HL Deb 09 May 2002 vol 634 cc1354-400

House again in Committee on Clause 23.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 113: Page 14, line 19, at end insert— (1A) Nothing in this Chapter shall provide for the character of a school to be changed as a result of federation. (1B) In subsection (1A) "character" shall he defined as including admissions arrangements; religious character; single sex or co-educational policy; or the status of a school as a foundation, voluntary aided or community school or academy. The noble Baroness said: I am responding now to the Minister's reply to Amendments Nos. 113 and 114.

I am largely reassured by much of what the noble Baroness said in regard to Amendment No. 113. As I understand it, there is absolutely no way in which the nature, ethos or character of a school can be changed as a result of belonging to a federation. Even if a governing body thought it was a good idea and wished to relinquish its ethos as part of joining a federation, there is a procedure that it would have to go through in the normal course of events to change the character of the school. So I am reassured about that.

I do not know if something along those lines will appear in regulations or where it will be stated. There may be some schools which will believe that that is one way of changing the ethos of a school—for example, where there is a build-up of people of the same mind as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who would like to relinquish the religious character of a school. It is important, therefore, to have that reassurance, but I wonder whether it will be built into the statute.

I cannot help feeling quite vexed about the example given by the noble Baroness of infant and junior schools. Certainly I have been present when infant and junior schools have merged and observed the pain and anxiety that it caused to the schools. But almost always it was the right thing to do. As mixed junior and infant schools, they became better for being one school rather than two.

This House fought very strongly, and defeated the Government by one vote only, for a little church school that had been there for a couple of hundred years which wished to keep its separate infant and junior school governing bodies. It went to another place, where that decision was brutally overturned, and we lost that—and here we are now saying that it is a jolly good thing to come together as a federated school under one governing body. I am sorry; it was the other way round. It is no comfort to that school.

We had a part debate about pre-Taylor groups. I tried quickly to write down the words of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He said: I have no reason to share the anxieties of the noble Baroness, as I read the Bill". I want to believe the noble Lord—I hope he is absolutely right—because then I need not worry about some of the points that I raised.

As the first federations start to be formed, some schools will start to feel pressure. In an area where there are half a dozen schools, of which three or four come together, the other schools may feel pressure to become part of the federation. My worry is that, so far as I know, there is no limit on the number of schools that can come together as a federation—unless a figure is to be included in the regulations. It would be helpful if the Minister could answer that point when she replies to the other matters that I want to raise.

If the number is too high, the schools lose something. I believe that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who raised the point that a school gets a great deal of comfort from knowing that on a daily basis governors are taking an interest in it and passing through on both an informal and a formal basis. They become known not only to the children and the parents but to the teachers and staff. The smaller the school, the more important that is. That will not be the case.

In urban areas the proximity of schools is manageable but in rural areas the distance between schools is considerable. It is possible that from one term to the next schools may not even know who the governors are and will not see them. This is an important point to be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who is not in his place, talked about schools themselves having some governing body functions and the overarching single governing body having other functions. I do not believe that such an idea is contained in the legislation or that that is a proper reading of it. However, there is a very good argument for subsidiarity; namely, that some things are better done at school level than by the governing body overall. I do not know whether that will be a consideration.

As regards the regulations that will be produced under Clause 23(4), many of the areas of concern are covered, but perhaps I may refer to one in particular. I do not believe that there is a trial period for a school entering a federation. The formation of a federation is in itself something of a leap in the dark for some schools. What looks good on paper may not turn out in practice to be what they hope for. I do not know whether a trial period has been considered.

Secondly, although the regulations will cover a governing body leaving a federation, and even the dissolution of the federation itself, will there be a fixed period before the end of which a school will not be able to reverse its decision? A school having opted in to a federation, what will the procedure for opting out if it feels that too much of its autonomy has been compromised and that the federation has not delivered what it hoped for.

I believe that the Minister covered my final point, but perhaps I may check it again. To give an example, if we take a foundation school, a voluntary aided school, a community school and possibly a maintained special school, not only are they different in nature—and we have dealt with the nature, characteristics and ethos of a school—they also have very different governing body responsibilities. For example, in the case of a foundation school, the school itself, not the LEA, is responsible for staffing. I understood the Minister to say that all of that is unaffected by these provisions—that a foundation school will continue to appoint its own staff, that the LEA will continue to be the employer of the staff in a community school. I understood her to say that those areas are completely unaffected and that the governing body will have to take into account that for each school a different set of rules operates in terms of staffing and certain procedures.

Earlier, I raised a point with the right reverend Prelate about possible tensions between diocese and faith schools. We chatted informally about the matter following our debates in Committee. I take his point that this is more of an issue for Roman Catholic schools than it is for Anglican schools; but it needs to be addressed. To my knowledge, the diocesan authorities have more of a practical, almost day-to-day input into the running of a Catholic voluntary aided school than Anglican dioceses do into their schools. That is another constitutional point that will need to be thought through in terms of federation.

Before I decide what to do about the amendment, I should be grateful if the Minister would touch on some of those points. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My amendment is grouped with this one; therefore, it is appropriate that I should reply before the Minister speaks again.

I was attempting to be helpful to the Minister. There are deep issues as regards the relationship of schools within a federation which are of a different character and have a different foundation. We are talking in the case of voluntary aided Church schools—and, I suspect, all voluntary aided schools whatever their background—about premises which are owned for a particular purpose by the trustees. I find it difficult to get my mind around the arrangements that pertain for the appointment of staff in individual schools. I do not know how the provisions will be exercised by an overarching governing body involving many people unless there are specific directions in the legislation. It is not only the foundation governors who appoint staff in a voluntary aided school; it is the whole governing body, in which the foundation governors are the majority. So some real issues arise.

If this idea is promoted as a possible way forward—and I genuinely wanted to attempt to do that—engagement with the diocese could be a lever for bringing this about rather than, as it has been perceived, a veto to prevent it happening.

In her response, the Minister did not give me the Ascension Day gift that I was looking for. However, she made some very helpful comments which I shall want to reflect on. We may need to return to this matter on Report.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may ask for clarification on one point. There has been a great deal of discussion on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the right reverend Prelate on the concept of a confederation of schools, a group of schools coming together. However, the conception has not been that on such occasions—as is quite clear from the Bill—they would be run by a single governing board. Am I right in thinking that the Bill as drafted does not conceive of a federation where each individual school could retain its own governing board and there would be an overarching governing board.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

We are now at the stage of "replying to the replying". In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, no, we do not see that as the way forward, for the reasons I gave earlier. That would be an extra layer rather than a provision that was helpful. As I said earlier, there are many ways in which schools can collaborate without going that far.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made a point about a trial period. We have not included such a provision—partly because we are working on the principle that schools will deliberate and probably set up ways of working together under other options as a method of moving towards federation. In other words, I imagine that schools will not leap into federation.

That said, we want to make sure that schools that do enter a federation can exit from it or that the federation can he dissolved. We have not yet considered any period of time during which schools must stay in a federation, although it may be a matter that the noble Baroness will want to press later. We are looking at what triggers would enable a federation to be dissolved. We shall examine that carefully. So if, for example, in a federation of three schools members of one school decided that the federation was not for them and felt that they would be better off under different arrangements, they could come to the federated governing body, having discussed the matter within the school, probably having consulted with the parents and having put forward the proposal that they should remove themselves from it. We shall set in train a mechanism that will enable that to be an informal process and a formal process.

If it would be helpful to the noble Baroness, I am happy to write to her setting out our thoughts on the matter. An exit strategy will be laid out so that schools are clear that they can leave a federation but providing some flexibility for them to be sure that it fits their circumstances.

We have said that up to five schools can federate. If more than five schools wanted to do so, it would be an exception that could be granted only by special consent of the Secretary of State. We do not want to go back to the time when there were 10 or 20 schools under one federation; nor indeed do we want to make it impossible for governors to stay in touch with a school. But we recognise that there are already many governors who are governors of more than one school and who perform those functions very effectively. We expect schools to take that on board.

I am sorry that I did not give the right reverend Prelate an Ascension Day gift. I rather hoped that I had. We have said that the diocesan authorities are very important. We expect governing bodies to consult them. We are simply saying that the decision must be made by the governing bodies. Local education authorities and diocesan authorities are important players, particularly with regard to the instrument of government, but the ultimate responsibility belongs to the governing body.

Baroness Blatch

Would the powers of a voluntary aided faith school, for example, be vested in the new, all-embracing governing body? On a linked point, sub-paragraph (iii) in my Amendment No. 114 suggests that the distinctive nature of each school should be represented on the governing body. In other words, if there are two or more faith or specialist schools—even up to five—coming together, the distinctive aspect of each of those schools should be represented on the governing body. I am not sure whether the Minister covered that.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I accept that this is a complex procedure, particularly when dealing with schools of different faiths or different kinds of school. The situation is more straightforward if two or three community schools come together. I recognise that we have to look at the detail.

Admissions is an important issue. We imagine that a governing body would propose an admissions procedure that would enable there to be a majority on the panel, however it was done, that would represent the interests of the school for which that admissions procedure applied. That would help the new governing body determine its numbers and membership to ensure that that is built in on issues for which it is responsible as the employer of staff or for admissions procedures and appeals if need be.

All that would have to be demonstrated in the way in which the federated governing body came together to enable that to happen. We would be keen to ensure that that could happen so that there was a procedure for those schools to be represented on the governing body and to be enabled in doing so to fulfil their obligations as admissions authority, employer and so on.

Baroness Blatch

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 114 not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 115: Page 14, line 30, at end insert ", and (c) have collectively and individually the same responsibilities towards disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs as any individual school. The noble Baroness said: The noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has added his name to the amendment, apologises for not being here this evening. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the individual schools within a federation have the same SEN and disability responsibilities as they would have if they were not federated.

In the discussions that we have had about the concept of federation, there are obviously some rather exciting possibilities for special needs provision. When we discussed what is now the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, we talked about the possibility of special schools becoming a resource for a group of schools. That aspect of involvement in a federation is a positive way of looking at a federation. I certainly recognise that some advantages can be gained from that.

However, there are also some concerns about working in federated arrangements within the Bill. Above all, there is a danger of the issue falling between two stools. Everybody might think that someone else has responsibility for the issue.

The amendments respond to those concerns. There is already sometimes confusion between the responsibilities of schools and those of local education authorities on special educational needs. Parents who are concerned about their child's progress are often pointed in the direction of the local education authority for additional support through a statement, but when they approach the local education authority they are often told that the responsibility really lies back at the child's school. That confusion could be further exacerbated by the introduction of yet another level of responsibility—the federation. When schools choose to federate, it needs to be clear to whom the parents should turn when they are concerned about their child's progress or how their child's special educational needs are to be met.

