§ (".—(1) Guidance given under section 2(2) may include guidelines setting out aims, objectives and other matters, including the interpretation of the law, in relation to the discharge by local education authorities of any function under sections 1 to 4.
§ (2) The Secretary of State shall publish any such guidance for the time being in force which is applicable to all local education authorities, or a class or description of local education authorities.
§ (3) Where the Secretary of State proposes to issue or revise guidance provided for under subsection (1) he shall prepare a draft of the guidance, consult such persons about the draft as he deems fit and consider any representations made by them.
§ (4) If he determines to proceed with the draft (either in its original form or with such modifications as he thinks fit) he shall lay a copy of the draft guidance before Parliament.
§ (5) If, within the 40-day period, either House resolves not to approve the draft, the Secretary of State shall take no further steps in relation to the proposed guidance.
§ (6) If no such resolution is made within the 40-day period, the Secretary of State shall issue the guidance (or revised guidance) in the form of the draft, and it shall come into force on such date as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.561
§ (7) Subsection (4) does not prevent a new draft of the proposed guidance from being laid before Parliament.
§ (8) In this section "40-day period", in relation to the draft guidance. Means—
- (a) if the draft is laid before one House on a day later than the day on which it is laid before the other House, the period of 40 days beginning with the later of two days, and
- (b) in any other case, the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the draft is laid before each House,
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first of a number of amendments put down by myself and my noble friends to express our concern on the issue of guidance. Since this is the first occasion on which it arises, it might be helpful to your Lordships if I spent a little time speaking generally about our concern rather than specifically to Amendment No. 16. Then I shall not need to do so every time one of our amendments is raised.
§ I can summarise our concerns on the issue of guidance and our reasons for the amendments as being threefold. First, we wish to draw attention to the increase in the statutory guidance provisions in the Bill. Secondly, we wish to find out why some guidance is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and other guidance is not. Thirdly, we wish to find out what the Government hope to achieve by making guidance statutory.
§ I say at the outset that I accept that the drafting of some of our amendments may not be perfect and in some cases they may be in the wrong place. I believe that that does not matter too much, as I do not intend to press them to a Division. Our purpose and intention are clear, or will become so.
§ On the general issue of statutory guidance, the Bill introduces at least 10 new powers, and perhaps more, for the Secretary of State to give guidance to which LEAs, schools and other bodies must have regard. They are: class size reduction plans, education development plans, sale of other premises, consultation on establishment alteration or discontinuation of schools, approval, imposition and revision of LEA financial schemes, exclusion of pupils, admissions, home school agreements, early years development plans and LEA/school relationships.
§ The status of the guidance seems to vary. The guidance on admissions and LEA/school relationships is accorded the title of "code of practice" and a form of negative resolution procedure is provided for parliamentary scrutiny. No such scrutiny is provided for any other statutory guidance in the Bill. Interestingly, our Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee commented only on the admissions and the LEA/schools relationship codes of practice, but not on the others. The DfEE memorandum mentioned only the admissions code of practice. Could it be that the term "code of practice" makes the guidance more important? The Minister's view on that would be welcome.
§ I recognise, of course, that the importance and role of the 10 areas of guidance which I have just mentioned vary. For example, the guidance on the sale of other non-school premises is minor and we have not raised 562 any amendments on it. But the importance of guidance in other areas is enormous, in particular in education development plans and exclusion of pupils. Can the Minister therefore explain to us why some statutory guidance documents are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and others are not?
§ The mushrooming of statutory guidance has not been subject to any parliamentary debate and that is in part our purpose today. Our Amendment No. 16, and others to be moved, will ask for parliamentary scrutiny similar to that for codes of practice on admission and LEA relationships. There has been some confusion in the press and elsewhere about the effects of the Bill. Some argue that it gives enormous powers back to the LEAs. Others, for whom I have slightly more sympathy, take an almost directly contrary view.
§ Time will test the overall effects of the legislation. but the increasing ability of the Government to require LEAs and school governing bodies to take account of the Government's views is a noticeable feature of the legislation and must result in increased centralism over the next few years. Every new piece of statutory guidance takes away from local government and schools the ability to think through and act independently in their joint task of raising standards. It makes the LEA the authority of the GAPs. We shall have to look at a number of separate documents provided by central government to find out the LEA's role. Once the new arrangements are in force, there may not be much local discretion left which is not directly controlled by secondary legislation or by guidance.
§ The implications for free-standing LEAs and schools of having to work around an increasingly large number of codes of practice and guidance, all having statutory force to which they must have regard, reduces such bodies to mere cyphers of central government and, arguably, that is an impediment to creativity and innovation, the lifeblood of raising standards. By giving parliamentary scrutiny over the guidance, there will at least be some brake on the power of the Government.
§ I turn now specifically to Amendment No. 16, having made the general point which I shall not repeat with future amendments. The consultation on the draft guidance on reducing infant class sizes closed on 12th June. Perhaps the Minister can tell us something about its outcome. That draft guidance contains a rather obscure paragraph, paragraph 13, which attempts to provide guidance on meeting parental preference, while still achieving the class size pledge. The Secretary of State will use the published guidance to determine whether or not to approve a plan, with significant consequences, if the plan is not approved, in loss of grant.
§ The problem with paragraph 13, as currently drafted, is that it is obscure. It uses terms which are not defined such as "poor schools" or "popular schools" or "schools with high standards". It does not address such issues as whether popular schools can be extended. Parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance would enable us to have a full debate on it, and to tease out and understand better the meaning of such guidance.563
§ I hope that this first amendment offers the Minister an opportunity to clarify the three areas which I described. That would be of great service to those of us who will be subject to the guidance as it emerges. I beg to move.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, it is clear that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, recognises the importance of the guidance and of some flexibility in guidance. We have obviously accepted the merits of wide consultation on guidance. As he said, in this area we have just completed the draft guidance consultation. To answer the noble Lord's last question, at present we are still analysing and carefully considering the responses. We shall put a copy of our summary of responses in the House Library in due course.
However, we do not accept that it is good use of parliamentary time to subject guidance to the procedure suggested in the amendment. There is already parliamentary scrutiny of the associated regulations relating to class size. The guidance will not, and indeed could not, contain any new obligations over and above that, but will give guidance to LEAs on preparing their plans for the reduction of class sizes.
Moreover, there is no clear precedent for guidance at this level being subject to the negative resolution procedure. It is true that in the Bill both the code of practice on admissions and the LEA codes of practice are subject to the negative resolution procedure. The former was introduced only in response to a recommendation from the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. It is important to note that no such recommendation was made in the case of any other guidance which the department will be producing to support the implementation of the new measures introduced by the Bill.
The Government accept that the negative resolution procedure is right for codes of practice which will have statutory force, in that LEAs will have to have regard to them in carrying out their relative duties and responsibilities. The same is not true of the other guidance, which will be non-statutory in that sense. The guidance will assist LEAs in implementing the class size regulations and, at later stages in the Bill, other aspects of the policy embodied in the Bill. Ultimately, however, it remains for the LEAs to decide how best to achieve their targets.
The guidance is also of a different scale from, for example, the proposed code of practice on admissions. That code of practice will cover a whole range of admission points whereas the guidance that we are proposing under this clause will be much more limited in scope. I am sure that everybody involved in education recognises that the department issues a whole range of circulars and guidance documents. If each was subject to parliamentary procedures, I fear that there would be little time for anything else on the educational front.
I have tried to explain the difference between where we accept that the negative procedures should apply with codes of practice of statutory force and the issue of guidance. Guidance is extremely important in guiding 564 local authorities to take their own decisions. The codes of practice have more direct effect. The difference is understood in the education world and is reflected in the way in which we deal with it in the Bill. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment, as he indicated he would.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I shall read it and try to understand it more fully.
I recognise that the noble Lord, understandably, was replying to the specific amendment I moved. However, I am not sure that he satisfactorily answered the more general points I made and there may be opportunities later, as we progress through the Bill, to return to them.
As I said in my speech, I recognise that guidance is of different levels of importance and there are certainly some areas where guidance is to be issued where nobody—least of all me—would suggest that it should come before Parliament. But the Minister seemed to be saying that it was coming here for negative resolution because the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee said that it should—that is a good reason in itself and I do not question it—rather than that it was of great importance.
There are areas where guidance will have statutory effect: it will certainly have serious effect which is extremely important. Development plans are a case in point. But I am still not clear on the three questions that I asked at the beginning. One stressed the considerable increase in reliance on statutory and even non-statutory guidance. I particularly wanted to find out why some is and some is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. If it is only because the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee said so, that is not a satisfactory answer.
