§ 11.35 a.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
This is a wide-ranging Bill, dealing with a variety of issues across the whole span of Scottish education. Some of the matters with which it deals have been the subject of widespread consultation and discussion, and the Bill reflects the outcome of those discussions. In other matters contained in the Bill the Government have deliberately chosen to take a lead and to set the pace for change. But all the provisions of the Bill will contribute constructively to the further improvement of the education system of Scotland.
The major part of the Bill is taken up with the provisions for self-governing schools. Although the term "self-governing school" is new, the concept is not. Noble Lords will recall the debates which we had on grant-maintained schools in last year's Education Reform Bill, now the Education Reform Act 1988. Any noble Lord who cares to compare Chapter IV of Part I of the 1988 Act with Part I of this Bill will immediately detect a family resemblance. Indeed there is a close and deliberate similarity between the two measures. Self-governing schools are, in essence, grant-maintained schools by another name; and the purpose of this Part of the Bill is to extend to Scotland the facility already established south of the Border. It is interesting to see that those provisions of the Education Reform Act have been found immediately useful to parents and governing bodies in England, and that nearly 20 schools are to assume grant-maintained status this Autumn. There is good reason therefore to extend to Scotland, in terms appropriate to the Scottish system, a facility which is already available in England. Thus the principle underlying self-governing schools is already familiar and has already been debated and accepted by the House. There are, however, two general points which I should like to emphasise.
In the first place this provision, whereby a school presently under the management of an education authority may acquire its own board of management, independent of the education authority, is entirely optional for a school. There is absolutely nothing in this Bill which would enable government to compel a school to change its status in this way against the declared wish of the parents and the school board. Under the provisions of the Bill the initiative for 1044 change can come only from the school board or from a substantial group of parents. No pressure will be brought to bear on schools to change to self-governing status. The only inducement to change will be in the attraction of the concept itself, of being self-governing. We are content to let people decide for themselves what suits them best in their local situation. Those who are content with the provision made for them by their education authority can remain secure.
The second general issue on which I should like to dwell for a few moments is the place of self-governing schools within the context of the public provision of education by local authorities. There has been a good deal of talk, in Scotland at least, of self-governing schools somehow leading to the break-up of the comprehensive system. It is not really clear what the critics mean by that. A comprehensive school which becomes self-governing will remain a comprehensive school. The parents who chose that school, and who cared enough about it to take it through the process of becoming self-governing, presumably value it for what it is and will want to keep it what it is—a comprehensive school. They may want to make it a better comprehensive school, but that is another matter and nobody could fault them for that.
However, what the critics really seem to be concerned about is that self-governing schools may break the local authority monopoly of public school provision; and that requires some comment. Local authority provision will continue to be the basic means of providing public education in Scotland for the foreseeable future. It is true that if a large proportion of schools in an authority's area become self-governing, that would have an impact on the local authority service. But if that were to happen it would be a symptom of something fundamentally amiss with what the local authority was providing.
We do not believe that the local authority system is fundamentally flawed; nor do we see evidence of such widespread dissatisfaction with it among parents. However, the Government believe that the alternative of self-governing status should be available. Even where parents do not opt for such a major change in the way their school is governed, we expect that the very existence of that option will be a stimulus to local authorities to be more responsive to the reasonable wishes of parents.
The Government are not alone in this belief. Shortly after the Bill was published councillor Malcolm Green, the chairman of Strathclyde Education Committee, was warning his colleagues that in order to prevent parents in Strathclyde voting for self-governing schools they would have to make sure that schools were acceptable to parents. That in itself is an achievement of this legislation. The providers of education need always to remember that they are there to provide a service—and I am sure that most of them do. A basic measure of the quality of any service is the level of satisfaction among its clients. From this principle stems the Government's concern for parental choice.
In 1981 this Government introduced the measure which first opened the door to parental choice when we brought in the parents' charter legislation. Last 1045 year we legislated really to let the parents into the schools through the medium of school boards. All the signs are that, despite initial misgivings, that step will be recognised as generally beneficial. But we also believe that there will be circumstances where a school as a whole comes to feel that it could operate more effectively under management of its own. Hence this Bill.
I turn now to specific provisions in the Bill. A self-governing school will be a school which started life as a public school (I use that term in its proper Scottish sense) and the Bill is designed to ensure that it will retain the essential features of a public school. It will still be publicly provided; it will provide free education; and anyone who wishes to attend it will be entitled so to do.
These principles appear in the first dozen clauses in particular. There, noble Lords will find, the Bill provides specifically that self-governing schools are to provide free education and that the right of a parent to choose which school his child shall attend is extended to self-governing schools on essentially the same terms as it does to public schools. In other words, a self-governing school will be obliged in general to admit pupils on demand, up to the limit of its capacity. Elsewhere in the Bill, at Clause 16, it is provided in effect that, on becoming self-governing, a school is to retain the essential characteristics which it had as a public school. I shall return to that subject later.
There are also important provisions in Clause 7 to underpin the essentially public character of a self-governing school. Under that clause, which defines the duties and powers of the school's board of management, it is specifically provided that the board should promote links with the local community and encourage wider use of the school's facilities; and also that the board should consult regularly with the parents of children at a school. The board is also given a specific duty, to which we attach a good deal of importance, to have regard to the scope for enhancing provision at the school for pupils with special educational needs.
The composition of the board, set out in Clause 3 and Schedule 1, will be similar to that of the school board which went before it. School boards will shortly be a feature of most public shools in Scotland, and I am happy to say that all signs are that this is a welcome change. The basic structure of the board of management will, like the school board, include elected representatives of parents and teachers, along with outside members appointed or co-opted by the board, with parents in the majority. We have, however, taken the view that, since a board of management will have much greater responsibilities than a school board, it should be strengthened by some enlargement of the number of outside members.
The responsibilities of the board are set out in Clause 7 to which I referred. It is a key clause. A self governing school, as well as being public, will at the same time have one of the most important and valued characteristics of an independent school; namely, autonomy. It really will be self governing. Decisions on the curriculum, staffing and purchase 1046 of equipment will be taken by the school's own board of management. The board will be responsible for the disciplinary regime in the school, for the moral values which it promotes and for its general ethos.
The procedure to be followed by a school seeking to become self governing is set out in Clauses 13 to 20. The Bill provides for the procedure to be initiated in either of two ways: by the school board passing a resolution, or by a written request signed by parents. A secret postal ballot of parents of children at the school must then be held within three months. The ballot would be funded by the Secretary of State and conducted by an independent body. If fewer than half the parents eligible vote on the first occasion, a second and decisive ballot would be held. If the majority of those voting favour self-governing status, proposals would then have to be published and submitted to the Secretary of State.
These proposals are a crucial pail of the process. The ballot is an important test of parental opinion but is otherwise no more than a trigger mechanism to determine whether the matter cart go any further. It is on the proposals, not on the ballot result, that the Secretary of State takes the decision as to whether the school is to become self governing. The content of the proposals, as approved by the Secretary of State, forms the nucleus of the scheme of government under which the board of management will have to operate. It is laid out in Clause 16
The proposals perform a twofold purpose. First of all, they define the organisational characteristics of the school as it is. If it is a six-year, coeducational non-selective secondary school when it applies for self-governing status, that is what it must remain under its scheme of government. But the proposals offer an opportunity to the board to define other matters which may be equally important to them; for example, to say something about the curriculum, the ethos of the school, its catchment area if it chooses to have one, and so on. All these matters can properly be included in the scheme of government; and once they are there, the board will be bound by them
The clauses from Clause 21 onwards contain necessary and substantial provisions to which your Lordships may want in due course to give attention. They are for the most part consequential on the basic scheme set out in the earlier clauses but I think that I should draw your Lordships' attention to the financial provisions. Clause 26 to 29 provide for the financing of self-governing schools. Grant would be paid direct to the board of management and recovered by the Secretary of State from the local authority. Our intention is that it should be in line with what the school could reasonably have expected to receive had it remained under the management of the education authority. In self-governing special schools and others with provision for children with a record of needs there must be close and continuing dialogue between the school and the education authority over the provision to be made and the appropriate scale of grant.
