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Mr. Rifkind : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should consider its composition again before he repeats that statement. As we understand that the hon. Gentleman is now a believer, in some circumstances, in self- governing hospitals, he should not be upset at the prospect of self- governing schools, because the same principles apply. Wider interests may be represented by a board member who is a trade unionist or a local business man. It will not be the Secretary of State who decides that, but local people on the board itself. If Opposition Members are being so scurrilous, it implies that they do not have confidence in parents and teachers to select members of the local community who have a contribution to make to the board.
Mr. Bennett : The hon. Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke at Question Time for the English Home Department and Welsh Office last week, so I ask the hon. Gentleman not to give me that nonsense.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is surprising that Opposition Members should be so opposed to parents' rights? Does he agree that they should take a trip to Buckinghamshire, to the manor owned by their hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who will instruct them in the new-found consumerism that is Labour party policy? Does he agree also that putting power in the hands of the parents is the ultimate form of devolution?
Once a school becomes self-governing, the education authority will no longer have any responsibility for overseeing its day-to-day running. That duty will fall to its board of management, which will have responsibility for providing education, managing the school's staff and assets, and overseeing its day-to-day running.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing rose --
Mr. Rifkind : Perhaps I may be allowed to continue for a moment. I have given way several times, and many right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. I must show some self-discipline, much though I enjoy the hon. Lady's interventions.
The Bill requires boards of management to promote links with the local community and to encourage wider use of the school's facilities. It places on the board a duty to consult regularly with the parents of children at the school. Boards will be required to run schools in line with the description included in the articles of management. Self-governing schools will, of course, remain in the public sector and could not become fee- paying.
Clauses 13 to 19 set out the procedure to be followed by a school seeking to become self-governing. The schools not eligible to do so include nursery schools, special schools, and schools for which no school board has been established. The Bill provides for the procedure to be initiated in either of two ways--by the school board passing a resolution or by a written request signed by 10 per cent. of the parents. A secret postal ballot of parents of children at the school would have to be held within three months. That ballot will be funded by the Secretary of State and conducted by an independent body that he will appoint. If the majority of parents voting were in favour of self-governing status, proposals would have to be published and submitted to the Secretary of State. The Bill gives outside parties one month to make representations before a final decision is reached. If approval is given to the proposals, the school will become self -governing on a specified date, which is referred to in the Bill as the incorporation date.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : As the Secretary of State well knows, in many rural areas--not least, the Scottish islands--there may be only one secondary school but a large number of primary schools. What rights, if any, will the parents of children at the feeder primary schools have in a ballot relating to the wish of the secondary school to opt out? Parents of primary schoolchildren may have no choice if the only secondary school to which they can send their children is one that has already opted out of the local authority system.
Mr. Rifkind : The electorate will comprise parents of children already at the secondary school. However, I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that access to that school will not be denied to any youngsters living in the locality. The same rights available under the present parents' charter will continue to be available, which is something that the hon. Gentleman should welcome. No doubt those who vote at such an election will take account of that point when considering the proposal before them.
Column 631in the ballot to approve opting out. What percentage of the votes of the entire electorate will be required before he can give his approval?
Mr. Rifkind : As the hon. Gentleman says, the ballot does not itself decide the question of opting out ; it simply determines whether the process can reach the next stage. As Secretary of State, I would of course take into account the proportion who had voted in a ballot--which I accept is relevant--but I think it right to give most weight to the views of those who have chosen to exercise their vote either for or against the proposal.
Clauses 21 to 23 cover staff matters. The members of teaching and non- teaching staff of a school that becomes self-governing would transfer to the employment of the board of management, and their contracts of employment would also transfer unchanged. Once a school had given notice of its intention to hold a ballot of parents, the education authority could not appoint, transfer or dismiss staff without the consent of the school board.
