HL Deb 17 June 2002 vol 636 cc577-614

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 13.

Lord Peston

moved Amendment No. 31: Page 9, line 39, after "include" insert "educational provision distinctive of any particular denomination and The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to speak only to Amendment No. 31 because I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has decoupled her Amendment No. 32, itself an interesting technical amendment, from the grouping.

I am proud of Amendment No. 31 in one way. Everyone said that it would be impossible to construct an amendment that would enable one to move that there should be no more religious schools. Whatever else may be achieved—I fear that I may achieve virtually nothing—at least the technical problem has been cracked, which is something that honourable Members in the other place did not manage.

Perhaps I may refer to two items of history, the first of which concerns why Amendments Nos. 30 to 32 were grouped together; namely, they can be interpreted as being concerned largely with capital expenditure. Anyone looking at the history of taxpayers' support for religious schools, certainly with regard to the 1944 Act—although I think that history would show that such support began much earlier—would be aware that the support had nothing to do with doctrine or religious schools; it turned on the desire of the then Secretary of State for Education to bring those schools within the system. His method, to use as crude an expression as I can, was to bribe them by providing capital to mend leaking roofs and so forth.

What particularly intrigued me about the remarks made earlier by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on school companies is that capital expenditure appears still to be very much a live issue so far as concerns religious schools. The right reverend Prelate said that he would write to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am keen to learn something more, so perhaps he may be kind enough to write to me as well.

It is interesting to note that the Church has espoused private finance initiatives—again I imagine not through any doctrinal interest in PFIs or any belief in the remarks made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about free market capitalism, but simply because the Church believes that it might be able to improve its buildings. I do not for a moment criticise the Church on this subject.

Those remarks cover the technical aspect of my amendment. However, noble Lords will be aware that the philosophical point I want to make, which I regard as quite fundamental to education policy in our country, concerns the continued existence of religious schools, in particular the extension of religious schools to other religions.

Apropos a completely different amendment concerning the curriculum which we shall reach on Wednesday, a friend said, "In 1988 you made a rather good speech on the subject of the curriculum". I replied that I have never reread later any speech I have made in this House. However, he photocopied it for me and I read it; and in fact I am rather pleased with it. I did make a rather good speech which I may well repeat when we return to discussing the curriculum on Wednesday. However, following my speech, at the bottom of the photocopied page, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, moved Amendment No. 22: subject to subsections (2) and (3) below, Christianity shall be the basis of religious education in every maintained school". Only 14 years have passed since it was perfectly possible to table such an amendment in your Lordships' House that attracted no shock or horror at discrimination against other religions. Unfortunately I do not have a copy of the subsequent pages, being interested only in my own speech, so I have no idea what was said later. However, what is particularly intriguing is that today I think it would be impossible for a Member of either House of Parliament to stand and remark that Christianity should form the basis of religious education. We are all now multi-cultural and multi-religious. If he chooses to speak, perhaps the right reverend Prelate will comment on that observation.

My position remains that of an unreconstructed liberal. I have no desire whatever to involve myself in other people's religious views. I would regard it as monstrous for anyone to criticise someone else on the basis of their religion, let alone—to address a subject that may well be returning to your Lordships' House in due course—to encourage the hatred of people either because of religion in general or one specific religion. That has never been my view.

My view is rather different. I ask: what is the role of the state in this, what is the role of the taxpayer and what is best for the society in which we live? I have argued to your Lordships before—which is why I shall not carry on at great length—that what the state needs to do is to provide a society in which people are free to practise their religions with no fear of discrimination against them and no fear for their lives, something which occurs in other societies. But it does not seem to me that the state remotely has a role in providing funding, particularly capital funding.

We have above all to bear in mind that if the Government's current policy proceeds and we get many more religious schools, the main burden on the taxpayer will be a considerable commitment to capital funding. That is what the additional religious schools will be about. In my view, if people want their own schools they must have them, but they must find their own funds.

I shall not trouble your Lordships—I can imagine how controversial it would be—with the history of our country and the particular role that Christianity has had in it as compared with other religions. In that context—much as I am a great believer in multiculturalism—all the religions in terms of the history of this country are not on a par, and one has to recognise that. In a way, that is none of my business because I do not care for any of them.

So that is why I have brought this matter before your Lordships. The other topic, which one or two noble Lords have promised me they will answer, is that I ask why? What is this all about? Is it the case—and if it is I should like to see the research evidence—that having a religious school is productive in terms of educational achievement? I know of no research that states that but I should like to be informed if there is.

Secondly, what is the nature of the demand for religious schools? Who is demanding these places and why? I know—I, of course, did it deliberately—that I very much upset the noble Lord, Lord Alton, when, through your Lordships, I said indirectly to him that my experience is that the demand for places in religious schools has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It is astonishing in a society where people do not go to church because it is inconvenient when they could be at Sainsbury's or Tesco on a Sunday morning, that we are suddenly told that they have devout views and must have religious schools for their children. I should like an explanation for that. I am told that I am going to get one and I look forward to it.

My second question, which I have already asked—I am indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn for allowing me to ask it earlier—is that if it is a matter of freedom of choice, and I can understand freedom of choice, why is there no provision for those of us—and this would certainly have applied to me—who want an entirely secular school? Why does not an Act of Parliament give us that freedom of choice?

The great strength of Thatcherism was that it was built on the economics of freedom of choice. It turned out that there were all kinds of choices that people would like freely to have but they were told, "That does not count". The freedom of choice turned out to be quite limited when it came to the exercise of what was called Thatcherism.

I used to be a serious economist and therefore when I used to teach about freedom of choice I really meant freedom of choice. I meant that people should be free to do what they wanted. But it turns out that we pure economists are the only ones who believe in freedom of choice. Everyone else believes in something slightly different—namely, "freedom of choice, but…"

I have introduced the debate—I notice how full is your Lordships' House with noble Lords eager to participate—and I have put my arguments interrogatively. I should like an explanation. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, I rise as part of the "Friends of the Education Bill" debate to engage once more with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on this important subject. I am glad that he has found a way for this issue to be debated. I am with him in regretting that there are so few people in the Chamber.

I noticed his modesty about his previous speeches. I was tempted when I spoke to him before the debate simply to say, "Will you read again my speech at Second Reading". But I shall try to come to the issue in a slightly different way in order to answer some of the points that the noble Lord has made.

We have to accept the dual system of education whether or not we accept the noble Lord's interpretation of the 1944 Act. I suspect there is a grain of truth in it. I am not ashamed. If you live in the real world you come to compromises in getting the kinds of schools you want in the best way you want. My commitment, such as it is, to PFI—which I do not understand any more than does the noble Lord—is that if it enables schools to have better facilities and better premises in order that education may go on, so be it.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, made a point about the taxpayers' support. The taxpayers have also benefited. In 1944, the voluntary bodies put up 50 per cent of capital costs. That is 50 per cent that other people were not having to pay through their taxes. That has gradually gone down as the worth of church schools seems to have been established in one way or another. It may not have been established to the satisfaction of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but it has been established to the satisfaction of a large number of people in this country, and successive governments have actually reduced it, sometimes against the will of some people in the providing churches. Is a 10 per cent contribution sufficient to have the kind of influence that we want to have? There are two approaches; there is also a contribution from taxpayers—modest though it may be.

In answer to the noble Lord's question about the 1988 Act, I believe I am right in saying that it is the law of the land that RE and collective worship shall be "mainly" or "broadly" Christian unless there is a determination by the SACRE. That was carried in this House. Whether such a provision would be carried today is a matter for judgment, but that is the present situation.

We have to address this business. It is a unique partnership which has continued—if we go back to the early part of the 20th century—for almost 60 years, and certainly since 1944. If the fear is that we do not want an extension of this to the communities that represent other world faiths, then terms such as "natural justice" and "human rights" seem to come on to the agenda. We need to think about that.

Secondly, do we really want a situation where, when schools provided by faith communities, particularly, say, by Islam or Hinduism—which are now private, are a law unto themselves and are in no way inspected in the same manner as other schools—want to come into the main system, that wish is resisted? I should have thought that, on the contrary, we want to get the good practices and the assessment that goes with being part of the maintained system into those schools if we can.

It is not difficult to posit a situation where those who have come to this country from other cultures and from other parts of the Commonwealth will be followed by others who may be of the Orthodox tradition or the Roman Catholic tradition, and who will in their view need to have schools established in the areas where they are living. It would be a strange thing to accept an amendment to prevent that. We should be doing a disservice to those great world faiths. I am sorry that no members of other faiths are present to support the idea, so I have to do so.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about the idea of "value-added". If he were to read my 2001 Hockerill lecture, he would see that it ends with the desire to see some academic research done about "value-added" or whatever the term is. The noble Lord is right. We get into this kind of anecdotal debate. I had a great deal to do with the rights of access legislation during its passage through this House. If you are a rambler, you think that everyone who wants to walk in the countryside is perfect; if you are a land manager or landowner, you think that every thug and vagabond will take advantage of the legislation. If you start in a secularist position, you are not necessarily looking for the best that the faith schools can provide—I prefer to call them church schools—and if you start on the side of the faith schools, you sometimes overlook some of the weaknesses.

Speaking from the Anglican point of view—the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will probably want to intervene in this debate—if this amendment is passed, it will prevent the Anglican Church in England from responding to a clear need. There is no doubt that the charge of being elitist because we do not have enough secondary places will be perpetuated. That is why we were delighted when the government White Paper welcomed the things that we were trying to do.