I was trying also to find out what the Government hoped to achieve by making guidance statutory. I am less clear now than I was as to what is and what is not statutory guidance. I suspect that we shall return to this later. As I said at the beginning, these are probing amendments and I have no intention of pressing them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 [Payment of grant in connection with reductions in infant class sizes]:
§ Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 17:
§ Page 3, line 3, leave out ("the limits imposed under section 1 are") and insert ("any limit imposed under section 1 is").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 18 not moved.]
§ Clause 4 [Interpretation of Chapter I]:
§ [Amendment No. 19 not moved.]
§ Clause 5 [Duty of LEAs to promote high standards in primary and secondary education]:
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 20:
§ Page 3, line 44, at end insert ("of attainment").565
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is not simply a petty-fogging linguistic amendment. We are all concerned to improve educational standards. But, as we all know, education is a complex process containing many aspects. However, I am sure that we all agree that our fellow citizens want their children to improve their attainment levels; that is, within the limits of their potential to do as well as they can in the subjects that they are sitting at school. In general, that is what "attainment" is understood to mean.
§ The concerns of our fellow citizens are that their children should learn to read and write in the first stages and that that performance should be improved in the sense that it has not been as good as that in many of our fellow countries in the European Union. We would like to reach the same standards as them or better. We then move to the more advanced studies of science, the arts and much more. Again, there are certain areas where we face a somewhat alarming deficit in contrast to our neighbours.
§ The problem is that, unless we add the word "attainment", high standards can be lost in a fog of generalities. I am not against value added or anything like that, but I can assure noble Lords—I repeat for the second time this afternoon what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said at greater length—that it is hard to define "value added". One thing for which every education authority should strive is improvement in basic skills; that is, that people read better, write better, and have a better performance in maths, particularly in arithmetic.
§ It may be that the Minister will assure me that "high standards" mean exactly what I say they mean. However, I hope he will understand—I say this not in any critical sense—that it is often good to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's", particularly in the world of education. Therefore, I ask that we think of the words "of attainment" being added to "high standards" and in that way we shall get the best of all worlds. What could be better than that? I beg to move.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I understand the intention behind the noble Lord's amendment. Over the weeks that we have been here—it has been a long time—we have all agreed that we want to see high standards of attainment. However, when I look at the amendment it seems to me that it narrows the meaning of "high standards" of education.
We have had many debates about what is included in education. I want high standards of attainment and assume—perhaps wrongly—that that must be part of "high standards". However, I want to see high standards in a lot of other areas—personal, social and health education; people's confidence and communication skills; cultural, moral and spiritual development. We have discussed those matters at some length over recent weeks and they are all important. If we change the wording of the Bill to insist on "high standards of attainment", what happens to the rest?
I suggest that "high standards" of education include high standards of attainment and therefore I am not happy to support the noble Lord, though I support his intention absolutely.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, this is a slightly déjà vu debate. We have had this debate before and the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, have been made before.
This amendment would change the LEAs general duty to promote high standards to one which I assume is attempting to focus on raising standards of measured or measurable attainment. Indeed, the noble Lord. Lord Pilkington, seemed to narrow it even further to something approaching the three R's.
All of those things are vitally important in raising standards, but the connotation of attainment is often that which relates to performance, tests and exams, and excludes issues such as the attitude to school, attendance, exclusion, personal development and moral, social and cultural development. If attainment were written in that way it would, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, limit rather than focus the role of LEAs.
That is not to say that the Government are in any way diluting the need to achieve high levels of attainment in that sense. Raising the levels of attainment is one of our major focuses and is something to which the Government attach great importance. If the amendment seeks an assurance that raising levels of attainment must be a priority, I can certainly give that assurance. However, noble Lords will know that this duty to achieve high standards of attainment is part of a package of new measures which will be designed to improve the effectiveness of local education authorities in a wider sense and to ensure that their activities are focused on raising all standards.
One of the main ways in which we shall be monitoring LEAs' performance is through the education development plan, covered by Clauses 6 and 7, which will require specifications from LEAs on how they aim to achieve higher standards. LEAs will be required to include in their EDP targets for raising pupils' attainment in literacy and in numeracy, as the noble Lord wants, and in GCSE qualifications. These standards will indeed clarify goals and provide specific measures against which we can judge LEAs' and schools' successes. We shall be monitoring that performance.
However, as I said, local authorities also carry out many other functions—in relation to school education, management services, the management of school places, behaviour support and special services in support of particular groups of pupils. All those functions must be carried out to the highest standards if they are to contribute most effectively to providing the best quality of education service in our schools.
We believe that LEAs should be striving for excellence in all that they do and, consequently. that the duty to promote high standards should apply much more widely to all their functions relating to the provision of education. We would not wish to go along the road of this amendment in reducing the effect of this clause by implying that it was limited to levels of measured attainment in the narrower sense, albeit, as I have said, that this is a vital part of their role and will be a vital part of our monitoring through education development plans and elsewhere.
567 I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that his amendment in one sense achieves the opposite of what he intends and that the limiting effect of the amendment would not be helpful. We need to recognise all aspects of local education authorities' responsibilities and we believe that the current wording does that.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about the desire of the Government to raise standards of attainment in the work children do at school in literacy, numeracy and much more.
I respect what the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said; and of course I do not have a narrow view of education. What worries me is that those from the more deprived areas of our community—those from a different ethnic background or from deprived families—will not be expected to attain as well as others have attained. That has not been the case in the past when people from those areas have attained high standards of literacy and numeracy—often immigrants who came to this country at the turn of the century from Russia and many other countries. While I respect what the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, we must never hide behind saying, "Little Johnny may not be able to read or write, and in fact he cannot add up either, but, my goodness, he is a confident little fellow when you see him walking down the street". That may be very desirable, but it does not get little Johnny a job.
We must be practical and not take the rather high and mighty attitude of saying that if you make a person confident everything else will follow. He also needs to read and write and achieve examination success. That is the point I and my noble friends sought to make. I am delighted that the Minister understands it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 [Preparation of education development plans]:
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 21:
§ Page 4, line 11, after ("area,") insert ("specifying the targets for attainment for individual schools at key stage 2 and key stage 4,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are back again to those nasty things called facts. I always think it best to set targets in order to know what one has achieved and what one will aim at. Fortunately, in Key Stage 2, which is at year seven, and Key Stage 4, at year 11, we have two crucial points in a child's career: when he leaves his junior school and when he takes his GCSE examinations. At those points we have records of achievement. In this amendment I suggest that the education development plan for any school, in discussion with the school and the governors of the school, should take into account the achievements at those key stages and then say what the target should be and what improvements are necessary. It should not leave the issue vague but say, "We achieved this".568
§ One could take into account the background of the pupils in the school. But if one is to improve standards, one has to look at the reality of the situation and then decide in a co-operative way how far those standards can be improved. I suggest that these facts are the skeleton and that the flesh which is to clothe the skeleton should be the education development plan based on those facts.
§ For example, if a school has consistently under-performed at GCSE in six subjects, one should analyse those subjects, first, as would any headmaster or headmistress, and decide how the performance could be improved. Otherwise, it can become mere rhetoric. I hope that the Government can assure us that they will at least put into directions on education development plans some reference to what is being achieved and what is expected to be achieved. It is not Gradgrind; it is just facts. Anyone looking at a business, a factory, or even at one's own individual performance, would do the same. When I hear confessions, I do not say to the person, "It's got to be the same as last week"; I expect an improvement in performance over the years. It is the same with regard to a school; otherwise, salvation would be denied us all. I hope that some thought can be given to these key stages in deciding the education development plan. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 may be taken together. Their effect is to require local education authorities to include in their education development plans specific targets for individual schools at each of Key Stages 2 and 4 and that the targets so specified should be based on prior attainment of pupils at individual schools. The noble Lord tabled similar amendments in Committee but they went further than these amendments. I am pleased that he has taken on board one of the reasons that we resisted the first amendment; that is, that the previous version, which covered all key stages from one through to four, would have seriously over-burdened schools and local education authorities. But I am afraid that the amendments now before us still represent a backward step in the arrangements for target setting that we currently propose under the Bill.