Clause 24 provides that if an education authority has the duty or power to provide benefits or services for pupils in the area, such as school transport, it is not to treat pupils at self-governing schools any less favourably than those at schools under its management. Clauses 25 to 27 provide for the financing of self-governing schools. Grant will be paid direct to the board of management, and recovered by the Secretary of State from the local authority. We intend it to be in line with what the school could reasonably have expected to receive had it remained under the management of the education authority.
Mr. Darling : May I return to the point that I tried to press earlier? What will a board do if it simply cannot make ends meet on the grant that it receives from central Government because the average is not sufficient? Will it raise funds from other sources or will it be required to pay off staff? What will happen?
Mr. Rifkind : What will happen will be exactly the same as what happens at present if a school receives less than it would like from the education authority. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that this is an exceptional problem that would be relevant only to self-governing schools does not match the experience of successive schools under successive Governments of varying political complexions.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : The Secretary of State is a lawyer and I am not, and my question is purely interrogatory. He talks about the management of assets and of staff. Are there not likely to be continuing problems? By their very nature, the personnel of some of the governing bodies will change. Parents will go off to take jobs elsewhere, and there will not be continuity. I can imagine hideous legal cases going on for a long time and creating endless problems. As a lawyer, the Secretary of State may say that there is an answer, and I should like to hear it.
Mr. Rifkind : There is an answer : it is called by-elections, which happen regularly in local authorities. People change their employment if they are councillors, or they move to another part of the country, and it is necessary to fill vacancies. I have never heard that used as an argument against the whole structure of local democracy, and I do not see it as a fundamental problem.
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is not addressing the real issue. A large proportion, indeed the majority, of the board of management will be either teachers or co-opted members. Parents will form a minority, albeit a large minority. It is not realistic to suggest that on a given date all the members of a school board will suddenly decide to move their homes or employment.
Clauses 32 to 42 make provision regarding property. The basic intention is for all property rights, liabilites and obligations of an education authority relating to a school to be transferred to the school's board of management when it becomes self-governing. A commissioner for school assets will be appointed to assist the school board and the education authority to determine how property and rights over property are to be apportioned between the education authority and the school when it becomes self- governing.
Another basic provision is that after a school has given notice of its intention to hold a ballot on self-governing status, the education authority should not enter into any transaction involving the assets of the school, used for the purposes of that school, except with the consent of the school board. Nor is it expected to remove any property from the school without the consent of the school board.
I am occasionally asked whether the Government have a target for the number of schools that they wish to achieve self-governing status in Scotland. We have no such target and it would be wrong and foolish to attempt one, because the matter will be determined not by Government but by parents in the individual localities.
We are already able to point to certain significant advantages accruing to parents that have resulted purely from the Bill's publication. Already a number of important spokesmen are giving advice to their local authorities. For instance, councillor Malcolm Green, chairman of the education committee, has said to his colleagues in Strathclyde region :
"If we want to stop parents in Strathclyde going for self-governing schools, we will have to make sure that our schools are so acceptable to the parents that they will not wish to use the rights in the bill."
On 14 February, Mr. Fred Forrester of the EIS is reported to have said :
"Some fine tuning of authorities' policies could satisfy some groups of parents and reduce the impetus for opting out. In general there should be the greatest possible sensitivity to local parental opinion, even if this seems perverse when viewed from the education offices or the regional chambers."
Dr. Farquhar Mackintosh, who takes a much more balanced approach to all these matters, has been quoted as saying :
"If the possibility or threat of opting out helps to make education authorities more sensitive to local needs and more even handed in their dealings with schools that will clearly be a benefit." Even if the Bill has achieved nothing else, it has converted councillor Malcolm Green and Mr. Forrester of the EIS to the belief that education authorities should be sensitive to the interests of parents. I emphasise the simple point that until now an education authority has been able to say to parents, "Like it or lump it." Parents have had no alternative. Now there will be an alternative, and if the provision of education is made so much better and more
Column 633sensitive to parental wishes that the parents' wish to use the powers in the Bill is reduced I shall be entirely happy with such a development.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the proposals in the Bill will make it almost impossible for a local authority such as Strathclyde to rationalise in the way that he wants? As soon as any school is threatened with the possibility of closure it will be likely to plump for opting out. How does that square with the statement in the Bill that there will be no significant cost? The Secretary of State will have to pick up the cost of the opting-out schools, and Strathclyde will have to mop up the rest.