What is the "value-added"? There are people—the noble Lord, Lord Peston, may not be one of them—who do not necessarily embrace a religious faith themselves, but who do believe that faith schools provide the motivation for teaching and learning, and for the pastoral care and discipline which they want their young people to have. As I have said previously, there is a duty on community schools to take a look at what they are providing or are not providing in the spiritual, religious and moral context which make such schools rather attractive to parents who do not belong to a particular Church or religious denomination.

I want to make a point about the secular schools. I say this with a great sense of modesty. I have a feeling that if those people who embrace that approach had been prepared to put up, as it were, the foundation of this kind, then we should be in a position to respond to that. We are here tonight because people of Christian faith and of other world faiths are prepared to put up substantial amounts of capital and invest in teacher training and other resources to ensure that the schools are part of the dual system.

That is my basic response to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I appreciate that he always delivers them in a most gracious way. He is someone with whom one can engage, because he engages in that particular way. He is clear and straight in his objectives. However, I hope that we shall not prevent other world faiths or church communities, where there is a clear need and a clear desire, from being able to establish, with the assistance of the taxpayers' money, as the noble Lord describes it, other schools based on faith communities.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, I was invited to contribute. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, challenged me to honour a claim that I made under the influence of a glass of very good red wine over dinner, so I had better try to be an honourable claimant.

In the previous debate on this matter, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, at a very late hour and with suitable apologies, asked what was the distinctive contribution of Church schools, and he has asked the same question tonight. We began the day by talking about the purposes of education. Noble Lords will recall the references to the broad and balanced curriculum which, promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils"— beginning with the "spiritual and moral".

It has been said that if spirituality is the journey, then religion is the vehicle. RE is part of the curriculum of all schools, as is worship. What is distinctive about Church schools is that this is their raison d'être, their distinctiveness. In an increasingly secular society, perhaps one might claim that if spirituality is a valid experience—I shall come to that—it contributes to society to have among its schools those that place a special emphasis on that journey.

Is it a reality? Well, it is a reality if you think that it is a reality. I think that I once mentioned in chatter to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that a Darwinist of some distinction, Sir Mister Hardy, professor of zoology at the University of Oxford and an FRS, produced a hypothesis in the mid- l960s that the religious or spiritual sense in humankind was a selective advantage. That hypothesis has been taken very seriously. A small department was set up at Oxford, which now exists in the University of Wales.

From time to time, surveys are carried out. I am told that it is a characteristic that in Europe, while there is a sense of spirituality, it is not associated with formal engagement in any religious practice, as it is throughout the rest of the world. In an article published by one of the staff of the University of Nottingham in 2000, reference is made to surveys on the frequency of reports of religious or spiritual experience in Britain in 1987 and 2000. The article then gives some analysis. In 1987, 48 per cent claimed it. That is analysed under various headings. In 2000, the figure is 76 per cent. I attach no significance to the increase in percentage. However, I attach significance to the fact that it is part of people's feeling about their experience in life.

Why would someone such as Hardy think that there is a selective advantage? That, too, has been thought about by others better than I. Very simply, if you feel that you are part of a world that is within the hand of God and he cares about you, you have an extra resilience in coping with adversity and at times an extra courage, an extra enthusiasm and sometimes an extra peace and solace.

My answer to the first question of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is that the Church schools make a distinctive contribution within the whole to the spiritual and moral dimension of education. He may want to ask about the connection between spirituality and morality. Religions have always had a moral code. Others have argued more strongly that in many cases a society's morality is derived from its religion. Some have even said that no great civilisation has long survived the demise of its religious faith. I cannot prove that statement, but there is a connection.

The noble Lord's second question was why, in an increasingly secular society, parents who are not church attenders choose to send their children to a Church school. Why does a survey of 80 secondary schools by the Association of Anglican Secondary School Heads show that, whereas in 1996 there were 1.3 applications for every place, by 2000 there were 1.6 applications for every place, with a steady increase in the intervening years? We can only speculate. I suspect that sometimes it is because, for whatever reason, Church schools have a reputation for good education results. I am not going to get into controversy about that. I had a hand in a report on the subject that shows the statistical analysis.

I suspect that ordinary folk have a perhaps unformed religious—or perhaps it is better to say spiritual—element in their experience of life. Although they want no part of formal religion, which in its practice is very dull rather than exciting, they feel it fitting that their children should go to a place where spirituality is taken seriously. I also think that they know the ordinary moral code that goes with that religion and perhaps feel some sense of security with it.

Church schools, perhaps paradoxically, are in increasing demand in a secular society. Perhaps it is because society is increasingly secular that many parents find some security in the ordinariness and familiarity of the moral values that the Church stands for. Noble Lords may ask me why so many Muslims choose to send their children to a Church school. I may have said before that a distinguished Muslim gave the answer to the Bishop of London when he said, "We divide the world into those who believe in God and those who do not. Your lot do so you are OK". Muslims follow a religion of the Book. They feel comfortable with a school where spirituality is real and where religion is practised sensitively.

I believe that the noble Lord said that it was no longer valid to say that religious education in this country could be based on the Christian faith as we are a multicultural society. However, I well remember chairing a conference in London at which the then Secretary of State for Education, the Archbishop of Canterbury and representatives of all the six main faiths—I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was a Minister at the time—agreed to draft a moral statement. That was a wonderful thing. I cannot think of anywhere else in the world where six faiths could sit down together and over a year or two work through an agreed statement of religious education covering the six faiths. That shows that we are a civilised society. It also shows that the faiths are not at each others' throats. An Archbishop of Canterbury said of Church of England schools that they exist to nourish those of the faith in their faith, to encourage those of other faiths and perhaps to challenge those of other faiths.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this matter so openly and for giving us an opportunity to discuss these deep issues. It is right that they are reconsidered from time to time. At the moment, in spite of all the controversies, parents say often, "I should like my child to go to a Church school".

9.15 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Dearing and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for laying the amendment before your Lordships' House. We all know that this issue has stalked the Bill all the way through its proceedings. It is better that it is placed on the table in this way and that we can debate it fully. Like others, I am sorry only that there are not more noble Lords present to debate these deep and important questions.

The noble Lord's inventiveness has never been in doubt. He remarked that he had gone to some lengths to place an amendment before the House. It is not his inventiveness but the effect of the amendment that troubles me. He said that it has its origins in the 1944 debates. We can go back to Victorian times and Edwardian times and the 1911 debates about Rome on the rates. As the noble Lord knows, at that time there was a great debate between non-conformists and the Roman Catholic Church as to whether it would be permissible for Catholic churches to establish parish schools. The argument was then put that it would be better for those schools to be within the system than outside it. As the noble Lord said, that matter was finally resolved in 1944. It is to everyone's advantage that those schools are within the system. As the right reverend Prelate said, that has enabled those schools to be properly inspected and to ensure that they uphold the kind of civic values that your Lordships would have a right to expect.

We have differences as regards matters of faith—as the noble Lord and I have—but we do not have differences as regards the need to cherish core values of belief in civil society and the upholding of liberty and democracy and the rule of law. The noble Lord has a right to argue that those matters should be promoted inside schools whether they are Church schools or secular schools. I entirely agree with that. I have four children in a denominational school and I am a product of denominational schools. I chose to send my children to such a school after paying my taxes towards the maintenance of the whole of the state sector and schools to which I did not choose to send my children. Parents of children in schools in the voluntary-aided sector pay at least 15 per cent more—it is often more—towards the education that their children receive. As the right reverend Prelate said, that is added value. We should be careful before we start to dismantle for either social or economic reasons a system that has served us so well.

The noble Lord also asked whether we could provide evidence of what he described as productive educational achievement. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, went some way to answer that. I refer to some remarks made by Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi. He said: Denominational schools have a great strength. Often, they have a clear ethos that gives consistency and power to the lessons they teach". He cited a survey of 34,000 teenagers in England and Wales that was carried out by the Jewish Association for Business Ethics. It found that children educated in such an ethos, are less likely to lie, steal or to drink alcohol illicitly. The evidence is that teaching about the morality of everyday life does make a difference". One can dismiss that or accept it, but that is what Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, said.

It is hard in some ways to sum up precisely what the "added value" is that parents choose when they choose a denominational school. Dorn Aidan Bellenger, a Benedictine monk at Downside Abbey, gave a lecture at York Minster last year on Christian education. He said: A Christian education, like prayer, should lift up the heart and mind to God. It should also remind us that the Christian life is about holy dying as well as about holy living. Only in eternal life with God, as Dante reminds us, will Christian education find its true ends". Concentrating one's mind on the hereinafter gives me pause to reflect on the reasons why I still value the denominational education that I received. It helps to concentrate one's mind on the hereinafter. That puts this life into a useful perspective.

At the more empirical level, we can turn to bodies such as Ofsted. Its annual report for 2000–01 contained a list of particularly successful schools, which included a high number of Catholic schools. Ninety secondary schools were listed, of which 15 were Catholic, and 206 primary schools were listed, of which 42 were Catholic. When one considers that Catholic schools provide only 10 per cent of schools nationally, it is clear that they are included to a higher proportion than their overall share of the maintained sector would suggest.

