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Clause 35

Governing bodies

Lords amendment: No. 42, in page 31, line 22, at beginning insert
("Subject to section (Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body),")

6.15 pm

Mr. Byers: I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 43 to 49 and the Government motions to disagree.

Mr. Byers: It is important that each school should have its own governing body. It would be inappropriate to group school governing bodies as the Lords amendments propose. We do not want to stop governing bodies co-operating with each other. Many hon. Members have infant and junior schools in their constituencies that co-operate on joint matters. There is nothing to stop them co-operating on matters to do with site maintenance or school buildings, for example. We are not impeding such beneficial co-operation, which should take place between schools on the same site.

However, each school should have its own governing body because governing bodies have a particular responsibility for raising standards. We do not want them to be distracted from that task, and their lines of accountability should not be blurred. We are concerned that grouping governing bodies will blur the necessary accountability for raising standards. Each school should have its own governing body that is accountable for its standards.

Mrs. Browning: Will the Minister refresh my memory about the situation in education action zones? Do the Government's proposals not allow education action zones to do what the amendment asks? In an education action zone, a group of schools could decide to form a mutual governing body and disapply their individual governing bodies. The Minister claims to be serious about standards. Why would that affect standards in the maintained sector, but not in education action zones? Will he clarify his thinking on that matter?

Mr. Byers: The position in education action zones is different because of the overall powers that we intend to give the zones. It is not just a question of allowing governing bodies to cede their powers to the education action zone forum, which they can do if they want. The important point is that the governing body can decide to hand over all or some of its powers to the forum. That is different from individual schools having grouped governing bodies. The education action zone will have a range of other provisions to do with disapplying national agreements on teachers' pay and conditions or the national curriculum if that is felt appropriate.

The point of the action zone is to enable all the initiatives to come together. That will not be the case with the grouping of governing bodies. Most important, the education action zone forum will be responsible for laying

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down the standards and targets to be achieved by schools in a zone. We are not comparing like with like. The grouping of school governing bodies is separate from the powers that we intend to give schools and governing bodies in education action zones.

It is true, though, that we intend to give new powers to governing bodies. It is because we are doing so, particularly in the raising of standards, that we feel that each school should have its own governing body. There will be a new duty on governors to run the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement. Governing bodies will need to set targets for their schools and agree them with the local education authority for inclusion in the education development plan. Obviously, a governing body will have to have due regard to the new code of practice that we want to be established between LEAs and individual schools. All those new responsibilities can be effectively discharged only if a single governing body is responsible for driving up standards in the way that we expect.

In addition, it is important that parents should have a greater say on school governing bodies, which is why we have provided for greater emphasis on and a greater role for parents in the new membership of governing bodies. Our concern is that grouping governing bodies will reduce the number, and therefore dilute the proportion, of parents serving on them. It is not in the interests of parents to group governing bodies as the House of Lords has suggested.

It is not just the Government who feel that it is appropriate to have a single governing body for each school. The National Association of Head Teachers, which I think most hon. Members would agree has a legitimate view to express on this item, fully supports the Government's proposals to reject the proposal to group governing bodies. It understands that, if one governing body is responsible for two schools and two head teachers, there would be confusion about which head teacher is responsible. The House should disagree with the Lords amendment in order to cut through that uncertainty and such blurred lines of accountability.

Governors have a key role to play in the standards agenda. That is why, for the first time this year, we have provided funds to enable governors to attend literacy training courses so that they know how teachers should be delivering the literacy strategy in primary schools when it starts in September. We also intend to ensure that, next year, when we launch the numeracy strategy, governors will be able to take part in training.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Minister clarify the type of circumstances in which he would envisage that the view of a single governing body on how to raise standards would be overridden by a local education authority?

Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman tries to take me down an avenue that is not incorporated in the amendments. Provided that it is in order, I shall try to address the issue to which he has referred.

In the context of the education development plan, a school and the LEA will have to agree targets. If there is disagreement, it will be registered in the plan and sent to the Secretary of State, who can then agree either with the school or with the LEA. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence in allowing me to reply to that intervention.