Our intention is to have a small number of challenging but not burdensome targets in education development plans. These—and they are set out in the draft guidance on education development plans—are precise and clear, both to local education authorities and to schools. They are also able to change over time because the Secretary of State can issue regulations on target setting to focus on subject areas that changing circumstances may make it appropriate to include as targets, or to phase out an existing target if circumstances justify that. But by placing targets at Key Stages 2 and 4 on the face of the Bill, Amendment No. 21 would require new legislation in order to vary the targets; for example, by removing a target at Key Stage 2 or adding targets at Key Stage 4. That would introduce inflexibility and delay which cannot be to the benefit of the local education authority and still less the schools. So I do not see any advantage in the amendment to which the noble Lord has principally spoken.
569 There is at least one potential difficulty. Once the Secretary of State has approved LEAs' education development plans, they will be required, as the guidance states, to update them annually to review progress against the achievement of targets agreed between LEAs and schools. That is an education development plan. The second year of education development plans will provide a bench-mark for tracking the progress of schools and LEAs regarding performance and the achievement of targets on the basis of actual performance in the first year.
Of course, prior attainment is very important. Indeed, the value added measures which the department will be publishing relate specifically to prior attainment. But research suggests that other factors such as free school meals or English as an additional language, are of less significance once prior attainment is taken into account. The noble Lord understands the interaction between those things. We discussed that in Committee.
Value added measures are one of a range of tools alongside, for example, bench-mark information which schools have available to them to help them set realistic but challenging targets. We believe that this information will greatly enhance schools' understanding of their performance and it will help with their efforts to improve.
But there will be no compulsion on the schools to use it or to use it in any particular way. It will be for the schools themselves, perhaps in discussion with the LEAs, to decide on how best to use this and the other performance information which will be available to them. A requirement to base targets on one of these sources of information would not help to set realistic targets. It might make the process less effective. We are really continuing to argue for flexibility. I do not believe that we are doing so in conflict with "the facts" as the noble Lord expressed them, in his introduction to these amendments. I hope that he will feel able to withdraw them.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I welcome what the noble Lord has said. I hope that the House will bear with me if I am anecdotal for a few moments. When I was a headmaster and took over a new school, I used to do an analysis of its performance in every subject. As often happened, the school was weaker in certain subjects than in others. I regarded myself as successful when I had improved the school standard in those weaker subjects. I discovered the weakness in those subjects by looking at the results achieved in internal or external exams.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. One would look at the discipline of the school and things like that. But in every case one would look at an existing situation and decide what one wanted to do about it. I am not saying it was the total way of dealing with the situation, but one takes two important points such as when the child leaves the junior school and when the child is 16 years of age and takes the GCSE.
I say this because it is educationally important. It is also what the citizens of this country value very greatly. I shall not dwell on some of the instructions for the 570 education development plans, but they were needlessly complex. They were more within education jargon than in terms which the parents and others would understand. I shall not press the amendment. I merely state that in many ways it is a good way of judging whether standards will improve. The Government may find that, in a year or two, the guidance they have put forward for the education development plans is not so direct as they would wish it to be. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 22 not moved.]
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 4, line 30, after ("regulations,") insert—
("( ) show how the special educational needs policy of the local education authority will raise the achievement of children with special educational needs;").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now come to the interests of pupils with special educational needs. Before speaking to the amendment, I would like to say how much everyone concerned with moving amendments at an earlier stage appreciates the tabling of Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Rix. That shows a great step forward. It satisfies a great deal of the general anxiety felt by people concerned with pupils with special educational needs when they read the Bill and followed its progress through another place.
Amendment No. 23 is not meant to contradict in any sense the amendment put forward by the Minister; namely, Amendment No. 27. On the contrary, it puts on the face of the Bill an example as regards the statement of purpose which is part of the education development plan. It adds the requirement that the proposals should,
show how the special educational needs policy of the local education authority will raise the achievement of children with special educational needs".
I believe that many people feel that local education authorities need to face up to the fact that their policies should be directed towards improving the attainment of pupils with special educational needs. They should demonstrate in their proposals how their education development plan will have that effect. It is clearly a practical example of having regard to children with special educational needs. It is something like the terminology of the amendment tabled by the Minister. It is a way of showing how "have regard to" shall be implemented in practice in the presentation of the education development plans. Therefore, it is a practical mechanism for ensuring that the education of children with special educational needs is placed firmly within the framework. I shall leave my noble friend to speak to Amendment No. 26. I beg to move.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, in the world of the theatre, the importance of top billing is quite straightforward. It relates to the amount of money that one will receive. If you have second, third, or fourth billing, it generally 571 means that your attainments are less and that your remuneration at the end of the week is consequently reduced. I am very happy to take second, third and even fourth billing on Amendments Nos. 23, 26, 27, 79 and 142. I should like to speak to them together and, as a Cross-Bencher, to support everybody in sight.
As we have just heard, Amendment No. 23 stands first in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. It provides a link between the education development plan and a local education authority's SEN policy. Amendment No. 26, which stands first in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, would make it a requirement that an LEA's SEN policy was annexed to the education development plan.
Amendment No. 27 stands on its own in the name of the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, we are all grateful for the amendment. We are delighted to see it and we hope that it will soon be on the face of the Bill.
Naturally, I am supporting Amendments Nos. 79 and 142, which are government amendments, because my name appears to them in second billing. I am delighted that the Minister, her department and the Government have taken notice of the great stress that many Members of your Lordships' House laid on the question of bullying. It is a major step forward to see that on the face of the Bill, particularly with regard to children with learning disabilities who attend SEN or ordinary mainstream schools.
Perhaps I may again express my gratitude for these amendments to all concerned. I am sure that we shall not be seeking the opinion of the House because everybody concerned recognises the worth and the scope of the government amendments as well as those which stand in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, my name appears to Amendment No. 26, in top billing, to borrow the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. If I may first be a little sour, perhaps I may say that we could really have had this debate in Committee. I hope that in the future when we deal with the issue of special educational needs and bring that matter into our overall educational policy, we shall not need such debates. I hope that those of us with an interest in this will be brought together; that a discussion will take place and that the Government will not have to move such amendments because these provisions will, we hope, already be part of any future education Bills. Perhaps I should add that I was hopeful of that happening under the previous government because a similar process took place then. However, that did not occur.
I hope that this Government will learn from this experience and recognise the fact that, generally speaking, some attention has to be paid to this even if that means that our prepared set speeches cannot be rolled out quite so often. I hope that we shall then be able to deal with the other more controversial parts of such Bills where there is real disagreement between us. I think that this has been a victory for the House, but it 572 is a victory in a battle that we did not need to fight because we have all discovered that we have been shooting in the same direction.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lords in first, second and third billing have said. Coming on as fourth billing, I should like to do a little more than merely respond to the amendments or speak to the government amendments. I should like to say a few words about special educational needs in the wider context of the Bill, given the concerns expressed at both Second Reading and in Committee that there has been only limited reference to SEN pupils on the face of the Bill. We know that the importance of ensuring high standards of special needs provision is an issue that is dear to Members of this House, as it is to the Government.
Following the Committee stage, officials from my department had a constructive meeting with the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Swinfen, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, at which they discussed a number of issues. In response to that helpful discussion and the earlier debates, we are proposing three amendments which we hope will address key concerns. I shall deal with those in a moment, but I should like first to mention one or two other important areas.
I begin with education action zones and education action forums. The issue becomes particularly important in education action zones, where poor health, low levels of family literacy and a large number of disaffected pupils are likely to lead to higher numbers of pupils with special educational needs. It is reassuring to see that these issues are being addressed by the EAZ proposals themselves. I will give three examples. In Herefordshire, teams of support staff will work across the zones addressing problematic behaviour and learning difficulties. In Thetford, the EAZ will include specialist, localised speech and language therapy provision; and in Leicester there will be multi-agency support teams to endeavour to help address special needs from early years.
Concerns have been expressed that the establishment of foundation special schools will create difficulties in planning specialist provision. There are fears that foundation special schools will be able to change their schools in ways that will not reflect local and regional plans for the development of SEN provision; or, indeed that they will not change to reflect such developments.
Those fears are unfounded. Foundation special school governors will be able to bring forward proposals to alter their school, but LEAs will also be able to propose changes to foundation special schools. Our guidance to proposers will make clear the plans they should consider when bringing forward proposals to reorganise special needs provision. These will include school organisation plans, proposals for the regional development of SEN provision and education development plans.
We are also very conscious of concerns about how children with special educational needs but without statements will be treated under the new admission arrangements. We have stated clearly and unequivocally 573 in the draft interim guidance on school admissions that children with special educational needs but without statements must be treated no less favourably than other applicants.
The interim guidance also covers pupils with disabilities and reminds schools that they are under a duty to admit a child where the school has been named in the child's statement of special educational needs. It stresses the importance of schools and LEAs working together to agree strategies that will allow all schools to admit a more even share of children with challenging behaviour.