Amendment No. 115 would ensure that a federated school and the individual schools within the federation had the same SEN and disability responsibilities as they had when they were not federated. In effect, responsibilities would be held locally by the individual schools and across all schools in the federation.

Amendment No. 118 provides a model of how the federation might apportion responsibilities in respect of special educational needs policy requirements. Some elements of the SEN policy could sensibly be maintained at the level of individual schools, but more strategic aspects of the policy might more appropriately be held at the level of the federation—for example, the way in which SEN provision is reviewed and developed might be across all the schools in the federation rather than just at the individual school level. That is the purpose of the amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

In the absence of my noble friend Lord Rix, I should like to say a word in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. There are enough problems with children's special educational needs. It is very important that parents are clear about where to turn for advice. Parents are not clear at the moment about the division of responsibilities. It would be good to make the situation clearer. I hope that the Minister can give a positive response.

Lord Peston

I do not want to say anything negative about special educational needs, especially in this Chamber. As your Lordships know, I am firm believer in the idea of passing a general special needs amendment before we consider any Bill, covering any thoughts that anyone has on special educational needs so that we do not need to debate the subject further.

I am concerned about a deeper point. My interpretation of this part of the Bill is that federations will be what are called technically super-additive—that is, good will come out of them and the best of the constituents will become characteristic of the whole. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, appears to assume the reverse—that this will be a recipe for the worst in every one of the members of the confederation becoming the characteristic. That is a deep divide.

I ask the noble Baroness to reflect on whether she may be mistaken. Maybe the point is that schools will get together and share all the good or best things that they do. Special educational needs provision is as good an example as I can think of. One of those schools will be much better at it than others and will set higher standards. That will become the characteristic of all the schools. That is one reason why we ought to support the proposals and see the positive side, not just with special educational needs but with almost anything else that I can think of.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said earlier that people who do not care for religion will take over. If she could tell me how to do that, I would be the first to put it into practice, but I cannot remotely think where her fears come from. If she knows how, posting the information on her website or e-mailing it to me would be all that I need and I would be in there like a flash.

My main point is simply that this is a chance for the best to take over. That is the point of it. We do not need amendments such as this one or anything else that we can think of in this area that needs protecting. We need to say that we want the idea to work.

Baroness Blatch

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was supporting the notion of having an all-embracing statement about special educational needs in the Bill.

Lord Peston

No, I was not. My whole point is that I am totally committed to special educational needs provision, but over the years I have found it rather tedious that there are certain topics on which we are always asked to have special general statements. Special educational needs is one. Wales is another—it gets whole sections of Bills devoted to it. Occasionally, those who press for these things ought to accept the good faith of a number of us who are totally committed to doing the best things. I cannot say a word for the Government, because I have no responsibility for them, but I have—this is not my favourite word—faith that occasionally the good will out. We do not need a general statement on SEN or any of the other pressure group issues that dominate the House. That is my general position.

9 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I am sorry that the noble Lord feels that way. I refer to my disappointment when we discussed the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 during its passage through this House. I believe that that applied to most of us who were involved in that discussion. I had been involved in the minutiae of the 1993 and 1996 Bills which contained large sections devoted to children with special educational needs. However, in 2001 we discovered that the situation was not working on the ground and that the quality of statements and their detail and content left a great deal to be desired. There were inadequacies as regards the rights of parents to have the appropriate provision made for their children and the quality of diagnosis of children with special educational needs. I refer to the increasing number of children with difficult to detect conditions such as autism and Asperger's syndrome. Many other conditions were not being detected at an early stage and young people were drifting through school and developing behavioural problems. Some were withdrawn from school. A number of problems exist in that area and we have not yet got the matter right.

It seems to me that one way of keeping this matter at the front of the agenda is, rather than table amendments on the subject as we progress through the Bill—as we are all trying to do at the moment—to make a statement that there is a group of children with special educational needs who must not be lost in the understandable wish to raise standards for all children. The phrase "all children" includes children with special educational needs. A neater and more profound way to deal with the matter is to have a portmanteau statement in the Bill. It is a long and disparate Bill with many different objectives such as setting up companies, forming federations and curricular changes. All we are saying is that there could be a statement at the beginning of the Bill to the effect that nothing in the Bill will have the effect of reducing or in any way marring the provision of education to meet the needs of children with special educational needs. I believe that that would be one way to cope with the matter rather than having this debate.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, cares as passionately about education as everyone else in the Chamber and has done so for many, many years, but I refer to what is almost a war of attrition with regard to everyone concerned with the delivery of services to children with special educational needs. There is still more that can be done. It is a question of making sure that the Bill recognises that. There is not a mention of special needs in the Bill from beginning to end. It is our mission to do something about that before the Bill returns to another place.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I, for one, am enormously grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, moved the amendment as I was in danger of participating in the debate so late in the evening that the sobriquet "something of the night about him" was beginning to become appropriate. Therefore, I am rather glad of the opportunity to be on my feet at the extraordinarily early hour of 9 p.m.

I say to my noble friend Lord Peston that he may not be able to speak for the Government but he is quite capable of taking the Government's best lines and using them before we get the chance to deploy them ourselves. What he says is absolutely right; namely, we have great sympathy with the motivation behind the amendments we are discussing as they share our concern to ensure that the best possible provision is made for students with special educational needs.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just reminded us, we spent many arduous months and expended a considerable amount of intellectual energy in seeking to improve provision for special educational needs during the passage of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. Therefore, it is scarcely likely that the Government would bring forward a measure which in any way, shape or form threatened that broad objective of an inclusive agenda in which special educational needs must play the fullest possible part. On that basis I seek to reassure the Committee.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peston for expressing more graphically and more accurately than I the fact that what we hope to achieve through federation—as I believe the right reverend Prelate indicated in his welcome of the concept—is a framework within which best practice can be deployed and developed. I make the obvious point that the inevitable pooling of resources which federation implies also indicates that such resources can potentially be operated more effectively within such a framework. There is certainly likely to be expertise in a group of schools coming together in a federation which can be made available to students across the federation. At the present time it is more difficult to release that expertise within the framework of each individual school.

I understand and greatly respect the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made. She indicated that we ought to be able to address the issue of special educational needs in a general portmanteau statement. However, the only thing I would say to her in this regard—mistress of detail that she is—is how difficult it is to produce such a framework without laying ourselves open to a whole range of potential difficulties, not least that of judicial review in respect of the operation of such a measure.

We said that we would consider this matter and we are doing so very seriously. The issue was raised earlier. However, it should be recognised that the matter is not straightforward. Given the representations that have been made by a whole range of people in this Chamber with tremendous expertise in special educational needs, it was not beyond our wit to anticipate that the issue would arise. We all regret the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, cannot be present this evening. Given the representations that have been made, if we thought that we could meet the obvious challenge that would be made with regard to a general statement on special educational needs, I assure the Committee that we would probably have been able to produce such a statement.

As I say, we are considering the matter and our efforts may bear fruit. However, in the meantime, I reassure the Committee and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in his absence that there is nothing within the framework of federation that jeopardises the concept of proper facilities, treatment and resources for special needs; far from it. Our whole intention is to ensure that those are enhanced.

I turn to Amendment No. 118 which is grouped with Amendment No. 115. We intend to regulate that it will be for the governing body of the federation to look at each school's special educational needs provision and decide whether developing a common policy would be both feasible and beneficial, or whether distinct SEN policy should be established for certain—or each and every—school within a federation. We envisage, for example, that federations involving special schools would wish to retain a distinct special educational needs policy for any special school.

However, it is worth noting that federation would provide an opportunity for special schools to share best practice in this area. That in turn could be used to enrich SEN policies and provision in other schools in the federation. It would also contribute to a wider strategy of sharing best practice.

I hope that, on the basis of those arguments, I have reassured the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We recognise the motivation that lies behind the amendment. I am grateful to her for the way in which she expressed her views. I hope that I reassure her that we regard federation as an enhancing development.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, feels that I am unduly gloomy on these issues. I began by trying to be positive about them all. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for his reassurance. It is important to stress the need to bring all schools in a federation up to the standard of best practice. As the noble Lord wishes, we should look positively on these issues. This is an opportunity to do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 116 not moved.]

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 117: Page 15, line 18, at end insert— ( ) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (6), regulations made under section 18(2) shall, in so far as they make provision for the composition of the governing body of a federation, provide that the number of persons in each category of which the governing body consists shall be the same in proportion to the total number of governors, or as near thereto as is reasonably practicable, as would be the case if the federated schools were together a single school. The noble Baroness said: The amendment would ensure that any regulations make provision for securing the same balance of stakeholder representation for federated school governing bodies as that required for single school governing bodies—in other words, as would have been the case if the federated school were a single school. It would ensure that the governing body of the federation had the benefit of experienced representation from different types of school within the federation. I refer, for example, to a special school within a federation of mainstream schools or a nursery school within such a federation. There may be advantages in bringing a group of schools together to share expertise, resources and facilities. However, bringing schools under one governing body may be problematic.

Will the Minister clarify the role of the governing body when one school in a federation enters special measures? How will grouped governing bodies be fully accountable to the community and to each of the schools within the group that they serve, particularly if the group is large? There is a danger, for example, of a decrease in social representation on governing bodies because some governors might find it difficult to travel considerable distances to meetings. Would governing bodies be required to move their meetings around the schools in a group.

The workload for a grouped governing body is likely to increase with more than one school budget, school development plan, action plan and other school policies to be considered. In light of the increasing difficulty of getting school governors, could that make the problem even worse.

More research should be undertaken into, and more evidence gathered on, the benefits of grouping schools under a single governing body before any change takes place. Collaboration between schools is essential to the provision of first-class education. That is already happening all over the country anyway. There appears to be no obvious reason for the reintroduction of grouped governing bodies.

The amendment seeks further clarification. How will the Government ensure that all types of governors and schools are represented appropriately on a federated governing body when the schools within the group are of differing types? I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I agree with the noble Baroness that maintaining a healthy balance is very important for any governing body, including federated governing bodies. I reassure Members of the Committee that we intend that the composition of the governing body of a federation will broadly conform to the stakeholder principles as recommended by the Way Forward group, which, under Clause 18, will be set out in regulations.

I reassure Members of the Committee that where schools of the same category wish to federate, there will be regulations requiring them to conform exactly to the proportions of representation for each stakeholder group to be set out in regulations, as for single maintained school governing bodies. The only issue that may have a small bearing on the degree of conformity is the size of the governing body of the federation. In order for that not to become so large as to be unwieldy, combined schools will have fewer governors in each category than they would have had if they had remained under separate governing bodies. However, the representation within the whole governing body will be the same as for a single school.

Clauses 23 and 24 allow for schools of different categories to federate. We do not want such combinations to be prevented merely because schools belong to different categories. I hope that Members of the Committee agree that the goal of improving standards should not be constrained simply by the different categories.