The noble Lord asked about the productive educational achievements of those schools. That can be answered properly and well at two levels: at the spiritual level and purely in terms of how well those schools are doing as educational institutions. He also asked: what is their point? Although they have no point for the noble Lord, they do have a point for hundreds of thousands of people in this country. It is true, as he said, that some of those people are not regular churchgoers but that confuses two matters. Many who have religious faith do not necessarily attend a church on a Sunday. My only disappointment is that there are not enough places in many secondary schools—especially Anglican schools—in this country to accommodate all of those who would wish to have those special values transmitted to their children. The report that was promoted by my noble friend Lord Dearing and which has been accepted implicitly in the Bill and in earlier legislation means that that opportunity will now be there for parents who were previously frustrated, and for people of other faiths.

In that regard, I agree with the right reverend Prelate: it would be discriminatory not to provide the same opportunities for people who do not have a Christian or Jewish background but who want the same opportunities for their children. As I said earlier, however, the issue is whether we can have shared civic values. If there are not shared civic values in such schools, the noble Lord has a perfect right to raise that matter in future and I should be the first to join him in expressing concern.

The noble Lord touched on the question of choice. "Choice" is a fairly over-used word; I believe that it comes from the same Greek root as the word "heresy". The idea that I can make as many choices as I want with total freedom, as if there were no consequences for others, is a sort of modern heresy. Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow, and freedom for the hunter is death for the hunted. If we exercise our choices, that is bound to be at somebody else's expense. In providing the most fair, reasonable and equitable education system, we must ensure that there is equality of opportunity for children from whatever background.

I want to deal with one or two other issues before concluding. In earlier debates—at Second Reading and in Committee—various caricatures were made of Church schools. I have tried to look at some of them objectively. I visit schools of various religious backgrounds on a fairly regular basis. It would repay serious study if the noble Lord and others looked at a document published in 1997 and entitled Catholic Schools and Other Faiths. It deals with some of the issues that have been raised. I shall not go into it in great detail; that would not be appropriate at Report stage. However, perhaps I may deal with three questions which were raised earlier in our debate and which are covered in that report.

The first deals with openness. The Church said: When a school admits a proportion of children from other faith communities, it should recognise that it is taking on a commitment and a relationship to those communities which calls for a higher degree of openness and dialogue. To do this will require the wholehearted support of the trustees, governors, teachers, parents and diocesan authorities". I believe that that is reassuring.

Secondly, with regard to serving the community, it says: Catholic schools may find themselves in places heavily populated by people of other faiths, including parents wishing to send their children to Catholic schools. Some of these people may be among the poorest and most vulnerable in the area. In such a situation, a Catholic school might wish to take on a particular responsibility towards the local community". That is the position of the Church, as promulgated to the schools. Again, I believe that it answers a criticism made during our debates.

The third point concerns the religious education syllabus: It (the school) should ensure that the Religious Education programme includes teaching with integrity about other faiths in their relationship to Christianity …There may also be a need to hold Parents' Evenings to explore the role of the Catholic school in relation to other faiths… The school should be ready to share resources with other schools and with other faith communities"— that, of course, is something which the Government have been urging upon us during the course of the proceedings of this Bill; this was stated by the Church in 1997— especially if the Catholic school is situated in an area of deprivation or racial tension". That answers the type of question that was properly raised about situations such as applied in Burnley and Oldham.

The Church has also drafted guidelines for Catholic schools which are considering the admission of pupils of other faiths. Those demonstrate a recognition of the need for Catholic schools to be beacons of hospitality and service to the local community. Again, they are far removed from the inaccurate caricature of Church schools that is too often propounded. Those guidelines state, first, that: The school should consider the nature of the existing diversity of religious understanding and commitment among its present Catholic or Christian pupils, and how this may be influenced by admitting pupils of other Faiths". Secondly, they state: The school should consult with parents of other faiths who might wish to send their children to the school, and with the Spiritual leaders of their faith communities in order to clarify their expectations and requirements and to see what sort of creative relationship can be established". Thirdly, they state: The school should also seek to clarify situations where any of its practices or policies seem to people of other faiths to constitute proselytising". Fourthly, the guidelines say: Any school pursuing a philosophy of dialogue will need to strive to affirm and strengthen the differing religious identities, traditions and backgrounds of the pupils, while at the same time seeking to help pupils and staff to recognise and value what their differing beliefs have in common". It is important to make clear that those extracts state the policy of the Catholic Church towards the role of its schools in our communities. I believe that they go a long way towards meeting many of the criticisms that have been made.

Finally, I believe that those who wish to abolish Church or faith schools or certainly those with any kind of maintenance from the state—that would be the effect of the amendment—or in any way to dilute their freedom over admissions policies would do well to read those 1997 guidelines. They demonstrate that fidelity to the mission of the Church and openness and dialogue with those of other faiths and none are compatible and that they offer a blueprint for the future development of Church schools.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is right to remind us of the fallibility of those who have a religious faith. We all know that we are called because we are sinners rather than because we are virtuous. If one looks at the history of religious faith—whether it is the Inquisition or any of the worst moments of our history where religion has been a part of it—there is plenty there to illustrate the point of the American Rabbi who said: I hear this talk of Christian society and all I see is barbed wire". Therefore, some degree of humility is needed.

It might also be pointed out that in the 20th century some of the worst tyrannies and ideologies, such as fascism and communism, involved people such as Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, who came with no faith. Certainly none of the tyrannical, totalitarian policies that they promoted were based on religious extremism.

Therefore, we all need to approach this issue with a sense of humility. We also need to remember that, where religious impulse works for the common good—one thinks of people such as Lord Shaftesbury or William Wilberforce—it can make a radical difference in the life of society. I believe that we would be unwise to dismiss that tradition, to relegate it or in any way to undermine it, as I believe the amendment would do.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to be totally honest in this debate. I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his long defence of the Roman Catholic Church. My position is really very different. I do not believe in religious schools in the state; I do not believe in any faith schools. I should prefer this to be a totally secular society, with totally secular schools.

I realise that my remarks will probably offend most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate tonight, except perhaps my noble friend Lord Peston. However, I should like to express my point of view. I believe that faith schools are dangerous. One has only to look at Northern Ireland. I have long been a supporter of integrated schools in the Province because I believe that to be the best hope for that society. I would be frightened of us going down the way of having totally religious schools of different denominations, and so on, in this country. I would rather have none.

However, I do not think that that is a popular view at present. When I served on an admissions and appeals committee for Cambridgeshire County Council—perhaps before the time of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—one knew about the pressures to get into Church schools because parents thought that those who attended such schools were better-behaved children and that they were well looked after; and, indeed, they were. At that time, the education in Church schools was not very good, though it is perhaps better now.

I am frightened of going down this route, though perhaps it is not very dangerous. Many people say, "Well, there won't be many of them, and it won't make any difference". But I am afraid that it might. Therefore, my attitude is not to help them. I just hope that we shall not put too much money into them when it might be going to other schools that have a greater need for it. I am completely in support of all those who have spoken today against more money going to successful schools, with less money going to deprived schools. I just wanted to make my position quite clear, because I have not previously spoken freely on the matter. I t seemed to me that this was the moment to do so. I do not believe that I shall receive much support, but I just wanted to express my opinion and say what I really believe in.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I rise to comment briefly because much of what I wished to say, and support, has been outlined by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Alton. However, I have a few points to add to the debate.

First, I return to the proposition being made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. This would be the abolition of faith schools. There is no questioning that fact: if they cannot be funded, I doubt if many of them would have the wherewithal to go independent and become faith schools outside the state school system. The faith schools throughout the country about which we know are populated by young people from the local community who simply would not have the wherewithal to do anything as regards making alternative provision. We are talking about a large number of schools that would be abolished. Indeed, they would very quickly become secular schools. The moment the money stream was cut off would signal the end of their lives as state schools.

Secondly, I should like to repeat what I have said many times previously. I really believe that education without a spiritual and moral dimension would be an education lacking. It would be clinical and arid. One has only to consider the example of America where parents look across the ocean to our country and long to go down the road that we have taken where a spiritual and moral dimension is a feature of all schools, not just those that have a distinctive faith.

Thirdly, as I said earlier, I have always been conscious of those children for whom school is the only anchor in their lives. For some children it is the only place where they will learn about the parameters within which to grow up and develop, and where they will receive any kind of yardstick, or any kind of help, to enable them to cope with those rather deep questions of life; in other words, how to grapple with difficult situations. My goodness, some of our young people do have to face such situations and that dimension of education, which applies to children right across the sector, does help them enormously.

The question was asked why people choose such schools. I believe that they do so for a variety of reasons. Some of them choose them unashamedly because of the Christian ethos or the Jewish ethos or the Muslim ethos. People look for an education imbued with a particular faith.

For many people there is something about the ethos of faith schools that makes them special and different. Faith schools have a dimension that is not present in secular schools. For many parents one manifestation of that is behaviour. People are at ease with the framework and the parameters, within which children grow up and develop, that are set by the faith schools.

I believe that faith schools are popular for good reasons. I believe that they are part of the tapestry of educational provision in this country. Long may they remain so. The noble Baroness, Lady David, talked about not wanting to go down that road, but we have been going down that road for a long time—some hundreds of years. We should also remember that the Church started mainstream education in this country. Mainstream education, including free education, was brought about by the Methodists and the Christian Churches in the century before last, so we have much to thank them for. I certainly want to support their continuation. I hope that the noble Lord will not succeed in his amendment to cut off the money supply because I believe that the country would be the poorer for it and many thousands of children would certainly be the poorer for it.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, I feel provoked to speak in this debate, although in Northern Ireland education is now a devolved matter. As one who is a parent of six children, who has watched education develop in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years, and who is an Ulster Unionist Peer, I fully support the idea of faith schools. We have two types of schools in Northern Ireland: state schools attended mainly by the Protestant majority community and by the Jewish minority community; and Roman Catholic schools supported and attended by the Roman Catholic minority.

