HC Deb 23 January 2003 vol 398 cc161-2WH
11. Paul Holmes (Chesterfield)

What plans the Government have to require schools to include pupil representatives as associate members of school governing bodies. [91815]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis)

From 1 September it will be possible for pupils and others to be appointed as associate members of school governing bodies, enabling them to attend full governing body meetings and to be members of governing body committees. We have no plans to make it compulsory for governing bodies to make such appointments.

Paul Holmes

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome it, at least in part. When I was teaching at my second school in the 1980s, we had an effective series of pupil school governors. Unfortunately, Lady Thatcher's Government did away with them.

Many schools today have effective school councils; they use pupils to interview candidates for middle management and even for headship posts, as my last school did. Ofsted is now proposing to take evidence from pupils when doing school inspections. In the light of all that, and if promoting active citizenship is to mean anything, will the Minister assure us that the Government will reconsider the lack of urgency in, or commitment to, the matter of requiring all schools to allow pupils to become full, active school governors?

Mr. Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman was teaching in the 1980s, I could have had the privilege of being one of his pupils. The substantive point is that the Government are not neutral on that issue. We believe that it is part of the school standards agenda actively to involve young people in making key decisions about schools. How the schools do that must be left to them. It would be entirely inappropriate for us to prescribe the models that should be deployed in those circumstances.

If young people are to be motivated, the school environment should reflect their needs; young people should be turned on to learning, not turned off. Their active engagement and involvement in key roles and in the decision-making process is vital for the school community and for the skills that we want young people to develop for later life.

Another point is that the Connexions service actively involves young people in the recruitment policy; they recruit personal advisers and, in some circumstances, are involved in selecting chief executives. We are making significant progress. It is important to raise educational standards—the matter should not be treated as a sideshow—and to ensure that young people feel positively about their educational experience.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I thank hon. Members for enduring this afternoon's technical vicissitudes. I repeat that I would be delighted to hear privately from hon. Members about today's proceedings. It has been difficult to balance the need to achieve breadth with the need to ensure that penetrating serial questions are asked. We shall have to think about that and decide whether we should attempt to take fewer questions. I am sure that all those matters will be reviewed.

I also announce that there is to be a special meeting of the all-party children group with members of the Youth Parliament, now that the question session has ended. It will take place in Committee Room 21, and I understand that any colleagues who would like to go along for a discussion about what has taken place will be extremely welcome.

I propose suspending the sitting for two minutes to allow people who are not staying for the debate to leave.

Sitting suspended.