Again, as for federations involving schools of the same category, we would expect the governing bodies of mixed category federations to conform broadly with the stakeholder principles outlined in Clause 18. We shall be regulating to ensure that parents and staff are represented in the same proportions as they will be in any single maintained school.

I recognise that it is important for all participating schools to be content with the level of stakeholder representation on the governing body of the federation. Therefore, we shall consult widely to develop the principles that allow for sufficient involvement for each school and each stakeholder group in the governing body of the federation.

As I said, we intend to regulate that schools putting forward for consultation plans to federate must include as part of their proposals the stakeholder composition that they intend to put in place for the governing body. That should make clear the proportion of representation for each stakeholder group that is required to be represented on the governing body. That means that all the parties which governing bodies will be required to consult—that is, parents, staff, the local education authority, the community, and partnership or foundation governors—will have the opportunity to comment on the proportions of stakeholder composition.

It is, of course, only at the end of that consultation process, after hearing the views of all the affected stakeholders, that each governing body will decide whether it wishes to federate. I hope that, in the light of those assurances, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for her answer. However, can she clarify the situation of a school in special measures within a federated group.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I am sorry. I did intend to answer that point. Such a school would be part of a federated governing body. The federated governing body would be responsible for that school as part of its work. Therefore, the local education authority would be working with that body as the governing body of the school. That may require the local education authority to consider additional governors, or it may mean that the budget of the school is controlled by the local education authority, and so on. But that is all possible within federation. We would need to ensure that intervention was possible, regardless of the nature of the governing body, in order to protect the education of those children.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for that clarification. Can she assure me that, in deciding whether or not federation was desirable, the social composition of the governing body would also he taken into consideration? In some cases, the distances involved might be great, and it wound be important that governors were not constrained in serving on a governing body because of problems of that nature.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I return to the original point. It would be for the governing bodies of the schools involved to decide whether they wanted to proceed in that way. The people involved in such a decision are those whom we recognise as having good sense, and they will also consider the logistical issues. We would want them to do that, and it would be part of their job to do so. However, ultimately they must make the decision. They will consider all the issues, including the benefits that will arise for the children— that is, after all, what this is all about—and make their decision accordingly. I am sure that they will take those issues on board.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for that further clarification. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 23 shall stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

We can be fairly brief because we have had quite a long discussion on these amendments. However, I want to make one point, particularly in response to the last amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

We are at a disadvantage. The Minister is being careful and diligent in her replies to us and, I believe, extremely empathetic and sympathetic to many of the points that have been made during the course of the debate. However, ultimately, it is what goes into statute that will matter. Personal reassurances are very welcome and warming, but that is not what the words on the page of the Bill say. Therefore, we shall be looking very carefully at the detail to ensure that some of the reassurances that have been given personally by the Minister appear somewhere in the legislation.

That leads me to my next point concerning regulations. I have already asked how many sets of regulations there will be on the passing of the Bill. But I wonder whether we are likely to see a draft form of these particular regulations before the Bill proceeds very much further. We have no policy paper on federations. We have policy papers on almost everything else but not on federations. And there is an enormous amount of detail that we want to see. I do not wish to be negative but, as the only part of Parliament that carries out this work, our duty is to test some of the propositions that the Government put forward so that, when the legislation becomes law, it is as workable as possible.

The reassurances that we are given will be matched only by the detail that follows. Only after federation is in place will people consider some of the practical points that have come to light in the debate. For example, they will realise how time-consuming and costly it may be to cope with the logistics of travelling between schools. They will need to ensure that no single person is disadvantaged by becoming a governor because of the amount of travelling involved. Although a governing body may have thought through such matters and consider them to be acceptable, new governors will inherit the obligation to move between schools. That is a particular issue in rural areas. One can separate the urban from the rural areas in this case. There would have to be an evaluation and monitoring process to ensure that the arrangements are working and that each of the schools are being treated on a par with one another.

The dissemination of working papers, agenda materials and other materials between schools would be time consuming and at a cost. We hope that such matters are thought through. It would help enormously to have an assurance from the Minister that we shall see at least a draft form of regulations before the Bill progresses much further.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

From these Benches I thank the Minister for the degree to which she has clarified some of the ideas behind the concept of federation. Certainly, I have a much clearer understanding of the purpose of federation. I share the doubts expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the implementation of some of the detail. Clearly, it would be good to see draft regulations before Report.

We retain some reservations. The point which comes through to me most clearly is that it is probable that few schools would make use of these procedures to federate because there is not such advantage in it. As has been said, co-operation can come without federation. Having said that, I do not intend to oppose the Question whether Clause 23 stand part.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Federations: supplementary provisions]:

[Amendment No. 118 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 119: After Clause 24, insert the following new clause— "NATIONAL PARENTS'COUNCILS (1) The Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly for Wales shall make arrangements for the establishment in each country of a National Parents' Council, which shall consist of elected representatives of parent governors, one from each local education authority area. (2) Regulations shall provide for—

  1. (a) eligibility for election to the respective Councils;
  2. (b) the procedures by which such elections will take place;
  3. (c) the terms of office of members and officers;
  4. (d) the procedures by which the chairman and vice chairman are to be elected;
  5. (e) arrangements for meetings of the respective Councils;
  6. (f) the reimbursement of members for travel and expenses;
  7. (g) any other matters relating to the constitution, procedures and meetings of the Councils as are appropriate."
The noble Baroness said: I tabled Amendment No. 119 as a probing amendment to gauge the Government's response. However, I have been thoroughly surprised by and pleased at the number of letters and e-mails that I have received congratulating me on tabling the amendment and supporting it wholeheartedly. That has led me to recognise that there is a latent demand for a national parents' council, which perhaps the Minister recognised and which I had not fully appreciated until I came to investigate the issue.

It appears that there is a real need for an organisation at national level to speak for parents. After all, we have a large number of teachers' unions. We have unions for head teachers, which the Government consult regularly on their educational proposals; but there is no equivalent stakeholder group for parents. As a former active member of the national executive of CASE, which was a self-chosen representative group, we could never claim to be representative of parents because we were not elected to speak for parents. Likewise the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations does invaluable work supporting PTAs but again is not an elected group; nor is the National Governors' Council, although that too represents many parent governors.

Therefore, it is sensible to move forward in this way. The School Standards and Framework Act introduced parent governor representatives at LEA level. They are elected by parent governors from schools. A national democratically-elected representative voice for parents could be provided by building on the existing right of parents to elect parent governors, and for those parent governors then to elect parent governor representatives at LEA level.

Government guidance for parent governor representatives at LEA level states: Parent governor representatives' do not just represent parent governors. They are elected to represent all parents whose children are in local maintained schools or in some other education provided by the local authority. Parents (and their children) have the biggest stake in how well schools perform and how well local authorities support them. It is therefore only right that parents should have a say in local authority decisions that affect parents". If those arguments apply at local authority level, they apply at national level.

A consultative body, regularly re-elected, could meet to consult with the Government as of right. Its function would be consultation. It would provide a means of consultation for the Government directly to parents in schools via parent governors. It could allow a voice for parents, elected only by parents, on to national bodies, such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

If we look at other countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its 1997 report entitled Parents as Partners in Schooling compared the representation of parents at national level in different OECD countries. The report drew attention to the fact that Spain and Ireland, which most recently had reformed their educational systems, had chosen to give parents a voice at every level, including national level. Denmark, which has always involved parents, was attempting to deepen that involvement. In Canada and the United States a number of provinces and states had reformed their regulations to give parents a voice at state, local and school levels. Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and Spain all have parents represented on key national policy-making committees and there are national representative parental organisations which are consulted by government. In Germany every Land has a state parent council, made up of elected parent representatives, which advises the Minister of Culture on educational issues, including drawing up curricula and authorising textbooks. For the most part, the OECD report said, parental representation is set down in the legislation of the countries concerned.

However, the report noted that in England, Wales and Japan parents are not represented as of right on any national policy-making body or advisory committee. Since the report there has been one change in that the Secretary of State has appointed members of the General Teaching Council to represent parents. If there is a case for having parents on the General Teaching council, there is also a case for having a national parents council.

Another organisation that has advocated a national parents council is none other than the Government's favourite think tank, the IPPR. Joe Hallgarten in his report entitled Parents Exist—OK? advocates a national parents council. In the report he says, The Government should seek to create National Parents' Council. As with the General Teaching Council, the body would be consul Led about all initiatives … A National Parents' Council could stimulate and support school-based participation. The formation of a National Parents' Council in Ireland in 199:5 has sent ripples of increased parental participation throughout their school system". I return to where we started. Involving parents and allowing them to speak with a clear voice is a risky business. Parents may want what the Government do not want to provide. And of course parents might be wrong. But, in a mature democracy, parents should be allowed to speak with a collective voice. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham

The Government recognise the essential role of parents in education. Their involvement and support for their child's learning is critical. We all know that education is most effective when teachers and parents work together in close partnership to the benefit of the child.

We have some doubts about the concept of the national parents council, not least because—and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would recognise this—of the extent to which the Government have taken steps to give parents a more effective voice. They have an effective say in their children's education as a result of the home-school agreements. We have increased the number of parent governors on school governing bodies. The new provisions for the constitution of governing bodies will provide consistently for one third of governor places to be for parents. We have created the parent governor representative in order to give parents a voice on local authority committees that deal with education matters.

Our view is that the role of parent governor representatives is to represent to the local education authority the views of all parents in the area on locally provided education. That meets many of the broad objectives of today's proposal. The PGRs act as an apolitical voice for parents in the local authority area. They also have a valuable role to play in feeding back to parents the local authority's discussions and decisions on education issues. We have been concerned to move from the local to the national. We established the national network for PGRs to enable them to keep in touch with each other and to share best practice. That network is proving a useful tool in helping parent governor representatives in their task and by providing a further channel of communication with parents.

Where we disagree with the amendment is on the question of whether a further national body would be helpful. I recognise that the noble Baroness has gone to considerable care to identify the composition of such a body. She outlined its functions in her speech, but the amendment does not spell them out. In any case, the broad objectives that appear to underpin the amendment are met by the extensive developments in parents' representation that the Government have effected in recent years. Of course, we are committed to the support mechanisms available to parent governor representatives to ensure that the parental voice continues to be heard as effectively as possible.

I hear what the noble Baroness says about international comparisons, but developments in recent years have struck out the concept that I recall reading about in a newspaper article only earlier this week, when Professor Wragg referred to those days when a line was drawn in school playgrounds which parents were expected never to cross. We have moved a long way beyond that now.

So we share the concern of the noble Baroness that parents should be encouraged to make as large a contribution to their own child's education as they can and representatives of parents to play their full part with local authorities and, through the network, across the nation. But we do not accept the concept of a national parents council.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his reply, but my inclination is to say to him, "Get real!". Who makes decisions about education in this country? They are no longer made by local education authorities. Yes, we are trying to get them made by local education authorities. The Minister is quite right to say that there is no longer any line in schools with parents behind it. It is excellent that we now have real co-operation. The Minister is right: good schools are those where parents and teachers co-operate to educate their children.