This guidance is the first consultative step on admissions leading to the statutory code of practice to which all admission authorities will be required to have regard. We shall continue to work with representatives of children with special needs as we proceed to finalise the interim guidance and to develop the code. I will speak further about how SEN issues have been addressed in developing other policies when the relevant clauses are reached.
I now turn to the specific amendments we are proposing. These relate to Clauses 6, 25 and 61. Amendment No. 27 to Clause 6 would place a requirement on LEAs when preparing their education development plans to have regard to the education of children with special educational needs. We have sought in this amendment to address some very important concerns. EDPs will be the key mechanism through which LEAs will play their part in raising standards in schools. Children with special educational needs are an important part of this agenda. We want to raise standards for all children. That is why the draft guidance which we issued drew special attention to their needs and required LEAs to include significant action to support them. But in response to the concerns that have been raised, we have looked again at this question to see what more needs to be done.
The definition of "children" in Clause 6 includes children with special educational needs. Clause 6 therefore requires LEAs in their EDPs to address education for pupils with special educational needs. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, confirming the position following concerns raised by her and others on Second Reading that, as drafted, the Bill may not fully reflect the Government's commitments to SEN. We are minded of those concerns and attach the greatest importance to ensuring that LEAs are continually reviewing and improving provision for these pupils. We have concluded that to put the matter beyond doubt there should be a specific requirement on the face of the Bill.
Special educational needs should be part of the mainstream programmes of LEAs with clear targets for improvement. Therefore, LEAs' targets for raising standards for pupils with SEN should be contained within the main body of the EDP. That is in line with the spirit of inclusion and will ensure that LEAs are held to account for raising standards for pupils with special needs in the same way as for pupils who do not have special needs. We also want to ensure that LEAs' EDPs reflect the broader range of the Government's key 574 objectives for SEN. We therefore propose that LEAs should set out in a separate mandatory annex what they will do to make progress towards those objectives. This measure and our amendment to put on the face of the Bill a requirement for LEAs to have regard to SEN when drawing up their EDPs will send a clear message to LEAs about the importance that we attach to SEN.
The precise balance between what should appear in the main body of the EDP and what should appear in the annex needs careful thought. I know that there are differing views among those with an interest in SEN about exactly how EDPs should reflect SEN. We shall therefore be consulting organisations who have a particular interest in this matter on the details. We need to keep EDPs as streamlined as possible. Attaching these policies may make EDPs more lengthy than we believe is desirable; but we would expect LEAs to reflect key aspects of their policies and priorities for SEN in their EDPs. What exactly should be attached as an annex is a matter we can consider after further consultation.
I turn to school organisation committees and school organisation plans. It is important that school organisation committees should have access to appropriate SEN expertise covering provision in both special and mainstream schools. We are committed to achieving that. But there are a number of ways of doing so. We shall consult specifically on this point before making clear in guidance and in regulations how special educational needs will be represented on school organisation committees. We are determined to get this right. Amendment No. 79 responds to concerns expressed by your Lordships during Committee stage about the proposed school organisation plan. The plan will set the crucial context for decisions on school organisation proposals and will be a very important part of the process. Clause 25(2)(a) already provides that the plan shall describe how the authority intends to meet the needs of the population of its area. Pupils with SEN would clearly be covered by that provision. However, your Lordships expressed concerns during Committee stage. I am happy to respond with this amendment which puts beyond doubt that the plan will always have to take explicit account of the needs of pupils with SEN.
Finally, at Committee stage we undertook to consider further the arguments of my noble friend Lady David and others that there should be a specific reference to bullying on the face of the Bill. We have accepted the force of those arguments. Amendment No. 142 would require the headteacher to determine measures, as part of the school's discipline policy, to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. We attach a high priority to helping schools prevent and combat bullying. This is by no means an issue only for children with SEN. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made clear on a number of occasions that bullying in whatever form, be it racial or because of a child's special educational needs, or for some other reason, is a pernicious problem which puts the emotional well-being and educational achievement of pupils at risk. Bullying is disruptive and intolerable and it must have no place in our schools. It can lead to disaffection and truancy that totally blights a young person's life. We want all 575 schools to treat bullying very seriously and we are determined to help schools take steps to combat it promptly and firmly whenever and wherever it occurs.
I hope that the House will feel that, taking together what I have said today and the amendment that I move, the Government have shown in a very practical way that they are ready to listen to genuine and clearly articulated concerns. It was in order to listen to the widest possible range of views on SEN that last year we published our consultative Green Paper on the subject. Taking account of the thousands of responses we received, we shall in the early autumn publish our action programme designed to take forward the principles set out in the Green Paper. In the light of what I have just said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, will be persuaded to withdraw Amendment No. 23 and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will be persuaded to withdraw Amendment No. 26.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to respond to the Minister. The noble Baroness has given an excellent exposé of the Government's approach to special educational needs and described how the amendments tabled by the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, help to reflect on the face of the Bill the concerns that we have expressed in relation to educational development plans, school organisation committees and bullying. We are grateful for what the noble Baroness said. I shall read the words of the Minister with great care. I listened as carefully as I could to a long and (if I may say so) rapidly read statement. I believe that it satisfies a great number, and possibly all, of the concerns that have been expressed. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 24:
§ Page 4, line 30, leave out from ("regulations") to end of line 31.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 24 I should like to speak to Amendment No. 25 and also to Amendment No. 32, which is consequential on these amendments. I shall not detain the House long because we dwelt on this matter at Committee stage. Our worries on this side of the House have always been that to refer all of the education development plans to the Secretary of State is needlessly bureaucratic. We understand that it is not sufficient just to leave the matter to the schools or the local authority. For that reason we suggest the involvement of Ofsted, the chief inspector and the governors of all the schools who are concerned about the particular educational development plan and are aware of the details of their local area.
§ It is very much against the traditions of English government to refer so many detailed plans to the department. I have grave doubts whether the department has the speed or skill to cope with this. I believe that there will be delays and bureaucracy. I do not want to 576 embarrass the noble Baroness or any of her colleagues, but they have not shown enormous skill in producing regulations while this Bill has been passing through both Houses. In many cases we have had to wait. Further, my noble friend Lady Blatch often receives letters without their enclosures. If the education development plans experience that, I fear that there may be problems.
§ I make no criticism of the department. I refer merely to the pressure of work. If the Secretary of State and his officials have to approve every education development plan for the schools of this country it will be a great burden. I am not a member of the Government; no doubt I never shall be, but I believe that the department has many more important tasks to perform than this. It would be a kindness to the department and to the country and a mercy to the many trees that will die in vain if the Secretary of State was taken out and Ofsted was brought in. Ofsted has inspected almost all of the schools. I believe that that would be a happier arrangement. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am more grateful to the noble Lord for tabling these amendments than he knows. They cover a range of important aspects of our proposals for education development plans. The fact that he has tabled them gives me the opportunity to describe what we undertook to do on Second Reading, which was to give the House the result of our consultation on EDPs. I hope that they may allay some of his fears.
I shall say something about the changes to the EDP policy which we plan as a result of the views expressed in the consultation. A summary of the responses to the consultation has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses today.
I am pleased to tell the House that there was generally a very positive response to our policies on education development plans. This came through clearly in the responses to the consultation and at the six regional conferences the department held in February and March to explain the guidance and obtain feedback. Almost all the respondents agreed that EDPs would be a key mechanism for raising standards in schools and welcomed the guidance. There were some who were concerned about what they perceived as additional bureaucracy, but in general there were very few critical comments.
The main points to come out of the consultation related to three specific aspects of the guidance: setting targets; LEAs' school improvement programmes to achieve their targets; and the supporting information that LEAs will provide to underpin their EDPs. Target-setting attracted the largest number of comments. There was broad support for the five targets proposed, but some requests for additional targets, for example, at Key Stages 1 and 3, and for attendance and exclusions. There was some concern expressed about the timescale for LEAs to agree targets with their schools. We are confident that the timescale we have set for LEAs is a viable one, and that is certainly the view of those authorities that have already begun the process of consulting their schools as the first step to drawing up 577 their EDPs. There were also requests for greater clarification, which officials will take on board, in revising the guidance.
There was general support for the school improvement programme which respondents saw as a sound approach to raising standards, but some calls for greater clarity in the guidance. Officials are in the process of revising the guidance and respondents' comments will be helpful in that regard.
