HL Deb 14 July 2000 vol 615 cc528-34

3.55 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 22nd June be approved [23rd Report front the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the regulations arise from provisions set out in Section 38 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. They were laid before the House on 22nd June and have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The regulations set out the terms of reference for governing bodies of maintained schools and define the respective roles and responsibilities of governing bodies and head teachers. They also confer two specific functions on governing bodies and head teachers.

We have consulted all the relevant bodies and taken many of their views into account: 88 per cent of respondents, covering all the interest groups, were in favour of the regulations.

The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, in his recent Better Regulation Task Force report on red tape affecting head teachers specifically welcomed the Government's intention to legislate to define roles and responsibilities more clearly. We believe the regulations achieve that.

We greatly appreciate the time, energy and dedication that volunteer governors bring to their work in schools across the country. We do not underestimate the workload involved, nor the time that they spend on governor duties. But some governing bodies are taking on too much because they are getting unnecessarily involved in day-to-day management. Their primary role is to, promote high standards of achievement in the school". The regulations make more explicit the distinction between governance and management—which is the proper role of head teachers—helping to avoid damaging disputes.

The terms of reference contained in the regulations set out as operating principles for governing bodies the Nolan principles of honesty, objectivity and integrity in public life. They require governing bodies to be open about their decisions and actions (other than those which should properly be kept confidential) and to act in the best interests of the school. They also require governing bodies to be accountable for the decisions they take by explaining their decisions and actions.

The regulations require governing bodies to exercise a largely strategic role in the running of the school. The head is responsible for the internal organisation, management and control of the school and for implementing the strategic framework established by the governing body. Of course, there is a grey area in between.

Much will depend upon the experience of the head and the extent to which governors are prepared to delegate those functions not reserved exclusively for them. As volunteers it makes sense for them to delegate where possible. We do not want to be too prescriptive. The regulations will allow room for governing bodies and heads to decide what suits them best, taking account of the size or type of school or the personalities or strengths of individuals. However, this will be within a nationally agreed framework to protect both parties from unreasonable encroachment into each other's legitimate areas of responsibility. Where governing bodies delegate a function to the head, they may also issue reasonable directions with which the head must comply. Guidance on the regulations (copies of which have been placed in the Library), particularly on the use of delegation, will help governing bodies to organise their workload more effectively and minimise the scope for disputes.

Of course, not all of the statutory duties of governing bodies are strategic; some are operational or executive, for example sitting on pupil discipline committees to consider pupil exclusions. My noble friend Lord Haskins has recommended that governing bodies should not carry these responsibilities, but that is the subject of another debate. These regulations build on existing responsibilities and describe the essential functions involved in acting strategically: setting aims and objectives, policies and targets, and monitoring and evaluating progress. They are not new requirements but describe what governors are already doing in schools. Governing bodies should consider the head teacher's professional advice and act as a "critical friend" through supporting the head and offering constructive criticism and advice.

We expect governing bodies to ask searching questions, not merely to rubber stamp what is brought before them. The regulations do not deal with the role of the head in its entirety but build on the relevant aspects of it as defined in the conditions of employment of head teachers. The head is responsible for formulating aims, objectives, policies and targets. These are not new responsibilities. The head teacher as the "lead professional" should have a view as to the general direction of the school and how to get there. However, on all these issues the regulations make clear that the final decision rests with the corporate governing body.

The regulations allocate two specific responsibilities to governing bodies and head teachers: to agree and implement the school's curriculum policy and the performance management policy. The requirement to have a policy for the secular curriculum merely formalises what is happening in schools already. Schools will not be involved in extra work as a result. The performance management policy is intended to work alongside the appraisal regulations laid on 20th June. The department has produced a national model performance management policy. We do not, therefore, expect this to be a burdensome task for either the governing body or the head teacher. There is a requirement for all staff at the school to be consulted, and the policy must be in place by 31st December.

We want to improve the quality of education for all pupils by helping school teachers to carry out their duties more effectively and take advantage of opportunities for career and professional development. The results of the consultation confirm that the regulations and the related guidance have been widely welcomed. A better understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities should enable governing bodies and head teachers to work well together in an atmosphere of mutual respect to ensure that they get on with the essential task of raising standards in schools. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 22nd June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Blackstone.)

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the draft regulations, which are concerned with school government. I reply on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blatch who is unable to be present this afternoon. My noble friend welcomes the purpose of the regulations, which is to clarify the distinctive roles of the head teacher and school governors. However, she remains concerned about the bureaucratic burden on governors and head teachers. At a time when the Government have pledged to cut the level of bureaucracy, the regulations add yet more through a requirement to produce a strategic framework, curriculum policy and performance management policy, all to a format which is centrally directed. Every additional burden which makes demands of time on head teachers means less time available to the daily and considerable task of running the school.

In Standing Committee in another place on 5th July the Minister said (at col. 14): We are conscious of the demands on schools, particularly head teachers; that is why we are committed to less red tape and to allowing heads more freedom to focus on essentials". That is not how it is seen at school level; nor is it the view of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, chairman of the Government's Better Regulation Task Force.

The conclusion of the task force report records that, There are widespread and deeply-held views that increased red tape is acting as a distraction from the drive to raise standards … Over-elaborate processes are being used to achieve straightforward objectives, leading to unnecessary duplication, and confusing lines of accountability". From the production of the regulations, it is obvious that the Government have not heeded the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. Clarification of roles is one thing, but additional tasks for governors and head teachers are not helpful. Have the Government costed the time needed to fulfil the additional duties and training required for governors and head teachers? Will schools receive any additional funding for these new tasks?

