§ 3.19 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)
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 Blackstone.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 60 [Responsibility of governing body and head teacher for discipline]:
§ Baroness David moved Amendment No. 183:
Page 47, line 37, at end insert—
("(c) registered pupils at the school, and
(d) teaching and non-teaching staff at the school.").
§ The noble Baroness said: Now that there is a chance that I shall be heard, I shall begin my remarks. In speaking to Amendment No. 183, I am speaking to a 697 group of 10 amendments, of which Amendments Nos. 183, 184, 185, 190, 191 and 198 are in my name. Some are government amendments, and some stand in the names of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.
§ I begin by stating some of the general aims of this group of amendments and of the group starting with Amendment No. 186—a big group of 18 amendments. There are various things I should like to see done with regard to these clauses which deal with exclusion. First, we wish to put in place steps that will prevent so many exclusions. The situation is not good at the moment. Different schools and different local authorities have very different records of exclusion. We need to discover the reasons for so many exclusions in some cases and suggest methods by which there might he fewer.
§ I wish to see more pupil involvement in matters to do with schools. I spoke at Second Reading about the fact that pupils are not mentioned in the Bill; they will be mentioned in some of the amendments which I shall move today.
§ Where a pupil has been excluded from school, particularly permanently excluded, we wish to make sure that he or she is reinstated quickly and does not miss out on a lot of education in the meantime. We also wish to see more LEA involvement where there have been exclusions. I believe that some of the government amendments deal with that matter. I shall move my amendments as they arise, but I expect that there will be some answers from the Government when their amendments are moved.
§ Amendments Nos. 183 and 185 require that governors and head teachers give consideration to the views of pupils and staff on discipline measures. It seems extraordinary that the two groups that make up the school community—the schools' pupils and staff—are excluded from those who must be consulted about discipline measures. The value of including both groups in the process is overwhelmingly obvious. The purpose of the amendment was supported by the Labour Front Bench when in opposition and I therefore hope for a sympathetic response.
§ The aim of Amendment No. 184 is to introduce more constructive principles for school discipline. In the Bill the Government simply repeat the previous government's principles with regard to school discipline. The amendment reframes these principles and adds others which we believe set a clearer and more constructive framework for the drawing up of schools' behaviour codes—for example, requiring bullying to be tackled and encouraging appropriate sanctions. This amendment, too, was supported by the Labour Party when in opposition.
§ The responsibility for good order in a school should be of importance to everyone involved in the school community—the governors, the head, the teachers and the pupils. There is much more likely to be a positive outcome if measures have the support of everyone. I am very anxious about bullying. There has been a great deal of talk about it, and no wonder. It clearly happens in 698 a great many schools and is not at all a nice thing to contemplate. I hope we can receive some positive responses on that matter.
§ The purpose of Amendment No. 190 is to ensure that the governing body asks for, and considers, advice from the LEA before confirming an exclusion or reinstating a pupil excluded by the head teacher. There is wide variation between schools in terms of outcomes for pupils who may be experiencing difficulties and in terms of school policy and practice relating to exclusion. It is therefore essential for the statutory framework to provide the necessary checks along the road to exclusion.
§ The Special Education Consortium argues that one of the most important checks is for the LEA to have the power to intervene in the process of exclusion. This should happen at a point before the governing body confirms an exclusion or reinstates a pupil reinstated by the head teacher. That would provide an opportunity for the LEA to advise the governing body on the appropriateness of steps it has taken and on any steps that the school might take. One of the issues on which the LEA may wish to advise is whether the school has recognised any specialised need that the child may have. I mentioned this point late last Thursday night when I spoke to Amendments Nos. 182 and 189.
§ The aim of Amendments Nos. 191 and 198 is to entitle pupils to attend appeals against their exclusion. The amendments would put education legislation in line with other domestic children's legislation—the Children Act, for instance—and Article 12(2) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It appears that in practice it would not cause any bother to the system since the department states that it has not had complaints about pupils being excluded from appeal hearings.
I quote from a paper by Professor Neville Harris, which is shortly to be published, which was mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, entitled The developing role and structure of the education appeal system. It appears in an edited collection of papers entitled Administrative Justice in the 21st Century. Professor Harris and two others are writing up the findings of their research into school exclusion appeal procedures, which is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The research has included observations of 46 appeal hearings in eight LEA areas and questionnaire responses from nearly 300 parents of permanently excluded children. A book discussing the research findings in detail is planned.
The excluded child may only bring an appeal in his or her own right if aged 18 or over. Thus, in practice, children will only he witnesses, and then only if called. Save the Children sec this as meaning that. 'A child facing exclusion … has no automatic entitlement to challenge accusations made against him or her'.
Some panel members have told us that it is helpful to be able to speak to the child and elicit the child's version of the events. Turner J. has said that hearing the child's account of the matter constitutes 'an act of obvious fairness' in exclusion appeal cases. In our research, 16% of children who attended the hearing gave oral evidence, although 11% … were not given an opportunity to do so. Although 84% of children who attended gave oral evidence, it must be appreciated that the excluded child attends in only a minority of cases (42% of the observed hearings). Moreover, there is no mechanism by which the child can he summoned unless the parent brings him or her and the child expresses a wish to speak to the
committee. In a recent case, Collins J. was critical of the appeal panel's failure to question the child concerned when they wanted to do so; they allowed themselves to be swayed by the parents' representative who did not want the child to speak to the panel … Overall, current practice in school exclusion appeals does seem to run counter to the principle of the child's participation in welfare-related decisions, reflected in s.1 of the Children Act 1989 and article 12 …
Where the child does participate in the appeal hearing there are, in our experience, sometimes serious shortcomings in the manner of questioning of the child adopted by some appeal committee members or LEA or school representatives. In particular, there was on certain occasions a fairly oppressive questioning of a kind which was quite inappropriate … It demonstrated the quasi-criminal character of the proceedings in some cases. As one parent wrote to us: 'One member of the panel interrogated my daughter. His tone of voice was disgusting. He was trying to make her admit to things she had not done. His tone of voice reduced her almost to tears'.
A lack of independent representation of the child (and no equivalent of the guardian ad litem in family court proceedings), together with the lack of a lawyer chair, has probably contributed significantly to this kind of problem in these cases".