I turn last to supporting information. Some respondents thought that too much information was being asked for under this heading, but more thought that the information required was what LEAs are already collecting. There were continuing concerns about resources which we will take into account alongside the consultation on fair funding which ends on 31st July.
It is clear that the general content and broad thrust of the draft guidance is accepted and welcomed and we intend to retain it. We have given careful consideration to the suggestions made. We have concluded that the following changes should be made: the guidance should be streamlined and unnecessary bureaucracy reduced; GCSE equivalents (such as GNVQs), should be included in the targets currently proposed for pupil attainment in line with the targets we recently announced for 16 year-olds; special schools—my noble friend the Minister has referred to this—should be listed separately in the school-by-school targets in annex 1 of the guidance, rather than grouped with other schools; and a new, mandatory, annex on SEN should be included in the guidance.
We cannot of course finalise the guidance until after other related consultations such as fair funding and the LEA school relations code of practice are completed and until Royal Assent of the Bill. We plan to make that available as soon as possible in the autumn, but we will be writing to all LEAs to inform them of the immediate changes.
I turn now to the amendments. Amendment No. 24 would remove the Secretary of State's power to approve education development plans and together with Amendment No. 32 would remove his powers to modify and review LEAs' statements of proposals and the requirement for LEAs to publish their plans.
Clearly that would considerably reduce the effectiveness of EDPs as a mechanism to ensure that LEAs play their part in raising standards in schools. That is not the message we received through the consultation responses: LEAs welcomed the opportunity to contribute to raising standards and generally found the draft guidance a helpful aid to strategic planning. The Secretary of State's powers to approve, reject or modify EDPs are an important part of the process to lever up standards across all LEAs. Without them we cannot effectively ensure that all LEAs reach the level of the best.
The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, thought that the department had more important things to do than that. I cannot think of anything more important than the thrust to improve school standards. That is what EDPs are about. Unless we ensure, giving proper respect to local initiative, an oversight by the Secretary of State, 578 we cannot stand up before the electorate again and say that we have done whatever was necessary to improve school standards.
Amendment No. 25 requires LEAs to publish and send their draft EDPs to the Chief Inspector of Schools for England and governors of schools affected by the plans. That is not a realistic or practical alternative to sending them to the Secretary of State who has the responsibility for schools as a whole whereas the Chief Inspector of Schools has the responsibility for the inspection of individual schools and groups of schools.
Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said, we are determined to root out bureaucracy wherever we can. That applies just as much to EDPs as it does to other areas of educational policy. We shall be seeking to streamline the EDPs as we finalise the guidance. These amendments are not just unnecessary: they are positively undesirable.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, there is an ideological divide between us as to how schools should be improved. The noble Lord and his colleagues prefer the heavier hand of bureaucracy; we would leave more initiative to the schools. I shall go no further on that point.
I was a little surprised that only 54 LEAs replied to the consultation document. I think that there are over 100 LEAs. On an important matter like this, 54 is a low number. Even more surprising was the fact that only five responses came from 25,000 schools. A consultation document that has replies from only five schools raises certain doubts in my mind. The noble Lord painted an optimistic picture of the consultation. I point out again that it was a limited consultation. He did not mention certain less than complimentary comments which noble Lords should hear.
The resources section of the EDP attracted considerable comment. There were four main concerns: too much detailed information was required; many of the resources spent on school improvement by LEAs would not be captured through EDPs; the purpose of collecting the information was unclear; and the lack of resources for LEAs for EDP-purposes would take money away from schools. That is a point which noble Lords will note that we on this side of the House have often stressed. There was some difference of view between LEAs and school-focused organisations on those points. As there were only five schools, their representation was slight.
Many respondents were worried about the tight timetable proposed by the draft guidance, particularly the timetable for target setting. There was a perceived lack of time for consultation and approval. My worries about bureaucracy are, to a degree, compounded by those criticisms. The thing has been rushed, as instanced by the paucity of reply. I am still worried about this matter. The amendments were tabled mainly to obtain the noble Lord's response, for which I am grateful. We will see how the proposals work in practice. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.579
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 25 not moved.]
§ Baroness Darcy De Knayth had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 26:
Page 4, line 33, after ("prescribed:") insert—
("( ) must in particular include the special educational needs policy of the local education authority;").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as I missed the general debate on Amendment No. 23, I wish to thank the Minister for these three government amendments and for the most useful meeting that we had with her officials.
§ [Amendment No. 26 not moved.]
§ Baroness Blackstone Amendment No. 27:
Page 4, line 35, at end insert—
("( ) In preparing an education development plan the authority shall have regard, in particular, to the education of children (within the meaning of subsection (2)) who have special educational needs.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 28:
§ Page 5, line 6, after ("guidance") insert ("subject to section (Making and approval of general guidance on education development plans)").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is another amendment in a group of amendments concerning guidance. It relates in particular to draft guidance on education development plans, which is another area where we have concerns. We believe that some parliamentary accountability would improve the quality of guidance. Consultation on this guidance—and here I share some of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington—closed in early May. Unlike him, however, I cannot tell the House exactly how many people responded. The draft guidance is very complex; it contains seven annexes and six appendices.
§ Expenditure on education development plans is related to the fair funding proposals in a manner which is not described in the draft guidance. Local education authorities have to choose from three key areas and take into account seven aspects when considering the guidance and in drawing up their plans. Once the plans are approved, the local education authorities will no doubt have to follow their plans and the guidance. The consequences of not doing so are significant. The Secretary of State can withdraw approval of the plan under Clause 7(5). This presumably would have a number of consequences for those who are part of the plan going forward.
§ The amendment makes Parliament a little more accountable in relation to the very real new powers which the Secretary of State is acquiring. As my noble friend Lord Tope explained earlier, in many ways the group of amendments, of which this is one, seeks assurance and perhaps more detail about how the Government view the development and approval of education development plans. These matters are obviously of concern to both Opposition Benches in the House.580
§ That is the spirit in which we put forward these amendments and we look forward to hearing the Minister's comments. These matters are complex and the Minister can be in no doubt regarding our concern. I hope that the noble Lord can throw some light on how that complexity will be dealt with, and perhaps convince us that the drawing-up of these plans will go smoothly. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving the amendment. First, they are clearly thoughtful and serious amendments and a good deal of work has been put into them. Secondly, by raising the issue of consultation again she enables me to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, which I was not able to do under the rules of debate at Report stage.
The noble Lord complained that there had been a low response to the consultation, in particular from schools. I think he overlooked the fact—and I am sure he will forgive my saying this in his absence—that the formal written responses were only part of the process. All local education authorities came to the consultation conferences—I described them when I responded to his amendment—and their views were taken into account in the Government's responses. The consultation was designed in the first instance for local education authorities, since it is they who have the responsibility for drawing up the plans. Schools could respond if they wished, but there was no particular reason for them to do so, and it is not all that surprising that a small number of schools responded directly. In addition to the local education authorities responding individually, the two local authority associations and the four major teaching unions responded to the consultation process. We do not feel therefore that the response to the consultation, given the time available—it was not particularly short—was unsatisfactory.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked me to say more clearly how the drawing-up of the education development plans fits in. What we have sought to do with guidance—it is in turn guided by the consultation we have carried out, but in a form where the local education authority has to have regard to the guidance rather than the more specifically dirigiste provisions in Amendments No. 30 and 31, the new clauses—is to give local education authorities the opportunity to reflect their area's needs in their education development plans.
As I said in defending the role of the Secretary of State's duty to review and, if necessary, reject or modify education development plans, the Government as a whole have the responsibility for the raising of school standards. If we do not believe that the result of the local education authority's consideration will do the job, we have the right to do something about it. We do not want education development plans to be formulaic—to be expected responses to specific questions at every stage. We want them to be creative, imaginative, thoughtful and to reflect the needs of their particular areas.
581 I am afraid that by putting these new clauses on the face of the Bill, the noble Baroness's proposal would add more unnecessary bureaucracy and cost to the preparation of education development plans. I am afraid that the same argument applies to Amendments Nos. 28 and 30 and to Amendments Nos. 29 and 31. It is desirable to consult on guidance on who should be consulted before the publication of statutory proposals. However, I suggest that it is not a good idea to use parliamentary time to submit that guidance to Parliament for consideration. It has never been the practice in the past and I do not see why it should be so in the future. Guidance is a lower level of the regulatory process than regulations. The very phrase "have regard to" is the appropriate description of the status of guidance.