A point raised in another place, on which the Minister promised a written reply, is also of concern. At Third Reading of the Learning and Skills Bill, the Minister claimed that city academies would be subject to compliance with LEA policies on admissions, exclusions and acceptance of excluded pupils. Yet in debate on this regulation, the Minister said that city academies would not be subject to maintained sector governing body rules and will not, therefore, be subject to these regulations. Both statements cannot be correct. Will the Minister please clarify the point?

My noble friend Lady Blatch wishes me to register her disappointment that despite the best efforts of both the Printed Paper Office and the Library of the House she has been unable, in advance of this debate, to obtain a copy of the guidance for school government to which the Minister, Jacqui Smith, referred. To reduce the burden on schools it would be helpful if the Minister were able to be specific rather than to talk vaguely in percentages about the actual bureaucratic tasks and/or duties which are to be abolished.

While my noble friend remains concerned about the additional demands on schools, nevertheless she welcomes the clarification of roles and responsibilities for head teachers and governors. Therefore, on her behalf, I do not intend to oppose the regulations.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, from these Benches we, too, welcome the clear differentiations made in the regulation between the strategic role of governors and the hands-on management role of head teachers.

I have two questions and two areas of concern. First, do these regulations replace existing regulations setting out terms of reference for governors? Secondly, I assume that the concept of strategic planning incorporates the budget-setting role of governors and the monitoring of the budget which is currently among their responsibilities.

My first concern has been expressed by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, conveyed by the noble Lord, Lord Astor: namely, the extra bureaucracy involved in schools. The Minister said that there should be no increase in the amount of bureaucracy involved because those are current responsibilities. Appraisal is a new responsibility which has emerged this year. It involves considerable amounts of time on the part of the head teacher and, in larger schools, of deputy head teachers and members of the governing board, in particular the chair of governors.

My experience as a governor is that much of the drawing up of strategic plans devolves to the head teacher. The responsibility for drawing up those plans and bringing them before the appropriate meetings of the governing bodies rests upon the head teacher and those who work in the office with him or her. The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, commented on the bureaucracy faced by head teachers, and I found it amazing and surprising that he should be so complacent about these extra responsibilities.

We very much agree with the concept involved in strategic planning, the process of target setting, monitoring and evaluation, but such activities are not insignificant. Those involved in governing bodies know just how much paperwork is involved in addition to the responsibility of fulfilling these tasks. I hope that the Government will ensure that enough administrative back-up is available to heads so that they can fulfil these functions. Such work is significant, detracts from other activities, and we all know that these days head teachers are extremely hard pressed.

I should also like to cast some doubt on the whole issue of performance-related pay. We entirely support division of function, the concept of strategic planning, the drawing up of activities and their monitoring, but we have always had reservations about the concept of performance-related pay. We believe that teaching is, in essence, a team activity, and that it is invidious for heads and deputies to have to differentiate between colleagues. It would have been preferable to use the resources available in this initiative to provide a general increase in pay, especially for the more senior teachers, and to improve average pupil/teacher ratios. But that, as the Minister knows, is a comment that we have made before. However, neither of my concerns will prevent us from agreeing with the regulations.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Astor and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for giving these regulations a general welcome. They both commented on bureaucracy. We do not want governors to become involved in too much detail. The regulations focus on what heads and governors need to do. Far from imposing additional burdens on them, the regulations and guidance will make clearer what is required of them.

The guidance encourages governing bodies to delegate where appropriate, having taken account of issues such as the head's experience, and whether or not he or she is being effectively supported. We consulted both heads and chairs of governors through small group meetings, and we have tried to address some of their concerns. For example, in the guidance we have taken on board their express wishes for references to working in partnership and governing body accountability. I understand that the guidance has been placed in the Library, but if that is not so, I shall ensure that it is placed there immediately.

Apart from the performance management policy, these regulations do not place an obligation on governing bodies to prepare more policies or set more targets or objectives than they already have. Regulation 4 does not name a single new aim, objective, policy or target. The strategic framework is no more than the overarching plan. That will, of course, cover the general issues of budgeting for which governors are responsible.

The guidance explains that the plan will generally be the school development plan, improvement plan or post-Ofsted action plan which schools already have. These regulations will not start a new paper chase in our schools. They simply provide a framework within which governing bodies should operate. I hope that that explanation provides reassurance to both Front Benches.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned appraisal and performance-related pay. Appraisal is not the subject of these regulations; it is dealt with in separate regulations which have been laid. I am aware of the Liberal Democrat Party's reservations about performance-related pay, but the Government are convinced that it is right to reward good teaching. We want to give every teacher who reaches the threshold the opportunity of being appraised in order to benefit from the substantial increase—up to £2,000—which those who come through the appraisal and cross the threshold will receive. Furthermore, the regulations do not replace existing regulations. No existing regulations deal with terms of reference of governors and heads under the School Standards and Framework Act.

The noble Lord asked whether extra money would be available for the tasks which the regulations expect schools and governors to perform. We are providing additional funding for performance management via the Standards Fund. I hope that that answer is helpful.

The noble Lord also asked about city academies. Perhaps the most helpful course would be for me to send a copy of the letter which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for School Standards sent to the Liberal Democrat spokesman in another place. I hope that that will be helpful. I shall set out clearly answers to the questions he raised.

We have not carried out particular costings of what is implied in the regulations, but the Government do not believe that a great deal of extra expenditure will be involved. Good heads and good governors are already involved in everything that is set out in the regulations. The Government are committed to reducing red tape and have already taken substantial steps to do so. I have mentioned that on other occasions in the House.

Finally, I thank both Opposition spokesmen for their general welcome of the regulations. I hope that I have dealt adequately with their questions and I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.