§ I am sorry for having quoted at length, but it is an important matter, and I hope that the Minister will respond accordingly. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Darcy de Knayth
Perhaps I may speak briefly in support of the noble Baroness, who has covered the points very thoroughly. My name is to Amendment No. 190, the aim of which is to ensure that the governing body requests and considers advice from the LEA before deciding to exclude or reinstate a pupil. I believe the government amendment deals with that point. I support entirely what the noble Baroness said.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Archer of Sandwell
Perhaps my noble friend will permit me one correction. I do not believe that any of the amendments now included in this group are tabled in my name. That followed certain representations I made after last Thursday because I did not feel that it would assist the Committee's clarity of debate. It does not in any way diminish my support for what my noble friend said.
§ Baroness Byford
Perhaps I may speak to the amendments standing in my name, Amendments Nos. 191A and 187A, and the other two with regard to the 15th school day. I shall come back to those if I may.
Amendment No. 191A requires that, where a child has had problems and been considered for exclusion, not only should bad behaviour be looked at, but also the possibility that there may be medical reasons for that misbehaviour. We all know that many children today are diabetic and some have personality disorders. They are often labelled "bad" children when there may be good medical reasons why their behaviour is disruptive.
The Minister will agree that the amendment is not technically correct. As I understand it, there is no medical officer of health to which the matter can be referred. I am willing to withdraw the amendment later and perhaps come forward with more appropriate wording. The point behind the tabling of the amendment is that some children in the system are wrongly labelled bad or naughty when their behaviour may be caused by 700 a medical problem. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter because it is not only the occasional child who faces these problems from time to time. I turn now to Amendment No. 187A.
§ Lord Addington
Briefly, I wish to support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady David. These amendments are important. A child excluded from school represents a failure for the system and any means of looking more closely into the problem should be incorporated in the Bill. The amendment is a sensible approach to what may be a medical problem leading to disruptive behaviour.
A good example was given to me at lunchtime concerning a child with diabetes. The child can suffer from a blood-sugar imbalance which makes him manic and disruptive in the classroom before the level goes too high and the child passes out. That sort of behaviour should be considered and some form of medical check, if such a situation arises, may be extremely important. It should be built into the system.
All we are asking is that the right type of expertise be made available before a final decision on exclusion is reached. Surely that is not too much to ask.
§ Baroness Lockwood
I support my noble friend in these amendments. The whole question of exclusion from school is one of concern to the education system. We need to look at the matter in a much more positive frame of mind, as my noble friend indicated.
In the current climate of schools with league tables and competition there is a tendency to look upon exclusion as one way out of the difficulty. I do not for one moment underestimate the problems faced by teachers having to cope with disruptive children. However, a number of research projects looked at the inclusion rather than the exclusion of children in a more positive way. I should like to see much more encouragement along those lines.
The amendments to which my noble friend referred give an opportunity to the education authorities to give advice and to help schools be more positive in their approach to the problem. It is important not only to encourage pupils and families to make representations and to put their point of view, but also there needs to be an understanding of how difficult it can be for an inarticulate family to put forward the positive views that are needed. Help for such parents and children is very important and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response to the amendment.
§ Lord Rix
I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David, and in particular Amendment No. 184 concerning the new subsection (4A)(d) involving bullying.
Scratch any actor or ex-actor and one will probably find that they bleed from having been bullied at school. That is probably because we were all ghastly little show-offs but, if my memory and that of my fellow 701 thespians serves me right, there is no question but that, if the headmaster had been able to act on our behalf and prevent bullying in our childhood, it would have made our lives a great deal happier. New subsection (4A)(d) is a splendid provision to include in this Bill.
§ Lord Swinfen
I too welcome this group of amendments. When the Minister replies, will he say whether, when the teachers receive their training either before they take up their initial post or in continuing their training later, help is given to recognise in a pupil any medical or psychiatric condition which may be affecting the pupil so that appropriate advice can be obtained? I am not expecting teachers to be doctors or psychiatrists, but sometimes a layman can see that something is wrong and suggest that appropriate advice be obtained.
§ Lord Peston
Can my noble friend say how he is proposing to proceed? We have two classes of amendment—those from Back-Benchers and two from the Government. Though they are grouped together it is difficult to see how they fit. Is my noble friend proposing to speak to his amendments and then sit down and let the debate continue, or is he proposing to reply to the debate and speak to his own amendments?
§ Lord Whitty
Since the government amendments and the amendments of my noble friend Lady David are somewhat interlocked I propose to speak to the government amendments and then comment on the related amendments if that is acceptable to the Committee. I hoped to do that fairly soon, but I note that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is about to rise.
§ Lord Peston
I am still hoping to speak first as a Back-Bencher and I am sure that the noble Lord would rather speak afterwards. I find it difficult to see how the amendments interlock; they do not seem to be related and bear little resemblance to each other. I shall speak simply to the Back-Bench amendments and then wait to hear my noble friend speak to his amendments.
It seems to me that two or three fundamental principles are involved in this issue which ought to be on the face of the Bill. In other words, this is not a matter of regulation or ministerial Statement in your Lordships' Chamber. Central to this issue, first and foremost, is that the interested child—if I dare use that word; I know that it is not politically correct—the young person should have the right to be heard included on the face of the Bill. I have no doubt that the Government ought to accept my noble friend's amendments or themselves table an amendment that leaves beyond a shadow of doubt that principle.
Secondly, and reverting back to my schooldays, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred to bullying. What upset me most about my schooldays was the totally arbitrary behaviour of teachers, particularly the head teacher. I am not in touch with schools so for all I know that kind of arbitrary behaviour still goes on. It quite clearly goes on in the field of exclusion.
702 The point of the amendments tabled by my noble friend and others is that we should remove arbitrary behaviour and that decisions regarding exclusions should be rule-based and articulated rationally. My noble friends' words and the reasons for them should be obvious. However, I prefer wording such as "the reason for each rule should be spelt out so it becomes obvious". Either way, we need more than that which exists at the moment. Those are the two main points that I wish to put forward.
I speak as someone who would always wish to be supportive of head teachers, but reinforcing the removal of arbitrary behaviour relates to my noble friend's amendments. One relates to the inclusion of teaching staff and others at the school. I am immensely supportive of her expression in Amendment No. 184,encouraging good behaviour on the part of all members of the schools".The implication of the way in which the world works is that the only badly behaved people in the school are a number of unruly pupils. That was certainly not my experience when I was at school and it is not my view now. I very much underline the words at the beginning of Amendment No. 184. I am well aware that this is an immensely difficult matter and I hope that we shall pursue it—if we are all alive after the Statements which will occupy our time. Other matters to do with exclusions are also relevant. If I dare to use the word "philosophy" underlying the amendments put before us, they are the ones to which the Government should respond positively and make sure that there is something on the face of the Bill.