There is one other clause in Part II should like to mention as it attracted attention in another place on several occasions. I refer to Clause 30, which 1047 contains the provisions necessary to enable the basic characteristics of a school to be varied in the future.
There was a great deal of debate when the Bill was considered in another place about the fact that it would be technically possible for a school to change its characteristics and in particular to alter the arrangements for selection of pupils. That provision, however, has to be seen against the background that any school's essential function is to respond to and meet the needs of a community, and we shall hold fast to that. It would have been absurdly inflexible to have put it into primary legislation that a school might never change in any of its basic characteristics. No school, private or public, is under that constraint at present; and it would be quite unrealistic to pretend that changes in demography or indeed in educational theory will never make it necessary for a school to reorganise.
As for the particular question of selection, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave an unequivocal commitment, which I am happy to echo here, that it is no part of the Government's intention to reintroduce the kind of selectivity which used to be a feature of the school system. But he also pointed out that it seems to be generally recognised as educationally beneficial when certain regional councils select gifted musicians and dancers and provide special units for them. There is no earthly reason why a self-governing school likewise should not in due course decide to encourage giftedness in that or in some other direction—it might be in mathematics, technology, languages or sport.
Your Lordships may want to return to these and other matters later. There are important matters also in Parts II and III of the Bill, and to these I shall now turn.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point, do I understand that the Secretary of State will have no power to overrule a school which wants to introduce an academic selectivity test in an area?
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, the Secretary of State has complete power to accept or reject proposals.
I now turn to clauses in respect of further education contained in Part II of the Bill. The measures in this part of the Bill are not in any sense partisan. They are the outcome of close consultation with the interests concerned and I am confident that they will meet with general acceptance. Clauses 54 to 60 provide for the appointment of new college councils for further education colleges managed by education authorities. These should be in place by April 1990.
The Bill provides for a maximum membership of 20 of which at least half would be nominees of employers and not more than one-fifth members or employees of the local authority. By October 1990 education authorities should have made arrangements to delegate functions to college councils and to provide the means for councils to carry them out. The Bill also gives college councils 1048 the powers to raise funds, accept gifts and retain income.
Clauses 61 to 63 give education authorities the power to conduct commercial activities through further education colleges. Authorities may set up companies to undertake these activities and make loans to them if required. These powers are among functions which may be delegated to college councils. Under Clauses 65 and 66 college councils with the agreement of education authorities may form companies with full responsibility for the management of colleges.
Part III of the Bill contains a range of provisions, not very extensive in themselves, which however will provide essential legal underpinning to some of our most significant policy initiatives. First, there is provision in Clause 69 for the establishment of privately sponsored technology academies. That will be another means of widening the range and diversity of schools available to parents. Those academies will provide young people with access to a type of school which will equip them well for their adult life and work in an advanced industrial society. They will also offer a real opportunity for raising standards and expectations of pupils, parents and teachers generally.
There are also some significant provisions relating to the teaching profession. Clause 70 contains an enabling power which, if necessary, the Secretary of State can use to ensure that appraisal of teachers' individual performance within staff development programmes is introduced on a national basis. Any effective programme of staff development must start from an accurate identification of a teacher's needs through an assessment of his or her teaching. Clause 74 is designed to promote more open competition for promoted posts: it requires education authorities to advertise nationally when filling any posts of principal teacher, and to consider all applications.
Clause 75 removes the now anachronistic procedure for the dismissal of a teacher which has been superseded by more recent employment legislation. And Clause 76, which we introduced in response to representations from the head teachers' associations, enables the Secretary of State to remove a group or groups of teaching staff from the ambit of the statutory national committee which determines the pay and conditions of service of teaching staff in schools.
Clause 69 makes provision for testing in primary schools. When my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced in October 1988 our proposals for curriculum and assessment he referred to existing powers which enable him to prescribe general requirements for education authorities and which could be extended in order to put arrangements for national testing in primary schools on a formal basis. That we are now taking the opportunity to do.
The Bill also makes important amendments to the statutory provisions affecting handicapped and other learning-impaired children. Clause 71 clarifies the power of education authorities to send children to special schools outwith Scotland and to pay the necessary fees and expenses. It also reinforces the 1049 right of the parent to make a placement request for a special school other than the authority's school. Education authorities are generally sympathetic to the views of such parents and the problem is not a large one. Nevertheless, the rule which allows authorities to refuse a placing request for an independent special school if they themselves can make provision at less cost has sometimes been applied too stringently. In some instances, despite the extra cost, it would have been reasonable and in his best interest to send the child to the school nominated by the parent. In future, in responding to such placement requests, authorities will have to have regard to the comparative suitability of the two schools as well as their respective costs. The clause also opens up opportunities beyond these shores by empowering education authorities to assist the attendance of children with special needs at establishments outwith the United Kingdom.
I think that I have said enough to demonstrate the range of the Bill and the significance of the measures included in it. It is a substantial Bill in Scottish education terms. It has many facets. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Sanderson of Bowden.)
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his usual helpful and courteous explanation of the Bill. At the outset perhaps I may register regret that this major Bill on Scottish education should be taken on a Friday at almost the last gasp of the Session. I am sure that the Minister has had representations from his Scottish colleagues, many of whom registered their displeasure at the last meeting of the Scottish Peers. I regret to have to start in that way, but it is important that we let the powers-that-be know that we consider that this should not be treated as a precedent for future Scottish business. Having said that, I should like to say a few words about the Bill.
The Bill is the major piece of Scottish legislation this Session. It could have serious repercussions in an area of Scottish life. Without being smug, we believe that our education traditions are better than those in most other parts of the country. Despite some ill-founded criticisms, our comprehensive system has been a success for the great majority of Scottish children. All the tests and comparisons with pre-comprehensive education show that the present system gives a clear advantage to the children of Scotland.
The opting-out proposals were never discussed with those responsible for education in Scotland: the teachers, the parents, or the local authority managers. I have found no evidence from parents of any desire to move to opting-out schools. The Minister will be aware that the much milder proposals of the School Boards Bill had little parental support. It became clear when we were discussing that Bill that, while parents wanted a great deal more consultation about their children's education, they did not want management responsibilities.
1050 We are worried about the opting-out possibilities contained in the Bill. The Minister made a number of points and said that opting-out would be at the wish of the parents alone. It only needs a few schools to opt out totally to disturb the whole schooling system in the area. That matter will come out when we discuss amendments at a later stage. With opting-out, we shall move to selectivity and privilege. That will be turning back the education clock. It will positively reduce choice for many of our children whom we know from experience have a great opportunity fully to stretch their potential in local comprehensive schools.
Selection for some inevitably means rejection for others. For 20 years I was a Member of the other place representing an area of Glasgow from which the greatest number of selected school children came. My experience turned me firmly against any form of academic selection. I speak with some heat on the subject. I have seen children of four and a half running out of nursery schools asking their mothers whether a letter had arrived. The letter was to inform them that they had been given a place in one of the local authority fee-paying schools. The anguish of the parents whose children had not passed the test was painful to see. Nursery schools of course prepared the young children for the test. It soon went around the district that a nursery school had more passes into the selective school that year than another nursery school. Parents naturally moved towards that school. Nursery schools were selling the following year's places on that year's exam results. Children of four and half and five were doing that.