But the line is drawn at the national level. There is no proper discussion or consultation with parents at the national level. We are asking for a proper, representative stakeholder group for parents. The Minister said how good it was to have that locally but, as I say, decisions are taken nationally. It is therefore appropriate that there should be consultation at national level. We shall probably return to the matter on Report, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Limits on power to provide community facilities etc.]:

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 120: Page 16, line 27, leave out "to a significant extent The noble Baroness said: We now move to a separate subject. Clause 26 allows governing bodies to provide facilities or services to further any charitable purpose for the benefit of pupils, their families or local communities. They may incur expenditure, enter into agreements, co-operate, facilitate or co-ordinate the activities of any person and provide staff, goods, services and accommodation to any person. Any charging must be subject to Chapter 3 of Part 6 of the Education Act 1996. That is also subject to the school's instrument of government or Section 48 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

According to Clause 26(2) all this is also subject to regulations. Clause 26(3) allows the governing bodies to exercise the powers conferred by Clause 25(1) only if anything they do does not to a significant extent interfere with the duty imposed on them by Clause 20(2) or by any other education Acts.

Clause 20(2) states that, The governing body shall conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school". I cannot accept that a governing body should do anything to interfere with its duty to promote high standards. The only thing that is forbidden by Clause 26(3) is any activity that may interfere to "a significant extent". It remains my contention that the duty of a governing body and school is the children's education and that no level of compromise is acceptable.

It seems extraordinary phraseology. It is in the Bill for a purpose. It is important that we know that purpose. I propose that Clause 26(3) reads as follows: A governing body shall exercise the power conferred by section 25(1) only if and to the extent that they are satisfied that anything which they propose to do will not interfere with the performance of any duty imposed on them by section 20(2) or by any other provision of the Education Acts". If the Government insist that the phraseology remains, they are saying that some compromise in a governing body's primary duty to raise standards in school can be accepted. That is unacceptable. I argue that there should be no compromise. That is supported strongly by the teacher unions and teachers. They do not wish to be placed in a position where a level of compromise of their primary function is acceptable. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

The inclusion of the wording "to a significant extent" ensures that insignificant incidental effects on a school's main educational role are not seen as obstacles that would prevent worthwhile services being established. For instance, it might be argued that adults using an ICT suite on school premises during school hours could potentially impact on teachers' and pupils' flexibility to use that suite. But the other side of that example is, of course, that it should have no significant effect in practice on children's learning; and evidence shows that this type of activity can have a positive impact on the achievement of those pupils. Adults learning in schools provide good role models for all pupils, developing positive attitudes towards teaching and learning. We expect all schools that develop family and community services to see a positive impact on the educational standards of their children.

Perhaps I may reassure the Committee that individuals will not be making these decisions on their own. In exercising their powers under Clause 25, school governors must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State and to any advice given to them by the local education authority. That guidance will make it clear that where governors are considering providing community services, they must consult all interested parties.

In this context, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I ate in almost the same place. The words "to a significant extent" imply that there has to be a significance in the extent. In other words, to remove those words is to suggest that an insignificant extent could be taken forward. This may sound pedantic, but it relates to drafting.

I agree with the noble Baroness that the provision is not about allowing schools to interfere with the raising of educational standards in the education of children. The wording seeks to ensure that children's work is not interfered with to a significant extent. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I find the answer wholly unsatisfactory. The Minister is saying that a governing body will be able to exercise the power conferred on it if, to an insignificant extent, its primary duty, which is that it will conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement, can be compromised or interfered with—not to a significant extent, but if insignificant activities take place. That is unacceptable. Nothing, but nothing, whether significant or insignificant, should interfere with the primary duty. There is no way of measuring what is significant and what is not. In my book it is unacceptable for schools to be allowed to indulge in activities that interfere to any extent with the governing body's primary duty to promote high standards of educational achievement.

How does a teacher, a school or a governing body know what will be deemed significant or insignificant. There is no scientific measurement; it is in the eye of the beholder. I do not believe that the schools, the governing bodies or the teachers should be detracted in any way from their duty to promote high standards of educational achievement. I find the situation wholly unsatisfactory. I do not accept that answer, but the matter is too important for me to rely on the remnants of the membership of the Committee that surround me this evening. I shall return to the issue, hopefully with a great deal of support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 121: Page 16, line 27, after "with" insert— ( ) the ability (to be determined in consultation with the stair concerned) of members of the staff of the school to perform properly the functions that may be required of them in relation to the education of children at the school, in particular the contribution which they make to the fulfilment of the duties imposed upon local education authorities and upon governing bodies under section 13A(1) of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) and section 38(2) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (promoting high standards); and The noble Baroness said: While we on these Benches in general welcome community schools, Amendment No. 121 seeks to ensure proper consultation with staff prior to any decisions taken by a governing body with respect to the provision of community's facilities. The amendment seeks to clarify the Government's intentions on issues such as additional resources with respect to "extended schools". I gather they are known as "full service" schools in the United States, but on the face of the Bill they are referred to as "community facilities".

In theory, the proposals to enable governing bodies to provide a full range of activities for the benefit of their staff, children and parents and for the members of the wider community are welcome. Research has shown that programmes that support schools in working together and in planning the allocation and distribution of resources and projects have resulted in a shift towards more collegiate approaches to educational provision. The development of school clusters, such as the one in Crewe near where I live, have helped to break down some of the needless rivalry and competition for pupils fostered by recent education reforms. They have also led to a better understanding by schools of each other's needs and have encouraged the sharing of good practice between schools. Of course, in the case of clusters, those wheels have been oiled by extra cash.

Schools should be given support to respond to the needs of their immediate communities; for example, in developing out-of-school activities and in encouraging the active involvement of communities in local school settings. If effective health and social services provision were situated in schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas, that may help to address a wide range of needs that impact on pupils' attainment, as well as perhaps benefiting their families; for example, adult literacy programmes. Initiatives that promote multi-agency approaches to tackling socio-economic impediments to learning at school level can assist schools in facilitating access to essential support services, thus allowing teachers to focus on improving their pupils' academic achievements. As long as appropriate extra resources are provided, I have no doubt that teachers will welcome that kind of approach.

Such schools could be an effective way of tackling many of the barriers to learning faced by pupils and their families, in the same way as the Sure Start initiative does in the early years. Teachers in schools in areas of social disadvantage are often expected to respond to the social needs of pupils. Schools that have a range of welfare services co-ordinated alongside educational provision would be in a better position to respond to the needs of families and their children without teachers solely being expected to take on that role.

I understand that the Full Service Schools programme in the United States has been highly effective in helping to improve attainment and relationships between teachers, parents and the wider community. In Scotland, a similar initiative, the New Community Schools programme, has reported comparable findings, with pupil attendance and exclusion rates also much improved. I believe that pilot schemes for such schools should be established with the involvement of teaching and non-teaching staff and with the careful delineation of responsibilities that are based on expectations that avoid excessive workload before the idea is rolled out.

However, a number of questions need answering. Can the Minister say what additional resources the Government will be able to offer schools to encourage them to widen the use of their facilities and to expand their services? What are the Government's expectations about agreeing provisions with, for example, the local strategic partnership? Does that provision also apply to maintained nursery schools? I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Andrews

In terms of the range of options that we have developed in this country over the past five years for such full-service schools as regards out of school activities, it is worth recording that we are pioneering a great range of new ways to do things using schools as community resources, and so on. First, we have longitudinal research, which is unique to this country and certainly backs up what has been achieved in the United States and in Australia. It shows that there is a direct academic benefit to those who regularly participate in activities, which is revealed not only in their attainment of GCSEs but also in their attitude. We have a very sound path of research that is beginning to accumulate.

Secondly, over the past five years we have seen the beginning of policy frameworks for enabling schools to develop a whole range of activities with both families and communities out of school. Through this development we have also brought in experts and volunteers to work with teachers in schools to allay some of the fears that the noble Baroness rightly identified in terms of teachers' workload during the school day, which can be intolerable. We have also had the building of capacity at the school level, which has proved to be extremely innovative.

Thirdly, we have seen a great deal of new funding go into schools through the New Opportunities Fund and through the standards fund. We now have local infrastructure as local authorities have introduced out-of-school-hours learning officers who work with the range of partnerships to maximise such opportunities. We are beginning to develop all these struts of proper policy framework funding and development, which is extremely effective. To an extent, all that addresses some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and, indeed, some of the issues highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, as regards the impact on the effectiveness of teaching and learning during the school day. In so far as we have evidence, it seems that such developments are very powerful in terms of raising achievement.

The noble Baroness is right to raise the issue of consultation with staff, because none of these innovations will take place unless the staff are fully involved and fully in agreement. They must see it in terms of their own professional development as something from which they can really benefit; otherwise, they will not do it. Teachers are realistic about what is possible as regards their own time and energy. We have witnessed a very positive feedback from the staff towards students and a virtuous circle being created. This is a positive development in the education system over the past few years.

Baroness Walmsley

Perhaps I may comment on the noble Baroness's contribution. As a supporter of the holistic approach to education, especially in the early years, I very much understand the benefits of the sort of experiments outlined by the noble Baroness. In terms of the work that they undertake, I realise that there is a potential for lightening teachers' workload with such initiatives—or, indeed, possibly increasing it.

I tabled this amendment so that we could ensure that provision is made on the face of the Bill for teachers at least to be consulted on these developments. Such consultation should not just be a case of following best practice, which has been happening. It is a very important issue in terms of these experiments.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

In exercising the powers under Clause 25, governors must have regard both to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State and to any guidance given to them by the local education authority. Where governors are considering providing community facilities, the guidance will make clear that they must consult all interested parties, including school staff. As my noble friend Lady Andrews said, the school staff are crucial if this is to work and prove to be appropriate for the school. In drawing up the guidance we are working with a range of partners, including teachers, to ensure that this development is covered effectively.

In response to the specific point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I can confirm that this provision will also apply to nursery schools, if they so wish.

I should point out to the Committee that not only are governors required to consult their local education authority, but any proposed activity that would significantly interfere with the fulfilment of the LEA's duty would, by definition, also significantly interfere with the governing body's duties under Clause 20(2).

I reassure the Committee that, if governors choose to provide community services or facilities, those services must not have a detrimental effect on the performance by school staff of their existing duties—quite the opposite. We know of many schools that have adopted that approach and brought in other professionals to support families and pupils, with the result, as my noble friend Lady Andrews said, that educational attainment has been raised, parental involvement has increased and pupils' behaviour has improved.