I have no doubt whatever that people of a minority religion have the right through parental choice to select the schools that their children attend. We in the Ulster Unionist Party have always supported 100 per cent the financing of faith schools in Northern Ireland that are mainly and almost entirely Roman Catholic schools.

When I hear a Member of this House say, "Look at Northern Ireland", I despair. That shows a distinct misunderstanding, perhaps even a lack of knowledge of what is happening in Northern Ireland. The situation in Northern Ireland has not come about simply as a matter of religion, of Roman Catholics and Protestants; that is the European, ill-informed approach to Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland matters go much deeper than religion. I say that as a Protestant who supports the right of the Roman Catholic minority to have their own schools and who is well pleased at the success of the Church of England schools in England.

The situation in Northern Ireland is not about religion but about nationalism. It is the mixture of religion with politics. If one does not understand that, one should not say, "Look at Northern Ireland".

Lord Hylton

My Lords. I am grateful for what my noble friend has said. However, he could have gone on to say that some parents in Northern Ireland have demanded that children coming from the Protestant and the Catholic traditions should be able to meet and to mingle in the same schools. Ever since my late noble friend Lord Dunleath's enabling Bill in about 1977, they have been able to do that. I have witnessed the growth of some of the integrated faith schools and they are very good.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, this is a somewhat daunting debate to which to respond, which began, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn said, with a very gracious expression from my noble friend Lord Peston. But though the amendment has taken flight in terms of the range and depth of the contributions, it is fairly prosaic and perhaps the House will forgive me if I address myself first and foremost to that prosaic quality. That is the basis on which I shall seek to persuade my noble friend to withdraw it.

Amendment No. 31, quite straightforwardly, would exclude all schools with a religious character from any form of financial assistance from central government. That would mean that no Church school could, for example, receive funding from the Standards Fund, formula capital funding or the School Standards Grant.

I recognise the strength of feeling behind my noble friend when he presents this vision. He is saying that he believes that the basis upon which British education has been established over the past 170 years, and certainly since the great formative education Acts of the 20th century, should he reconstructed because of societal change, which means that formal religion occupies a lesser place in the life of the nation now than it did in the past, or that the concept of religious education was misconceived in the first place.

My noble friend needs to recognise that it is no easy matter to contemplate the withdrawal of funding from a sector of education which has served a large section of the nation well in the past. I recognise that arguments are increasingly presented that this is a multi-faith and multi-cultural society and therefore the predominance of the faith schools, which are predominantly Christian, ought to be altered. But I do not think that my noble friend believes it is a realistic proposition that, on the basis of a simple amendment to this Bill, we should end the basis of faith education in this country. Nor do I think that he sustained any argument for saying that those who belong to minority faiths want the situation to be solved in that way.

It is perhaps easy for us to say that if we could rewrite history we might have produced the American solution—the concept of the melting pot—in which religion plays no part in the formal education system and the task of communicating religion to children is taken on by the Churches and religious institutions. But we do not start from 1776 and the revolution; we start from an evolved educational culture over several centuries, against a background in which the Church played a formative part in the early years of education, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rightly identified. My noble friend will recognise that the belief of large numbers of those who have a different faith from Christianity is merely that they should have equal opportunity with Christian schools; namely, that it is only right that the finance available to faith schools, as established in the Christian ethos, should also be available in areas where there is a substantial demand for it in Muslim and other religious faiths.

The Government are not encouraging faith schools. Nothing in the Bill encourages such development. But we defend the right of existing schools to receive resources on the basis of the education which they provided in the past. The argument has not been sustained that there is a massive flight from faith schools; in fact quite the opposite. It may be for a whole range of reasons—my noble friend began by suggesting that those reasons may not be wholly related to religion—but it is the case that the demand for education in faith schools remains buoyant, to put it at its mildest.

I am in no position—I am not sure that anyone in the House is—to identify exactly the elements that lead to that, although I have some sympathy with the argument made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Parents find the issue of how to inculcate moral values and to meet the challenges of the next generation pretty daunting. After all, not all parents are as well blessed as is my noble friend Lord Peston with intellect and capacity to take on any intellectual challenge—no doubt even from his redoubtable offspring. For many other parents, increasingly well-educated children can produce challenges at an early age that make most of us scratch our heads.

It is not easy to inculcate such values. In certain areas, parents run away from the issues altogether—hence the abysmal level of sex education communicated in the nation as a whole. I think that that also obtains in certain areas of moral values. Parents find it easier to believe that it is the role of the school to provide an intellectual, spiritual and ethical framework within which children can evolve. Of course, parents are in the business of teaching children right from wrong from an early stage. That is rather different from creating over time a framework that is eminently sensible and withstands the challenge that young people can often make.

One can at least say that those who have been involved with Church schools have a framework within which they can meet such challenges. Parents' wish for faith schools reflects that need and their belief that, on the whole, that gives their children a framework within which they can develop.

So the Government merely say that we acknowledge parents' wishes to educate their children in mainstream Christian schools. Given our multicultural society, it is only right that parents of other faiths should have similar opportunities to educate their children in accordance with their own beliefs. We are not campaigning for more faith schools. We are merely saying that, where there is a clearly articulated demand, opportunities should occur.

Whereas there are more than 7,000 faith schools in the United Kingdom, the increase year-on-year is low. We are not talking about an immense surge towards such schools. The amendment would produce a revolution in education provision in this country and we are not prepared to countenance that within the framework of this rather modest Bill.

I recognise the value of this debate for allowing some extremely telling contributions from many parts of the House, some of which were prompted, as debates should be, by contributions that caught raw nerves and inevitably raised issues of deepest principle to us all. As far as the Government are concerned, the amendment, modest though it is in a long list of amendments before us, proposes to withdraw financial support to a system of education that has served our country well and which is still in great demand among parents. If we could devise a means to measure spiritual depth, we would have a rather more sophisticated education system and society than we have. I do not think that we will reach that position, so my noble friend will have to take the position on trust. I hope that on that basis he will seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am very pleased with our debate. I had no idea that my "prosaic" little amendment, as my noble friend the Minister called it, would both give rise to some very deep philosophical contributions and revolutionise the whole nature of education in our country. I am very tempted to carry on campaigning. If my little amendment can do that, I really must spring to action and start to round up the type of support I need.

I found bits of the debate most distressing. I have to assume that, for noble Lords who believe that education must have a spiritual and moral content, people like me are not educated. I do not exactly take offence from that, but people with religious views sometimes do not think before they speak. Large numbers of us regard ourselves as very moral people and have engaged in activities serving our country but have no spirituality in our lives whatsoever. I myself do not make remarks about religious people of that kind, and I occasionally think that those who have religion ought not to make remarks about the rest of us.

As philosophy is my great hobby, I was particularly interested in the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. I did come across the alleged research on the idea that spirituality had a positive evolutionary role, and I then checked with some serious scientists whose exact words were, "The man is mad and no one would take him seriously".

Lord Dearing

My Lords, the man is elsewhere now.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I wish him well. However, that argument has always intrigued me. As I said, whenever I come across these views, I consult various scientists, but they just say that the ideas are mad.

I have one slightly frivolous observation on the subject. As noble Lords know, my main interest in life is football. I have noticed that quite a few players come on to the field and cross themselves before going on to the pitch. I have been inquiring whether any research has been done on the effect of footballers crossing themselves on the performance of their teams. As far as I can see, the England team contains no players who cross themselves before going on to the field. I worry enormously. If crossing oneself and having deep spiritual values is productive in football, our coach needs to be told.

I am much more interested in the issue of moral values and of whether it is true that those of us who have felt it our duty as parents to inculcate moral values in our children are somehow failing as compared with parents who say that the schools must do that. I honour my late father and mother because that is the right thing; I do not honour them because it is in the Bible or the Ten Commandments. I do not covet my neighbour's wife because it is in the Bible but because it is the right moral position to take. I think that we are discussing largely similar issues in this debate.

I shall certainly not get involved with Northern Ireland. I hope that I may be excused for not being a pundit on Northern Ireland.

Except for some extreme American religious fundamentalists who wish to use it as a way of getting creationism back in schools, I know of no Americans—as a graduate of an American university, I know hundreds if not thousands of Americans—who wish to have the religious schools set-up that we have.

As I have said before, including in Committee, I think, nothing that I have said should undermine my view, or anyone else's view, of the role that the Churches have played in education. The Churches were concerned about the poor in this country and their education long before almost anyone else. They have no apologies whatsoever to make on that subject. However, that was then and this is now. The situation is similar in relation to the role in education played by the trade unions and mechanics' institutes. People like me probably were educated more and studied more in the public libraries than at home because we did not have a quiet room at home in which to study. So although many different institutions contributed to education in this country, that does not mean that that is how we have to continue.

I had intended to divide the House on the matter in order to be in a minority, as I thought, of one or possibly two. Since virtually no one else has said a word in support of the amendment, and since other noble Lords intend to soldier on for at least another two or three hours, I do not think that I should divide the House. An inner voice is still telling me, "Divide, it is your moral responsibility". None the less I shall overcome it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, it may have been a slip of the tongue or perhaps I did not hear him properly, but I thought he said that he did not covet his neighbour's wife because it said so in the Bible; he did it because it was the right thing to do.