I do not wish to be party political. As a layman I accept entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said. It seems to me that very frequently a medical difficulty underlines the exclusion problem. I would like that to be on the face of the Bill so that people are reminded of it. In supporting my noble friend, I am supporting what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.
§ Lord Dearing
I hope that the breadth of support for these amendments influences the Government in their response to them. I welcome their thrust and I support particularly the amendments relating to bullying. It causes such misery. It has now become a well-recognised problem among many nations such as the Japanese. Its government has instituted a colloquium of six nations, of which the United Kingdom is one, to go into this matter. Part of the reason for the misery is that the victim is often most reluctant to draw attention to his or her experience. It can be disabling. It is a matter about which the Secretary of State has expressed concern. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government will respond to this particular amendment in this group.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
As the only practising teacher and former head teacher, my profession has some contribution to make to this debate. I admire the noble Baroness, Lady David, and I share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to support human rights. Like him, I am very much against arbitrary behaviour. 703 When the Minister replies I hope that he will pay regard to the situation that exists in many parts of the country. My daughter is in her first year of teaching at Bethnal Green. Apart from one reference in this debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, I was surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady David, paid no attention to the real and urgent problems that teachers face.
There are two groups of people involved when discipline is bad or when children become disruptive. The first is the teachers themselves and in many cases they are unable to control their classes. The second group comprises the other pupils who are not disruptive, but who find that their education is severely damaged.
I am not opposing these amendments in principle, but I am surprised that their proposers, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, in particular, at no point paid regard to the other side of the coin. For example, I have a serious worry that there are only 20——
§ Baroness David
I do not think the noble Lord listened carefully to what I had to say. My Amendment No. 183 wants teachers to be involved. It wants the teaching and the non-teaching staff at the school to have a chance to express their views. I was not elaborating on that, but I certainly want the teachers to be able to express their views. I hope that that partly answers the noble Lord.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
I am delighted that the noble Baroness wants the teachers to express their views since they are the most intimately involved. But I felt that the whole tenor of the noble Baroness's amendment was to emphasise human rights against the corporate necessity to maintain an ordered community in a school. I also believe that one of the great problems that the teaching profession faces is that there are too few referral units. I cannot quote the exact figures, but I believe that there are only about 20 in the country.
Referral units for pupils who are seriously disruptive are very important. They can also be used for those with medical problems to whom my noble friend Lady Byford has referred. I hope that in his reply the Minister will show more regard than some other Members of the Committee for the poor souls in places like Bethnal Green, and in many inner city areas, who are facing the problems. My daughter had to separate pupils fighting with a knife in the playground, and that at a junior school!
I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady David, agrees that teachers have some part to play, but we must realise that we have to give them sanctions as well. As the Minister responsible for these matters, I hope that he will pay some regard to the teachers' worries when he replies.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
I have some hesitation in joining in this debate because I have no intention or wish to repeat memories or confessions from my schooldays, but rather to recount some more recent experiences. I believe I mentioned on the last day of the Committee stage that I was a governor of a junior school. We had a 704 governors' meeting only last week to consider the joint annual report. We spent some time considering the school behaviour policy. That is the more recent and relevant experience that I wish briefly to touch on in this debate.
I particularly wish to commend Amendment No. 184 and the approach outlined there. On Thursday I expressed some doubts as to whether it is necessary to have these matters on the face of the Bill, but, if it is thought to be necessary, then I have a very great preference for the approach as well as the wording of Amendment No. 184 because it is a constructive approach. It is very much what we were discussing at the governors' meeting. We discussed bullying which, sadly, is an issue in any school. Perhaps it always has been, but it certainly is today. The school has a "no blame" approach to bullying. That may be easier to implement in a junior school than in a secondary school. I recognise that it may be easier to implement in the London borough of Sutton than in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. But it is the aim that matters and that is the aim shown here.
The approach in Amendment No. 184 is exactly right. Bullying is an increasingly important issue. While all of us stand up for the rights of individuals, be they the bullies, those being bullied, or the teachers, it is proper to approach bullying in a whole-school context. The whole school should be involved including the head—it is hard to imagine how the head would not be involved—the teachers and all the pupils, including the perceived bullies and the perceived victims. The "no blame" approach that I heard at first-hand from the head teacher last week seems to commend itself. It was working very well in that school.
I move on to what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said. Even if he had not said what he did. I would have dealt with the matter but perhaps not in quite the same style. I know the noble Baroness. Lady David, well enough to know that she most certainly recognises that the difficulties are not wholly with the child or the victim, but that they also apply to the staff. We have a responsibility and duty to teachers who have to cope with a very disruptive child in a class. Whatever the reasons for that disruptive behaviour, its effect on the rest of the class can at best be disruptive and at times be seriously alarming. I speak from some experience. As I have said before in this Chamber, my wife is a teacher and she has had to deal with similar situations. One has responsibility for other children in the class, to the school as a whole and to teaching staff.
I believe that the approach to these problems outlined in Amendment No. 184 is a positive and constructive one. I shall say a little more about how best to deal with that when we move on to the subject of exclusion. While we are rightly mindful of the needs of pupils who may be subject to exclusion, I am sure that we do not need the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to remind us again that we must also be mindful of the needs of other pupils, the school staff and the reputation of the school itself, which is increasingly important these days. I warmly 705 support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David. In particular I commend to the Committee the approach outlined in Amendment No. 184.
§ Lord Whitty
I partly agree with my noble friend Lord Peston that this group of amendments is not obviously logical. It is slightly more logical following the withdrawal of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer; but even so, it requires some explanation. If I speak to the first two government amendments it may make our position clearer. This group of amendments deals with the serious issue of permanent exclusion of children from schools. The Bill as drafted introduces a single system governing exclusions under which the LEA will have a role at the appeal stage for all schools. In the light of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on truancy and school exclusion we have tabled government amendments to give the LEA a stronger role earlier on in the exclusions process. I believe that that point is related to Amendment No. 190 moved by my noble friend Lady David. Government Amendments Nos. 189A and 189B would require the governing body to allow an official of the LEA to attend a meeting of the governing body, to consider any exclusion of more than five days, and require the governors to have regard to the LEA's written and oral representations. The LEA's role will be to offer advice on how other schools locally may have responded to similar incidents and, if necessary, to advise on procedural matters.