We also know that many teachers are required to deal with numerous non-educational inquiries and problems, brought to them by pupils and families. If governors decide, with others, that a particular service or facility could reduce that burden and support the work of school staff, they should be able to provide such a service. Clause 25 gives governors that power, and Clause 26 provides sufficient safeguards to ensure that any service does not undermine the main role of schools—the provision of a high quality education.

I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

The Earl of Sandwich

In view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has just said, can the Minister give further consideration to the marrying of the two amendments? In retrospect, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was right: we do not need the previous amendment. Perhaps we should consider them together.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I am not entirely certain that I understand what the noble Earl seeks to do. Can he give me a little clarification.

The Earl of Sandwich

I am talking about interference with the normal operation of a school. It is clear from what the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said that we are moving towards a situation in which there is no such interference. The two amendments feed into each other.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I apologise to the noble Earl for not picking up his point. I believe that there is no difference between what we are trying to achieve. We want to ensure that schools that wish to provide community services do so in consultation with their staff, the education authority and others and provide those services in order to support the educational attainment of their children and as a community resource.

Those are compatible objectives, and the evidence so far is that, when that is done, educational attainment, behaviour and attendance improve. That must be an overall objective for a school as a community resource. I am happy to discuss further the particular words that we use with the noble Baroness, but I believe that we are all on the same plane.

Baroness Blatch

It is an important point. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, gave us some powerful reasons why so many positive things are going on, helping schools to achieve their own ends. That is what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was saying.

The funding that the Government put in to address the issue of class sizes for children up to the age of seven partly achieved its objectives. However, at the other end of the scale—almost as a direct result—class sizes for other age groups worsened. We know now that there will be a concentrated effort to move up the age range. We do not want to see newer or developing activities that interfere at all with the primary duty of schools to educate their children and achieve standards. That is the safeguard that we seek, and, as long as those words remain in the Bill—I am sorry to go back to my amendment, but the amendments are linked—there will be a suspicion that some of the activity will be at the expense of those things.

We must put it beyond doubt that no activity will be acceptable if it interferes with a school's primary duty to all its children, however important it is to provide community facilities. What the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said was persuasive, but we must get the balance right and make sure that there is no compromise.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for her reassurances. Guidance is, of course, good, but it would be better to have in the Bill a requirement for consultation with staff about such initiatives, particularly because of the impact that having such facilities on the school site would have on their job—teaching the children. I was, however, delighted to hear the Minister say that, at least in that case, the local authority would be involved.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Additional functions of governing body]:

Baroness Massey of Darwen

moved Amendment No. 122: Page 17, line 17, at end insert— (6) The governing body of a maintained school shall use their best endeavours to secure that—

  1. (a) reasonable steps are taken by the governing body, head teacher and staff to ascertain the views of pupils on matters which affect them, and
  2. (b) due weight is given to the expressed views of pupils on matters affecting them, having regard to the pupil's age and understanding."
The noble Baroness said: I rise to move this amendment tabled in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friend Lady David, who cannot be here this evening. The amendment was tabled and received with support and enthusiasm in the other place. To me it seems to be irresistible and one that is totally in line with national and international wishes to see children consulted about matters which affect them.

The amendment states that governors, shall use their best endeavours", rather than "may"; the word "shall" is what I mean here. The proposal ties in with what my noble friends Lady David and Lord Peston said earlier about pupil governors. Indeed, my noble friend Lady David talked about pupil participation on Second Reading. I listened carefully to my noble friend Lady Ashton's earlier remarks about pupils as associate governors, so presumably she agrees with the principle of consulting pupils. We must ensure that reasonable steps are taken to do just that, which is what the amendment seeks to achieve.

Education is an important context for consultation with young people, because children spend so long in it. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that if a child can form his or her own views, then those views should be taken into account, being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child". My noble friend Lady David quoted the White Paper, Schools—achieving success, in which the Government state that they will, encourage students' active participation in the decisions that affect them, about their learning and more widely". That might include issues such as organisation, school meals, discipline, policies on bullying as well as curriculum matters. Many schools have school councils and other mechanisms in place for consulting pupils. I know of examples of consultation with regard to PE lessons: what should be worn and what should be taught.

It is good that citizenship education is to be introduced into the school curriculum this year. Citizenship will include debates and discussion on human rights and responsibilities, and community involvement. However, it seems that citizenship as a subject without citizenship in practice across school life may be seen as tokenistic and pointless. The Advisory Group on Citizenship in education would agree with that. The group states that: Formal preparation for citizenship in adult life can be helped or hindered by the ethos and organisation of a school, whether pupils are given opportunities for exercising responsibilities and initiatives or not; and also whether they are consulted realistically on matters where their opinions can prove relevant both to the efficient running of a school and to their general motivation for learning". A recent study on schools councils and democracy commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that where schools councils existed and, within school structures, enabled pupils to take an active role in society, then citizenship education and understanding of democratic processes were enhanced. The Children's Consortium on Education points out that the UK is behind the rest of Europe in pupil democracy. We have no legislation on pupil involvement and no system for consulting pupils on educational policy. This amendment would contribute to remedying that situation.

But this is not just about democracy. Pupil participation has been shown to influence academic achievement. In a recent study, high levels of attainment at GCSE were found to be associated with active pupil involvement. That is not surprising, given that with participation, positive attitudes to school are likely to be increased.

In the guidance for applications for the power to innovate, related to this Bill, paragraph 9 states that: We would expect applicants to consult all those who are likely to be affected by a proposal". Paragraph 11 states that: Those we would expect the applicants to have consulted include the teaching staff, parents, pupils and any other relevant parties. In assessing proposals, the Secretary of State will wish to be satisfied that all those with direct interest have been properly consulted". We surely should not encourage consultation and participation in one document but not embed consultation and participation for pupils in the whole Bill.

I hope that I have convinced the Minister that this amendment is useful and constructive in promoting both democracy and pupil achievement and that she will embrace it with enthusiasm. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley

I rise to support Amendment No. 122. One of the most worrying things about our education system today is the large number of pupils who feel disaffected with their education to the extent that they are disruptive in the classroom. Indeed, one of the main reasons teachers give for leaving the profession is that they are unhappy with the effort it takes to maintain discipline in the classroom.

There may be many causes of that in the wider society and we need to look carefully at the curriculum, particularly that for 14 to 19 year-olds. However, when the Government are about to introduce citizenship into the curriculum, surely it makes sense to allow children to learn to make decisions about things that affect them right there in their own schools. Schools forums have been with us for a long time and the best schools take a great deal of notice of what they say. Pupil governors too have made an important contribution to all matters discussed by a governing body, except the pay and conditions of staff.

However, these structures involve only small numbers of pupils and it is desirable that consultation with pupils becomes much wider. Putting Amendment No. 122 on the face of the Bill would ensure that this happens and send out a message that children are respected and that their views not only matter but are very valuable to schools.

The Government have made many statements of intent about encouraging more student participation in decisions that affect them; for example, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady David, mentioned, in the White Paper, Schools—achieving success, and in the special educational needs code of practice. Furthermore, by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government have committed themselves to ensuring that the views of the child are given due weight.

This piece of legislation gives an excellent opportunity for the Government to show that they mean business as regards student participation, but only if it is on the face of the Bill. Non-statutory guidance is not enough. The amendment sets out a light-touch duty with phrases such as reasonable steps and due weight. It is not unduly onerous to schools to be able to comply with it. Indeed. I believe that schools which have not done enough pupil consultation in the past will, when encouraged to do so by this amendment to the Bill, find it so worthwhile that they will want to do more and more of it.

The Earl of Sandwich

As the Minister knows, I, too, am a supporter of citizenship education and I believe that the Children's Consortium on Education has a powerful voice in the area. It, too, supports the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness. Lady Massey.

I declare an interest as a foundation governor of a school in west Dorset where we have a degree of pupil participation. However, we like to see the Government giving more encouragement by putting the provision on the face of the Bill. Children may not know much about the Education Bill—nor do I believe do many adults—but they are aware of the current workload on teachers and the new responsibilities which schools have under a succession of Bills. In my experience, older children benefit enormously from participation and discussion, especially on their own environment and the working practices of the school. Therefore, there is a two-way benefit.

Moreover, there is evidence that participation leads to a higher level of attainment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warmsley, has already said, as well as to qualities such as motivation and engagement. I want to quote from the report of Professor Bernard Crick's Advisory Group on Citizenship published in 1998. I am sure that the Minister knows it: It is obvious that all formal preparation for citizenship in adult life can be helped or hindered by the ethos and organisation of a school, whether the pupils are given opportunities for exercising responsibilities and initiatives or not; and also whether they are consulted realistically on matters where their opinions can prove relevant both to the efficient running of a school and to their general motivation for learning". I do not want a token commitment. I know that the noble Baroness is behind the idea but I should like to see a firm statement in the Bill itself. Save the Children, which is a member of the consortium, states that, failing to place pupil participation on a statutory footing would risk sending the message to schools that listening to and involving pupils is desirable 'best practice', but not essential and not a basic human right of all children and young people". The second part of the amendment is so important. We can all live with paragraph (a), but to encourage schools under paragraph (b), which seeks to give weight to the expressed views of pupils, is to make a move forward.

Lord Peston

My noble friend Lady David told me that I had to participate in the debate on this amendment as she could not be here—and I always do what I am told.

I strongly support the amendment. I should say to my noble friend Lady Massey that we are not discussing democracy here; we are discussing benevolent despotism. A school is run by the despots and we are asking them at least to show some response to those whom they are teaching. That does not mean that benevolent despotism is not better than many other forms of despotism.

I agree that it is not only a matter of asking young people for their views. The essence of' the amendment concerns the response to what they say; to show, as the amendment states, that "due weight" is given to their views. That is not the equivalent of saying to pupils that they are right. Indeed, if you have any concept of citizenship at all, one of things that you have to learn is that a lot of the time you will be wrong. Pupils will have to learn that they will have their say and that there will be a response—and they will have to accept that one of the responses may be "You do not know what you are talking about", and sometimes that they do know what they are talking about.

If you are a teacher this kind of thing can be threatening. When I was at university—reverting to the subject of benevolent despotism—I was appointed head of department for life. Although I gave up the position long before that, I found it immensely threatening when this idea was put forward. I also found it very frustrating in responding to what, in this case, students wanted. They typically said that they did not care for the pressure of examinations and wanted more course work. So I, being a benevolent despot, said, "Let us move in the direction of more course work". When the course work did not turn up, I said, "You are now going to fail this course because the date for the course work is such and such and you have not got any". They would then say, "Oh, we would rather have examinations"—to which the answer is, "I am sorry, but you gave your views and we responded to them. One of the things you have to learn as a citizen is that you bear the costs of the decisions you take".

I exaggerate a little—although not in the case that I have in mind—but it does mean that if we go down this route, which I very strongly hope that we do, the pupils themselves must understand what it is that we are moving towards. The essence of this is the combination of listening and responding.