I recall speaking to the headmistress of one nursery school. She said something that I am still trying to work out. I had not realised she said, that it was not enough merely that children were happy—remember, we are talking of children of four and a half—they had to be successful as well. I have never been able to understand that point.
I could go on talking about the failed parents and their pleas to me as the local MP to try to have their children accepted by the selective school. I feel embarassed when I recall some of the arguments used by those well-meaning, worried parents and the lengths to which they were willing to go to improve their children's chances. I was at their houses; I spoke and played with the children. Play for some of them was solving and resolving the latest intelligence tests that their parents had bought so that they would do better in the test. There was one child who could count rapidly from 20 to one. When I later spoke to the school psychiatrist, he said, "Yes, but he could not count from one to 20". That example is not an exaggeration. For nearly 20 years I saw not only the successful children but the failures. I hope only that the famed resilience of children will allow them to survive so terrible a period.
I am sure that there was a collective sigh of relief when selectivity stopped and children went to their local school with their friends, brothers and sisters. The idea of opting out is being thrust upon us just when the school boards are about to be set up. We know that this is because of the unstoppable reforming zeal of the new chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland. Change must be 1051 permanent—I thought that Leon Trotsky said that, but perhaps opposites come together—keep moving the target and do not allow things to settle and people to think!
Like water privatisation and the poll tax, this Bill—which was probably born on the back of an envelope after a discussion in a remote corner of St. Andrews University—is a bridge too far. This new concept of Scottish education will be disastrous. Folk memories of the old system, particularly in my part of Glasgow are still there to be awakened. I look forward to the next election and helping to awake people to the damage likely to be done to our Scottish educational system.
The Bill is about opting out. As the Minister said, 53 out of its 83 clauses are concerned with that. He does not call it opting out; he says that it is reorganisation. We believe that it will mean opting out, academic selectivity and in some ways financial selectivity.
I hope that in his reply the Minister will put forward evidence to show that there is a desire in Scotland for the Bill. I have received heavy correspondence from parents, teachers, students in further education, local authorities and parents and teachers in special schools. They are all seriously worried about the bill. People from rural schools—and the Minister will know more about them than I do—are also most concerned about the damage which the new proposed set-up could bring to their areas.
In the nature of things the Minister may suppose that those who support the Bill are unlikely to write to me or my noble friends. That is not true. It is always the case that when a Bill is introduced letters are sent to Members on both sides of the House by people pressing their case. However, I can honestly say that I have received no letters supporting the Bill. I received an addendum from the Consumer Council expressing a little optimism; but by and large the letter was hostile to the Bill.
Can the Minister remove my worries and let me know the breadth and depth of support on which he can call? After the recess we shall have plenty of time to deal in detail with the large number of amendments about which I have been informed. My noble friends and I will be tabling amendments on all aspects of the Bill. In a long Committee stage we can examine the Government's proposals for further education colleges, the testing procedures for children in primary schools, the conditions of service for teachers and some of the provocative changes proposed in our ancient university administration.
The passage of the Bill in another place brought few concessions and none of any importance. One concession, offered but refused, which shows how little support there is in Scotland for the Bill, was the idea that there should be a two-thirds majority of parents eligible to vote before a school can opt out. Of the 10 Scottish Conservative members in another place five are Ministers. Of the five remaining, Mr. Alan Stewart was at best lukewarm about the Bill. Mr. Bill Walker thought that it was permissive and would seldom be used. Sir Hector 1052 Munro and Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith—both notable people—were positively hostile to the Bill. Two of the Ministers' colleagues are opposed to the Bill and two are lukewarm I have found no trace of the view of the fifth Member. The Church of Scotland is opposed to the Bill; likewise the Scottish Consumer Council and the Scottish Parent Teachers Council. A MORI poll showed that the people of Scotland are opposed to the contents of the Bill. We are entitled to ask the Minister exactly who wants the Bill, other than the new chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland?
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I wish to add my protest about a Bill of this importance being dealt with at the back end of the Session on a Friday. I suspect that the Minister agrees, but it would be too much to ask him to say so. It is an important Bill but it is difficult to see the necessity for it. One can see the reason; one cannot see the necessity. The reason is as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael—to push forward the great revolution in which a number of Tories appear to believe.
Last year we passed the School Boards (Scotland) Act but the school boards are not yet in place. I believe that the provisions of that Act should be running and settled before any change occurs, if that is desirable. I cannot believe that the present Bill is desirable.
In Scotland 96 per cent. of all children attend state schools. In September, 1988, there were 2,387 primary schools and 434 secondary schools. I do not know how many of those will be eligible. Eligibility is in the hands of the Secretary of State but perhaps the Minister can indicate the criteria. For example, I imagine that the small primary school next door to my farm, Padanaram School, will not be eligible because it has only 14 pupils and few parents. I shall be interested to know the criteria.
With regard to the general purpose of the Bill, is the Minister satisfied that the inspectorate can cope with the enormous variety of schools? I understand that a complete inspection of schools is carried out every five years. A large variety of schools under different systems puts a further strain on the inspection system.
I was interested to note the reason for the correction to the Bill—that the parental majority should be omitted. It appears to be an afterthought which the sensible people in the Scottish Office have been able to put over on the yuppies. It will be interesting to know the reason for the change.
Clause 24 permits the Secretary of State to ensure that no favouritism is exerted by the local authority towards its schools as against the self-governing schools. However, I can find no clause which controls the favouritism which the Secretary of State might exert towards the selective or self-governing schools. We shall be asking a lot of questions about specialist services. Certainly in rural areas the specialist services for music and art, for example, are extremely important. They are of course provided by local authorities. Will a self-governing school have to buy them? Will they be available? Will local authorities 1053 be compelled to give self-governing schools all the services they require to the detriment of their own schools? There are many factors to be considered, and many questions to be asked about all the clauses in the Bill. However, I think that the matter comes back to the fact that this is a doctrinaire Bill.
There can be no reason for pushing it through. It will be enormously expensive to administer. I do not know how on earth one can expect to have a large number of schools carrying out all their own budgeting, their financial control and everything else, and run that alongside a local authority looking after the rest of the schools in its area, and at the same time not expect administrative costs to rise enormously.
The only reason I can see for the Bill is the enormous spite that certain sections of the Government have shown against any local authority. There are of course troubles in some local authorities. It is perhaps true that there is a certain amount of doctrinaire thinking in Glasgow about Paisley Grammar School. It appears that there is a certain amount of trouble in Westminster as regards the running of the local authority. However, there is a simple answer to all that. If we had a proper electoral system the people of Westminster need never worry, as Westminster would never be Labour controlled. The same is true in Glasgow. If proportional representation existed, at least there would be proper representation. That would be extremely helpful. This measure, however, is no way to solve the problem. It is a purely doctrinaire approach.
There is one clause in the Bill that I am quite in favour of. I must confess that there is a deep split in the Social and Liberal Democrats in Scotland over whether the rector should chair the court of universities. Most of my colleagues who have been rectors for the ancient universities are for the change. However, I have been rector of a new university, and if I had had to take the chair and do all the work that a chairman has to do to get business through, I should not have been as successful as I was in looking after the interests of the students. If a court cares to elect a rector, that is all well and good. I approve of that clause and I confess to this terrible split in the Social and Liberal Democrats.
Happily, however, it is nothing to the split that exists in the Tory Party in Scotland. I have read with great interest, as has the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, the Second Reading debate in another place. Alick Buchanan-Smith and Sir Hector Monro, two different but very admirable types of Tory, were both against the Bill. Alick Buchanan-Smith may be suspected of Liberal tendencies, but no one could suspect Sir Hector of many Liberal tendencies. However, they are both upright and honourable men whose opposition to this Bill is based, I think, on much sensible thinking.
Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith stated in another place:I understand what my right honourable and learned Friend said about the size of regional authorities and trying to make education more personal and closer in its administration. If that is what we are tilting towards, perhaps we should look at the future of our regional authorities".1054 That is a very sensible alternative. I am sure the Minister sees some merit in that. Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith continued:However, as politicians we have to be careful. We have to assimilate change".I should have thought that that is one of the good characteristics of the Conservative Pary, but, oh no, now the government are rushing into a further step before the school board system has been properly tried out. Mr. Buchanan-Smith continued:All new systems need dedication and time if they are to work properly … I support strongly the principle of school boards and I welcome them. I will continue to do what I can to support them".This is great and sensible stuff. I am sure my quotations are doing the Ministers on the Front Bench a great deal of good. They must be welcoming this reading out of Tory material. Sir Hector Monro stated in another place:When the matter was raised during the general election, I was on to Central Office in Scotland as quick as a knife to find out what it was all about. I was assured that what I had heard did not apply to Scotland. I conveyed that assurance to my local press and it was widely reported in the local newspapers".That concerned opting out. Sir Hector finished his speech by saying:We should not be creating divisiveness. We should be aiming for harmony, quality, discipline and achievement".Mr. Buchanan-Smith finished his speech by saying that an important Conservative dictum is:When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change". —[Official Report, Commons, 6.3.89; cols. 646–662.]That dictum was put even more aptly by an American who said: "When a thing ain't broke, don't fix it". I am sure that, in his heart of hearts, the Minister agrees with that. However, he has his job to do and no doubt we shall have long weary sessions during the Committee stage on the matter of school boards. However, I think this is a very bad step. It is an unnecessary step and I believe that the Government will regret taking it.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, on the principle that if one has a legitimate grievance one should express it again and again, I should say that I certainly support the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove and Lord Mackie of Benshie, in protesting that a Friday should be chosen for this extremely important Bill. With that in mind, I shall be brief. Perhaps that is what the Government Whips hoped of all of us when they tabled this business for a Friday. This is not good enough. I hope that this protest, which we have had to make often before, will this time register.
I, like many others, have been very comprehensively briefed if that is the right word, by various local authorities or parent groups and others. I am glad of that briefing because I must confess that I am not as well informed as I should be on the subject of Scottish education and Scottish schools. Having said that, I am very conscious of the fact that your Lordships' House has a special responsibility in connection with this Bill because it was not adequately considered in another place. Therefore, we have a very real job to do.
1055 I wish to concentrate on one point that arises in this Bill, which is the question of opting in or opting out—perhaps I should say opting out or opting in. The all important thing surely is that the parents should genuinely want that provision. As the Bill stands, it appears that a bare majority would suffice to carry it. I noticed that the Minister talked about a substantial group of parents. A bare majority is not a substantial group of parents. When we are in Committee, we shall have to consider very carefully the percentage which should be necessary for any opting out to be allowed. I do not know whether it should be two-thirds or even three-quarters for such an important step. I ask the Government to give very serious consideration to that point and whether they should not themselves introduce an amendment. If they do not I am quite sure that others will do so and that there will be very widespread support for such an amendment.
The other side of the coin in relation to opting out is the possibility that after five or 10 years parents may realise that they have made a mistake. I am not sure what the provisions are for opting in again. I recognise that one cannot have schools opting in and out like yo-yos. If a school is allowed to opt in again, it must be made clear to parents that that is a very serious step and one that cannot be altered again five years later, because the children's future is at stake. Nevertheless, I ask the Government to give special consideration to how schools might be allowed to opt in as well as to opt out.
In principle I favour the Bill. It is very widely drawn and covers a broad field. It introduces what I am sure is the right principle, namely, that parents are responsible for the education of their children.
I had intended to stop at that point. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, raised a point on which I should like to take sides. That is the question of the rector being chairman of the court. I had 15 years' experience on the court at St. Andrews. I found that students chose people who were eminent in the entertainment field. The last thing that one expected was that those people would rise to the occasion. I do them an injustice in saying that, because in fact all of them took their duties extremely seriously. They brought an outside perspective to the affairs of the university which was extremely valuable not only to the students but to the court as a whole. Without quoting names, I should like to say how impressed I was by all the rectors who were elected and did a splendid job at St. Andrews. Other universities must have found the same. It may appear in the first instance that the rector is not suitable for the chair, but one cannot tell whether that is the case for some time. On balance I am sure that it is right to give the rector the benefit of the doubt.
I have said enough. We have only eight speakers in all on this Bill, but that is because it is Friday.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkhill
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate in giving voice to the complaint that we should have a Second 1056 Reading debate on a Bill of such importance to the Scottish educational system on a Friday morning.
The present ministerial incumbents, spread as they are between New St. Andrews's House and old St. Andrew's House, do not take kindly to being reminded that a decade or so ago there were other ministerial incumbents of New St. Andrew's House of a different political persuasion. I can say in defence of my then colleagues and in support of my complaint this morning that we most rigorously refused to concede to the usual channels when we were approached to place Scottish Office business before your Lordships on a Friday. I think that the only exception to that was during the course of the devolution Bill, but that was of such a protracted character and lasted for so many interminable hours that our momentary weakness at that point might, even restrospectively, be forgiven. Nevertheless, I too make complaint. I feel that the Minister who has clout if he wishes to use it, should take on board the serious objections which have been made in your Lordships' House this morning.
I hold the view that a system of comprehensive education—free entry to the system for each eligible pupil, initially unstreamed and subsequently banded as appropriate, having regard to ability and aptitude—is a tried and satisfactorily tested educational concept which befits the Scottish sense of equity and fairness. I believe that such a system has the general approval of most parents and has the advantage of leading early in life to a spirit of social harmony among its participants, in distinct and marked contrast to the early and subsequent social divisiveness which a selective system tends to encourage. I consider that any attempt to begin to dismantle such a system—for surely the Bill embodies such a possibility—must be viewed with considerable suspicion.
A careful reading of the Bill gives a clear explanation of its purpose. It does not of course indicate the difficulties of an educational character which will arise as and when the Bill duly becomes an Act of Parliament. For example, there is nothing on the face of the Bill to the effect that self-governing schools are to be funded on the same basis as they could have expected to be funded had they remained educational authority schools. Indeed, there is no mention that any funding regulations which may apply should not disadvantage education authority schools meantime existing.
The Bill is silent on the question of a self-governing school introducing a system of general academic selection. However, in The Scotsman of 6th April last the Minister, Mr. Forsyth, predicted that self-governing schools might want to specialise in subjects like music and dance or classics. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, touched upon that point when he opened the debate. I think that Mr. Forsyth's example of music, dance and classics is a strange combination, but that is his choice and not mine.
In that article in The Scotsman to which I referred Mr. Forsyth said:It is quite conceivable that a school might well want to have a selective intake for that particular subject. We are not prepared to rule out selection entirely".1057 In view of such ministerial comment the worries which I expressed at the outset of my remarks about the possible return of selection, albeit via the back door, are surely not entirely groundless.
In the Bill, under the heading "Financial Effects of the Bill", we discover the phrase:The financial effect of provisions allowing schools to become self-governing (clauses 1-53) should be generally neutral".I have suggested that enactment of the Bill will generate an unsatisfactory educational consequence of considerable dimensions. That is my conviction. I have said that the Bill has been silent where it might have spoken. It has pronounced on the question of financial effect: "largely neutral" is the message.