Lord Peston

Yes, my Lords, I must have failed English at some point.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 32: Page 9, line 39, after "education" insert "provided by an institution within the higher education sector The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I hope that I can be brief in dealing with Amendment No. 32, which is a small but important amendment. When it was discussed in another place the Minister got it all wrong and promised to go away and think about it. So far as I know, nothing has transpired from that.

Clause 13 in Part 2 gives the Secretary of State power to fund a number of items set out in subsection (2). Subsection 2(c) includes, enabling any person to undertake any course of education, or any course of higher education provided by an institution within the further education sector". We agree. We think that that is the right thing to do. We know now that there is an increasing incidence of higher education courses being carried out in further education colleges. Clearly, they need to be funded. I have no quarrel with that. Clause 13(3) states that the Secretary of State may not fund, higher education, and 'educational' shall be construed accordingly". One cannot, on the one hand, say that, higher education provided by an institution within a further education sector can be funded, and then say that higher education cannot be funded. The distinction is that higher education in further education can be funded in that way, but higher education provided by an institution within the higher education sector is funded by another means.

The Minister in her reply to me stated: We have found, as the noble Baroness rightly said, [that is me] our current powers for funding the Higher Education Funding Council for England—in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992—to be fully adequate, and do not see the need to make changes there". But in her reply to me—I having said that I thought that what the noble Baroness was saying was contradictory—she said: I shall try. In subsection (2)(c) the first occurrence of 'education' does not include higher education". In subsection (2)(c) it does include higher education, but it includes higher education as taught in further education institutions. She goes on to say, but subsection (2)(c)", which is the same subsection, also makes explicit reference to higher education, which is therefore an omission".—[Official Report, 7/5/02: col. 1129.] So I am totally confused by her answer to me. But I think that there has to be a proper distinction made between higher education as taught in a further education institution and the second reference to higher education, which I believe is provided by an institution within the higher education sector. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady, Blatch has pursued this issue, quite rightly, both in Committee and again today against a background where she indicated matters were less than clear after the Bill had passed through the other place. Therefore, we need to address the issue in some detail here.

Let me make the obvious point that after the Committee stage, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, recognises, there was a significant development; namely, my noble friend Lady Ashton wrote to her in an effort to address directly the issues raised in Committee and to provide what we regard as being the definitive response to the anxieties. But clearly it was not definitive enough to settle the mind of the noble Baroness about this matter. I shall try, therefore, to do so again this evening.

We seek to clarify the position relating to higher education. The amendment would not clarify the issue but would make it infinitely more difficult. The amendment would make a substantial change, widening the coverage of Clause 13. We set out to ensure that Clause 13 covered only some specific areas of overlap between schools or further education and higher education. Those areas were the continuing professional development of teachers and support for people undertaking higher education courses at a further education institution. We have not sought to go any further than those two categories, and there is no need to take the funding power into the realms of higher education beyond those precise areas of overlap. If we did, we would have several significant difficulties, which I shall identify in a moment.

Following the discussion in Committee on the drafting of the clause, we examined it again to ensure that it covered the areas that we intended. We are confident that it does so. Clause 13(3) introduces a general exclusion of higher education. Subsections (2)(c) and (2)(g) modify that general exclusion in a precise way to include higher education provided in an institution in the further education sector and all training for teachers. Those are exactly the two areas that we seek to exclude from the general inhibition about higher education. I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness that the clause does that.

We have no intention of extending the funding power to include other aspects of higher education. The amendment would do that and would bring into the public remit additional funds allocated to the private sector of higher education. I reassure the House that that is not our intention. The intention behind the clause is straightforward. We need specific exclusions from higher education because we have those two specifically targeted areas. The clause is drafted accurately on that basis. If the noble Baroness accepts the argument that it is proper that we should make those restrictions, as we intend, I can assure her that the clause is drafted to do that.

10 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I accept absolutely the way in which the Government wish to fund higher education. I accept absolutely that the Government wish to fund higher education that takes place in a further education institution; that is included in subsection 2(c).

It was interesting that, when the Minister gave a lay person's description of what he meant, he said that other aspects of higher education were not included. That is exactly my point. I want the words on the page to mean what the Minister says. The provisions of subsection 2(c) represent a modification, as we now have instances of higher education courses being taught in further education institutions. However, the Minister referred to other aspects; I do not care whether that means other aspects of higher education or higher education in institutions other than further education institutions. As it stands, the clause says: does not include higher education". It does include higher education; it includes higher education provided in further education colleges. Either the clause should read, other aspects of higher education", or, using the wording in my amendment, provided by an institution within the higher education sector". The Minister is right about what the Government intend to do, but the words in the Bill do not reflect it accurately.

I shall return to this at Third Reading. I hope that the Minister will see the point that I make. "Higher education" refers to higher education; and higher education in a further education college is higher education. Therefore the wording on the face of the Bill is wrong. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 [Repeal of specific grant-making powers]:

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 34: Before Clause 18, insert the following new clause—


  1. (1) In relation to the conduct of education in schools and nursery schools, the Secretary of State and local education authorities shall have a duty to limit new regulation and to control the amount of material they send to governing bodies and head teachers.
  2. (2) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report to Parliament, setting out any progress he has made in the preceding year in seeking to control or reduce the volume of regulations, circulars and codes of practice that he or his predecessors have published, and reporting any representations he has received from governing bodies, head teachers or teachers' representative bodies about the burden that regulations impose.
  3. (3) Each set of regulations, circular or code of practice issued by the Secretary of State shall include a statement by him of the time he expects it will take for governing bodies or head teachers of schools or nursery schools, as appropriate, to read, consider and implement the regulation, circular or code of practice concerned.
  4. (4) In making his estimate under subsection (3), the Secretary of State shall impose no additional burden on schools or nursery schools to provide him or local authorities with information."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 34 relates to the control of regulation. In reply to the amendment in Committee, the Minister said: I understand from parliamentary counsel that the effect of the amendment would be to reduce the level of regulation to nothing".

I accept that because that is what the wording did I hope that the Minister will realise that I have addressed that in my new amendment. She later said: We have set out in the Government's regulatory reform action plan our programme to reduce the burden of regulations on the schools sector".—[Official Report, 7/5/02; col. 1134.] I understand that the task force is most critical of the Department for Education and Skills and it does not agree with the Minister's assertion that there is a reduction.

For the second time today, I want to quote the Times Educational Supplement, which in some way or another has managed to unearth a secret government report suggesting that the mountain of paper from the department is growing. It states that the dossier that has been uncovered was produced by the Cabinet Office with the Department for Education and Skills and is marked "restricted". None of us therefore has been privileged to see it as yet. It is based on a survey of 40 secondary schools and is expected to form the basis of renewed attempts to tackle one of the most serious problems facing teachers. I concur with that.

The paper goes on to state that barely an organisation that deals with staff emerges unscathed. Examination boards, local education authorities, the Learning and Skills Council all come under fire. It reveals that in English GCSE course work teachers have to fill in at least seven forms for every pupil. A special needs co-ordinator looking after six pupils each taking 12 subjects has to fill in 72 forms per term. Staff must fill in special eight-page application forms for pay rises and every experienced member of staff must have a one-hour interview for performance pay rises. The intensive nature of AS examinations effectively means that teachers carry out three terms' marking in two terms. Teachers feel submerged in a sea of bureaucracy, most of which is pointless. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, states: It seems almost as if the Government and its agencies are part of a conspiracy to make life as difficult as possible for our schools".

That comment was responded to by a DfES spokeswoman who said: Most of the tasks undertaken by teachers in schools are essential to the education and personal development of the pupils. Reducing bureaucracy is about eliminating unnecessary burdens". I believe that there should be a bonfire of "unnecessary burdens".

The Minister was kind enough to write to me in one of the many letters sent after the Committee stage, and again I thank her. In the second paragraph, she stated: The Secretary of State then intends, following the outcome of the Spending Review, to make specific proposals across a range of areas in her formal response at the beginning of the Autumn term". That is a response to the report of the teachers' review body. But that is ludicrous. The Bill before us spawns endless regulations, guidelines and guidance. Therefore, whatever bonfire is being considered in the department is being built up at an even faster rate.

We have made so many suggestions to limit regulation, but I am afraid to no avail. We shall make another attempt in later amendments to try to reduce regulation, but we shall be told that it is necessary. I repeat my amazement that independent schools remain standing and in existence. They get by without a Department for Education and Skills; they get by without guidance, regulations and missives that arrive on a daily basis by the vanload in our schools. Let us put a bonfire to some of this paper and let us take at least a knife to some of the regulations that are to be spawned by the Bill.

In the same letter the noble Baroness remarks: That is why the Bill includes a series of practical measures to deregulate and give greater autonomy to schools". Of their own volition, the Government have chosen the most bureaucratic way of introducing innovation and earned autonomy. We have put forward suggestions whereby both of those aims could be achieved, but without the bureaucracy. I am sorry to say it, but the Bill makes a joke of some of the comments that have been made by the department with regard to the reduction in the burden of bureaucracy on our schools.