In some cases the LEA may also be able to offer constructive alternatives to permanent exclusion; for example, a period of part-time education in a pupil referral unit before re-integration into school, or some other form of counselling. I believe that at an earlier stage in this debate—perhaps it was late at night—I indicated the number of pupil referral units in operation. The figure is not 20 but 330. Therefore, that option is available in a large number of authorities. Under these amendments the authority will not be able to instruct the governing body to reinstate the pupil but governors must have regard to the LEA's representations. I believe that those amendments meet the same concerns as my noble friend's Amendment No. 190 and the points referred to by my noble friend Lady Lockwood and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. Therefore, I hope they agree that those amendments achieve the same aim and are prepared to withdraw Amendment No. 190.
As to the question of discipline and consulting parents, pupils and staff, Amendments Nos. 183 and 185, in the name of my noble friend Lady David, have already been spoken to by my noble friend Lord Peston. I agree that it is important to involve pupils and staff when drawing up a school's discipline policy. It is not our intention to exclude teachers from that area. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, referred to his experience. Others have similar experience. I have never been a teacher but I come from a teaching household. As the son of a teacher, I am aware that issues of discipline are some of the most difficult ones faced by teachers. It is our aim to ensure that teaching staff in particular should make a contribution to drawing up a school's discipline policy.
706 However, the question is where, how and when that input takes place for both pupils and staff. Our approach is that that should be a matter for individual schools in the light of their particular circumstances. In some cases that may be before the governing body makes its statement of general principles; in others, head teachers may decide that it is best to consult pupils and staff when determining the detailed rules and codes of conduct. Therefore, for reasons of flexibility we are not convinced that it is necessary to include a specific requirement on the face of the Bill for widespread consultation either by the governing body or the head teacher. Schools require flexibility, and that is best left to guidance rather than wording on the face of the Bill.
Amendment No. 184 seeks to be more prescriptive and specific than the present wording of the Bill about the principles of school discipline. Most of the comments in that regard have related to the proposed paragraph (d), which is concerned with bullying. It is important that schools' discipline policies take action to combat bullying. We all recognise the seriousness and probable growth of this problem, although it may be a decade or two ago since my noble friend Lord Peston and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, experienced bullying. But it is not tolerable even if it produces the kind of talent that both noble Lords have exhibited in this House, together with that of the thespian friends of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Nevertheless, it is intolerable and sometimes deeply destructive of children.
The main aim of our policy in this area is to provide schools with clear and helpful guidance so that they can tackle the problem of bullying. Reports of the Chief Inspector of Schools have shown that most schools have clear procedures to deal with bullying and that the use of the department's anti-bullying pack indicates that most schools operate it either separately or as part of a wider behaviour and discipline policy. The question is how effective that policy is in practice. We believe that that is best left to guidance rather than prescription on the face of the Bill.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 191 and 198, which relate to pupil attendance at appeal hearings. In many cases schools already allow or encourage pupils to attend governors' meetings to consider their exclusion or make an appeal to an independent appeal hearing. In many cases, particularly for older pupils, it is right to allow the excluded child to present his or her case. Certainly we expect the school to give the child an opportunity to set out his or her version of events before a decision to exclude is made. But to allow a pupil to attend the appeal hearing will not be appropriate in every case, particularly where a very young or immature child is involved.
While we acknowledge that the amendment before us would not force the pupil to be present at either the governing body hearing or at the appeal, we are concerned that by placing this right on the face of the Bill we may create an expectation that the pupil should be there in all cases. Therefore, implications could be drawn from the pupil not being there. We consider that to meet the point it is more appropriate to have statutory guidance. I hope that my noble friend Lady David agrees that that is the best way to allow children to 707 present their views without placing pressure on some children in inappropriate circumstances to make recommendations.
Amendment No. 191A deals with referral to a medical officer. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, also referred to this matter. We recognise that there is scope for many exclusions to be prevented by earlier intervention by schools and other agencies, including in some cases health agencies. A strong focus on early intervention on a multi-agency basis is often appropriate. Schools and LEAs are under a statutory duty to identify and assess children's special educational needs, having regard to the SEN code of practice when they do so. Our Green Paper contains proposals for improved identification and provision for all children with SEN, including those whose special needs could give rise to difficult behaviour. To answer the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, the Green Paper includes proposals to improve that aspect in the training and information available to teachers. We shall publish an action plan to bring about these improvements when full consultation on the Green Paper has been concluded, as soon as possible after the school summer holidays. We are particularly concerned that exclusion could from time to time be used to punish poor behaviour that arises from unmet special educational needs or special medical needs.
The department will be issuing new guidance emphasising the importance of identifying such cases early and providing the necessary support which might include referring the pupil to the health professionals, as requested in this amendment. But that would be a matter for guidance. There will be detailed and flexible arrangements to ensure that such things are considered, which would help to avoid exclusion at a later date.
That deals with the amendments that have been proposed by various noble Lords in this group. I also have to speak to Amendment No. 193A. This amendment, in one sense, might logically have been better grouped with the amendments standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Archer, Amendments Nos. 192 and 193, but they deal with the question of providing reasons for exclusion.
As currently drafted, the Bill requires the governors to notify the parents of their decision but the governors do not have to give the reasons for their decision. The Government Amendment No. 193A rectifies this omission by requiring the governing body to set out a statement of their reasons for upholding a permanent exclusion when notifying the parents of the outcome of their consideration of the case. I trust that my noble friend Lord Archer will bear that in mind when we come to that group of amendments. I think it deals with one of the points covered by his amendments.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
Before other noble Lords who have put their names to amendments possibly speak again, may I ask my noble friend a question. I apologise to him for asking it because I have forgotten the answer to the question. When the subject of guidance has come up 708 before we have asked what is the legal standing of guidance. I remember asking that a couple of years ago but I regret to say I have now forgotten the answer. I take it that guidance has less statutory force than being on the face of the Bill but it has some strengths.