It may well be that the amendment is not well drafted but, in terms of everything that we have been doing for the past few days, if ever an amendment—or, perhaps, the concept of a possible amendment—should be accepted, it is this one. I believe that my noble friend the Minister should say either yes, she accepts the amendment, or that she does not like the drafting but will come back with her own amendment to cover precisely this issue. That would he a good thing. I do not wish to hear from my noble friend about guidance or the fact that it is already covered elsewhere.

This is a clear cut case where your Lordships' Committee—particularly having regard to our age group—can speak for young people and say that not only do we want this in the Bill but we very much expect our Minister—because she is the only one who can do anything about this—to come forward with a positive response.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I, too, support the thrust of the amendment. I am not sufficiently expert in parliamentary or legal language to know whether the amendment is drafted correctly or how in legal terms words such as "best endeavours", "reasonable steps" and so on would be interpreted if a governing body was put to the test. But I am absolutely sure that the thrust of the amendment ought to be a part of what we are looking for in the improvement of educational standards, particularly with regard to secondary education. Therefore, I lend my wholehearted support to the amendment.

I am not sure that I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It seems to me that we need a provision on the face of the Bill, but that an interpretation in guidance will also be important in terms of how this is done and how the best endeavours are achieved. However, I lend my support to what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is trying to achieve.

Baroness Andrews

I want to indicate my support for the amendment with a reference to the kinds of things that are happening in schools where pupils have a direct input. I refer, for example, to anti-bullying strategies and to positive behaviour strategies. There is tremendous variety in the practice of schools up and down the country. The spread of good practice is necessary. We need proper frameworks. I am not against advice: we need help in spreading good practice. Some schools are so much more successful than others and are involving pupils. Those qualities are sticking and are making a difference. Different children have different needs. In supporting the amendment we must seek to reflect that. In the areas of discipline and behaviour and the development of character there is particular benefit to be had from the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

Ascertaining the views of pupils on matters that affect them and, as far as possible, giving due weight to those views seems to me to be fundamental in schools. I am nervous about this becoming part of the legislation, and I shall come to that point in a moment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, gave a number of examples of very good practice. I can think of a number of schools which have schools councils which meet with the staff; they have mechanisms in place for voicing their concerns about, for example, better facilities for sixth form study areas, more effective use of technology, shaping the school day so as to be more effective, homework clubs and many other ideas. They have a "feet on the ground", commonsense, effective view of how matters can be improved for them.

The other method of ascertaining the views of pupils which was introduced by the Government when I was the Minister was the provision of a slot in the inspection procedures where the inspectors go to the parents and to the children to ask them about the school. Their discussion with the children is confidential; there are no staff present, so they are able to be uninhibited in expressing their views. They are given opportunities for a one-to-one interview if they specifically ask for it. The inspector will make a general comment on the performance of a school to the effect that it has or does not have a good relationship with its children as the case may be. That too is a very good idea.

I am concerned about this becoming part of statute and make the same point as the right reverend Prelate made; namely, how one measures reasonableness. For example, among children, just as among adults, there are some very quirky ideas. Some children are more proactive in making their views known. Sometimes, the more sensitive and more vulnerable children are the ones who do not say what would improve their lot at school.

So this is a difficult area. It is a tricky area for teachers. I am concerned about the way in which our community generally is becoming more litigious. Such a provision would provide an opportunity for children and/or parents—children are becoming pretty streetwise about claiming and exercising their rights—to enter into litigation. I am concerned about the kind of protection that would be needed for teachers if they were put in the position of being tested or challenged. The last thing we want is to clog up the world of the tribunals or the courtrooms with claims that children made their voice heard and due weight was not given. The question could arise as to what was reasonable and whether due weight was given to something that a teacher thought impractical.

The Earl of Sandwich

Perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive my interruption. Does she see any difference between young people and adults as regards unruliness.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I do not think that any of us escapes from being described as unruly in some way. Some of us have a propensity for being more unruly than others. In today's world, teachers are vulnerable to all sorts of problems. There is the potential for challenges by parents or by pupils, as well as the full weight of human rights legislation. There has to be protection for children, but children will have different views about what schools should be providing, the method by which it should be provided and the way in which teachers should provide education. The extent to which that is listened to and responded to and the weight that is given to those views—that is the subject of the second part of the amendment—would be judged and could be challenged. I am fearful that the system could be open to vexatious claims and to a great deal of time wasting.

I support the thrust of what is being asked for—that the voice of children should be ascertained, listened to and, when possible, heeded and given due weight. The working of the inspectorate, which goes in and out of schools regularly, could be strengthened to test the way in which schools do that. I should prefer it to be done by encouraging examples in which the children come together. I recently came across a school in the North East that has a school pupil counselling service. A group of young people set aside part of their lunchtime and, after a bit of training in counselling, become a listening ear for any other pupil in the school who wants to come to talk to them. All sorts of safeguards are built in in case they are being told something disturbing.

The system is working in that school and it allows those who have been singled out to be the counsellors—to be the eyes and ears for the staff—to go to the staff and initiate new thinking about changes that could be made in the school that would make life easier or would pick up on the signs of the bullying that people do not see on the surface.

I am behind the aims of the amendment, but I am fearful of it going on the statute book, because without proper scientific ways of measuring the issue and without proper protection for teachers against vexatious claims, it would be difficult to implement in practice.

Lord Lucas

I entirely agree with my noble friend and support the thrust of the amendment in the way in which she has done. What she says about the school she mentioned in the North East is right. Such policies tend to result in the nice kids being those with power, influence and respect among the pupils, because they will be chosen as counsellors and will have the ear of the teachers. That produces a power structure in which the nice ones rather than the rough ones or the smart ones attract the adulation of the younger pupils. That produces an enormous benefit.

However, I take a lot of caution from what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said about the fearfulness with which teachers will greet the idea if they are dumped into it and have to plunge into democracy with a lot of kids who may have been managed in a different way, particularly in more difficult circumstances. Such systems should be grown from inside rather than imposed from outside. To work, they have to come from within the school. The role of the Government is to encourage that.

There is a lot that the Government can do. They can put some real effort behind making sure that the next round of beacon schools contains some schools that are beacons for these ideas. They can make sure that the curriculum of the head teachers training college includes real experience of what it is like to run a democratic school. Perhaps they should spend a week or two in a Steiner school to see what it is like. Such schools work very well because of the commitment of the children, the parents and the staff to that environment, because that kind of democracy has grown up through the spirit of the school. To impose it through legislation is the wrong way. We want some real commitment from the Government to put force and money behind the idea, but I would not like to see it in statute.

Lord Peston

I refer to a point that has already been made. Why does not the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, apply the same argument to parents? What has he got against children, to put it bluntly? And what has he got against difficult children, to put it bluntly? His comments were a classic, but not surprising, example of a speech against democracy. For hundreds of years a case has been made against democracy on the ground that all the difficult people would start to exercise power and make demands. It has been suggested in quite a kw of our debates on the future of this great Chamber that if we permit certain measures we might attract the wrong kind of people who will start, to create difficulties.

I regard the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as absolutely ridiculous. Either you believe in a free society, citizenship and democracy, which may lead to problems, but you believe in it because you think that ultimately it is right, or you do not. I reject those arguments from the Benches opposite. They are absurd. We have fought for a long time in this country not to be taken in by exactly that kind of argument. The argument was advanced that teachers will find the measure stressful. I make the point that they are meant to find it stressful as it is a good thing. I had to respond to this stressful process and it did me good. Other professors also gained from running their departments bearing in mind the interests of their students. I am sorry to press the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but he has explained exactly why I think our side of the argument is right.

The Earl of Listowel

I have listened to this debate with fascination. With regard to the value added criteria that the Minister is considering, will she say whether she might consider this measure as one of those criteria; that is, the engagement of children in the processes of a school.

Baroness Walmsley

I find the objections of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, somewhat depressing. Must we really be held back from a great advance in engaging children and making them feel valued and consulted within a school simply because of a fear of possible bad behaviour? Almost anything is open to challenge. The wording of the amendment is "light touch"; it is not onerous. It is relatively easy to interpret. Although it may, of course, be challenged on occasion, a governing body that is genuinely attempting to give due weight and due consideration to the views of children and can justify the way in which it has done that will be impervious to scurrilous challenge.

Baroness Blatch

I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on the subject of parents. There is a requirement in statute that one must heed parents' preferences for school places where that is possible and where it is consistent with the educational needs of a child. However, I know of no statute that states that one has to ascertain the views of parents and give due weight to them as regards the running of a school. It is the governing body that does that. Almost any school worth its salt knows its pupils. If it does not, that should come out in inspection reports which will state that the school concerned does not have a satisfactory relationship with its pupils or understand that it has some disquieted pupils. That would emerge in an inspection.

The idea that one must exhort tilts area of school activity through legislation is in my view depressing. I honestly believe that there are many ways in which one can encourage and disseminate best practice and give children a voice and make sure that the voice is properly heard. However, once such a measure is included in a statute, it becomes open to challenge in a way that I think would not be beneficial to teachers, or even frankly at the end of the day to children.

Lord Peston

The noble Baroness probably does not go as far back in education as I do. I go back to the days when a line was drawn and you could not go through the front door. I was part of those groups who fought to let parents through that door. I was part of a group who formed the first parents' association in a school in Haringey. Therefore, I know all about the battles and the stresses involved in these matters. But eventually parents managed to move forward.

The Bill contains measures which concern parents. I refer to the parent governor measure and the parent meetings measure. There are various other such measures. The hour is late and I am glad that the noble Baroness will return to the matter on Report. We may well have to debate that further.

I regard the argument about litigation as so farfetched as to be unbelievable. The current scale of litigation in our country, which could be large, is minimal. We were told in relation to many matters involving standards—this is also true of universities—that there would be court cases on a massive scale. People would say, "Why was I given this grade, not that grade?". We have had hardly any experience of that. We should not have such fears. We should embrace the possibilities—the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, put that very well. It is particularly incumbent on your Lordships' House to give a lead in this area. One certainly cannot expect that from the other place, which has no vision at all in relation to such matters. That is why I press the matter strongly on my noble friend.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

We have had an interesting debate, which mirrors, in some ways, the debate that we have had in the ministerial team on how to approach this matter and how to get it right. I am aware of the views that have been expressed and recognise that people are saying to me, very clearly, that there is an important role for children and young people, which needs to be recognised.

Members of the Committee have their own experiences in this regard. Having chaired a school governing body, I know the value of involving children in thinking through issues such as bullying. At the risk of further delaying the Committee, I shall give a brief anecdote.

To work out where in a school children were worried about bullying, we took a plan of the school and asked young children to draw on the plan in red where they felt safe and blue where they did not. That helped us to redesign the school building. We used the pupils' involvement to support them. They illustrated, in that simple way, which parts of the school needed decorating or were areas in which bullying might be occurring. There are many approaches and methods that we need to consider when translating the principle into reality.