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman should consult the leader of the Democratic group on Strathclyde regional council. Councillor Mason has gone on record as supporting such proposals precisely to ensure that good schools are not closed by an intransigent authority. The hon. Gentleman might like to get his own act together before commenting further.
There will be no question of a school's being given self-governing status if its numbers are so few that it would not be viable. We are concerned with schools that are so popular that they are packed to the gunwales but whose closure has nevertheless been proposed by the education authority for reasons other than educational ones. [Interruption.] I am as intrigued as Opposition Members by the movements on my left, but no doubt there will be a rational explanation.
The other clauses are equally important and should, I think, be accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Clauses on further education form part II of the Bill. Clauses 48 to 54 provide for the appointment of new college councils for further education colleges managed by education authorities, which should be in place by April 1990. The Bill provides for a maximum membership of 20, of whom at least half will be nominees of employer organisations, and not more than one fifth will be members or employees of the local authorities. By October 1990 education authorities should have made arrangements to delegate further education functions to college councils and to provide the means for the councils to carry out those functions. The Bill also gives college councils the power to raise funds, accept gifts and retain income.
Clauses 55 to 57 give education authorities the power to conduct commercial activities through further education colleges. Authorities may set up companies to undertake these activities and may make loans to them if required. These powers are among functions that may be delegated to college councils. Education authorities are also to have the power to form companies to take over the management of colleges previously under the management of the authorities.
Dr. Godman : Given that there are now no parliamentary restraints on this Government, and, hence, that the Bill will go through all its stages unamended, may I ask the Secretary of State whether "employer organisations", in
Column 634clause 48(5)(a)(ii), includes the representatives of community businesses, producer co-operatives and worker co-operatives?
Mr. Rifkind : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his confidence about the smooth passage of the Bill, which, naturally, I hope will be vindicated. But who knows? The hon. Gentleman might just come up with a constructive amendment that we are able to accept. He must not be too surprised if that happens. I will certainly check the point that he has raised, but I expect that all those who are representative of wider community interests will be eligible to be considered for appointments of this kind. I hope that that is the point to which the hon. Gentleman was referring. I will look further into it.
Clause 61 makes provision for the abolition of the Scottish joint negotiating committee on further education, whose remit is to settle pay and conditions of service for teaching staff in colleges of further and higher education. That committee has not worked effectively, and it will be replaced by separate non-statutory arrangements for the two college sectors, which should enable the negotiating machinery to be more responsive to the requirements of both staff and management in the two sectors concerned.
Among the other provisions of the Bill, the establishment of privately sponsored technology academies will be another means of widening the range and diversity of schools available to parents. These academies will provide young people with access to a type of school that will equip them well for adult life and for work in an advanced industrial society. They will also offer an opportunity for raising standards and expectations of pupils, parents and teachers generally. The provision of this new type of school, with the teaching of technology and science a predominant theme, reflects the Government's awareness of the needs of industry and commerce and of the necessity to develop the qualities that employers in these fields seek. [Interruption.] I hope that Opposition Members are not suggesting that technology academies are some doctrinal proposal. [ Hon. Members :- - "Yes."] Well, those hon. Members might explain that to councillor Charles Gray, the leader of the Labour group on Strathclyde regional council, who tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade his more doctrinaire colleagues that such an academy would be a great asset to the city of Glasgow and to Strathclyde as a whole. I would pay more attention to councillor Gray's views on these matters than to those of some of his more doctrinaire colleagues.