The reason I ask is that in one or two of these cases it seemed to me—and here I differ from my noble friend—to be compelling that the matter should be on the face of the Bill rather than left to whether you respond to guidance or not. I refer to bullying as one obvious example. Merely to say in guidance, "Our guidance is that you should do something about bullying", seems to me to be immensely less than having in this statute something of the sort we have here. I have to say to my noble friend that I did not hear him give an argument. I heard him say he prefers guidance but I did not hear him tell me why guidance is the way to do it. Unless I have totally forgotten what we used to say about guidance—and I was then in opposition so I should have remembered it better than I do—guidance was not a bad thing in many cases where it would not be unreasonable sometimes not to accept that guidance. But in this case I think it would be so unreasonable not to accept the guidance that I should have thought my noble friend might at least like to reflect on whether the rightness of the argument is much more on the side of my noble friend Lady David than it is on the side of the department and we should, at least for one or two of these matters, find a way of putting them on the Bill.
§ Lord Whitty
It is clear that bullying in schools takes place on a fairly widespread basis. Therefore, additional guidance, help and support to schools in ensuring that bullying is minimised is desirable. The department has already provided some substantial help to schools. We would intend to improve that guidance in a number of respects under the guidance required by this Bill.
The legal status of guidance, particularly when it relates to a disciplinary procedure, as it does here, is that the governing bodies—in this case it is the governing bodies—have a statutory duty to have regard to guidance when reaching their decisions. That is the position. It is not prescriptive in terms of it being on the face of the Bill, but they will need to have regard to guidance when carrying out their procedures and reaching their decisions. I hope that clarifies at least the status point from my noble friend's intervention.
§ Lord Archer of Sandwell
May I intervene simply to say that I noted the comments of my noble friend on his Amendment No. 193A. I am grateful to him for having taken note of the point which I was making. But, as he says, it clearly belongs to a later group of 709 amendments. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I defer any further comment on it in the interests both of clarity and expedition until we reach that later group.
§ Baroness Blatch
Perhaps I may just come back to the noble Lord on his explanation of guidance. Of course technically that was absolutely right. But the truth is, and in answer to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, there is such a thing as guidelines and guidance. Guidelines are a less formal obligation on the part of local authorities. Guidance they must have regard to, but they can have regard to it and dismiss it. If they are challenged on the decision they come to, it is purely a procedural matter as to whether they took into account in coming to that decision the advice that was set out in the guidance. The guidance does not oblige local authorities to be consistent with the guidance other than to have taken account of it in coming to a decision.
§ Lord Rix
May I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, says. Going away from personal, long-distance memories, I should like to come to the particular problem we face at the moment; that is in regard to children with special educational needs.
It is a well-known fact that one of the major problems they face is that of bullying. Certainly in mainstream schools children with learning disabilities are, without question, subject to the most appalling bullying in many cases. I cannot believe that there should not be some statutory declaration on the face of the Bill in regard to this bullying. Forget old actors like me, but come back to people like my daughter who at one time have been classed SEN. Unfortunately, that was before people with learning disabilities were educated as a sine qua non. But in current days I know that many of the complaints from parents of children with learning difficulties, with obviously special educational needs, are that of bullying. I believe it should be on the face of the Bill.
§ Baroness Warnock
May I ask the Minister to supply the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was wanting, against having this on the face of the Bill? We have heard good things about guidance, but we have heard no bad things from the Minister about putting this on the face of the Bill. Partly because of what my noble friend Lord Rix, has said, I feel very strongly that children with special needs are particularly likely to be the subject of bullying. That is a matter which becomes increasingly important as there is increasing pressure for these children to be in mainstream schools.
§ Lord Swinfen
Would the Minister agree with me that guidance, generally speaking, has no value whatsoever when things are going well? But if something goes wrong, someone can be in considerable difficulty and have some very awkward questions to answer if they have not followed the guidance. That is the time when it is important. When everything is running smoothly guidance is not 710 necessary. When things start to go wrong and the guidance has not been followed, they have some awkward questions to answer. That is what appears to me to be guidance which is much weaker even than regulations. I feel that it would be wise to have something on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord Dearing
I should like to support that comment. Guidance descends on schools like leaves descend on the pavement in autumn and, like leaves, it is swept aside because of the sheer volume. It has become counter-productive. If there is an issue of great seriousness, as I believe there is on bullying, it needs to be distinguished from the leaves and given a special status by being included on the face of the Bill.
§ Baroness Byford
I rise in support of noble Lords who have spoken. I believe firmly that this should be on the face of the Bill. Bullying is the most dreadful experience for many young people. Although my own amendment does not apply in the same way, certainly with regard to those who have special educational needs, I think we should look at it again. I urge the Government to include it on the face of the Bill. We are encouraging children who have special educational needs to take their place in mainstream schools, provided that that is the parents' wish. One thing that will put them off is the knowledge that there is no extra protection for them. That will make families hesitate to take that step which we would all welcome. I support other Members of the Committee in encouraging the Government to take this step.
§ Lord Addington
If bullying is to be taken seriously, it must be on the face of the Bill. With so many pieces of paper descending on teachers from all over the place, giving them a target would help. We have had a great many debates in this Chamber about integration and SEN. If this matter is dealt with properly, it will allow integration to go forward. If we do not get this right, we will find many pupils with SEN problems developing social problems as a result of being unable to cope with the classroom. That is often because they fail in the classroom. It is a chicken and egg situation. We may be able to break that process if we tackle bullying successfully. Surely something more positive should be done. That would stop many of the secondary problems that arise in the case of SEN pupils.
§ Lord Whitty
I do not believe that there is anything between us on how we regard the serious issue of bullying, the need for schools to have measures to tackle it, for disciplinary procedures to be effective in tackling it, and for care for the victims of bullying, whether they are SEN pupils or anyone else. The question is whether putting it on the face of the Bill would be the most effective way of dealing with it.
Amendment No. 184 sets out in some prescriptive detail each school's behaviour and discipline policy. Our approach is that each school needs to ensure that its procedures, and the way in which those procedures 711 are conveyed to the pupils, reflect the situation within that school. The guidance, which will take into account other aspects of school behaviour and the duties of head teachers, governing bodies, pupils and staff, will be better able to guide schools in how to achieve those discipline and anti-bullying policies and will be more effective than would inserting three lines on the face of the Bill.
It is a complex situation. Different schools face different problems, and different schools will wish to deal with those problems differently. The surveys which the department and the inspectorate have carried out on how bullying is dealt with currently in schools indicate that most schools have a policy in this area. The aim of our policy is to improve the effectiveness of those policies and the protection of those pupils who are the victims of bullying. We do not believe that achieving that result, which is already recognised in virtually all schools, will be improved by having a requirement prescriptive of policy on the face of the Bill. The effective operation of policies which already exist in many cases is what is required.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, it is not true to say that guidance has no role where things are going well. It may well be that it is because a school is following guidance that it has no serious problem. Clearly, where things go wrong a failure to have observed that guidance—that is the point raised by the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Peston—before any appeals body or in any legal case would put the school authorities in a difficult position. That is the strength of guidance. Given that this places the whole question of an anti-bullying policy in a broader context, guidance seems to us to be the best means of dealing with the problem.