Existing guidance is included in circulars; for example, on consultation on proposed changes. Circular 23 of 1994 provides all that is necessary to inform local authorities about what they have to do for consultation purposes. Existing guidance includes any LEA which is likely to be affected, the relevant diocese, the FEFC where 16 to 19 year-old provision is affected, any school which is subject to the proposals, other schools in the area, parents and teachers and any other interested party. I give that as an example of the way in which guidance and circulars provide a natural way for communication between government and local education authorities. I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness will agree that it is not appropriate to change them as her amendments propose.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that long explanation. It points out why we were right to be a little concerned about the issue and to explore it. So much of the Bill involves guidance being drawn up after consultation and while we are still examining it during its various stages.
I recognise the Minister's explanation of how guidance works and I understand that. A great deal of legislation and the interaction between central and local government is dealt with in guidance. However, we on these Benches are concerned about the fact that so much of the Bill provides for guidance and codes of practice. We consult more than we used to do. We on these Benches approve of that and we do so as regards local government. In drawing up guidance, we are involving ourselves more in consultation with a wide range of people and therefore perhaps this House and another place should examine that. The purpose of our amendments is to explore the changing way in which we consult people, draw up guidance and keep legislation flexible, thus enabling us to change.
I thank the Minister for his reply. We made it clear that we would not press amendments to the vote and therefore I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 28.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 29 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 not moved.]
§ Clause 7 [Approval, modification and review of statement of proposals]:
§ [Amendment No. 32 not moved.]582
§ Clause 9 [Education committees to include representatives of parent governors]:
§ Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 33:
§ Page 9, line 3, after ("elected") insert ("without voting rights").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we had a full debate on the subject in Committee and therefore I do not intend to dwell on the matter for long. However, for us it is a matter of principle that people who serve and have a vote on local authority committees, including the education committees, should be democratically elected to the local authority and thus accountable to the democratic process. That is the first reason for tabling the amendment. It would accept parent governor representatives on education committees, but they would have no voting rights. Indeed, a number of other people, teachers included, serve on education committees without voting rights.
The first and most important reason for tabling the amendment is one of principle and democratic accountability. As one who has served on and has been associated with education committees for more than 20 years, I wonder about the practice of the proposal. In rejecting a similar amendment in Committee, the Minister said:
We want to ensure not only that parents have a strong influence in discussions about education matters but that they can also play a full part in decisions taken by the relevant committees or sub-committees. Only by having a vote can they do so".—[Official Report, 19/5/98; col. 1541.]
None of us would question parents' opportunity and right to play a full and effective part in the decision-making process. However, I would certainly question whether the best way to achieve that is by having two parent governor representatives on an education committee and I would question most strongly the assertion that that can be done only by having a vote on the committee. The Minister is saying that non-voting members on education committees, social services committees and other local authority committees do not play an effective part. The opposite is true; they play a most useful and effective part and sometimes more so for not having a vote.
§ There is a supposition that most things which are decided by an education committee are decided by vote. In reality, the opposite is the case. Generally, there are few votes. Often a vote takes place because of a party political difference. In my experience, non-voting members—for instance, those representing the Churches—will not normally take part in the vote because they do not wish to be seen to be associated with party politics. It is right that they are not seen to be associated with one or other political party in a vote. Therefore, I doubt whether in practice the proposal will have the effect that the Minister suggests. To use words that are so often quoted to us, I do not believe that the proposal is necessary. I certainly do not believe that it is desirable and as a matter of important democratic principle if we are to have parent governor representatives on education committees they should not have voting rights. I beg to move.583
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, this is a matter of principle. In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out, numerous practical problems arise. I received a letter from the Minister giving an explanation of how the measure would work. I do not know about the noble Lord, Lord Tope, but I believe that it would not take a prize for plain English. It was the most convoluted letter I had ever read. The measure is incredibly impractical and ours is an issue of principle. I support the noble Lord, Lord Tope, most strongly.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, after all the discussion we have had on the subject, I am surprised that it is still an issue. Our intention to include parent governor representatives on education committees has been clear for a long time. It was a manifesto commitment and was highlighted in our earlier consultation papers, Diversity and Excellence and Excellence in Schools. Last summer's White Paper, Excellence in Schools, stated our intention that these elected parent governor representatives would have voting rights. Furthermore, there was a very wide welcome to this proposal in responses to the White Paper.
I recognise that giving parent governor representatives voting rights will have implications for the way in which the relevant committee works. However, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may be exaggerating a little the complications that she sees arising. It seems to me that none of the issues which has been raised tonight or in earlier debates is insurmountable. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out that representatives of the Churches often decide not to vote when a political issue arises and is being argued between the parties. Parents can abstain in such circumstances, too, if they do not wish to become involved in political argy-bargy on education committees.
The noble Lord also said that he was aware that votes occur relatively rarely and he asked whether the Government were aware of that too. The Government certainly are aware and it is my own experience of education committees. In that case, it is all the more surprising that the noble Lord is so worried about the issue. We certainly accept that parent governor representatives should not vote on matters which relate to the determination of the overall budget for education or where there is a conflict of interest. It may be right to say, as was suggested in Committee, that this will apply to a good number of issues. I personally believe that this argument has been overstated. But if it is true, it will mean that parent governor representatives will be able to exercise their vote only in limited circumstances, to reiterate what I have said. That must surely mean that there are fewer concerns about how that vote is used.
Our intention is to provide guidelines, both through the regulations and through non-statutory guidance, on the circumstances in which it is appropriate and is not appropriate for parent governor representatives to exercise their vote.
584 I do not accept that giving parent governor representatives the right to vote will disrupt local democracy. That is a rather over-stated argument. Following the local government elections on 7th May, around two-thirds of councils still have sizeable majorities. Only 13 councils have a majority of less than five. There are 39 councils which have no overall control. It is for councils to decide what committees to set up and to determine the size of each committee, but they need to ensure that they reflect the requirements of local government legislation in respect of proportionality and maintaining the political majority. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about this point on 22nd May following our discussion in Committee. In short, where the relevant committee has a majority fewer than the number of diocesan representatives and parent governor representatives combined, the council will need to appoint additional members from the majority party to that committee in order to preserve the majority. If this proves difficult in practice, then it is always open to members of the committee to make pairing arrangements.
Where the committee has no overall control, then yes, the appointment of parent governor representatives will make a difference; but since they will be voting on issues rather than along political lines, this will ensure that the views of parents are properly represented and will count. This is precisely what we intend.
Noble Lords will know that the Government are encouraging authorities to look at ways of improving local accountability and of streamlining the decision-making process. Their committee structures are an important part of that, and I know that many are already contemplating changes. Ultimately, it is up to councils themselves to decide on their committee structure (subject to the legislative requirements) and the size of those committees, so the impact of the voting rights of parent governor representatives will rest in their hands.
We accept that there need to be safeguards built into the system; in exactly the same way as any amendments recommended by this House will be considered in the other place. In the case of decisions taken by a local authority committee, it will always be open to the full council to override any decision which they feel is not in the best interests of the local population as a whole. This is a more than ample safeguard against improper use of those voting rights.
We do think that parent governor representatives, along with diocesan representatives, are in a different position from other interests. We believe it is right that diocesan representatives should have a vote on decisions about education provision because of the significant part which they play in providing church schools. We believe also that parent governor representatives should have the right to vote on decisions about education because it is the children of the parents whom they represent who stand to succeed or fail because of those decisions. We believe that the voice of parent governor representatives will be much stronger if it is supported by voting rights. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, the Minister has replied to a number of points that I did not make. I certainly did not make such an exaggerated claim that there would be a disruption of local democracy. It would not have enhanced my case to overstate the position to that extent. Nor did I even make reference to the effect that an additional two parent votes on a committee might have. However, the Minister was perhaps overstating her case when she suggested that they would have no effect on the relatively large numbers of councils where there is no majority.
I return to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and myself in support of this amendment. This is a matter of principle. People serving on local authority committees should be those who have been elected to the local authority. I do not believe that there is anything that the Minister can say which will convince me otherwise. I hope she will therefore concede that principle.
I am fully aware of the proposed changes and the moves which many local authorities, without prompting from the Government, are taking to modernise and streamline their committee systems and decision-making structures. In general, I welcome that. This measure seems to me to date back more to the 1960s and 1970s than to look forward to the new millennium.
One of the more serious concerns that I have—and the Minister referred to the support that has been received in some quarters—is that it gives parents and parent governors a false impression of the amount of influence which they will actually have by serving and voting on education committees. I stress that my colleagues and I are wholly and strongly in favour of the best possible involvement of parents, their representative governors and all governors in the decision-making process. I do not believe that the best way to achieve that is by having a place on an education committee.