I will happily give way to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) so that he may inform us whether he agrees with councillor Gray, or with the rest of the Labour group in Strathclyde region, on the question of technology academies.
Mr. Dewar : It is well known that there is a plan to found one of these technology academies in Glasgow. Can the Secretary of State say whether there are any on the stocks for other areas? For the sake of public knowledge, can he list the principal backers of the Glasgow academy that is planned?
Mr. Rifkind : We look forward to that. We will listen very carefully. Indeed, we shall go in for a detailed textual analysis to see whether we can divine the hon. Gentleman's real views on these matters.
As for the location of technology academies, there has been a very generous offer from Lord Forte to contribute towards the first of them. We are currently considering the possible location of such an academy, which might be in the west of Scotland or elsewhere. That is a matter on which I cannot report further at this stage.
When we announced last October our proposals for curriculum and assessment, I referred to the existing powers, which enabled me to prescribe general requirements for education authorities and which could be extended in order to put arrangements for national testing in primary schools on a formal basis. I am now taking the opportunity, in the Bill, to do this. Incidentally, it would appear that the public as a whole in Scotland are behind the Government in their proposals for national testing in primary schools. Some 50 per cent. of parents, when asked last May, said that they were in favour of these proposals. We are very pleased about that.
I have noted with interest also the views of the Opposition spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). It will be interesting if the hon. Member for Garscadden can tell us whether he agrees with the hon. Member for Blackburn, who is the shadow spokesman on education-- [Interruption.] Yes, in England and Wales, but it would be interesting to know whether these principles apply also in Scotland. On 26 November the hon. Gentleman said : "The performance of teachers in schools has always been judged and will always be judged, for judgment is inherent in choice. But in the absence of any formal system, schools will be judged by reputation and rumour, by crude examination results, by newspaper stories of prizegivings and sports successes on the one hand or of drug stories or truancy on the other."
He went on to describe a method of scrutinising exam results that could be used. He said that he would want a system
"to judge each individual school's own progress year by year to provide a twin focus by which schools not only compete with other schools but, more importantly, pitch themselves against their own previous performance."
He went on :
"I do want flagship schools"--
I ought to remind the House that these are the words of a Labour spokesman on education celebrating these schools--
"which, with similar resources to others, have achieved great things for their pupils, so that when, in the future, people think of comprehensives they do not think of an impersonal system, but of real schools, of paradigms of excellence, which can provide the best for all."
That, we are told, is the Labour party's policy on education and on testing in England and Wales. Is it the Labour party's policy on education and testing in Scotland? If so, why has it not said so? If not, why not? We wait to hear whether the EIS has given permission for the adoption of such a policy north of the border.
Last month we issued our consultation paper on school teachers' professional development into the 1990s. Like the members of other professions, teachers must constantly refresh and replenish their skills and knowledge. Only through a well-planned and properly managed programme of staff development can they
Column 636maintain their professional competence and expertise. To be effective, staff development programmes for teachers must start from an accurate identification of their needs, through assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching.
After the most careful consideration, we have decided to seek enabling powers, which, if necessary, can be used to ensure that appraisal within staff development programmes is introduced on a national basis. I hope that progress on appraisal can be achieved voluntarily, but I believe that reserve powers are necessary in case there should be continued resistance to appraisal despite its many benefits, which the more enlightened members of the teaching profession now readily recognise. I welcome in particular the statement of the SSTA, emphasising that, for its part, it has always been in favour of appraisal, and saying that it looks forward to developments in that direction over the next few weeks and months.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Does the Secretary of State not feel that it would have been better had the consultation process on appraisal taken place without clause 64? Surely this is the reverse of the normal process : consultation and then legislation. Now we are having legislation followed by consultation--indeed, the consultation process will not be completed until the end of June.
Mr. Rifkind : As I have just indicated, this is a purely enabling power. I hope that it will not have to be used, as will be the case if the response of the teaching profession as a whole follows that of the SSTA. I hope that the EIS will also give the proposal very serious consideration, because it is genuinely in the best interests of individual teachers that there should be a proper appraisal system. If that can be confirmed, a voluntary scheme will be available.