I stress that although we do not accept that this requirement should be on the face of the Bill, we are all committed to ensuring that anti-bullying provisions in all schools are improved and strengthened, and that the plague of bullying which some people claim is going on in some schools, should effectively be brought to an end. There is no difference in objective, but we do not believe that this provision would help meet this objective, whereas detailed and effective guidance would.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
Before the Minister sits down, may I say I fear that I cannot understand how a committee, looking at guidance, will affect the life of the bullied child as quickly as is essential. If bullying is taking place it should be stamped out on day one, or on day two at the worst, not after it has been referred to the LEA, or a head masters' conference, whatever may take place. Head teachers must be told that bullying must not take place. It must be on the face of the Bill. Just to offer guidance to some committee to look at the way the head teacher and the staff stamp out bullying in their school is impossible for that poor bullied child. The Minister may say that there may be some bullying, I am 100 per cent. certain that there is bullying, and a great amount of it when it comes to pupils with SEN.
§ Lord Tope
I intervene again with hesitation. There is clearly considerable concern about bullying on all sides of the Chambers. I understand that the Minister 712 cannot concede today, but I hope that he recognises that concern and will agree that the Government will at least think further about it.
I shall relate an experience from my own authority. As it happens, it was in the social services area rather than education, in terms of guidelines. My authority was held, in the courts, on an issue of child minders and smacking, to have had too much regard to guidelines issued under the Children Act. We interpreted the guidelines word for word. The court held that we had had too much regard to them. I have yet to hear of a local authority being held to have had too much regard for an Act of Parliament. That is an important difference.
§ Lord Whitty
Without interfering in the internal affairs of the Sutton LEA, and not knowing that case, that underlines the difference referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, between guidance and guidelines. The requirement to have regard to guidance would have statutory force and therefore would have, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, a substantial deterrent effect on the ignoring of those guidelines by authorities.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, the guidance is available to the governing body, and it sets out what should be pursued by head teachers, teachers, pupils and staff within schools. That guidance would be more explicit and clearer than a general phrase on the face of the Bill. Before my noble friend replies to the debate, I take the feeling of this place on this issue. Although I remain to be convinced that it would help one bullied child to have this on the face of the Bill rather than in guidance, there may be something in what Members of the Committee have said, and I ask my noble friend whether she would be happy were I to reflect on this matter and perhaps consult her between now and Report.
§ Baroness David
I thank all Members of the Committee who have supported me. I have received strong support for these amendments. I have had especially strong support for Amendment No. 184 which is an amendment to Clause 80. It introduces more constructive principles to school discipline.
I have listened with great care to what has been said. It is abundantly clear from all this that bullying is an issue which really has to be dealt with properly. I was very relieved that my noble friend has now said that he will reflect on this matter, because I was afraid that he would turn it down altogether. However, it appears that what has been said has made some impression on him and of course I shall be very pleased to consult with him and others between now and the next stage of the Bill.
However, I think we must have something about bullying on the face of the Bill, and that would be included in Amendment No. 184. It is also important for the general public to see that the Government are facing up to this and appreciating how bad the situation really is. Personally, I would like to see the word "pupil" on the face of the Bill. I think that is important. Whether or not the amendments I have put down are acceptable, I hope that the Government will think about this. I would prefer them to bring forward their own amendments, which would satisfy me. I very much hope 713 that that will be done. I am sure that the Government will read carefully what has been said during this debate and of course I will read carefully what my noble friend has said.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, with whose amendment I have a lot of sympathy, was really making the same point as I made on Thursday on Amendments Nos. 182 and 189; namely, that bad behaviour can often be caused not just by children being naughty but because their needs have not been recognised. The noble Baroness put forward the medical need, but in these amendments I am talking about special educational needs. In a way, they each cover the same point.
I think I have had support from everybody who spoke, except perhaps for the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, who chided me not for what I had said but rather for what I had not said. I try to speak firmly to the amendments and the clauses on which they are based, which perhaps is a practice that has not always been followed on the other side of the Committee. I think that that is very important if we are to make progress, and I congratulate myself on not speaking for too long on these matters. As I have said, I hope that the Government will reflect on what has been said and bring forward their own amendments at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 184 and 185 not moved.]
§ Clause 60 agreed to.
§ Clause 61 [LEA's reserve power to prevent a breakdown of discipline]:
§ Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 185A:
§ Page 48, line 19, after ("(2)") insert ("or where subsection (2A) applies").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 185A, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 185B, 185C, 193B and 193C.
§ Where an LEA wishes to invoke Clause 61(1), as well as one or both of Clauses 16 and 17, we want them to be able to do so without having to invoke two distinct procedures. Amendments Nos. 185A and 185B would therefore allow an LEA which had started the process of intervention under Clause 15(1) to use not only either or both of their powers under Clauses 16 and 17, but also their powers under Clause 61(1). In other words, a warning notice under Clause 15(2) might result in the use of any of those powers. Alternatively, an LEA, after having given a notice under Clause 15(2) that they proposed to exercise their powers under Clauses 16, 17 and 61(1), would have the option of ultimately invoking Clause 61(1) alone. These amendments are designed to allow LEAs to make use of these different powers in a flexible way, without having to serve different types of notices, which could be confusing as well as bureaucratic.
§ Turning to Amendment No. 185C, this new clause gives the Secretary of State the power to require governing bodies of maintained schools to set targets for reducing unauthorised absence. A school's target would be published in the governors' annual report 714 alongside its current unauthorised absence rate. This new power will be applied where a school has an attendance record significantly below average, as specified in accordance with regulations and drawing on the annual absence returns made to the department. A letter will be sent to the governing bodies of all schools so identified, informing them that the duty to set a target applies to them and for how many school years it will have effect. If, however, there is a strong reason why the governing body of a particular school should not have to set an attendance target, subsection (2)(c) provides for a waiving of the requirement.
