HL Deb 15 July 2004 vol 663 cc1493-7

Education Act 2002 (c. 32)

In section 21 of the Education Act 2002 (general responsibility for conduct of school), in subsection (3), after sub-paragraph (i) insert— (ia) children's services authority,

The noble Baroness

said: My Lords, I fear that I shall detain your Lordships a little while with this amendment because it is fairly substantive. It seeks, again, to deal with the issue of schools being a partner in co-operation under Clause 7. However, on this occasion, because we have suggested an amendment to Schedule 1 and because at Third Reading Schedule 1 comes at the very end of the Bill, we are now moving this amendment at the end of the Bill.

What we are suggesting here affects Section 21 of the Education Act 2002. That section enables regulations to be made which define the respective roles and responsibilities of local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers in relation to the conduct of the school either generally or in respect of particular matters. The Minister may remember that I have, from time to time, asked her when the draft regulations under this section are likely to be presented for consultation. By the look of it, she is waving them at me now. But that is a separate issue and I do not wish to pursue it at present.

The amendment would add the children's services authority to the list which includes the local education authority, governing body and head teacher. I admit that it is a further attempt to get schools bound into the co-operation arrangements provided under Clause 7 of this Bill.

Many of us were surprised, especially in view of the Government's wish to devolve local education responsibilities to individual schools, that schools are not mentioned explicitly in the Bill as having a duty to co-operate. Amendment No. 48 allows regulations to be made which will mutually define the roles of the children's services authority and the school governing body under the overriding principle that the conduct of the school shall be under the direction of the school governing body.

Perhaps all comment about school participation in the co-operation arrangements should be prefaced with the view that the vast majority—perhaps as many as 99 per cent—of schools will willingly participate in the arrangements. To use the words of the DfES Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners: Every school—not just extended schools—should do their utmost to serve the needs of the whole child. Indeed, the five-year strategy envisages a system of interlinked and interdependent schools, with children's services and education seen as part of one whole.

So far, the Minister has resisted amending Clause 7 to bring schools fully into the co-operation arrangements on the grounds that Clause 7 is about strategic partners and that schools, although important players in cooperation, are not strategic partners. In Committee, she said: we do not believe that it is appropriate to expect every small primary school to be involved in detailed strategic decision making. That is the role of the local education authority, which is well placed to represent schools as a whole and, by keeping in contact with them, to ensure that their views are sought and passed back appropriately.—[Official Report. 20/5/04; col. 948.] The Minister then went on to say that statutory guidance will make it clear that the children's services authority must engage with schools and colleges, including academies and city technology colleges. In turn, she suggested that the local education authority should issue tailored guidance which reflects the local arrangements that have been set up for co-operation. Earlier in the debate, she also pointed out that representative schools could be directly involved as relevant partners.

On Report, I moved Amendment No. 42, which asked that schools should take account of the guidance from the LEA in relation to the co-operation arrangements. The Minister rejected that amendment. She said that, as schools do not have a duty to participate in co-operation arrangements, they cannot be placed under a duty to take account of guidance about the co-operation arrangements. The Minister stated that the new framework enabled by the Bill provides for, new inspections, area reviews, the new relationship we are seeking with schools and extended schools and our ambition to support … services and see the child in a broader way.—[Official Report, 17/6/04; col. 1002.]

The Minister reminded the House that schools are already judged by the extent and effectiveness of their partnership with others. In particular, inspectors must evaluate and report on the quality of links with local communities and other schools. She continued: Using the framework of inspection and what we expect of schools without placing the burden—it would be resisted with good reason by this House—we can secure the cultural change and engage schools properly through the co-operation agenda.—[Official Report, 17/6/04; co1.1003]

6.45 p.m.

It would seem that a clear statement by Parliament that schools should participate in co-operation arrangements would be the simplest and most straightforward way of saying that schools should participate in co-operation arrangements. Schools which wish to become extended schools are most likely to want to participate in co-operation arrangements. Although the five-year plan has statements such as, "We want every secondary school to become an extended school", in reality that would mean, to paraphrase the plan, that they will provide some study support activities before and after school and at lunch times; let out rooms to enable community use of school facilities and encourage family learning.