The Government's view is very clear. We cannot deal with this matter overnight; we need long-term investment, real commitment and incremental change to the way in which we do things. The biggest error that the Government could make would be to implement anything that was tokenistic in its approach and which did not genuinely value the contribution that young people make. That means facing some real challenges. For example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, we must avoid consulting only the articulate and visible in schools or the wider community. We must ensure that the hardest to reach—some of our most vulnerable children—can participate and have an opportunity to be involved. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will be interested to hear that I refer, for example, to children in care.

We believe that we have a firm foundation on which to build. We set out in the schools White Paper some of the areas in which we have acted on our commitment to involve young people. Members of the Committee have mentioned citizenship and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to the role of schools councils. We have produced a secondary schools toolkit to support students' active participation, building on what we have done at the primary level.

We have also consulted young people within the department and are currently in the process of consulting on changes to the strategies for 14 to 19 year-olds. We have genuine commitments in this regard. The question is: how do we take them forward? We believe very strongly that participation can and should take many different forms if it is to fit the particular circumstances in which schools will find themselves and if it is to be relevant to the age of the children and the circumstances that best fit that.

For that reason, we believe that the best way forward is to go to statutory guidance. That will result in amendments to the Bill. That statutory guidance will, we believe, offer schools a flexible menu of options. From our point of view, that is the best way forward. It will allow schools to adopt the best-fit model of participation and adapt it over time as circumstances change.

Nevertheless, schools will not be able to do nothing. Schools will, as part of Ofsted's inspections, be checked—I assure the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in that regard—to ensure that they are adhering to the guidance, just as they are checked in relation to all other statutory obligations. It is already consulting on a mechanism to ensure that young people's views are heard in schools generally and in inspection reports.

The Government are strongly of the view that that is the way forward. We wish to consider how best that can be achieved. I hope that my noble friend appreciates that we are committed to finding an effective way forward. We believe that statutory guidance would help us to do that. We would like to put that in place as soon as possible. On that basis, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

I thank noble Lords for their support and contributions this evening. We have had a most interesting discussion and many useful examples have been given. Of course, young people sometimes have to learn that they cannot have their own way. As a head of year in an inner-city school, I remember having to discuss with a group of pupils their wish to have more ventilation in the toilets because young people were smoking in there. It provided me with a good opportunity to hold a health education lesson.

I believe that it is the role of government to encourage consultation with pupils, and that that needs to be stated. After all, inspections take place only every four years or so, I believe. Rather than being hindered or frightened by them, teachers sometimes find that a democratic approach and consultation with pupils helps them to teach. I have certainly found that in my own experience.

I thank the Minister for her reply, which I obviously need to consider. I know that we shall return to this issue as there is much interest in it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Governors' reports and other information]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 123: Page 17, line 19, leave out "shall" and insert "may". The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 123, I shall speak also to the other amendments grouped with it. These amendments have been tabled at the behest of the National Association of Head Teachers and the Local Government Association. Both believe that the degree of prescription from the centre about annual reports is quite unnecessary. It makes the whole procedure highly bureaucratic. At a time when the Government are aiming to cut back on regulations and bureaucracy, the National Association of Head Teachers, in particular, questions even whether an annual report of this nature is required. Many schools issue regular newsletters to parents updating them on developments, and it is felt that these often provide as good a basis as anything else for discussions at the annual meeting between parents and governors.

In addition, the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 put into primary legislation that a school—both the head teacher and governing body—should give the local education authority the information that it needs to discharge its functions. It has always been assumed that that was the case but it was considered best to put it into legislation. The original wording appears in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. But this Bill makes the existing powers and duties which were written into the Act subject to regulations being made. It exposes the degree to which the Government are gold-plating the whole regulation issue, if I may say so.

Any local education authority worth its salt has regular meetings and correspondence with its heads. Why should central government prescribe the documentation that has to be provided? Why cannot central government let go the reins and allow local education authorities to decide what is and what is not required.

The aim of the amendments is to give greater discretion to heads and local education authorities to decide what documentation is required and to minimise the degree of direction from the centre. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I rise briefly to support the amendment. Frankly, this is the nanny state gone mad. Let us give schools the space. The annual report now produced by schools is well established. They now know that there is an expectation that they will produce information for parents. It seems to me that the requirements under this clause are unnecessary.

Lord Davies of Oldham

As the noble Baroness has indicated, Amendment No. 123 would leave it open to individual governing bodies to decide whether or not to produce an annual report for parents in any year. Under the amendment, if a governing body chose never to do so, parents would not receive the full information to which we believe they are all entitled if they are to become more involved in their child's education. We believe it is important that all parents continue to be given a copy of the report. We also encourage schools to place a copy of the report on their website, if they have one, in addition to giving a copy to parents. We believe that parents have the greatest interest in pressing for rising standards. If they are denied access to key information about how their child's school is performing, they will not be able to do that.

I recognise the representations made in the introductory comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and recognise also that there is validity in the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We want to reduce the bureaucratic demands upon headteachers. We have reduced the amount of information which, by regulation, must be included. In doing so we have taken account of the concerns about bureaucratic burdens. However, we believe that governing bodies should not be able to decide that parents should not have any, information. Surely, that is a step too far. We believe that this particular obligation in the report, which is fulfilled in many other varied ways by schools, guarantees that parents can be assured that they have the information they require in order to fulfil their obligations in respect of their child's education. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lucas

I do not know whether the noble Baroness intended to speak to Amendment No. 132A in this group. If she did, I should very much like to hear the Government's views on it.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right. I should have spoken to Amendment No. 132A. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is not here and I have a brief from him. I thank the noble Lord for reminding me of that.

I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 132A. The Special Education Consortium is concerned about the impact of schools giving priority in admission to children who show an aptitude for a particular subject. Although the Bill does not mention specialist schools, it provides the necessary framework and encouragement for other schools to join rank. The Government have set a target of 50 per cent for all secondary children being educated in specialist schools by the year 2005. Up to 10 per cent of admissions to those can be selected on the basis of ability or rather more speculatively by aptitude.

Research from both Ofsted and the Sheffield Hallam University indicates that specialist schools are not taking their fair share of pupils with special educational needs. Given the doubt that that research casts on selective admissions policies and practices, I should welcome an assurance of better things from the Minister. Specifically, I should welcome assurances that disabled children and pupils with special educational needs are not consigned to the non-specialist less favoured schools and that schools applying for specialist status will have to demonstrate high special educational needs standards, and to commit themselves to improving access and curriculum support for disabled children and pupils with special educational needs.

The new clause proposes a modest solution to the problem. It focuses on the information that schools will provide for parents. Schools would be required to publish in their information to parents what percentage of their intake they select and what percentage they do not select.

If the Minister wishes to offer assurances rather than legislation, I shall be glad to hear them. So far, the Minister has been able to give us warm assurances throughout the debate. However, I fear that such assurances may fall on deaf ears outside the House. Why will the Minister not offer assurances on the face of the Bill or promise them in regulations.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for advancing the debate tonight and for reminding us that Amendment No. 132A is grouped with the amendments we are discussing. I am therefore grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for speaking to the amendment. Once again, we miss the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who takes a keen interest in all these issues.

We want to make a parent's expression of preference for a school as meaningful as possible. I think that Members of the Committee would agree on the importance of giving parents sufficient information to ensure that they can make an informed preference for a school.

However, it is an obvious fact that no matter how much information is provided on how a previous year's places were allocated, that cannot be an accurate prediction of how places will be allocated the following year. It can only serve as an indicator. Local circumstances fluctuate and the number of children who gain admission because they fall into specified criteria—for example, siblings, worshippers in a particular parish or those living in a particular area—may vary greatly from one year to the next. I want to reassure the noble Baroness that 93 per cent of our specialist schools do not select for entry.

The current provisions under Section 92 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 already require the specific school to which this proposed new section applies to publish information about its admissions arrangements. In addition, the Education (School Information) Regulations 1998, as amended, require local education authorities to publish composite prospectuses for their areas. These must include details of each school and its admissions policy, including how priority for places will be given to applicants if the school is oversubscribed.

The prospectus must also give information on the number of places that were available the previous year and the number of applications made for them. Some authorities go further than that and already publish the information suggested by noble Lords today. Indeed, the department's Code of Practice on School Admissions encourages LEAs to publish other information about local admissions which they consider will be of interest to local parents.

Research conducted on behalf of the department by the Sheffield Hallam University and the Office of National Statistics found that, nationally, 96 per cent of children found places at a school with which their parents were happy. Although we are seeking to ensure that even more parental preferences are met, by strengthening the admissions framework, it is clear that the present requirements for provision of information are working for parents.

Both under existing legislation and the new provision proposed by the Bill, all admission authorities already are, and will continue to be, required to publish a significant amount of information which we believe assists parents in making informed choices for their children. I can see, as the noble Baroness indicated in her remarks, the warmth of commitment to the real interests that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, brings to his contribution on these issues with regard to admissions and the specific groups of children in which he takes such a keen interest. I want to emphasise once again that we are entirely with him in spirit in his objective, but we believe that we have in place the necessary structure which works to the satisfaction of the vast majority of parents. I do not believe, therefore, that Amendment No. 132A, in which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also expressed a keen interest, is necessary. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his reply. The key issue is that there is worry that these specialist schools are not at the moment taking their full share of those with special educational needs. This is clearly shown from the research undertaken by the Sheffield Hallam University. It is necessary that the Government monitor these things in order to ensure that these schools, which are offering, after all, specialist facilities which are supposedly open to the whole community, are fully serving the community and those with special educational needs and disabilities.

Lord Davies of Oldham

Perhaps I may intervene. Of course the noble Baroness is right. The research was commissioned by the department in order to inform us more fully about the provision. She is right that it was undertaken to look at specific areas. We give the undertaking that we are looking at the findings very closely indeed in order to guide future action.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for giving us that undertaking. With that, and with his assurances—although I am not sure that they were assurances; rather, his acknowledgement that the procedures relating to information are perhaps somewhat over-bureaucratic—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 124: Page 17, line 28, at end insert— ( ) the inclusion in the governors' report of information about the effectiveness of the school's provision for disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs; The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 133. The Bill substantially rewrites the existing arrangements for governing bodies. That affects not only the running and structure of schools, which we have discussed, but schools' special educational needs policies.

The exposition of the special educational needs policy of a particular school is given each year in the annual report. Although I argued earlier on behalf of the National Association of Head Teachers that an annual report may not always be necessary, from the point of view of parents with children with special educational needs or disabilities, it is often the one place where each year they have the necessary information written down and produced coherently. Equally, the annual parents meeting, while not always well attended, is the only occasion at which parents can discuss the school's general approach to matters such as special educational needs.