§ The actual target will be for the governing body to decide in the light of local circumstances and in discussion with their local education authority. The department will be consulting on arrangements for attendance targets shortly. The aim will be to work towards a significant reduction in truancy through a partnership approach, and school-level targets will clearly need to reflect, and contribute to, LEA targets. This amendment will, if enacted, help to focus minds and resources on a key area of school improvement and will contribute to the Government's agenda for reducing youth crime and disorder, which, as we all know, so often happens when large numbers of young people are truanting from school.
§ Amendment No. 193C is designed to ensure that all schools follow the Government's detailed guidance on the use of exclusion. While most schools follow the existing guidance carefully, it is clear that a fairly small minority do not. At present the guidance is non-statutory, so there is little that parents can do if, for example, a school excludes their child for a quite trivial reason, or fails to follow the correct procedure. These amendments will mean that the head teacher or the governing body will be required by law to have regard to the new guidance on exclusion which will accompany this legislation, strengthening a parent's case when it comes to an independent appeal.
§ We intend to make regulations requiring the governing body's functions in relation to exclusion to be carried out by a discipline committee, as is currently the case in grant-maintained schools. The purpose of Amendment No. 193B is simply to ensure that the discipline committee, too, must have regard to the guidance on exclusion. I commend these school discipline and attendance amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.
§ Lord Peston
In rising warmly to support these amendments, perhaps I may make a slightly acid comment. Of course, they are quite prescriptive and if we were worried about matters of this sort I would rather have a prescriptive amendment on bullying than anything else. I say this to make quite sure that people have not forgotten my acerbic approach to these matters. I would like to ask my noble friend with regard to Amendment No. 185C in particular—because this is immensely important and it is an amendment I strongly support—whether she could clarify, in this context, what is meant by,to secure that annual targets are set".715 I take what she said to mean that not merely should targets be set in the sense of objectives—in other words, this is what we are going to do apropos truancy—but implicit in that is "this is what we shall do to achieve those ends".
In economics we always distinguish means from ends and we use the word "targets" just to mean ends and therefore we would not include in that the concept of means. However, my noble friend has interpreted this to mean both means and ends. Therefore can she confirm that the Secretary of State has in mind that the school
§ et al should say, "this is our objective; we assume the objective to be 100 per cent. attendance unless there is some extraordinarily good reason for children not being present, and this is how we intend it should happen". Is my interpretation of this amendment correct?
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I thank my noble friend for the acid comment. As my noble friend Lord Whitty has already said, we shall look again at bullying to see whether there is a sensible way in which we could put something on the face of the Bill.
In regard to reaching particular targets, this amendment is designed for those schools that have significantly below average attendance records and where the Government feel that something should be done. It would be common sense that where a school is asked to specify its targets for a particular goal it would need have to have some idea as to how it could reach that goal. It would be pointless if the school, including its governing body and head teacher, were only required to publish the target and did not have to spend some time indicating how it was going to get there.
§ Lord Swinfen
On that particular paragraph, I wonder whether it is wise to specify "day pupils". I know that there may not be many boarding pupils in local education authority schools, but what would be the position if there was a boarding pupil who failed to turn up for instruction, even though present in the school, without due cause? It may be an abstruse point, but it could mean that the school had no authority to chase him up and make certain that he had to attend lessons.
§ Baroness Blatch
Perhaps the noble Baroness would pick up my noble friend's point and mine at the same time. In Amendment No. 185C the Government have completely missed the target itself. The distinction between authorised and non-authorised needs to be understood. There are some schools which authorise, rather casually, absences from school. Sadly, in some cases, particularly where children are not easily dealt with in a classroom, it is easier to find some way of authorising their absence than not.
It seems to me that there are a number of important points. One is total absences from school. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, made a very important point. How many children are not in school on any given day? Then one looks for reasons why they are not there. The authorised absences need to be looked at because the policy for authorised absences between one school and 716 another can give an interesting picture of the way in which a school either deals with authorising absences with rigour, or does not. Some schools are very strict about authorising absences and some are not. It seems to me that a picture can be drawn from that.
Secondly, on unauthorised absences, in Amendment No. 185C we are putting the onus on the governing body to do something about unauthorised absences. I believe that the teachers in our classrooms are pretty busy people and frequently the only thing that they can do about unauthorised absences is to do home visits, to see where the children are, and to liaise with the police and social services. Often these children are roaming around the streets, standing on street corners and getting up to no good.
If the family have not given reasons why they are out of school, and the school has not given them permission to be out of school, then we are talking about a difficult group of people. If you have a school where a head teacher and the teachers are highly committed to good education, and want their children to be in school, the fact that they are not there may well be beyond their control, not within it.
Here we are putting the onus on the governors for getting those figures down and getting the number of unauthorised absences down. It seems to me that there must be some case for putting that onus on families. Why is it that their children are not in school? If they are not in school it is difficult for the school to act in loco parentis for those children. There needs to be some recognition and understanding that the school and the school teachers cannot do this alone. It seems to me to be grossly unfair to use legislation to put an obligation on the schools to cope and to control unauthorised absences.
When we were in office I had a lot to do with exposing this issue. That is a prerequisite for knowing what is going on in schools. What are the numbers of children who are not in school on any given day? We should have two columns, one for those who are authorised and one for those who are not authorised. At the outset I made the point that LEAs and Ofsted should be as interested in the policy for authorising absences as they are for the incidents of unauthorised absences, and schools may not be the ones to blame. It would be quite wrong to put that onus on the schools.
I am decidedly unhappy with Amendment No. 185C because I believe the Government are missing a target and are putting an onus on schools where they may have no control.
§ Lord Peston
I was slightly puzzled by what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. Surely the law still holds that during the period of compulsory schooling the parents do have a responsibility. Secondly, I should have thought the one great merit of Amendment No. 185C is, to use her word, exposure. What this amendment does is precisely what she seems to think is important. I am puzzled by why she is critical of it. It seems to me that it says very much more than before, and that the Secretary of State wants this matter exposed. To echo my noble friend, she did not say, in 717 indicating that schools would wish to intervene here, that that means that parents no longer have any responsibility or will not have a part to play.
If I may say so, I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was slightly unfair to the Government on this occasion, which is why I said earlier that I warmly support this amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
The responsibility for children attending school must rest with parents. It cannot be the responsibility of schools to see that children leave their homes and arrive at school. They may go somewhere else on the way. If they check in for assembly and then disappear, which is another form of skipping school, they are technically in school. They are there for registration and then disappear for the rest of the day, perhaps roaming the streets, they are not recorded technically as unauthorised absences but as attending school. So there are problems.