How true is that? How will the self-governing schools fare financially, both in terms of their revenue for books and equipment and also of their capital building projects? Schools in deprived areas require additional financial attention or enhancement. If a neighbouring school or schools opt out, the educational scene in that area changes. It changes irrevocably; but so probably does the financial need and certainly the financial need of deprived adjacent schools. A Bill silent on that crucial but important financial consideration introduces a strong note of educational divisiveness into our society as a whole.
If an opting-out bandwagon starts rolling, I can see nothing in the Bill as drafted—I shall be pleased to be corrected on this point if I have misinterpreted the Bill—to prevent a resolute but prejudiced Minister from being disposed to favour financially the self-governing school rather than balancing fairly its needs with those of its remaining local authority counterparts.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, touched upon the question of the rectors of our four ancient Scottish universities. Schedule 10 of the Bill is headed—one might be forgiven for thinking rather cunningly so—"Minor and Consequential Amendments". But buried in the minor and consequential amendments is the reference which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has just mentioned. In the other place, Mr. Allan Stewart, the honourable Member for Eastwood, tabled an amendment which he was subsequently advised was technically incompetent but which a reading of the Official Report of the proceedings of the other place suggests that the Government would at least give consideration to his point. I am pleased to see that move on the Government's part, and it is certainly one that will have my support as I see it develop.
The Bill is unnecessary. It is prejudicially partisan and is probably unworkable. I suppose that much the same could be said of so much else that has passed through as legislation during the period of the present Administration.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, like other noble Lords, at this stage I should like to speak rather generally and particularly about the part of the Bill dealing with self-governing schools. There will be a great deal to discuss in Committee. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, believes that the matter was not properly 1058 discussed in another place. I do not know whether he has looked at the Committee proceedings, but they are at least four inches thick. If we are to follow them up properly, we shall take a good deal of time to do so.
Noble Lords who have spoken have expressed the views that the Bill is unnecessary and even potentially harmful to the education of young people in Scotland. In so doing, they have reflected fears which have been expressed by the local authorities in Scotland, teachers' unions, a number of parents and parent-teacher groups, the Scottish Consumer Council, the Church and a number of MPs, including the distinguished Conservative MP, Sir Hector Monro.
The Bill is not perfect and there are a number of aspects that I want to examine carefully. However, I suggest to noble Lords that many of the general fears reflected so far in the debate are more fear of what seems to be the unknown than well-founded objection to something undesirable for us in Scotland.
The Bill is a natural and even a necessary follow-on to the legislation that was put in place last year in Scotland. That education Act is the truly radical and far-reaching one. It sets up school boards and makes it possible in due course through them for the management and running of a school to be devolved away from the local authority and put in the hands of the school itself with central services available from the authority as required. That is radical change from the local authorities' point of view and from the point of view of parents and the staff of schools.
If your Lordships recollect, there was, as one would expect, a tremendous fuss in Parliament and outside as the Bill went through. We were told that it would be unworkable, that it was un-Scottish and, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has said of this Bill, that it was politically doctrinaire. It was said that it was everything that was bad, and that it would wreck the system. But what impact has it had?
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, mentioned Strathclyde and the folk memories there. What has happened in Strathclyde region? There, a council responsible for the educaton of half the children in Scotland, a council with a large Labour majority, has now set itself to embrace last year's legislation with considerable enthusiasm and is producing plans for the devolution of decision-making to schools which appeared, at any rate from press reports, to go considerably further than the legislation demands. It is clear from what councillors in Strathclyde have said that they see the benefits of devolution of schools to young people, parents and teachers, and they are wasting no time in going strongly in that direction and giving a lead to others.
The Bill is a reinforcement of last year's legislation because if, as a school begins to take responsibility for its own affairs, it finds the local authorities unwilling to hand over the reins, or obstructive or unhelpful, then under this legislation the school will not be obliged, willy-nilly, to stay under the local authority. It will have the option of applying for self-governing status, of being still a school within 1059 the state system, still with similar funding to the rest of the region, still with specialist services available if they are wanted, still free, still with similar curriculum, but self-governing outside local authority control.
There will be some schools which apply to opt out fairly soon. They will be schools which, for whatever reason, now feel that they would do a better job that way. But my guess is that they will be few. By far the greatest impact of the Bill on schools in general in Scotland will be that it will make a local authority much more sensitive and conscientious about helping school boards to take on more responsibility as and when they wish it to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said that he could not see the need for all this. But, if he recollects, the legislation to ensure that parents in Scotland could have a choice of schools, as they have had in Tayside since 1974, aroused just the same fears that it would wreck the system; but it has not done so and no party is intending to go back on that now.
The Bill is a necessary reinforcement of school boards and the devolution of decision-making to schools. The fears being expressed at the moment—and they are being expressed right across Scotland—will disappear as quickly as the fears about last year's legislation are now disappearing. It is extremely important for Scotland—and I beg your Lordships to consider this point—that our natural caution and our fear of new thinking and of new ways of doing things should not hold us back from moving with the times.
Getting away from detailed central management to devolving the running of institutions to local people on the ground is a growing trend in many parts of the world. In New Zealand, under a Labour Government, all schools will become self-governing in the next Session. Much new thinking on devolving of power to schools has gone on recently in Tasmania, and those ideas are taking off across Australia under a federal Labour Government. In Denmark, another form of local management of schools is well established. In England and Wales, pilot schemes have been operating in various authorities and have proved both successful and popular. Their schools are now going that way too, although under their system to ensure standards do not vary too widely it has been necessary to establish a common curriculum as well. On the other hand, in Scotland there is already what amounts to a national curriculum and all that has to be added in this Bill is the testing at two stages in primary schools, which is common to all schools.
In a recent article in the Scottish press, one of Scotland's most distinguished local government officers, the chief executive of Strathclyde region, Mr. Robert Calderwood, expressed views to the effect that the role of local government in the modern world is changing and that local authorities in Scotland must in future see their role and expertise more as enablers of others than as themselves runners of all the services. He explained why he saw that as very much a worthwhile and skilled role for officials and councillors.
1060 I agree with Mr. Calderwood. The last education Bill was an attempt to help Scotland's education move into a new age. This Bill follows that up. I hope very much that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I must apologise for entering the debate without having put my name on the list of speakers. I am what might be called a hybrid. I am very much a Scotsman but I am an English Peer. I thought that I should leave the harvest field today and come to this debate. I have only one point to make and I shall come to it in a moment.
First I should like to say that I am the product of a Scottish education as it was 75 years ago. I was sent to school at the age of four and a half—and thrashed on the very first day. It intrigues me to compare that with my children's education and the improvements there; and now my grandchildren's education. That is why I feel that this Bill is unnecessary and there is no reason at all for it. I might add that I even see a little difference in education in the 10 years between my noble kinsman and myself. When I see the tremendous improvement over the years in Scottish education, I feel that this Bill is unnecessary.
The point I wanted to raise is that during the passage through this House of the English education Bill I was asked to go to meet a schoolmaster at a very good comprehensive school in Waltham Abbey. He had been at that school for quite a long time and was very worried about the opting out situation. The point that he made to me and which I am now making to your Lordships concerned the parents. That schoolmaster had been at the school for a very long time. There was a parents' committee and he had been struck by the enormous turnover of parents at the school. If one were to take the opinion of parents, even within one year, as he said, it could change rapidly in a big school because of the turnover of parents. He made that point very strongly indeed.
I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, also made the point about opting out and opting in. There would be a continuous process of people wanting to opt out and in. The meeting with the headmaster—and there were a few other people there including two Conservatives and the Bishop of Chelmsford as well as myself—provoked a most interesting discussion. That point was made most strongly and I wanted to say that opting out is something to which the Government must give most careful consideration. The point that was made to me by the headmaster impressed me so much that I felt I ought to put it to your Lordships so that the Government could think about it.