I shall make a final comment on the letter. The Minister pointed out that: What we all want is a change in the mindset and culture that will give school leaders the confidence and freedom to lead the changes needed for higher standards". It is not a change of mindset in the schools that is required for the reduction of bureaucracy and regulation, it is the mindset in the department and among Ministers. If that were to be achieved, then perhaps we would see a tangible sign that this burdensome chore for schools was being relieved. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I rise briefly to express my support for the amendment. One of greatest disappointments about the Bill so far as concerns Members on these Benches is that there is nothing in it to address the problem of the recruitment and retention of teachers. If the amendment were to be carried by the House, at least it would do something to contribute towards the reduction of the horrendous burden of paperwork and form-filling put on schools and teachers. It is hoped that, by doing so, it would attempt in a small way to address the problem of recruitment and retention.

Of course many other issues are involved with regard to recruitment and retention, but the burden of paperwork is always quoted by teachers when they are questioned about why they are planning to leave the profession or why they have already done so. For that reason, I wish to support the amendment.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, perhaps a good benchmark for the department to adopt would be that every regulation it imposes on a school should be perceived by those who have to fill in the forms and do the work required under it as a benefit to them within their own school. If that was the case then I believe that teachers would undertake the administration with pleasure.

I have noticed that where good systems of data collection and pupil monitoring are in place, teachers benefit so much from it that they are delighted to spend their time undertaking that work. When data simply disappear into the thin air of the LEA or the Department for Education and Skills, teachers resent it. Finding a local use for the administration makes all the difference in these cases.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I believe that I made it clear in Committee that we are at one with the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Walmsley, in the objective of reducing unnecessary burdens on our schools. I too have seen the report in the TES. Noble Lords will not be surprised if I comment on it. It comprised a fairly raw list of issues. Schools were asked to identify areas of concern. Some of those are important and need to be tackled, some are not accurate and are based on misunderstandings, while some are already being addressed.

We take these issues extremely seriously. None of us has any interest in wasting the time and energy of people working in schools on implementing badly drawn-up regulations or ploughing through paperwork for which there is no real need. At the same time, we must all recognise that there is no magic wand here—we cannot administer our schools system in a vacuum free of all regulation.

The Government fully accept their responsibility for ensuring that the balance of regulation is right and that we must keep a close track of the concerns of schools in this area. I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has made changes to the original drafting of the clause to take account of the practical considerations which cannot be ignored when seeking to strike the right balance.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Government do need to send some materials to schools. For example, in response to the concerns expressed by noble Lords in Committee about the welfare of children, the Government will bring forward amendments to require—rightly—materials to go to schools. The revised special educational needs code of practice had to go to schools. The same applied to details of the teachers' pay settlement, information about new opportunities for schools under this Bill and in other places, and so on. We cannot simply stop giving schools information in the interests of cutting paperwork.

I want to focus on the quality of communication. We need to ensure that schools know what they need to know without being given extraneous material. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made a positive suggestion about the need to consider how we can get good systems and involve those who are recipients in the process. I shall write further to the noble Lord about that. It is very difficult to legislate to ensure that one gets quality communication and that we do so effectively. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to the School Teachers Review Body. We are well aware of that and a consultation is under way.

I need hardly point out that regulations and bureaucracy are intricately woven into the pattern of pressures which comprise the workload of our teachers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, indicated. We know that this is a pressure that has had an impact on teachers. The reason that there are not measures specifically directed to the subject of retention and recruitment is that there are fundamental student loan issues involved. There are many measures in place and under way. The Bill legislates for what we need to legislate for.

At the beginning of the autumn term, the Secretary of State will respond formally. She expects to make specific proposals across a range of areas, including how to tackle regulatory and administrative burdens. I would not wish to pre-empt that. I can assure noble Lords that we share their aim and that we are taking action to achieve it.

At the moment, 32 pathfinder schools of all kinds across England are leading the way to establish new and better approaches to teacher workload. The pathfinder schools, for example, are exploring the opportunities for information technology, which offers help in new ways of communicating within schools, between schools, between local education authorities and with the department. This will help to cut down the time that it takes teachers to deal with repetitive tasks, another important factor in the workload for teachers.

The pathfinder programme will be of key importance in providing all schools with practical examples of the way forward in helping to make our teachers' jobs more manageable while continuing to ensure that we have the educational standards that we want. We want to learn from the pathfinder process; we want to make sure that the Secretary of State's response in the autumn will be based on real information about what practical steps can be taken. For that reason, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment, with the assurance that as we move forward I shall keep the noble Baroness and the House fully informed of developments.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I want desperately to believe the Minister but—a very big but—I am looking at Clauses 18 to 22. Clause 18(2) states: Regulations shall provide for a governing body to consist of—

  1. (a) persons elected or appointed as parent governors,
  2. (b) persons elected or appointed as staff governors".
Clause 18(3) states: Regulations may make provision as to"— and then there is a whole list of items in paragraphs (a) to (1).

Clause 20(3) states that, Regulations may—

  1. (a) set out terms of reference for governing bodies of maintained schools,
  2. "(b) define the respective roles".
They have been defined for years.

Regulations defining the number of governors, the persons who should be elected, the eligibility for election, the terms of office, resignation or removal are already on statute. We are sweeping away old regulations and providing yet more. We even have regulations dealing with the clerk to the governing body, for heaven's sake. Are they really necessary? There are regulations making provision for the dissolution of governing bodies, enabling governing bodies of a federation and so on. In Clause 24 regulations may make provision modifying any provision contained in Chapter 4 of Part 1 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. I could go on.

All the way through the Bill there are pages and pages of regulations. Those regulations are accompanied by guidance—they are not regulations on their own—and we shall be talking about more later when we come to other amendments. I want to believe the noble Baroness, but I am afraid that almost as she is talking about ways of reducing regulation, this Bill is piling it on. We shall certainly return to this amendment.

I asked a question at the previous stage of the Bill, and I ask it again. How many sets of regulations and guidelines are being produced as a result of the provisions in the Bill, and what areas do they cover? Perhaps we could have an answer before Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 [Governing bodies]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 35: Page 11, line 40, at end insert "or in accordance with subsection (1A) below. (1A) A governing body may resolve to retain the instrument of government in place on 1st September 2002 for a period of up to 10 years, and may review this decision from time to time. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving; this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 36.

This amendment would help to eliminate some of the unnecessary new regulations that may be issued. The amendment is relatively self-explanatory. It relates to governing bodies and whether we need to have a new set of regulations in relation to them.

As we discussed at length in Committee, governing bodies have only recently been reconstituted under the regulations that were agreed as recently as 1999. For some governing bodies, this caused considerable upheaval. For others, it caused a degree of work that diverted their energies from the more important issue of governing their schools. I suspect that a majority of governors will see no reason for further reconstitution and, indeed, could become alienated were this change to be imposed. There are already rumblings among governing bodies at the thought that they will have to be reconstituted all over again.

However, some governing bodies may find this further so-called flexible model that the Minister is introducing attractive. In Committee, the Minister talked a great deal about the Way Forward Group. Some members of the group were quite keen on this idea and would like to go forward and reconstitute.

The great advantage of the amendment is that it provides an option. It provides schools with the option, if they so wish, to retain the instruments of government that were in place in September 2002 so that they can continue for the next 10 years under those instruments of government. As I understand it, the Minister intends in any case to phase in the new proposals somewhat slowly to give time for schools to change over. The amendment seeks to extend that period by six years, from 2006—which I believe is the date referred to by the Minister—to 2012. If in the mean time schools decide that they would like to switch over to the new regulations, they can review the situation from time to time. That is the essence of the proposal. We believe that the amendment is reasonable. We know that it would be received with a sigh of relief by some school governing bodies.

Amendment No. 36 amends the new regulations that have come into force. We discussed this at length in Committee. One of the points in relation to the new flexible regulations is that they attempt to cut down the number of stakeholder groups who form governing bodies.

Paragraph b on page 16 of the document, Policy Statements and Draft Regulations Supplied to Standing Committee G states: to implement the Government's commitment, the regulations must provide for at least one of the available vacancies to be provided by a teacher". There is only one group for teachers and staff governors on governing bodies proposed under the new flexible regulations. That has caused a great deal of concern. The regulations of 1999, which were the result of lengthy discussions and consultation, finally found a separate place for support staff governors. Support staff governors have been delighted to have the extra place. The new flexible arrangements do not provide for a separate place for support staff governors.

The regulations will provide that at least one of the places for staff governors on school governing bodies should be provided by a teacher. The amendment suggests that, except for the smallest category of schools, "micro-schools"—we recognise that it is a bit much to expect that all members of staff in schools with only two or three staff members should be on the governing bodies—there should be separate representation by teacher governors and staff governors. That is precisely the aim of the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 35 and 36. The changes that were made for governing bodies are still fairly recent and are only just beginning to bed down. It is right that schools should be given an opportunity to stay with those rules. I do not think that that would cause any upheaval. It would be administratively tidy to go to a uniform system across the country, but administrative tidiness does not always make for happy schools.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, I find myself rather torn on Amendment No. 35. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just said about arrangements having been put in place, yet 10 years seems a long time and might pander to those governing bodies that most need to be changed. That is why I am hesitant about fixing a 10-year period in law. It would set in aspic the governing bodies that one would most like to adopt a new approach. I entirely support Amendment No. 36, provided that there is an adequate definition of the "smallest category of school".

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I remind the right reverend Prelate that the new governing rules came into effect only two years ago, so they have not been set in aspic for very long.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, I was thinking about the end of the process in 2012, when I shall be in my bath chair, rather than the beginning of it. That is why I said that I was in some doubt as to how to respond to the amendment.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I shall respond to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the number of regulations. I apologise. I had meant to do that already. I have the information and I shall ensure that I pass it to her.