My first point is that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that that responsibility must lie with the parents. Secondly, as far as exposure is concerned, that is already done. The system at the moment requires schools to register attendance in school, authorised absences and unauthorised absences. We know the picture. The picture is there for the DfEE and for the local education authority. The third problem is that the Government have chosen to put the responsibility on the governors and the school for unauthorised absences.
I am simply saying that much of the responsibility for unauthorised absences will be parents who do not take enough care that their children not only leave home for school, but, in fact, arrive at school. Why should it be a legal obligation on the part of the school to get that figure down? Some of the measures are very practical, but they are measures for which the school teachers simply do not have time; that is, home visits, finding out why the child is not in school and liaising with the police. They need outside help. That is what I thought education welfare officers were about. It is important that the obligation is as much on them as on the governors of the school.
§ Baroness Seccombe
I support my noble friend Lady Blatch. I also draw the Committee's attention to the situation where parents are brought to court because their child is not attending school. I am horrified at the length of time that seems to pass in that process. Usually by the time the parents appear in court there have been about four terms when the attendance of the child has been absolutely abysmal—two or three times a week, if that, for half days.
§ Lord Peston
I do not wish to prolong this discussion, but there is nothing between us on the subject of parents. Even if there were, the law is the law when it comes to the parents' responsibility for the child attending school. I do not see that this amendment in any way detracts from that.
I have two thoughts on this. One is that I make sure that my child is at school. I believe that getting the child into school is approximately where my responsibility ends, for that day at least. I find it hard to believe that the teachers do not have some in loco parentis responsibility. I assume 718 that this amendment is about that. I assume it is to re-enforce the school's role without undermining the parents' role. Perhaps my noble friend will say that that is a misinterpretation, but that is certainly how I read it, which is why I support it.
I hope that both noble Baronesses agree that one task of the teachers is to make the pupils feel that it is worth while going to school. I am not saying that most unauthorised absences are connected with the fact that children think that school is a waste of time—I hope that is not the case—but a reasonable policy objective is making the school an attractive place. The main point of the amendment is not to undermine the parents but to encourage them, while accepting an explicit role for the school. For the last time, I support the amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
I hope that this is the last time that I shall come back on a point. I would rather come down more heavily on the responsibility of parents and toughen and strengthen the law on forcing parents to see that their children attend school. I am concerned that a school serving a tough area in which there is a high incidence of absence will be deemed a "baddie" because that is how it will appear in the tables. The opposite will be the case in the leafy lanes where the co-operation of parents is at a high level. In those areas, without any effort on the part of teachers, children will arrive in school and stay there for the whole day.
Where there is a high level of unauthorised absences, the Bill's provision is misplaced in putting the onus on the school and the governors to reduce that level. The responsibility for getting children into school must be with the parents, who must ensure that they stay there. Once at school, loco parentis comes into play; it is the responsibility of the school to keep them there.
§ Baroness Blackstone
The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is right in saying that there are few state boarding schools. They do not have to keep attendance registers for their boarders because it is assumed that pupils are in school. They are in total loco parentis. I expect any kind of boarding school, whether independent or state, immediately to follow up a child who is absent.
I turn to the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am grateful for the support I received from my noble friend Lord Peston because I, too, am puzzled by the way in which she has attacked the amendment. I had thought that it would be widely welcomed and accepted. Of course parents have the prime responsibility: of course the onus must be on parents; and of course the Government entirely recognise that. As she rightly said, some schools have a more difficult problem than others in grappling with truancy. But the amendment is basically about truancy; in other words, non-authorised absences. I accept that perhaps some schools are abusing the system of authorised absences and allowing children to be away when they should be at school. We shall want to examine that and seek evidence of such authorised absences being granted by schools.
I entirely accept that this is not a matter only for schools. It is also a matter for the education welfare service, which has a prime responsibility for following up children who are not attending schools. However, it is 719 important that the schools liaise closely with the education welfare service, the police, and other social services. Some schools are better at doing that than others. That is what the amendment is about. It seeks to ensure that the schools which are not tackling truancy satisfactorily should try to improve their record.
However, the Government must take into account the social conditions in which the school operates. It would be unfair to schools not to do so. The Government will take it into account.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is concerned with the way in which the juvenile court procedures operate and is trying to reduce the time which some cases take. Indeed, in the Crime and Disorder Bill the Government are introducing parenting orders for school attendance offences and will give magistrates more flexibility in dealing with them.
I hope that in the light of my response to those questions, the Committee will accept the Government's strong commitment to trying to improve attendance at all schools. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 185B:
§ Page 48, line 30, at end insert—
§ ("(2A) This subsection applies where—
- (a) a warning notice has been given in accordance with section 15(2) referring to the safety of pupils or staff at the school being threatened by a breakdown of discipline at the school,
- (b) the governing body have failed to comply, or secure compliance, with the notice to the authority's satisfaction within the compliance period, and
- (c) the authority have given reasonable notice in writing to the governing body that they propose to exercise their powers under subsection (1) of this section (whether or not in conjunction with exercising their powers under either or both of sections 16 and 17);
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 61, as amended, agreed to.
§ Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 185C:
§ After Clause 61, insert the following new clause—
§ ("School attendance targets
§ SCHOOL ATTENDANCE TARGETS
§ —(1) Regulations may make provision for and in connection with—
- (a) requiring, or
- (b) enabling the Secretary of State to require,
§ (2) Regulations under this section may, in particular, make provision—
- (a) for the Secretary of State to impose such a requirement on the governing body of a maintained school where—
- (i) the specified condition is for the time being satisfied in relation to the school, and
- (ii) he considers it appropriate to impose the requirement;
- (b) for such a requirement to be imposed by the Secretary of State in such manner, and for such period, as may he specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations;
- (c) for the Secretary of State, where he considers it appropriate to do so, to exempt the governing body of a maintained school, in relation to any school year, from a requirement imposed by virtue of subsection (1)(a) or (b).
§ (3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a)(i) the specified condition is for the time being satisfied in relation to a maintained school if in the previous school year the level of unauthorised absences on the part of relevant day pupils at the school (as determined in accordance with the regulations) exceeded such level as may for that year be specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations.
(4) In this section—
relevant day pupil" means a pupil registered at a maintained school who is of compulsory school age and is not a boarder;
unauthorised absence", in relation to such a pupil, means any occasion on which the pupil is recorded as absent without authority pursuant to regulations under section 434 of the Education Act 1996 (registration of pupils).").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.