The Minister has not only failed to convince but the more she spoke, the more I could hear her convincing my colleagues—although they do not need convincing—that we are right with this amendment. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 33) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 86.586
|Division No. 4|
|Addington, L. [Teller.]||Calverley, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Carlisle, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Chesham, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Blake, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Dean of Harptree, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Deedes, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Denham, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Dixon-Smith, L.|
|Elton, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Fookes, B.||Mountevans, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Pender, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Grey, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Renton, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Steel of Aikwood, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Kingsland, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Knight of Collingtree, B.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Leigh, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Linklater of Butterstone, B.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Luke, L.||Tope, L. [Teller.]|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Wise, L.|
|McNair, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Acton, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Judd, L.|
|Blease, L.||Kennedy of The Shaws, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Burlison, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Desai, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Dixon, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Norton, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Paul, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Plant of Highfield, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Rea, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Gregson, L.||Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Grenfell, L.||Ripon, Bp.|
|Hacking, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Hardie, L.||Sewel, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Simon, V.|
|Hayman, B.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Stone of Blackheath, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Hughes, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Thomas of Macclesfield, L.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Watson of Invergowrie, L.|
|Islwyn, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Jay of Paddington, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.587
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Clause 10 [Establishment of education action zones]:
§ Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 34:
§ Page 9, line 40, after ("maintained") insert ("school or group of).
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 35 to 37. We now find ourselves at the beginning of the four clauses on education action zones. To say that I wish to express my disquiet about this part of the Bill and about the way in which I have been treated as a Member of the Opposition Front Bench is an understatement. I have now asked three times for straightforward information which is now publicly available everywhere and to everyone but not to me as a Member of this House. I hope that the Minister will give me some answer tonight as to why I have not received the necessary information. Indeed, I have not even received a copy of the letter which has been sent out to the action zones bidders asking whether I can be given the information. I am not sure whether they were asked if it mattered whether the information went to local government associations or was given out in a press conference when the bids were announced. There is serious disquiet about the procedure which has been used and about our rights not only as ordinary Members of this House but also as Members of the Opposition Front Bench.
§ I have asked who the bidders were, but have been refused the information. I have asked about the percentage of bidders—for example, which were LEA and which were private or voluntary—but, again, I have not received that information. As I said, the information is readily available to people outside this Chamber. I am delighted that the noble Lord the Leader of the House is present tonight. He has not sympathised with me in the matter but, nevertheless, he is aware that I have not received this information. I believe that the usual channels have made strenuous efforts as regards the Department for Education and Employment to ensure that I receive as much information as is permitted to be available publicly. However, as I said, I have not to date received the information that I have requested. I am indeed disquieted by the situation.
§ This group of amendments is designed to ensure that a school or a group of schools should be allowed to have special status. They also insist that parents should be part of the consultation process. Where a school is taken into an education action zone, it seems to me to be quite extraordinary that there is no requirement on anyone to consult with parents and take note of their opinion. There is no formal requirement to ascertain whether they believe it is a good, bad or an indifferent process. Moreover, there is no requirement to ask parents whether they would approve of having the national curriculum disapplied. Indeed, there is no formal requirement in the process to ask parents whether they approve of whatever is to be substituted for the national curriculum.
§ There is the mildest possible hint—indeed, it is not even a requirement—that teachers should be consulted if the forum and/or a governing body of any school in the action zone wishes to disapply pay and conditions. 588 Again, the whole process is very unsatisfactory. Almost every other part of the Bill has regulations flowing from it. However, this part does not deal with the details as regards the setting up of education action zones. For that reason, it is probably the most depressing part of the legislation.
§ Having only had access to what is written in newspaper reports and the information which came out on the day of the publication of the 25 winning bidders (and what we know of them), it seems to me that the education action zones are committees which will orchestrate a collective effort where schools have failed. Indeed, that is what they are because there does not appear to be any direction or any lead body in that respect. It is not mentioned in any of the information that we have seen thus far. The committees will be numerous and it is quite clear that they will consume time, money and effort. I suspect that the impact on the classroom will be in inverse proportions to the bureaucracy and what is now very confused management.
§ The EAZs are free to innovate, but they are subject to education development plans; they are free to innovate, but the teachers and staff are employed by the local education authority; they are free to innovate, but they are subject to almost all the other measures in the Bill. So, policies on the part of the LEA, the gathering of information and the intervention in terms of standards and whether or not they are being achieved are all in place for education action zones.
§ If the Government really want fruitful and effective partnership enterprise to improve education, they could do no better—certainly when one thinks of the kind of money they are putting into this—than to follow the model set by the city technology colleges which are truly independent and are part of the state family of free education. They provide education in areas which are challenging from an education point of view. There is also the model set by some of the technology colleges that have raised specific sums of money, which can be identified, and which have positive links with companies providing that money. They work well in partnership and they are free to run their colleges without the incredible bureaucratic network that surrounds the education action zones.
§ It is important that where it is possible for a school or a group of schools to be included in an education action zone, that should be allowed. Mr. Byers talks enthusiastically in the "back room"about single schools being leased out. We know that he is keen to give the education action zones more independence than they are given in the Bill. We believe it has been said that the education action zones as they have materialised are not quite what was intended in the first place, but that will be put right later. It would be nice to know exactly what is meant by all of that. Perhaps the Minister will be able to enlighten us.
§ I end as I began. I would be happy to be advised where I can find out what my rights are as a Member of a Front Bench. Why cannot I obtain straightforward information that has been provided to public bodies outside this place? Do we have any rights as Members 589 of Parliament to see information that is publicly available? If that is not the case, this is perhaps a matter that should be addressed by the Procedure Committee, to advise me how I can proceed as a Member of this House trying to do a job as a member of the Official Opposition. My hands are tied behind my back because the information that I require to do my job effectively is denied me. I beg to move.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn
My Lords, I hope that I can help the noble Baroness. I am fortunate in that I live in an area which has action zone status. Last weekend I spent some time discussing the implications of that status with governors, teachers, parents and business people. I heard nothing but favourable reports from all of them. They thought it was an excellent idea and they welcomed the partnership. They welcomed the opportunities the scheme offered. I went out of my way to try to find some criticism of the scheme but I found none. We in Blackburn are fortunate to be part of such a scheme. I am sorry that more authorities have not achieved action zone status. I am all in favour of the CTCs. I have encouraged a number of companies to put money into them. However, the concept we are discussing is completely different from that of the CTCs. I hope that as the action zones develop the noble Baroness will consider that we should have introduced them a long time ago.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, the education action zone is an interesting concept which many people find exciting. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, has just explained how excited people are in Blackburn about the concept. I am a little worried about the concept but I understand that it is about partnership and about involving many people in what is going on. Although deep in my heart I am a little worried about democracy, at least many people are being involved in these zones. However, I am concerned that under the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, there could be an education action zone comprising one school, which could be a grant-maintained school by another name. Under her amendment parents would be able to opt into an education action zone which comprised just one school. That seems a rather cunning wheeze. Each school whose application is approved by the Secretary of State will be able to suspend the national curriculum, get its own money, manage itself and create a different salary structure. However, there would be no strategic view of what is going on in an area. Education action zones run for a certain period of time. We have discussed in this Chamber what might happen at the end of that period.
Under an amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, parents and governors would apply for action zone status. That is a similar process to opting out, but there is no mention of a ballot this time. Who would make the decision? As I said, I believe that education action zones will gain strength from partnership. I believe they need to comprise at least a dozen schools. It would be nice to involve the primary and secondary sectors so that everyone benefits from the new ideas, the 590 money and the innovation that is made available. I view the amendment as a rather sinister move to return to grant-maintained status which we on these Benches have been, and remain, firmly against.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has just said. I think she has seen through what these amendments seek to achieve. Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I wish to make some positive comments about education action zones and comment on what my noble friend Lord Taylor of Blackburn said. I am grateful for his comments. I believe that we have something to celebrate here rather than denigrate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, zones are about partnerships—not the public or private sector alone, but partnerships. A number of businesses are taking part in the scheme, in spite of the scepticism that we heard from noble Lords on the Conservative Benches at an earlier stage.
A number of household names have decided to become involved in the scheme. Shell will provide the chair of the forum for the education action zone in Lambeth. Yorkshire Water and Midland Bank between them will provide extensive support in Sheffield. British Aerospace will provide video links for all schools in the Hull zone. Scottish Power will provide an open learning centre for schools and the community in Brighton and Hove. Comcast in Middlesbrough will provide 100,000 in cash. I shall not continue but there are many other companies involved such as American Express, KPMG, BT, Tesco, Tate & Lyle, Cadburys and so on. There is a long list of companies that are involved in the scheme.