With regard to the Bill as a whole, I have been impressed with what most of the speakers have said. The Bill seems to be completely unnecessary—at least the bulk of it. There may be some matters which could be improved, but the Bill as a whole and the amount of legislation it contains seems to me to be unnecessary when Scottish education now has such a good name.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate and although we have been few in number the quality of the contributions made by noble Lords and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, have given the Government some food for thought. I too should like to add my protest that this major piece of legislation should be dealt with at this time on a Friday. It is difficult enough to get Members of the House interested in Scottish legislation during what one might call the normal days of the week; it is far more difficult to get people to come here on a Friday to hear what we have to say about the situation over the Border. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, voiced the protests of us all much more eloquently than I can do, and I do not propose to take up any more time of the House on that matter.
The Government surely by now must be impressed with the very persuasive and powerful arguments advanced by noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Each and every one of them has indicated from his own basis why this is an unnecessary piece of legislation. Ths most important word in the Bill is "status"; that is what the Bill is all about. It is a reflection of this Government's pathological dislike of local authorities and their desire to move anything and everything out of the hands of the representatives of the people and put it into the hands of others.
It is significant that in your Lordships' House the Government have only been able to find one supporter outwith the Front Benches. Even allowing for today being a Friday, one would have thought that if there had been any enthusiasm on the part of the Government's supporters, they might have had better representation in the Chamber. Perhaps the six to one majority against the Bill which we have seen in this House is a fair reflection of what the people of Scotland think of the Bill.
At the beginning of his very comprehensive outline of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, said that all children would get into the new schools. If I may say so, that may not be quite a true reflection of the power which is being given to the new board, because in Schedule 2 it is quite clearly laid down that in certain circumstances, including for example the necessity to employ another teacher, a child need not be admitted to the school. So there is a power of exclusion in Schedule 2 of the Act.
It has been said that the Bill is extending to Scotland what is happening in England. I have never understood that to be a necessary prerequisite of legislation for Scotland. What is good for England is not necessarily good for Scotland. We have already seen that in regard to the legal reforms that are taking place when the reforms of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor were followed by proposals from the hands of the Secretary of State in another place.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, has he listened at all, for example, to what I said in the debate about New Zealand and Australia and the fact that this is 1062 by no means an English Bill? Has he listened to any of that or does he simply disagree?
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, I was not saying that it is an English Bill. I said that what is good for England is not necessarily good for Scotland. No more am I prepared to say that, because something is a success abroad, it is either necessary or will be a success in Scotland.
This is a completely unnecessary piece of legislation in keeping with the Government's philosophy in all fields. I submit that it sows the seeds of elitism in public education. The Government's policy seems to be: if it moves, privatise it regardless of the consequences.
The reality of what has been done in the fields of electricity and water is beginning to strike home now that those Bills have had their passage through this House. But education is a much more delicate matter than electricity or water. Education reaches to the heart of society and the community and is a continuous and necessary process. As I think my noble friend Lord Carmichael indicated, what we have here is really an urban Bill which is of no value to people in the rural communities where there is no choice and where there may be only one school. It cannot therefore be applied universally thoughout the education system.
Education must not be tinkered with lightly. There should be a positive purpose in any change. Like my noble friend Lord Carmichael I concentrate at this stage on the matter of schools. Pans II and III will be looked at very closely at a later stage once they have been evaluated. However, we can guarantee from this side of the House that the Bill will receive very close and demanding scrutiny during its further stages.
My noble friend Lord Kirkhill put it very neatly when he said that the Bill is a dismantling of the comprehensive system. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, also put the matter in a nutshell when she said that the Bill is not perfect. The Government have had plenty of time to get it right. If the noble Baroness is saying that the Bill is not perfect at this stage, when will it ever be perfect? There has been plenty of discussion in another place about it and still we have the same provisions.
The Bill in effect is privatising public education by the back door. Scotland does not want it. Scotland does not need it. That is not to say that Scots parents are not interested in the education of their children. They always have been and always will be. If implemented, the Bill invites the effective takeover of a school by a group of parents for whatever motivation. As few as 30 parents can spark off the mechanism to achieve self-governing status. A simple majority of parents can dictate a school's life for a considerable period of time. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, asked whether it should be a two-thirds majority, or 75 per cent. to 25 per cent. Whatever the majority is it should not be a majority of those persons taking care to cast a vote. The majority should be a majority of all parents in the school and not restricted to those who cast a vote. It will be all too easy under this Bill to organise 1063 the takeover of the school by persons with some motivation for good or ill.
One of the strange things about the Bill is that it does not define what a parent is for the purpose of voting. It defines what a parent member is in Clause 78. But a parent member has to be a parent before he can become a member; that is a natural follow on. So who are we talking about? Who will have the right to vote as a parent? According to Clause 13(5) of the Bill, the question of who is a parent will be determined by the school board. How does the school board determine who a parent is for the purpose of this Bill? No guidelines are given to the board as to how it is to discriminate between people who may be parents.
Let us take an example. Is the parent involved the natural parent or natural parents of the child? If we take a case where a couple have separated but the father may be maintaining the son and the wife has remarried or has another partner, or what is called these days a stable relationship, and the child is living at home with the mother and either her new husband or her associate, is the natural father (who has the welfare of the child at heart) to be excluded from having a vote in determining the future education of his son for whom he is responsible, while the new husband or wife (as the case may be) will be given a vote? It is very important for these reasons that this matter should not be left in the air because one can see a great number of difficulties and arguments arising. It is the lack of definitions which make the Bill very complicated to interpret.
Another question one asks is, what is all the hurry about? As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, why not give the school boards a chance to settle down before this matter is thrust upon them? The Bill is blinkered in that it does not take into account the wishes of parents and children who will be entering the school in, say, three years' time. What right have they as members of the community to determine the status of perhaps the only school in the vicinity? If the Government intend to proceed with this unnecessary legislation they must make arrangements for feeder schools and the community to have a say in any change of status for the school.
The position is not so easy as it is made to look in the Bill. The whole structure is too limited to reflect what might be the attitude of the community as a whole. Of course the community and comprehensive education go hand in hand. There is provision that the local authority can be consulted, and the Church if it is a denominational school, but there is no facility, as I understand it—the Minister will put me right when he replies—for the community to make its voice heard.
If one considers the composition of the board of management, Clause 3(1) states:parent members (being persons elected to the board of management under this paragraph by parents of children in attendance at the school … staff members".Clause 3(1)(c), states:appointed members (being persons appointed under this paragraph to and by the board of management".1064 There is no guidance given in the Bill as to where these people are to come from and on what basis they are to be selected. They will have a vital say in the education of the children in Scotland within the school which opts for this new status. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the Government intend to bring in some form of guidance for the use of the board of management on how they are to find people to sit on these boards. One of the dangers of the proviso is that the board of management may be infiltrated by outsiders who will no doubt reflect the views and status of the parent and staff members who have opted out.
It does not seem that the new school is under any obligation to provide special education facilities for children. It is mentioned in passing but there is no obligation to do so. In Clause 16(4)(c) one of the things that a board of management can do is to specify,any arrangement whereby pupils are admitted to school by reference to ability and aptitude".What does that mean? Does it not have the seeds of elitism in it? Is it not an open door to selectivity?