The Bill clarifies the power of education authorities to send children to special schools outwith Scotland and to pay the necessary fees and expenses. It is common for them to do that now, where the needs of a child are most appropriately catered for at a school not in Scotland that specialises in that child's particular learning difficulty. The practice represents a useful widening of educational choice for some of our most unfortunate youngsters. Unfortunately, a recent court case suggested that authorities may not have the requisite powers under the Act to place children in schools in other parts of the United Kingdom. We are now putting the position beyond doubt.
Clause 66 brings about the repeal of section 88 of the 1980 Act, which provided a form of procedure for the dismissal of teachers. The additional protection that that provision affords teachers against dismissal has been overtaken by the safeguard contained in the general employment protection legislation. This proposal is therefore appropriate.
Paragraph 1 of schedule 12 strengthens the management of the four ancient universities. At present, the courts of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews universities are chaired by the university rector who is
Column 637elected by the students. The courts of these universities recently considered whether that arrangement is still appropriate, given their responsibilities for the financial management of the universities. Three of the four courts concluded that it was not and they asked the Government to bring forward the proposals that are contained in this part of the Bill. Consequently, if the Bill is enacted, the chairman will be elected by the court from among the lay members. The rector would remain eligible for election, so long as he or she was not--
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : I think that the Secretary of State means schedule 10, not schedule 12. Schedule 10 is entitled "Minor and Consequential Amendments." Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us, by means of that careful textual analysis for which he is renowned, which substantive clause in the Bill provides the basis for which paragraph 1 of schedule 10 is a consequence? Does the Secretary of State agree that it is not a minor amendment to remove from the students of Scottish universities a right that they have held for many centuries and that they have traditionally discharged with great responsibility?
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. and learned Gentleman says that students have traditionally exercised that right with great responsibility. That has been true on many occasions. However, this is not a Government proposal. We have responded to a request from three of the four universities. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that in certain cases the rector has been overseas and has been unable physically to carry out that responsibility. On other occasions, rectors have not been interested in doing so. That led to the universities' proposal. However, I emphasise that the rector will still be eligible to be elected to chair the court. It will be for the court to decide who the chairman should be. I should have thought that a member of the Social and Liberal Democrats would be only too happy to endorse a democratic way of deciding who the chairman of the university court should be instead of its being determined on the court's behalf by another body.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Given the tenor of the other proposals, would it not have been appropriate to put such an important proposal as displacing the rector as chairman of the courts of the older universities to a ballot of the students in those universities?
The debate takes place against a wider educational debate. For some time we have been critical of the Opposition because of their unwillingness or inability to put forward an alternative educational philosophy. Recently I thought that that was no longer going to be a criticism that we could validly make. On behalf of his party, the hon. Member for Fife, Central produced a document that purports to be the Labour party's alternative policy.
As the hon. Member for Fife, Central would expect, my hon. Friends and I have studied the document with great
Column 638care and attention. It is a weighty document --21 pages. I thought that it would contain a mountain of new ideas, initiatives, policies and proposals. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) obviously expected that to be the case, but clearly he has not read it. If he chooses to read it, he will find that, of the 21 pages, a mere three and a half are about what the Labour party describes as its policy, while 17 pages contain an attempt to criticise the Government's policy. If we have to listen to the criticism that the Goverment's proposals are not consistent with the best traditions of Scottish education, I must point out that the evidence supplied by Opposition Members points in the opposite direction. At page 17 the hon. Member for Fife, Central says : "equality of opportunity lies at the heart of the Scottish education tradition."
The Conservative party strongly believes in equality of opportunity.
Although Opposition Members may not realise it, they do not believe in equality of opportunity. I have no better authority for saying that than the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). On 31 July 1983 the right hon. Gentleman, when talking about the Labour party, said :
"We are not the party of equality of opportunity. That is a view of society of the Conservative Party."