The fact that there will be regulations under the clauses on governance that we are about to debate does not mean that schools will be more regulated—quite the opposite. The regulations under these clauses replace many pages of primary legislation that we have repealed. Through these changes we shall simplify the rules, give schools greater flexibility and reduce the extent to which processes are regulated. My experience of discussing the issue with governing bodies is that they welcome the changes. That has been the response to my own consultation and the formal consultation.

I understand and agree that it would be helpful to governing bodies to have a reasonable period to choose a new constitutional model and have a new instrument of government in place. That is why The Way Forward consultation paper on school governance suggests giving governing bodies three years to implement the proposals.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said, we are committed to giving governing bodies until 1st September 2006 to have a new instrument of government in place. Our proposed time-scale for implementation offers flexibility that governors have told us that they want. It enables governing bodies to adopt a new constitutional model from September 2003 if that is what they want and it gives those governing bodies that prefer to take longer the freedom to do so and move to the new framework by 1st September 2006.

Governors have told us that the proposed timetable for implementation is helpful. We believe that three years is a reasonable length for a transition period. The amendment would mean that governing bodies could remain constituted under existing legislation, or reconstitute under the new proposals, for the next 10 years. Having two frameworks in place for such a long time would not be helpful. That has been confirmed by the responses to the consultation that we have received from governing bodies and from local education authorities. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

On Amendment No. 36, our proposal for school staff to be represented on the governing body as one stakeholder group received a high level of support. All governing bodies will be able to decide on the number of staff governors, up to and including a maximum of one-third of the places on the governing body. To safeguard teacher representation, we have said in our policy statement that regulations will prescribe that one place must be reserved for a teacher. Noble Lords might have seen from the draft regulations that where no teacher stands for election, the place can be taken by another member of staff. It is only by legislating in the way we propose that we can provide for that kind of flexibility.

All governing bodies will be able to choose a constitutional model that suits their needs best, within a framework of principles. A governing body cannot have fewer than nine governor places, or more than 20. Provided that governing bodies comply with the relevant principles, they are free to decide their own size and make-up.

There is a technical issue with the amendment in that there is no such concept as the "smallest category of school" in the new constitutional arrangements. There is no disagreement of principle. I have already said in Committee that I believe that support staff have a tremendously important role in schools. I therefore believe it is right that we are proposing a framework that allows for both teaching and other members of staff to be represented on the governing body as staff governors.

All governing bodies will be able to choose a model that allows support staff to be elected to the governing body as staff governors. If a governing body chooses a model of more than two staff members, it will be the electorate, which means all school staff, which will decide who it believes is best placed to be a staff governor.

I therefore hope that what I have said, together with the draft of the regulations, will satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. If there are further points requiring clarification, I shall be more than happy to discuss them before Third Reading. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply but I am a little disappointed by it. The notion of running the two models side by side is rather an innovative one that we should welcome. However, I am not surprised as I had rather expected the reply that I was given. As regards both Amendments Nos. 35 and 36, we need to go away and think about these matters a little more. We may return at Third Reading with some further proposals to see whether the Minister will regard them favourably on that occasion. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 37: Page 12, line 2, at beginning insert "except in the case of a voluntary aided school The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 37, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 39.

In relation to Amendment No. 37, I announced in Committee that I would table an amendment to correct a drafting error in Clause 18(2)(d). As drafted, this clause requires all schools to have at least one community governor, currently known as co-opted governors. Voluntary-aided schools have never had co-opted governors and we did not propose to change this. Amendment No. 37 will provide that Clause 18(2)(d) does not apply to voluntary-aided schools. I hope therefore that the House will accept this amendment.

I turn to Amendment. No. 39. This addresses concerns expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn in Committee about securing a majority of foundation governors in voluntary-aided schools.

This amendment will put on the face of the Bill that in voluntary-aided schools, foundation governors will have the majority over the other governors. I also promised in Committee that we would provide for the level of the majority in regulations and that regulations would provide for a majority of two foundation governors in voluntary-aided schools, as we proposed in The Way Forward consultation paper. I should like to repeat that commitment to the whole of your Lordships' House. I trust that that will meet the right reverend Prelate's concerns. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 38 which stands in my name. However, first, I express my gratitude to the Minister for Amendment No. 37 and particularly for Amendment No. 39. We are enormously grateful for that and, indeed, for the following regulations which will stipulate a majority of at least two.

We are also grateful to the Minister for the opportunity to discuss wider issues to do with the governance of voluntary schools. Therefore, I make no apology for returning to the matter of the governance of controlled schools and the number of foundation governors for such schools. I am sure that all noble Lords will appreciate that the foundation governors of a controlled school have a particular responsibility to ensure the continuance of the distinctive character of such schools within the 1944 settlement and subsequent education Acts. Given that responsibility—it is quite different from the responsibilities of stakeholder governors, for which the Bill provides—we believe that the amendment contains a very modest request indeed. Foundation governors are not on a par with the other categories of governor. Their presence, after all, is one of the ways in which a voluntary controlled school differs from a community school. Hence our wish for this modest provision.

If there were just one foundation governor, that would put the odds very much against him or her being able to make a real or appropriate contribution in the face of, for example, a governing body—the majority of its members are appointed for very different reasons—that may not appreciate the religious character of the school or may even be hostile to it.

I chair the governing body of at least two higher education institutions. Student representation on those bodies is usually officially one. However, I always invite a second student because I feel that it is very important for the first student to have support. Moreover, in the report back to the body from which they come, that approach provides someone alongside the officially elected person to collaborate and confirm matters. The foundation governors must at some point presumably report back either to the local church council or to the diocesan authorities about what is happening in a particular controlled school. They would be well advised if there were two such persons, who supported one another and were able to collaborate in the "reporting back" process. While expressing gratitude for the amendments that the Minister will move, it is for that reason that I beg her to reconsider the position regarding controlled schools and to ensure that this modest amendment appears in the Bill rather than in regulations.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for moving Amendment No. 38. I am pleased to be able to say to him that there is no difference of principle between us. I confirm that it is our intention to provide for a minimum of two foundation governors or partnership governor places at foundation and voluntary controlled schools.

Our plan is to ensure that that is the case in regulations. As I have previously said in your Lordships' House, our approach is to set out the key principles in primary legislation and the detailed provision in regulations. That is why the level of representation of the different categories of governors will be defined in regulations. However, I can confirm that the minimum of two governors will be secured in regulations. I hope that my assurance that regulations will provide for the level of representation that the right reverend Prelate seeks will be enough to satisfy him and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I add, although I suspect that this will not tempt him at this hour, that the amendment is technically defective in that it does not take into account the interaction with Clause 18(2)(e). Moreover, my door, as the right reverend Prelate knows, is always open to discuss these matters again.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on the previous amendment, I am rather disappointed by that response although it is not totally unexpected. I promised the Minister that I would not tonight refer to "half full and half empty" but I cannot resist doing so at this time of night! I am grateful to her for her categorical assurance that provision will be made in regulations for two foundation governors for voluntary controlled schools. With that assurance, I shall not press the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 39: Page 12, line 24, at end insert— (3A) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (3)(a) must secure that the majority of the governors of a voluntary aided school are persons appointed as foundation governors. On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 40: Leave out Clause 18. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 42 to 45.

In a way, this amendment continues our debate on what is necessary and unnecessary. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we have relatively new provisions on the statute book, which are only just bedding down. It is important that they should be left there.

In addition, in relation to my perennial theme about regulations, there appears to be a surfeit of them in this part of the Bill in particular. When one asks the fundamental question of what value the regulations add to teaching and learning in schools, it is difficult to obtain a positive answer.

The Local Government Association said that regulation is the enemy of innovation. The Government have made much of deregulation in the Bill. Shifting primary legislation to regulations made by secondary legislation is not deregulation. Deregulation occurs only where the primary legislation sets out principles and then allows local bodies to get on and do the job. I agree with that because it seems to me to be precisely what should happen. Therefore, I propose that Clauses 18, 19, 20(3), 21 and 22 should not stand part of the Bill.

The reason that I seek to oppose only subsection (3) of Clause 20 is that I believe that it makes a fundamental statement about the responsibility of governing bodies. Subsections (1) and (2) state: Subject to any other statutory provision, the conduct of a maintained school shall be under the direction of the school's governing body … The governing body shall conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school". That is what governing bodies do, and I suspect that it would be a brave act on the part of any government—in that I include my own, previous government—to leave schools to get on and do that. Given that they are accountable to the parents and the local community and, of course, more formally, that they are accountable through the inspectorate, I suspect that they would not go far wrong. In fact, we might be surprised to find that different schools were extremely innovative in the way that they met their obligations under the law to promote high standards of educational achievement at their schools. Fundamentally, that is what they are about.

The noble Baroness said—I agreed with her—that where regulations are set out in this part of the Bill, they are to replace other regulations; in other words, some regulations are being repealed and these are to be put in their place. I question whether the regulations need to be repealed so soon after being established. I accept that they are replacing other regulations; therefore, that represents work for schools. As the noble Baroness said, it does not mean more regulation. I accept that. But a change in the regulations means more reading and more inward digesting of change. A great deal of work for every single school in the country will be involved in finding out what is changing and why it is changing, and in shedding the governors who no longer qualify to be members of a governing body and in employing new ones who come under the rules set out in the Bill.