That is not the sort of co-operation envisaged in the Bill. Indeed, these are not the services which are needed by students likely to fall through the gap. Services to support the hardest to reach young people are likely to be provided in the 240 "full service" extended schools, which we hope will be set up by 2006 as promised in the five-year plan. This amounts to barely more than 10 per cent of secondary schools and 1 per cent of the total number of schools.

The likelihood is that most children who need such services will not be attending such a school where the services they need are on site. The full co-operation of the home, non-extended school will be required if young people are to take advantage of the available services. If the schools do not want to co-operate, those children will continue to fall through the gap. It is for that reason that we should like to see the Bill amended and for it to be made clear that all schools should co-operate. Amending Schedule 1 in the way suggested would enable that to take place. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, as the noble Baroness indicated, we have had discussions on this both in Committee and on Report. I was grateful for her recap of what I said because it means that I do not have to repeat it.

It is the case that we want these arrangements to be strategic. This is about joint planning, joint commissioning, sharing resources and pooling budgets. That is why we have listed the relevant partners and placed them under a duty to co-operate with these arrangements at a strategic level because they are strategic level bodies.

However, as the noble Baroness indicated, I said that schools and other frontline delivery agents are central to the delivery of the outcomes for children and young people, and that children's services authorities and relevant partners will need to consider how schools and other providers can be effectively involved in the planning and delivery of services for children and young people.

Our approach to this is to make it clear in statutory guidance that schools should be involved in whatever way is most appropriate locally. That might be directly through a local partnership body or through existing collaborative and consultative mechanisms. We just do not believe that it is a matter for central prescription but rather something that should be left to local decision making as appropriate depending on the type of school, the way in which the schools are operated, and so forth.

I do not accept—I know that the noble Baroness did not say this but I feel that perhaps it is implied—that schools will be reluctant to engage with this. We can talk about extended schools. As she knows, I have a five-hour speech on extended schools ready at any point. I shall resist.

Schools have thought about how best to support not only the children within their own school community but the community at large, within their own resources; they have thought about the way in which they organise themselves to work collaboratively with other services and to recognise that children arrive with all the baggage from the day before, good or bad, and they have thought about how best to be able to support children in a broader way.

The information-sharing database and the common assessment framework will help to involve schools more appropriately. We are also considering other ways to encourage schools in effective partnership. This morning my right honourable friend Margaret Hodge made a speech to the inter-agency group, which looked at the way in which the inspection arrangements and the new arrangements we propose could perhaps be used to look at how schools contribute to the five outcomes that we have outlined as being important.

There are lots of different ways in which we want to involve schools. The difference is that we are not going the route of central prescription through legislation but rather allowing schools to do things collaboratively and recognising, as the noble Baroness does, that within the five-year strategy the ways in which schools might take on more functions, as, indeed, some schools already are by delegation from local authorities, gives us a really good opportunity to develop their role more fully. I hope the noble Baroness will see, if not this evening then as this rolls out, that the amendment is unnecessary. I completely agree with her that engaging schools is important. We just think that there is probably an easier and better way.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, at this hour I certainly shall not press the amendment. I should like to leave two thoughts with the Minister. First, should not Section 21 of the Education Act 2002 be amended to take account of the existence of children's services authorities? Secondly, I would like her to ponder the changing role of schools within the community as envisaged by the Government. Many schools are being created as more independent and autonomous entities. It is very important that, as regards the Children Act and the setting up of children's services authorities, schools play a part.

When we argued the case, the Minister always argued, "Yes, but the local education authorities are there as the strategic partners. They are the corporate parents in relation to looked-after children and so on". In many cases, the local education authority is going to play a very small part, and sometimes no part whatever, in the government of the school. In such cases schools themselves will have to be brought in as partners. There is no mechanism within the Act for doing that. So I should like the Minister to ponder that as the Bill goes on to the other place and to think about whether it might not be appropriate.

We are suggesting a very minor change—one that the Government should, arguably, be making anyway. They have set up a new institution, the children's services authority, which should be accommodated within the framework of the Education Act 2002. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 49:

Line 6, after "panels," insert "the defence of reasonable punishment,"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

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