a very interesting point. It is quite all right in her view for a parent governor not to be a parent.
§ Baroness Blatch
I did not say that. The parent when elected would have to be a parent of a child in school for that first election. But if their child happened to leave school during that time I believe they could continue to be a valuable asset to the governing body.
§ Lord Monkswell
If the noble Baroness had allowed me to finish, I would have said that the parent governor could effectively be a parent governor of the school even though having had no children at the school for a period of three years.
1278 It is a very useful argument. I would extend it the other way and suggest that it would be quite reasonable for the parent of a chld in a junior school who would go on to secondary school to become a parent governor (under the noble Baroness's definition) of the secondary school. That governor would have a great incentive to ensure that the school carried out its duties effectively because his child would attend it. The fact that the noble Baroness shakes her head suggests that she does not appreciate the logic of her own argument. If there is to be a parent governor, that governor must be a parent with a child at the school.
That is one of the problems with the way in which the Government are tackling the whole issue of opting out, circumscribing governors' positions and so on. It is likely that the character of the school will be set by people who within a very few years will have no involvement at all in the school. The last speaker suggested that parent governors should carry on for three years. I strenuously oppose the suggestion that people who do not have an interest in the school should be involved in it.
The noble Baroness also remarked that parent governors are accountable. I am not sure that that is true where a parent governor has no children at the school. So far as I can see, there is no provision in the Bill for the term of office of a parent governor to be drawn to an end by the schools' electorate. There is no power of recall.
Parent governors with children at the school go to the school periodically and have direct contact with the school through their children. They are accountable in some respects in that they have a direct involvement in the school. Once their child no longer attends the school they are virtually no longer accountable. There is no power of recall and they have no direct involvement in the school. Why should they be governors in that capacity?
I take the point that was made earlier that if they are good governors, respected and welcomed by the governing body and by the community, there are other avenues by which they could become governors. But surely they should not serve as parent governors.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
As has been explained, the amendment would require a parent governor to resign from office if he or she ceased to be a parent of a registered pupil at the school. The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 permitted governors at maintained schools to serve out their four-year terms of office even if their child had left the school. That might not be as long as three years without a child at the school, it depended entirely upon when they were appointed in the first place. The chances are that it would be a much shorter period.
Many respondents to the Green Paper which preceded that legislation pressed us to relax the existing requirements in that way, and I believe that we were right to do so. Clearly in many cases such governors will choose to step down, but in some cases they may feel that they can still contribute much to the governing body in their remaining time in office. If that is the case the Government see no reason why 1279 their continuing enthusiasm and commitment should be wasted and valuable continuity disrupted by forcing them to go early.
I hope that those considerations will persuade the noble Baroness not to press the amendment.
§ Baroness David
I can see that there are arguments on both sides. If one is really keen on having parent governors it is more important that they should be there when their children are at the school, and if they are useful they could be kept on in another category. I do not think that this is an issue I wish to press, but I shall look carefully at what the Minister has said and consider whether to come back to the question. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Hooper moved Amendments Nos. 207E to 207H:
Page 40, line 21, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2A) below,").
Page 40, line 26, at end insert—
("(2A) An additional foundation governor appointed by virtue of provision made in the instrument of government in accordance with section 43(6)(b) of this Act may not be appointed to hold office ex officio.").
Page 40, line 27, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (3A) below,").
Page 40, line 31, at end insert—
("(3A) The term of office of any additional first or foundation governor appointed by virtue of provision made in the instrument of government in accordance with section 43(6)(b) of this Act shall be such term (not being more than five years) as may be specified in the terms of that governor's appointment.").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.