The Bill is the product of a politically motivated Government who do not know what Scotland is all about. Looking at the way in which it has been introduced—I make no reflection upon the Minister—Scotland has once again been treated as an appendage of England. Scotland has a pride in its education system, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, said. The basis of that system is an acceptance of equality of opportunity for all. From the present school system in Scotland many great names have emerged. Wherever we go in the world we meet the products of the state system who are providing distinguished service to the community at home and abroad. There is a private sector, publicly funded, in Scotland, and it flourishes on the sidelines of education. That is all that should be done. We should have the public system, or the private system if it must exist—although I am naturally against its existence, but that is another matter.
What does the board of management have to do? It has to manage the school on the money given to it by the Government. It is not maintaining the school, but managing it. The words "opting out" have been used in this debate more than once. I suggest that the Government are using the Bill as a vehicle to opt out of their educational responsibilities and obligations and pass them on to the school boards of management. Does the Minister give us a guarantee that this new-found status will eradicate the sales of work which are a feature of school life in Scotland even today where the schools are under-funded?
Clause 7(3) states:Without prejudice to subsection (1) above, but subject to any provision made by the scheme of government of the school, the board of management of a self-governing school shall also have power to provide education other than school education at the school".This is one of the difficulties of interpretation in the Bill. Nowhere are education and school education properly defined. They become rather intermingled. I do not know what "school education" is meant to define, because one is either educated at school 1065 or not. That criticism becomes deeper when one considers Clause 11(2). Clause 11(1) states:No fees shall be payable in respect of school education provided at a self-governing school".Clause 11(2) states:The board of management of a self-governing school may make charges in respect of some or all of—(a) such education and facilities as are provided by them other than as part of the provision of school education".What on earth does that mean? Does it mean that everything that a pupil gets at public schools these days such as sports, drama, debates and so on, all the essentials of a broad education in Scotland, will have to be paid for by the pupils who are purportedly receiving a free education under Clause 11(1).
Under Clause 11(3) the board of management,shall provide free of charge, to all pupils in attendance at the school, books, writing materials, stationery, mathematical instruments, practice material and other articles which are necessary to enable the pupils to take full advantage of the education provided at the school".That is what is difficult to interpret. It is not talking about the school education but about the education provided at the school. I find the drafting of the Bill extremely puzzling.
As has been said, this is an educationally divisive Bill. If people are rejected from the school—assuming I am right that the school has power to reject pupils—who will look after the rejects? They will be put back to the state school while the other school goes merrily on its way. What is to happen to access to the specialist services such as child guidance? Will those services be provided to the school or will they be paid for as part of the management? The only reference I can find is in Clause 34 which states that the local authority is obliged to provide administrative, professional, technical or other services at a charge. If pupils are to be deprived of services such as child guidance that is a difficult and sad matter. Perhaps it is a matter with which the Minister can deal.
I close by supporting those who have opposed the Bill and say again that the measure is unnecessary and does no service either to the community or to the education system of Scotland.
§ 1.2 p.m.
The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, I wish to begin by referring to the concern expressed by your Lordships that an important measure such as the Bill before us should be taken on a Friday. I appreciate very much that that concern comes from all sides of the House. I shall certainly pass on those comments to the usual channels.
One thing I believe should be noted about the Bill is that its main provision is entirely permissive. The initiative for a school to become self-governing can come only from the parents with children at the school. The Government have set no targets for the number of schools that should become self-governing; there would be no useful point in doing so. We are seeking simply to place a tool at the disposal of parents to use it or not as they see fit.
One may wonder what it is that the opponents of this measure fear. There is much talk of divisiveness, 1066 of the break-up of the comprehensive system, the re-introduction of a separate tier of selective schools and so on. It is also said that such things are unwanted, that there is no evidence of demand. The critics cannot have it both ways. If there is no demand, nothing will happen. So why the anxiety? Yet if the anxiety persists, and perhaps it does, perhaps the reason is that these criticisms are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what a public system of education is supposed to do. The critics appear to conceive education as a homogeneous commodity which can be cut up into pieces of convenient size as if it were a pudding or a cheese and to be thus distributed to the population. Every school should be like every other school, otherwise the system would be unfair. And in order to ensure this uniformity—which is mistakenly identified with equality of opportunity—the whole system must be centrally controlled and directed.
The Government's view is very different. We believe that a school, like any other institution, really begins to thrive when those involved with it feel that they have some control over their destiny and when they identify with it because it is working with them and for them and depends upon their commitment for its wellbeing.
We also believe that the reasonable aspirations of parents cannot be met unless there is some diversity of types of school available. After all people are themselves very diverse. They have different aims, ideals and expectations. This diversity cannot be given its proper expression within the confines of a homogeneous uniform school system imposed by central authority.
The evidence for this belief can be found in the independent sector. There is plenty of diversity among the independent schools. There are large schools and small ones, single sex and co-educational and a wide variety of traditions and emphases. That is all very well for those who can afford it. But where is the justice in restricting such benefits to those who can afford to pay? There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that people who want the oportunities offered by independent schools do not come just from the higher economic groups in society. The success of the assisted places scheme, whose entrants come from the lowest income group, is proof enough of that. What this legislation sets out to do is to offer a similar choice and diversity to all who wish to take it up within the framework of the public system of free school education.
However, our concern is not only with the self-governing schools, but with the whole public education system. It may be that only a minority of schools will take the road to self-governing status. Those that do will not be specially favoured in material terms. They will receive grant at the same level that they might have expected had they remained under local authority management, neither more nor less. It is certainly not part of our plan to create an elite corps of schools in that sense.
But we do believe that the very existence of the self-governing option will be a stimulus to education authorities to respond positively to the wishes and aspirations of parents. We also believe that the self-governing option will give rise to healthy 1067 competition between schools. Schools should be attractive in every sense of the word. They should be striving to make themselves attractive to parents and pupils. Nothing can stimulate that as effectively as a measure of healthy rivalry between them.
This is not a superficial matter of publicity and glossy brochures, although those things have their place. It is based on the good sense of parents and pupils as well. They will be looking for a school which is able to show that it can meet their real needs—a school which is drawing in a competent and committed staff and offers a curriculum and a standard of work which will set pupils up for their future in the world of employment.
Where parents have a choice these are the things they will be looking for. Schools should be competing with each other to provide the kind of education which parents and pupils want. That kind of competition will force up standards everywhere.
I now turn to the various points which your Lordships have made in the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, suggested that from parents there was no evidence of support for the measure that we now propose. The decision to bring forward Scottish legislation offering parents an alternative to local authority management of schools was prompted by evidence from a number of schools that parents in Scotland felt that there would be advantage in having such an option available. Coupled with the results of a published opinion survey showing very substantial support in Scotland for the concept, there was no justification for denying Scottish parents the same right to seek self-governing status of the kind that was already available in England and Wales.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, can the Minister tell us which these schools are? Is one of them Paisley Grammar School?
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, can I add to that and ask the Minister whether he knows the schools that gave the opinion that they wanted to opt out? How many of them were schools that were going to be closed?
The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, or the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, precise details. However, I can assure them that the evidence was not just taken from schools that were going to be closed.
I make the point here—and repeat what I said at the beginning—that the cardinal feature of the Bill is that its main provision is a permissive measure. If in this Bill we were introducing some statutory provision to force schools to become self-governing, that would be a very different matter. However, no school has to become self-governing and it is important that that point should be made at this stage so that the thrust of the Bill is put into perspective.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, also suggested that a move to selectivity will reduce choice. Our proposals are about extending choice for parents and 1068 about parents choosing schools. They are not about schools rejecting pupils as a result of some form of selective education. The procedures in Clause 30 are a safeguard for the existing nature of the school, and that is exactly what they are intended to be. Opponents of the Bill speak of it reintroducing selective schools complete with an 11-plus examination. We have made it clear that no changes should be made under Clause 30 in the first year of self-government by schools. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said specifically that he has no intention of endorsing proposals from a school which would mean a return to the selective system of some years ago.
