|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Chris Mole (Ipswich): Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that he slips smoothly from observations about head teachers to observations about teachers, whereas, clearly, the majority of classroom teachers will not read every one of the circulars from the Department for Education and Skills or have every regulation impact on them as individuals. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) suggested that, as a matter of security, teachers would read everything. Surely,
Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman should visit some of the head teachers in his constituency and ask the question that I recently asked a primary school head in my constituency: "Can you show me an example of the kind of bureaucracy that is causing teachers to resent the work load that they face at the moment?" She showed me the course planning required by Ofsted, which is set out in the frameworks and curricula provided by the Department. One example struck me as demonstrating the absurdity of what we ask of our teachers at the moment.
I was shown a course plan in which someone had planned physical education lessons for the term. It contained a detailed paragraph written at the start of term, weeks in advance, explaining a section of a PE lesson in which groups of pupils were doing star jumps. It contained phrases such as, "Divide into pairs. One child does star jumps while the other one counts, then we reverse. The other child does star jumps while the first one counts." Can the hon. Gentleman explain what possible benefit there is in expecting a primary teacher to sit down, probably in their own time, to work their way through the whole of a course plan for a term, setting out what each individual activity in an individual PE lesson will be? Do we not trust our teachers to take those decisions for themselves?
Is it any wonder that not only teachers but heads who have to supervise this convoluted process and deal with an in-box full of e-mails from the Department every dayand who have to recruit to replace younger teachers who are saying, "Enough, I'm leaving," after three or four years in the professionare over-burdened? I was due to visit a primary school in my constituency, but the head was not able to see me because he was too busy interviewing potential recruits to fill the gaps in his staff over the summer. That is what heads across the profession face at the moment, and it is an unwelcome and unnecessary burden that does nothing to help the education of the children.
James Purnell: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the work being done by the School Teachers Review Body on cutting bureaucracy and freeing teachers up to teach? Does he agree that that is a proper, sensible way of reducing bureaucracy, instead of the spin to which this proposal amounts? Does he agree with the recommendation that administrative support should be provided for teachers, which will require money? Given that he is not under the vow of silence on spending pledges that applies on the Opposition Front Bench, will he welcome the extra money announced today?
Chris Grayling: This goes to the heart of the difference between the Opposition and the Government over the public spending review. This is the question that must be asked: is it sensible to tax the North sea oil
The Minister's comment was enlightening. I visited a special school in south London recently, and I talked to the head there about the flow of bureaucracy from the Department. She opened up her in-box, and it was absolutely full of documents, contacts and communications from the Department. We all receive large numbers of e-mails in our daily lives, so we know how long it takes us to go through them and deal with them effectively. It cannot be a sensible use of time to expect a head teacher to deal with a huge swathe of e-mails containing detailed information about their responsibilities on a daily basis.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and the Liberal Democrats are going to back the proposal despite their reservations about subsection (3), as that subsection represents the nub of the problem: it is probably the most important subject of debate in relation to the Bill because it requires the Secretary of State before issuing a new regulation to pause for thought and try to understand the consequences for teachers and head teachers. On far too many occasions, the Government enforce new rules and regulations without the slightest understanding of the consequences of those measures in schools; of the time they will take; of the way in which they will disrupt the working life of the school; of the additional burden that they will place on individuals; and of how they will force people to give up their spare time, as many teachers do, to deal with the bureaucracy that they face in their daily lives. That is why the new clause deserves the backing of the House. We must take not just the window-dressing steps that the Minister's alternative amendment represents: we must take tangible steps to start reducing the work load and burden of bureaucracy that our teachers face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West was asked earlier what "less" means in this regard. I question whether we need to increase the burden of regulation on our schools at all. Why do we not start to implement sunset clauses, examining rules and regulations that we no longer need and considering how we can simplify and streamline provisions? There is no need to add to the burden of regulations year by year and pass statutory instrument after statutory instrument. We need to cut, rather than increase, the overall burden.
Chris Grayling: I am talking about the streamlining of provisions across the board. I shall not deal with specifics now[Interruption.] In relation to the example of the Ofsted inquiry that I gave earlier, I would not require primary teachers to plan courses to such a high degree. I would not require teachers in the foundation stage to complete convoluted course plans for three-year-old kids in a nursery. Those are two examples, for starters.
First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) on his attribution to the Secretary of State of an understanding that there must be a reduction in bureaucracy, although I think that he is being a little generous. When the Secretary of State appeared before the Select Committee, she argued that the cloud of new paperwork did not amount to an unnecessary burden on head teachers because they did not have to read it. There may be several pieces of paper coming in daily from the Departmentand doubtless many others from other quangos for which the Government are responsiblebut the Secretary of State said, with great confidence, that that was not a burden on schools because heads did not have to read them. If so, I fear that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) was overworking himself, and that he has friends who have overworked themselves as head teachers. However, I suspect that the Secretary of State, and not the hon. Gentleman, was wrong. Head teachers want to know what additional regulations, codes of practice and responsibilities will bear down on them every day. If they do not know, they cannot direct the information to the correct teacher or administrator.
My second point is about parliamentary questions. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the possibility of extracting information through parliamentary questions. I fear that that is not so. I have tried unsuccessfully to extract from the Department information about the additional legislative requirements placed on head teachers, governing bodies and Ofsted. In some cases, the Department has been able to answer my questions, but it has not been able to answer those about schools and head teachers. So many additional burdensnot only in the form of paper, but in the form of legislation and regulationtumble down on head teachers and schools that even the Department itself does not keep a record. It is unable to answer parliamentary questions without undue expense.
Like the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, I would like there to be further improvements to the new clause, and that is why I want it to be returned to the other place. It should apply not only to the Secretary of State and to LEAs but to that host of quangos and other bureaucracies that are involved in education. From the Health and Safety Commission through to the Ofsted, let them all endeavour to reduce the burden on head teachers, schools and school governors.
Subsection (3) again sets out a perfectly sensible requirement that already applies to other legislation and regulation that comes before the House. It would provide for a regulatory impact assessment. One wonders what the Secretary of State is about if she cannot see the consequence on schools of additional codes of practice, circulars or regulations. Many primary schools in my constituency have fewer than 100 pupils, and some have fewer than 50. That means that, however well or badly the Chancellor funds education, they do not have a huge number of teaching and administrative staff to deal with additional codes of practice, regulations and circulars. That point needs to be assessed by the Secretary of State and her officials. In every case, she needs to be advised that some regulation is over the top for a small school. Perhaps such regulation should not even apply to small schools.
From time to time, we recognise that some regulations are too much for the smallest businesses, so we should also recognise that some regulations are too much for the smallest schools. That is why I will support the Lords amendment. Like the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, I recognise that the Government could improve it further when it returns to the other place. I hope that they will do that and accept the amendment in the spirit in which it was meant. I hope that they will try to improve the existing provision rather than pressing their amendment, which would quite unnecessarily water our proposals down.