These partnerships seek to improve standards in areas which we have been concerned about for some time—I am sure the noble Baroness will agree with that—both as regards the schools and the areas that they serve. I am a little disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was not able to be more welcoming towards what we intend to do. The noble Baroness asked about the rights of Members of Parliament. I remind her that she told this Chamber in Committee that she had seen all the applications for education action zones. She said that she had seen them through her political contacts in the LGA. In the light of that, to say that she does not know anything about them seems a slightly hollow claim.
On the day of the launch, Tuesday 23rd June, the noble Baroness was sent a letter. The list of proposals and partners was published and placed in the Libraries of both Houses. That was specified clearly in the letter. It was not possible to do that earlier. As was made clear to the noble Baroness—and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to whom I also wrote, will confirm this—the Government did not feel that, until decisions had been made as to which of the applications were successful, it was right to publish the names of the private sector partners unless they had given explicit permission. Unfortunately, we did not obtain that permission from all who had taken part in the bidding process before announcing the successful bidders. 591 That is the reason why the noble Baroness was not given further information before 23rd June. As I said, she stated that she had already seen the applications.
I now turn to the amendments, beginning with Amendments Nos. 34 and 36. When the noble Baroness put forward the first amendment in Committee, I made it clear that this was not what education action zones were about. As the applications I mentioned all made clear, a key element of the zones is partnership. The partnership concept applies not merely to outside agencies and businesses, but to the schools themselves. A major achievement of the applications, which we welcomed when we were able to publish the outcome of the bids a week ago, was the way in which they bring together primary and secondary schools, grant-maintained and county schools to work together.
I believe that education action zones are healing some of the wounds left by the previous government. If the amendment completely removes the partnerships from zones, I wonder whether it has any merit in terms of broadening the scope for innovation.
Of course we want schools everywhere to innovate, and I am sympathetic to the notion that an individual school may wish to do that, as is my honourable friend Mr. Byers. I repeat: a large part of the innovative nature of zones is based on their working in partnership—teachers working across a number of zones; communities being drawn into their children's education; and using information and communications technology to link schools within an area. Removing that partnership and allowing a single school to go it alone would mean that much, if not all, of that would be lost.
What about the specific legislative freedoms that apply to zones? Taking each in turn, the noble Baroness separately proposed an amendment relating to teachers' pay and conditions, which we shall debate later. The national curriculum flexibilities apply to every school. Because of the benefits of partnership I am sure that we shall see them being used more frequently in education action zones, and certainly more than they were under the previous government. The remaining freedoms apply to the way in which the governing body can give its powers to the forum. That is intended to allow the forum to act as the governing body for a group of schools. I am therefore at a loss to see what this proposal can mean for a single school. In the light of my remarks I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw these amendments.
I turn now to Amendment No. 37 on parental agreement to zones being created. Of course parents must be included in helping to shape the education action zones. We hope to see parental representation alongside teachers, governors and business people on the action fora.
However, we should remember that the key form of accountability—the governing body—will remain in place. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that this radical proposal will take schools out of local authority control and place them in the hands of third parties. I am afraid that that seems to me to be 592 living in the past. Local authorities do not "control" schools; schools control themselves, unless they are failing and have their budgets withdrawn. The schools in action zones are not being placed in the hands of third parties. They are entering, voluntarily, a new kind of partnership. In all the zone applications that we have approved, the governing bodies very much intend to continue working. Parents have nothing to fear in terms of losing a voice. If, once in a zone, a governing body wishes to vary the national curriculum, parents will have a voice through that governing body, as they do outside zones. In the light of those remarks, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, on the point of information that I am allowed or not allowed, the noble Baroness rather dismissively referred to political colleagues at the LGA. It was an official of the LGA who wrote to me personally, and to LEA leaders, sending copies to me as vice-president of the association. The letter stated that a full set of applications had been received. It was very unfortunate that that official was deemed to have breached a confidence.
There are two points in relation to that. First, I do not believe that he breached a confidence. The box of applications was simply sent to the LGA, and there was no requirement for confidence to be kept. Nor would he have sent out letters so publicly had that been the case. He would have been much more covert. I do not believe that this particular officer was guilty of the kind of action to which he would have had to resort in order to be covert. Therefore, I heard about the matter officially and was free to go into the LGA offices to see them.
My question to the noble Baroness is this. As a Member of the Official Opposition and a Front-Bencher involved materially in the making of this legislation—as a Member of Parliament, party to the whole of Parliament—why am I not allowed the right to that information? Why were an official of the LGA and council leaders written to by that official? I should be grateful if the noble Baroness would give an answer to that question.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, we have had this debate before. It was made absolutely clear that the information was given to the LGA by an official of my department on a confidential basis. The noble Baroness denies that that was the case, but I assure her that it was. The information was then passed on.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, that brings me to my second point. I believe that that response calls into question the character of the official. I defend the right of the official, who was not asked to keep the information confidential and was not under the belief that that was what he had to do. If the noble Baroness can give me proof that that was the case, it will call the character of the gentleman into question. I do not believe that that is the case.
Secondly, is the noble Baroness saying that, as a Privy Counsellor, I cannot see a matter in confidence, and that the LGA, not members of the Privy Council, 593 can see papers in confidence? The Local Government Association is the servant of the local authorities. It has no status whatsoever other than to be of service to those authorities. In other words, if it has information it is wrong that it should keep it to itself. Its officials are there only to serve councillors; therefore that information should be made available to them—as indeed it was, in good faith, by a particular official. His reputation has been called into question by the noble Baroness's officials at the department and by the noble Baroness across the Dispatch Box. Is the noble Baroness saying that there is information which is denied to Members of this House and to Members of the Privy Council but which can be given bona fide to those outside this building, and that therefore my rights in this matter are definitely given secondary credence to those of outside bodies? I should genuinely like an answer to that point. When the Bill has been passed, I intend to take the matter up in another way. I have been trying to find out where Members of this House can go when they have been at the receiving end of such shabby treatment.
I wish to rejoice with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, because I hope that the Bill works. But he is privy to much information which I was not. as a Member of these Benches. There is nothing in the Bill as to how it will work. There are four clauses which say very little. The Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 22nd December. On 5th January, before it had even started its Committee stage in the House of Commons, the bidding documents had gone out to all the potential bidders. The closing date was 10th March. It was still proceeding through another place and it is now proceeding through this House.
The bidding is over, the considerations have been made, action zones have been named and still the information is denied me as a Member of the Opposition. I do not wish to confuse this with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor; we wish the action zones well. This is a way of tackling failing education. However, I believe that the way in which it has been set up will not tackle failing education. There are huge problems. as will be manifest as time goes on. It would be helpful if the Minister could write to me to give us an idea of the breakdown of the money. It is not surprising that there is a great deal of excitement out there; the action zones will receive £1 million each year for three years. There is no promise about what happens after that, but it is serious money and there is great excitement.
Some of the areas in the country with the worst education and the most failing LEAs have not received action zone status. Some authorities, not reputed for having failing schools, have received action zone money. We do not know why, we do not know the criteria for considering the bid. The Minister has not imparted any of that information, we are completely and utterly in the dark about it.
The noble Baroness made comments about me being something of a wet blanket about the policy. I am not. I said right at the beginning that innovation is good when trying to tackle some of the challenges in education which have eluded good teachers and good 594 headteachers and even well-intentioned LEAs over a long period. I am all for that. But I believe that there is no sense of direction, no real idea. It is just a series of committees, a network of contacts. There is nothing in the information we were sent the other day that tells us precisely what the financial input is from the companies. There is nothing in the Bill that tells us where the particular company giving the money to the action zone will be materially involved in its management. That is also not included.
There is nothing in the Bill or the bidding documents that tells us what is the process for discussing with parents their involvement in ceding powers to a forum, or even when the national curriculum is to be disapplied. At least when it is disapplied under the present system in a school that has good reason for it to be disapplied, there is a process to go through. There is no process here. no process laid down, there is nothing in the Bill and nothing in regulations. Those are my complaints about this.
I shall leave the matter for the moment, but I must say to the noble Baroness that I hope I receive the information and see copies of the letters that have gone out and that the information can be made available to me. It will be interesting to see how long after my first request I receive the information. It would be helpful to have it before the Bill has gone through this House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Hoyle
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, may I suggest that the Report stage begins again not before 8.35 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.