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The Government take the view that it is important to have a single governing body for each school. Grouping governing bodies may be convenient for matters that can be dealt with in co-operation, such as those concerning buildings and premises and site management, but such matters are not key functions of a school governing body. The key task and role of a governing body at the present time must be to raise standards in the schools for which they have responsibility. That will occur only if each school has its own governing body. It is for those reasons that I ask the House to disagree with the Lords amendment.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): I can scarcely claim to rise in the House as an expert. Anybody who knows me well appreciates that I am an expert in nothing whatever. However, I am an enthusiast for certain things, and one of them is individual success stories in my constituency--not least that of St. Alphege Church of England school.

While I have the opportunity of discussing the school, which provides nursery, infant and junior education, I should like to pay tribute to Mr. Brian Curran, the head teacher of the junior school, and to my very good friend Councillor Ron Herd, who has been the chairman of governors for a little while and a governor for some time longer. I also express my appreciation to Baroness Seccombe, who successfully moved the amendment in another place.

I pay tribute to the staff, parents and friends of St. Alphege school, and particularly to Mrs. Elaine Winterbottom, the headmistress of the infant school, who is shortly to retire after 25 years as headmistress. I crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to extend that tribute.

Mrs. Winterbottom trained as a nursery and infant school teacher at Kingston-upon-Hull training college, and taught at schools in Lancashire and Hull before moving to Solihull. She has been teaching for 30 years in the borough of Solihull, beginning with one year as a home tutor and three years at Ulverley infant school. Twenty-six years ago, she was appointed deputy head of St. Alphege Church of England junior and infant school, and one year later became head teacher of the infant school, when the junior school moved to its present site in Widney Manor road. Those 26 years were quite interesting, because, at material times, I was then a relatively new borough councillor in Solihull--as indeed was the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who is not in his place; he is about his silent duties in connection with this debate.

The infant school rapidly expanded from three to six classes and opened one of the first purpose-built nursery units in the borough. As head of a Church school, it is not surprising that Elaine Winterbottom has been particularly involved in the standing advisory committee on religious education--SACRE. In 1989, she became a member of the Church of England committee on SACRE and was involved in writing the handbook for religious education in infant and junior schools. Under her leadership, St. Alphege infant school has developed strong links with parents, the community and the Church.

Parental involvement in the school has thrived with the formation of the Friends of St. Alphege Schools and the growth of parental support in the classroom. Regular events involve the wider community, such as the very

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popular songs of praise for local elderly people and the St. Alphege festival. Mrs. Winterbottom retires with the utmost good wishes and gratitude of the people of Solihull.

Turning to the merits of this debate--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I hope that that graceless intervention by Labour Members does not signal any detraction from the tribute that I have paid.

St. Alphege is a Church of England aided school which has a single governing body. As far as we can tell, in one form or another, there have been sole administrators of the parish school since Elizabethan times--certainly since 1862. At various stages, there were separate schools for boys and girls, but on other dates they were amalgamated. In 1973, the original one-form entry site became too small for an expansion to two-form entry, and the junior department moved to another site half a mile away. The walk through parkland between the two sites is one of the most pleasant in Solihull. Through all those changes, one governing body has represented continuity and an attachment to St. Alphege parish church.

That governing body wishes to remain one single body, for what we consider to be one school--albeit on two sites, with two heads--for the following reasons. The first reason is to retain continuity, and the second is that any child given entry at the nursery stage is given the right of attendance through to the end of junior school; the admission rules are administered as for one school.

Thirdly, actions in the nursery and infant schools affect the junior school. For instance, because of the enormous parental pressure for entry to the school, and the need to accommodate classes of 30, the lower school is considering expanding to take a three-form entry. That means that the junior school will have to follow suit.

Fourthly, two school governing bodies, although one might contain the same foundation governors, would inevitably drift apart. Two bodies would increase administration difficulties and costs. St. Alphege is the school of one parish; we wish it to be administered as one.

Fifthly, the governors of an aided school are responsible for 15 per cent. of certain costs, and as a single body we administer moneys that we have accrued for that purpose. Sixthly, and not least, there is, I am happy to say, one parent-teacher "friends" organisation.

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