The amendment would require each school's governing body to comment to parents in its annual report on the effectiveness of its special educational needs policy in improving the educational standards of its special educational needs pupils and disabled children. It would provide parents with a method of tracking what is happening and would allay their fears that their children are not receiving the best possible education, whether they are in a mainstream, specialist or special school.

Amendment No. 133 would ensure that when schools operate jointly, they do so for the benefit of special educational needs pupils and disabled children. I do not want to detain the Committee for long with the amendments, because my concerns about the schemes are the same as with the issue of federation, which we discussed earlier. We do not object to the introduction of those innovative schemes, but there are fears that some proposals could act to the disadvantage of pupils with special educational needs or disabilities; and that their needs may be forgotten. It is important both in the annual report and if there were a federation—as is covered by Amendment No. 133—that there should be regular monitoring and reporting back to parents. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My memory may not serve me terribly well—it is late, so that is possible—but my understanding is that annual reports comment on the progress or otherwise of all children in a school, so I am not sure that Amendment No. 124 is necessary. I agree that that should happen, but I await confirmation that it is already part of statute—or at least of the regulations that govern what annual reports should contain.

On Amendment No. 133, which would require governing bodies that propose joint discharge of functions to show how they would discharge their responsibilities towards disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs, I return to my perennial suggestion. If there was some form of fundamental, portmanteau obligation at the beginning of the Bill stating that nothing in the Bill shall in any way affect the quality of provision for special educational needs, we could dispense with going through the Bill in penny packets asking for amendments to include special educational needs.

The school governing bodies are now expected to venture into some new territory with the joint venture. Although not entirely new, the concept is new in the formal sense in the Bill. The excitement of engaging with a third party may result in the needs of a group of children being neglected. The safeguard should be in the Bill. I should prefer in Clause 1 or 2 a statement with weight given to it whereby, whatever other activity was given statutory force, the requirements of children with special educational needs were protected.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

First, we are looking at precisely that issue. As my noble friend said, if it were a straightforward exercise we would have brought it forward. There is a real commitment by the Government to ensure that we protect all our children, but especially those who are most vulnerable and, included within that, children with special educational needs. We shall come back to this Chamber and we shall be in discussion with noble Lords between stages to see how far we have got. I make that commitment openly.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that we agree about the importance of schools being accountable to parents on their policies towards pupils with disabilities and with special educational needs. Revised regulations on the content of the governors' annual report are being introduced in May. Schools will have to include within governors' annual reports a summary of the governing body's policy for the school in relation to children with special educational needs, any significant changes to that policy since the last governors' annual report and a statement on the success in implementing that policy in the last year.

We sent guidance to schools in April on these regulations which made clear that annual reports must contain these elements. The noble Baroness has put forward the perfect case as to why we need an annual report to parents. I realise how difficult it is to move an amendment on behalf of someone else.

In addition, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 has amended the Education Act to require that from September 2002 governors' annual reports contain a description of the arrangements for the admission of pupils with disabilities, details of steps to prevent disabled pupils being treated less favourably than other pupils, details of facilities to assist access to the school by pupils with disabilities and, once it has been drawn up, details of the school's accessibility plan under Section 28D of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Guidance on this planning duty, due out in June, will further recommend that schools reproduce the whole of the accessibility plan within the annual report where possible. I hope that, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that reassures the noble Baroness.

On Amendment No. 133, I believe that our provisions for allowing schools jointly to discharge their functions, including functions relating to providing for children with special educational needs, have a potential to lead to better standards for those pupils. However, I recognise the importance of accountability and fully agree that the ultimate responsibility for effective provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities should remain with the governing bodies of individual schools where they are not federated. If two or more schools wish to set up a joint committee to have a specific oversight of school arrangements and provision for meeting special educational needs and their DDA duties, Clause 29 of the Bill will enable them to do so.

Perhaps I may reassure the Committee that, although certain special educational needs and disability functions may be delegated to a joint committee, each governing body of each school involved will still be responsible for ensuring that its school is making special educational needs provision, making reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils and planning for disabled access in accordance with legislative requirements and the 2001 special educational needs code of practice.

There will be no watering down of accountability for this important and vulnerable group of pupils. We plan to consult widely on how the proposals will be implemented and will talk to key people within the special educational needs lobby and disability stakeholders as part of the process.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for her forthcoming reply on these two amendments. It is quite clear that she will consider the issue of special educational needs within the context of the Bill, for which I am grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 125 to 132 not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 132A not moved.]

Clause 29 [Arrangements for joint discharge of functions]:

[Amendments Nos. 133 and 134 not moved.]

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Control of school premises]:

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 135: Page 18, line 21, at end insert "subject to the principle that the local education authority may give such directions as to the occupation and use of the premises of a community or community special school as they think fit The noble Baroness said: The purpose of Amendment No. 135 is to re-introduce into primary legislation a principle that already exists in Schedule 13 to the School Standards and Framework Act: that the LEA may give such directions for the use of community school premises as it thinks fit.

It is important to have legislation on the use of school buildings because, on the whole, the buildings are not owned by schools but by local authorities on behalf of the community, or in the case of Church schools by foundations. The Bill aims to shift primary legislation to regulation. At present there are six pages of the School Standards and Framework Act on the topic.

While shifting the bulk of the legislation may be sensible, there should be a few principles about the use of school buildings on the face of the Bill. The amendment inserts the principle that the occupation and use of the premises of the school both inside and outside school hours shall be under the control of the governing body, subject to any directions given by the LEA. Perhaps the Minister will say why the Government are reluctant to put such principles on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I want to speak to Amendment No. 136 which stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. I am sorry to introduce a slightly technical, but important, amendment at this late hour. It deals with foundation, voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled schools. In a voluntary-aided school where the foundation governors are in a majority, the Church-appointed governors are in a position to control the use of the premises outside school hours.

The main point of the amendment is that the foundation governors are, of course, in a minority in foundation and voluntary-controlled schools. Therefore, special safeguards are needed. I believe such safeguards have been enshrined in education law since the 1944 Act. I seem to remember that if one disposes of a voluntary-controlled school which has been closed, three-fourteenths of the proceeds go to the local parish because of the use that it makes of it for Sunday school and other purposes. The purpose of the amendment is to continue that practice so that the foundation governors may have the use of the school for the purpose of a Sunday school or, if it is next to the church, to prevent noisy alternative use during divine worship on a Sunday.

This amendment will require regulations to provide that the foundation governors of a controlled school can control the use of the school premises on Sundays and that in a school with a trust deed the use of the premises must not be inconsistent with the provisions of the trust deed. With those brief remarks I have put the thrust of the amendment. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will be sympathetic.

Baroness Blatch

In my rather amateur way, Amendment No. 137 tries to achieve the same ends as that of the right reverend Prelate. I am not territorial about the amendment, but it is important to safeguard the rights of trustees where school premises are held in trust for a voluntary-aided or a foundation school.

The two lines of Clause 30 state: Regulations may make provision relating to the control by the governing body of a maintained school of the occupation and use of school premises". There is no caveat there at all. If Clause 30 is to remain part of the Bill, it needs to be qualified in some way. Therefore, depending on what the Minister says in response, I would be prepared to give way to the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate, because I believe it would achieve the same end as Amendment No. 136.

However, I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 30 should stand part of the Bill. I am not absolutely certain that this provision is necessary. Again, now that we have so much self-government in schools, is it not possible to leave schools in charge of their own affairs? During the time that we had grant-maintained schools—and even now that we have foundation schools—schools proved themselves to be very responsible. They know all their duties tinder statute as regards providing education. Indeed, there are so many rules and regulations that guide NN hat they do.

Let us take, for example, Clauses 20, 25 and 26. Clause 20 deals with the general responsibility for the conduct of the school; Clause 25 sets out the powers of the governing body to provide community facilities in the first place; and Clause 26 sets out the limits on the power to provide community facilities. I cannot believe that Clause 30 is necessary. Therefore, although I support the right reverend Prelate in his amendment—and/or my amendment—I must at least argue, albeit briefly, that Clause 30 should not stand part of the Bill.

11 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I shall begin by speaking to Amendment No. 135. I can confirm that we have no intention whatever of altering any existing local education authority rights regarding the occupation or control of school premises. I am pleased to be able to give a clear commitment that provision in both those areas will remain as currently defined in Schedule 13 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. This means that there will be no reduction in the control of the occupation and use of premises by either the education authority or individual governing bodies from that which they are currently permitted to exercise, as set out in Schedule 13.

The reason for moving these provisions into regulations is that, as they currently exist, there are five pages of schedules containing many provisions, which, frankly, are too detailed. Building on what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, we are trying to simplify this and reproduce the important aspects within regulations. That is the motivation behind our move in this direction.

I turn to Amendment No. 136. I can reassure the right reverend Prelate that existing rights in relation to foundation and voluntary schools regarding the control and use of land will also be preserved in regulations. This means that the current provision in paragraph 7(2) of Schedule 13 to the 1998 Act, which allows for foundation governors of a voluntary controlled school to determine the use to which school premises are put on Sundays, will be maintained in the regulations that we intend to develop.

All rights of ownership, control and use of land will remain with exactly the same parties—be it the local education authority, governing body or trustees—where such rights currently rest. The rights of trustees under trust deeds currently provided for in paragraph 5(4) of Schedule 13 will be preserved.

I turn specifically to Amendment No. 137, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. This amendment raises similar concerns about the position of trustees. I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness that in no way will Clause 30 alter the ownership of school premises. We shall ensure that provisions in regulations will reflect all rights of ownership, control and use of land, as they currently exist. I should like to place on the record that regulations will provide for the rights of trustees in the terms currently provided for in paragraph 5(4) of Schedule 13 to the 1998 Act.

Perhaps I may say a few words about the clause stand part element of this debate. We believe that the control, occupation and use of school premises by governing bodies are important issues, but we do not believe that it is essential to have the detailed provisions set out in primary legislation. By transferring to regulations from guidance those provisions mainly relating to the process and conduct of statutory responsibilities, we believe that we shall create a more flexible framework of governance legislation that will allow any future minor adjustments to be made. This clause is part of our commitment to achieve that aim.

The clause provides for regulations to define the control of occupation and use of school premises by governing bodies during and outside school hours. As I said, ownership will remain unaffected. I can confirm that we shall be making no material changes to the ownership and control of school bodies. Therefore, the existing rights of the respective parties will be preserved. However, we shall consider whether some of the administrative detail—for example, measures setting up transfer of control agreements, and so on—may be candidates for deregulation.

This is an important clause because it allows us to put such provisions into regulations. Given those assurances, I hope that noble Lords will agree not to press their amendments.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for what was probably the clearest and most positive reassurance about local authorities that she has given during our debate on the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I thank the Minister for her generous reply and for the Ascension Day present that I eventually got. I am most grateful.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 136 and 137 not moved.]

Clause 30 agreed to.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

House adjourned at six minutes past eleven o'clock.