However, a basic question needs to be asked. Do some of these areas require any regulation at all? Is it not enough, for example, to state that schools should appoint a clerk to the governing body without having a raft of regulations? Would the sky fall in if that were to happen?

Finally, I wanted to refer to a letter sent to me by the noble Baroness the Minister, following the Committee stage, but I cannot find it at present. The fundamental point that I wanted to make was that the recent regulations are barely in place. They are bedding down and should be left alone. I do not believe that any overriding argument can be made to justify all this change. As I said, change will mean more work for the schools because they must find out what the change is and what it is for and they must absorb the new compositions. Given the fundamental role of governing bodies, I believe that they can be trusted to get on with the job. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 41. When this amendment was moved in Committee by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford, she commented that it would be undesirable to move the statement of principle that LEAs have responsibility for making the instrument of governance for their maintained schools out of primary legislation and into secondary legislation. Principles should be in Bills, not in regulations. Despite the Minister's comments in Committee that the change would simplify legislation and that LEAs would still be obliged to ensure that each school has an instrument of governance, we feel the need to press the amendment because of the principle.

Clearly, under both arrangements schools can propose their own draft instrument to the LEA for its approval, but putting the LEAs ultimate responsibility on the face of the Bill makes it all the more difficult to sideline the local education authority at some date in the future. The Minister will be aware that it is the constant suspicion of noble Lords on these Benches that the Government have the ultimate objective of getting rid of the LEAs that makes us so anxious to put barriers in their way. Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to allay our suspicions by accepting our amendment.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, it falls to me to look at the exact impact of each of these amendments. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me as I do so, because I need to ensure that that impact is recorded. I shall, in a sense, start where I intend to end my remarks. It is important for noble Lords to understand that, if the amendments were accepted, we would not revert to the status quo; in fact, schools would not be required to have governing bodies at all.

The proposed amendments would take away the clauses that are absolutely crucial because of the principles within them. I know that that is not the impact that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, wishes to see, but I need to ensure that noble Lords understand the nature of the impact of these amendments. I shall begin with Amendment No. 40. I should point out to the House that we have consulted very widely on the governance proposals, and the package has received widespread support.

As I have said previously, I have conducted a number of consultations with groups of governors in different parts of the country. Indeed, I also had the good fortune to chair the final meeting of the Way Forward Group. Therefore, it is worth saying that Amendment No. 40 would make it impossible to implement the proposals at all. It would make it impossible to give governing bodies greater freedom to decide what works best for them. Governing bodies would have no scope to choose a constitutional model to suit their needs. We do not believe that one size fits all; we believe that it is important for schools to choose ways of working that work best for them. The governance proposals in the Bill and ensuing regulations combine that flexibility with important safeguards to ensure high standards and a balance of stakeholders on governing bodies. The consultation responses showed that that approach is supported by governors and by governing bodies.

We made very clear in the policy statements provided to the House what we propose to put in regulations. I recognise that I have only just been able to make available draft regulations to the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp. I am sure that all noble Lords will recognise that the legal detail of regulations takes some time to resolve, but we have ensured through our policy statement that our intentions are clear.

I turn to Amendment No. 41. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that we should try to allay certain suspicions. I rather hoped that some of the amendments that I have tabled tonight would have done so—at least to some extent. As I have said before, this is not about some secret agenda on the role of local education authorities. As the department, and all Ministers within it, recognise, LEAs have a really important role to play. I should like to take this opportunity to confirm that LEAs are responsible for making instruments of government. They can review and vary instruments, which means that they also have an important role in relation to schools' instruments.

As I have already said, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and, I hope, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will have received a copy of the latest draft of the new regulations on governing body constitution and instruments of government. In these draft regulations we have defined the role of the local education authority; we have not changed it, as the draft regulations show.

However, if Amendment No. 41 were accepted, we could not make regulations that contain important safeguards and principles in relation to, for example, consultation requirements and the requirement on schools with a religious character to include a description of the ethos of the school. Under this amendment, an LEA could decide to vary an instrument without the governing body's agreement. Alternatively, an education authority might decide that it is unnecessary for voluntary-controlled or aided schools to consult the appropriate diocesan authority when making, or varying, an instrument. We are committed to deregulation provisions where this is appropriate, but we also believe that it is right to maintain important safeguards. Amendment No. 41 would remove those safeguards in relation to an important document for schools—the instrument of government.

In response to Amendment No. 42 I would like to refer to previous times when I have spoken about our approach to streamlining education legislation. Clause 19 requires maintained schools to have an instrument of government that determines the governing body's constitution and other matters relating to the school, such as the name of the school. We shall carry forward the existing principal arrangements for instruments of government, but we are keen to deregulate the process where possible.

The current legislative provisions on instruments of government are in Schedule 12 to the School Standards and Framework Act and they run to some four pages. Those provisions contain a great amount of detail on points of process and we believe that that kind of detail should be set out in regulations or guidance. Amendment No. 42 would make it impossible to streamline that area of governance legislation.

I turn to Amendment No. 43 which removes Clause 20(3) which provides the power to make regulations setting out terms of reference for governing bodies, head teachers and LEAs on the conduct of schools. Clause 20 replicates Section 38 of the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act. The only difference is that the existing regulation making power does not extend to the LEA's role in the conduct of schools.

Schools are autonomous institutions operating within a framework of locally channelled funding and local accountability. While schools manage themselves and take front line responsibility, local education authorities retain some essential functions for conducting schools; for example, they have significant powers, including intervention functions, in relation to school improvement. They have the right to make representations about head teacher appointments as well as a duty for all categories of maintained school to make a written report to the chair of a governing body in any case where they have a serious concern about the performance of the head teacher.

Writing the LEA role and responsibilities into terms of reference regulations alongside that of the head teacher and governing body would clarify and protect the interests of all three parties in this important partnership of conducting schools. The existing terms of reference regulations have been widely welcomed by all parties. The ability to set out clearly the respective roles of governing bodies and head teachers ensures that there is clarity.

Amendment No. 44 would remove Clause 21 which replicates, without amendment, the existing provision in Schedule 11 to the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act. That schedule will be repealed once the changes to governance arrangements covered by this Bill are brought into effect. I am quite sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, does not intend that school governors should not be provided with essential information necessary to enable them to operate effectively in their role, nor that they should not have access to training.

We believe that local education authorities are best placed to fulfil that information-giving role and my department works closely with the co-ordinators of governor support and training services in education authorities to ensure that such information is available. We have introduced a national training programme for new governors tailored around the key roles that governors need to play to support their schools in promoting high standards.

Governing bodies may buy their training from any training provider, but we continue to believe that it is education authorities that should carry the legal responsibility for ensuring that all governors have access to essential information at no cost to themselves, because of their role as regards supporting strong leadership and management in the schools that they maintain.

Amendment No. 45 would remove Clause 22 and the provisions relating to regulations on the appointment and dismissal of clerks to school governing bodies. I have long waxed eloquent on the subject of clerks and the crucial—not just important— role that clerks play in supporting school governing bodies. Without an effective clerk, it is very difficult for a governing body to discharge its considerable legal responsibilities effectively. Governors are volunteers and they deserve a well qualified clerk to keep the paperwork in order and to ensure that their meetings are being conducted appropriately.

We had an extensive discussion in Committee about the appointment and dismissal of clerks and the important role of governing body clerks. It is important to provide, in secondary legislation, that governing bodies be free to select and dismiss their own clerks while retaining the existing power for education authorities to step in and change clerking arrangements where it is necessary to do so for any school in special measures.

Indeed, we believe that clerking is so important that we recently commissioned Consortium 52, a consortium of northern education authorities and diocesan hoards, to produce a training package for governing body clerks. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn was inquiring in Committee about the involvement of diocesan boards. Many Church schools will take advice on clerking practices from their diocesan board. I am pleased to say that all the relevant diocesan boards are actively involved in Consortium 52 and will be working alongside northern local education authorities and governor and clerk representatives to produce a national training programme for school clerks. This is an excellent example of a real partnership approach to improving the quality of clerking in our schools. It demonstrates what can be achieved with co-operation and good will without legislation.

As I said, these amendments would take away governing bodies' responsibilities. It would leave us in some difficulty. I hope that I have said enough to reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Match and Lady Sharp, to enable them to agree to withdraw the amendments.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I shall withdraw the amendment. It was not my intention that we should have an absolute void. In fact, had we been lucky enough to have the amendments accepted, I would have expected to stop the repeal of all the other provisions so that the provisions remained on the statute book.

I received the statutory instrument at lunch-time. I do not complain about that; I am grateful to have it. But on a quick calculation it contains 31 pages and 25 references to other statutes. Every governor in the country will have to react those; every clerk to the governing body; at least every head teacher and possibly the teacher governors of the school as well. Twenty-five references to other statutes is excessive. It is not a case of simply reading the 31 pages; it is a matter of cross-referencing to see what their obligations will be under other provisions. To suggest that that will not take a considerable amount of time is hiding one's head in the sand.

I hope that we will not be here in another two years seeing another new set of regulations. The noble Baroness cannot sit with a sanguine look saying it will not happen because it has happened within two years and the likelihood is that it could happen again. I shall withdraw the amendment, but there will be an almost audible groan going up from the schools as they receive yet more information and presumably guidance to follow. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 [Instruments of government]:

[Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.]

Clause 20 [General responsibility for conduct of school]:

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Clause 21 [Training and support of governors]:

[Amendment No. 44 not moved.]

Clause 22 [Clerk to the governing body]:

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at two minutes before eleven o'clock.