More than that, any change under Clause 30 requires the majority support of parents in a ballot. It is unrealistic to believe that parents will support proposals which would reject the two-thirds or three-quarters of pupils in the current intake necessary to create a traditional school.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, claimed that no concessions had been made by the Government in the other place. The Government gave some 50 undertakings in Committee in the other place and honoured them on Report. Major changes made in response to pressure from all parties included the extension to special schools of the provision for full governing and, with regard to membership of the board of management, the Bill had not originally provided for a parental majority but we have now accepted that.
On a parallel theme, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, questioned whether enough time had been given to this Bill in another place. I must disagree with him on that. The Bill received long and detailed consideration. There was a Timetable Motion but over 125 hours were spent in committee and further time was available under the timetable if required.
The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, said that he thought this was an imperfect Bill and implied that it would continue to be so. I hope—and your Lordships may agree with me in regard to this Bill, as in regard to all Bills which pass to us for scrutiny—that should it have its imperfections (and I would be the first to admit that it probably has) it will have many fewer by the time it leaves this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said he thought it was a good idea that school boards should have time to settle down first before moving on to measures set down by this Bill. I am sure that any school would be well advised to let its school board become well established first, but there will be exceptions to that rule; there will be special cases where schools want to move early, and we see no reason to stand in the way of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, asked me which schools would be eligible. All schools are eligible to apply under this legislation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will have to be satisfied that a school is viable and successful. That may mean that individual schools are turned down. That will not merely be a function of size. A small rural primary school may be the most sensible and viable proposition for this type of education for local pupils.
1069 The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, also touched on the drafting and what appears to be the removal of parental majority. There is no policy significance in that: it merely arises from a printing error. The paragraph taken out by the correction sheet has been tabled as a government amendment, but was left off the Marshalled List on which the House voted on Report. We intend to restore that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, along with other noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Perth and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, referred to the university clause which deals with provisions for rectors and principals. I should first set the record straight. At present the Bill leaves the position of Scottish rectors unchanged. Originally in response to views of some university courts the Bill proposed a change, but it became clear that there was no government support for that change and the Government amended the Bill accordingly.
The noble Earl, Lord Perth, referred to the ballot majority. Your Lordships' House had a full debate on these matters during the passage of the Education Reform Bill last year. Amendments to that Bill, were made, to which the House did not object. They provided for a second ballot to be held where the turnout on the initial ballot was less than 50 per cent. of the electorate. Those provisions are now law in England and Wales, and provisions identical in effect are embodied in this Bill.
Those who argue against the simple majority consistently overlook the essential fact that a ballot on self-governing status is not itself decisive. It is not at all like a company voting to change its constitution, where the vote itself is decisive of the matter. All that a ballot under this Bill does is to provide a test of public opinion and to determine whether the school board shall go ahead and apply for self-governing status. For that purpose a simple majority is by far the most appropriate test.
The noble Earl, Lord Perth, also asked me about arrangements for opting back in as and when relevant. There are procedures in the Bill allowing a self-governing school to be wound up where it is clear to the board of management that it should not continue. In these circumstances there must be discussion with the education authority to determine its plans for future education of the pupils affected. Where the authority is content to resume control of the school as a going concern, this can be done. The Secretary of State would consider discontinuance proposals to this effect under Clause 31. If satisfied he would return the school property to the education authority and it would be for the board of management and the authority to arrange an orderly transfer of the staff required.
It is important that the education authority is free to decide whether to resume control of a school. There will be cases where alternative provision for the pupils is already available and there is no further need for the school.
Turning to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, he said that, so far as he was aware, there was nothing on the face of the Bill to guarantee that funding would be on an equitable basis with the public schools. As I said in the course of my opening 1070 remarks, it is certainly the Government's intention that so far as possible a self-governing school should not be better or worse off by virtue only of being self-governing than it could reasonably have expected it to be had it remained under educational management. However, in attempting to fulfil that intention, we must face the fact that educational authorities in Scotland do not determine the resources which go into individual schools by reference to a funding formula directly related to the individual school. In fixing grant to a self-governing school we shall have to make a judgment based on what we know of the local authority spending pattern, as to what the school could reasonably receive. However, that will only be a judgment and not a sum fixed by a formula, which the local authority will not have. The kind of general formulation which we have used in describing our intentions would not gain any real force or meaning by being put into statute in such very general terms.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, also referred to schools in deprived areas and pointed out that they would perhaps need a different funding method. Grant will be calculated so as to give the school the resources that it could reasonably have expected to receive from the local authority. Thus, funding will reflect local authority decisions. However, that does not necessarily mean that the school will simply receive the average from the local authority. It depends on how the local authority distributes its resources. For example, if an authority has a policy of putting extra resources into deprived areas, provided there is a formula for calculating that, the formula will be applied to the self-governing school. Thus, in principle, neither the school nor the authority will be better or worse off.
The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie—and I am glad that the noble Lord was able to contribute to this debate along with his noble kinsman—referred to the high turnover of parents. Indeed, that is a matter which we should always bear in mind. However, I suppose that it is possible to exaggerate this aspect, for, if a family has three children spaced over five years, its association with a secondary school could well span over 10 years. That is a rather sobering thought. I have four children over six years and until the noble Lord raised the point I had not made the terrible calculation of exactly how long it would take to educate them all.
The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, expressed concern that not all children can get into their chosen school. Schedule 2 exactly mirrors the legislation which applies to public schools under the 1980 Act. An education authority is also entitled to refuse an application if there is no further room in the school. The point is that both public schools and self-governing schools are obliged to admit pupils up to the limit of their capacity.
The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, also said that he did not think there was a definition of "parent" in the Bill. Clause 80(2) applies to this Bill the definition of "parent" in the School Boards Act, and I refer the noble Lord to that Act.
The noble Lord said that he wondered what "free" education meant. Clause 11 is designed to leave 1071 boards of management in precisely the same position in managing their schools as are education authorities in regard to fees and charges. The noble Lord suggested that there was no obligation to provide for special education needs. Under Clause 16(4) the existing provision for special needs becomes a characteristic of the schools and under Clause 7(6) it is a positive duty of self-governing schools to develop such a provision.
The noble Lord asked whether there is any guidance on whom boards should appoint as fellow members. We are prepared to consider issuing guidance if that is thought to be helpful, but it is for boards themselves to decide what kind of wider perspective they want to introduce into their deliberations.
The noble Lord felt that this legislation and the self-governing option had no value at all to rural schools. The Bill is about parents exercising choice over the management of schools. Parents in rural areas surely have the same rights and opportunities to seek that change.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, perhaps he can clear up one point. I believe he said that there would be no change in the position of a rector taking a chair in an ancient university. However, in Schedule 10 there is a change. Meetings of the university court will be presided over by a chairman who will be elected instead of the rector being entitled to take the chair.
The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will permit me to write to him with full details of any slight changes there may be. As I said earlier, it was originally intended that there should be a significant change here but that was not proceeded with and, as I understand it, rectors are in the same position as they have been hitherto. I believe there is a slight change in the arrangements for the principal to take part in chairing meetings in the absence of the rector, which has not been the position until now. However, I will write to the noble Lord with full details.
In summary, we want to foster excellence. There are some excellent schools within our present public system and they are not all in the most socially favoured areas. The schools which stand out are those which have a strong and able head, a committed staff and an interested and supportive body of parents. That is what makes for excellence. We believe the way to foster that is to unlock the forces of local initiative. The provision for self-governing status will help to do that and I therefore commend this Bill to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.