That is an interesting statement. The Labour party says in that document, quite rightly, that equality of opportunity is at the heart of what the Scottish educational tradition is all about, but the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook says that Socialists do not believe in equality of opportunity ; that is Tory policy and Tory philosophy.
That explains the final statement in the hon. Member for Fife, Central's policy document. I shall quote his words because they will be his epitaph. At page 17, on behalf of the Labour party, he says : "we have failed to properly develop the desires of parents to be more involved in their children's education ; and we have failed to embrace the real and changing needs of education into a radical and imaginative Agenda."
The Opposition have failed. We do not intend to do so.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : The Secretary of State plays with consummate skill, which comes from long practice, the role of a reasonable man struggling with an unreasonable brief. His problems have never been deeper than they are today. He complains bitterly that the Labour party's document deals at some length with the case for opting out. He may have read the 21 pages of text but he clearly did not read the title, which is
"Opting out--the Government's case examined."
Not surprisingly, he spent some time establishing to my satisfaction, as well as to the satisfaction of my hon. Friends, that there is no case for the Government's proposals. If the Secretary of State is a little worried about the fact that the Labour party is showing signs of developing self knowledge and a critical faculty, I suggest to him that that kind of humility is something that he should consider importing into Conservative thinking. It would do a great deal of good.
Column 639This is a dishonest Bill. Even its title is dishonest. All the talk about self-governing schools is spurious window- dressing. I am sorry that even the draftsmen are being dragged into the Government's propaganda war. The Bill adds to the confusion, because this is an inexact new category. On this occasion I should have preferred the Government to take a leaf out of the Department of Education and Science's book and talk about grant-maintained schools. That term would at least have had the virtue of being understandable, and I shall continue to use it.
The core of the Bill is opting out. The first contention is that no one in Scotland, wants it--not even the parents in whose name it has been introduced. I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), whose words I always follow with interest, told a rather sceptical Scottish Question Time on 1 March that
"the Hungarians expressed considerable admiration for the emphasis that we place on increasing competition in our education system".--[ Official Report, 1 March 1989 ; Vol. 148, c. 270.]
I am prepared to believe that one has to travel as far as Hungary to find support for the Bill, but I find it difficult to believe that a man is sitting on a Budapest bus, lost in envy and admiration for the activities of the hon. Member for Stirling. There must be some mistake.
Local government is almost united in its opposition. The teaching profession will have none of the new proposals. I know that there is a tendency for the Minister to treat one with contempt and express some hatred for the other but those are significant opinions and should not be swept aside, particularly when very strong reservations have been expressed by bodies in Scotland on whom the Minister has relied for his rather thin support in the past. For example, I have a press release from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. There are disputes about how representative that body is, but it has been prayed in aid by the Minister in the past. It states :
"the successful establishment of School Boards will be jeopardised by the undue haste with which the Government is pursuing these proposals."
The council goes on to say that it believes that
"comprehensive education might well be compromised by those proposals and that it would be more honest to have an open and informed debate about its successes and failures rather than allowing it to be incidentally eroded as a consequence of this proposed legislation."
The Scottish Consumer Council, which on some occasions has taken the Minister's side, refers to the Bill as "ill-timed" and states that its proposals
"do not offer parents a significant extension of choice". The kindest thing that I can say is that the Bill has very little support. It is significant and regrettable that almost all the research that the Minister has mounted in conjunction with the proposals has examined parental and public attitudes to the present system. He has made no attempt whatsoever to canvass the views of the wider Scottish public--parents, teachers or anyone else--about the proposed measures. According to the MVA consultancy study, £121,715 of public money has been spent, I suspect as a trawl in the hope that it will produce critical material that the Minister can use in a totally negative way to attack the present position. It is the brunt of the bunker mentality which has marked Scottish Office debate for a considerable time.