Education Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Twigg: There would be advantages to that alternative, but there would also be disadvantages. We certainly considered the option of a national formula when we were deciding how to take forward school funding. In the end, we decided to adopt one aspect: the guarantee to get money to schools. That is what the legislation does through the dedicated schools grant, but there is still local flexibility to meet particular local circumstances. I am not convinced that central Government are best placed to decide the budget of each and every school in the country. We can decide how much goes to each local area, but the decision about distributing that money within the local area is best taken locally.

Angela Watkinson: The method by which funding would be passed directly from Government to individual schools would need certain elements, such as a per-pupil element and elements to reflect local circumstances, such as areas of deprivation, large numbers of children without English as a first language and unusually high numbers of children with special needs. All sorts of elements would have to be taken into consideration, but it would still be possible to fund directly in that way.

Mr. Twigg: The hon. Lady is right that one could construct a formula, but it would inevitably be less flexible than allowing an element of local decision making. People often talk to me about mobility—pupils moving in and out of an area. Some schools have very high mobility, for many different reasons, and others have much lower levels.

Our national formula has no element at all to cover that issue, but the formula of some local authorities will have a local element for it. There is sense in saying that some areas exhibit much higher levels of pupil mobility than others and that those matters should be decided locally. We can, of course, consider adding that element to the national formula, but I am not convinced that we can get every little bit right in the national formula to meet the needs of more than 20,000 schools throughout the country. I am sure that that debate will continue.

I believe that I have dealt with all the points made by the hon. Member for Southport, but I shall happily respond to them again if he wants to return to them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 16 agreed to.

Clause 102 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 103

Removal of requirements for governors’ reports and parents’ meetings

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 14—Annual parents’ meeting—

    ‘(1)   It shall be left to the discretion of the governing body of each maintained school in England and Wales to decide whether or not to hold an annual parents’ meeting.

    (2)   The governing body and headteacher shall decide on the nature, length and style of any meeting which is to be held.’.

Angela Watkinson: I rise to speak to new clause 14, which relates to the annual meeting of the governing body and parents, to be held at their discretion.

In the interests of parental involvement and continued contact between teachers, governing bodies, parents and schools, the facility should be available to them to hold an annual parents’ and governors’ meeting if they want to do so. As governors, we have all been to annual meetings at which the teachers and governors have outnumbered the parents—very often, they do so by two to one. The ones who turn up are the usual suspects, but there may be circumstances in which there has been some crisis or something unusual has happened at the school. Indeed, the school might be doing exceptionally well, and the parents will want to come to the meeting.

We often take it as a compliment that parents do not come to the annual parents’ evening, and regard it as a sign that they are all very happy with what is going on in the school. If someone does have a serious complaint, they ensure that they are there. There should be an annual parents’ meeting if there is a demand for it in the circumstances, and it would be up to the school and the governors to test whether the parents wanted a parents’ evening. It is quite easy for them to test opinion to see whether there is a demand. They could decide that if x number of parents wanted to attend an annual parents’ meeting with the governors, they should be able to do so. If only individual parents wanted a meeting, they could have one on an individual basis with the head teacher or governors.

Subsection (2) of the new clause states:

    “The governing body and headteacher shall decide on the nature, length and style of any meeting which is to be held.”

Clearly, that would depend on the level of demand, the reason for wanting the meeting and the likely outcomes. I feel that the facility should be available so that anyone who needed it could take advantage of it.

3 pm

Dr. Pugh: Again, I think that the new clause falls under the heading of legislating for what can happen anyway. I do not think that anything in the Education Act 2002 bans schools from engaging in these rather strange rituals that have been so horrendously unsuccessful ever since the Conservatives introduced them. I should hate to create a presumption in their favour, because local authority after local authority
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has pleaded to discontinue them. They are extraordinarily wasteful of resources. I think that schools and head teachers have the capacity to hold meetings, and to decide on their nature, length, style and objectives. I remain unconvinced that new clause 14 is needed, because I cannot see that it would achieve much.

Mr. Stephen Twigg: As was reflected on Second Reading as well as in the other place, hon. Members across the House agree that parental engagement in education is critical. The only debate between us is about how best to achieve that. As the hon. Gentleman said, the governing body has the discretion to hold an annual parents’ meeting. Nothing in the Bill would prevent a school’s governing body from deciding that it wanted to maintain an annual meeting with parents.

We cannot accept the new clause for two reasons. First, it would be wrong to legislate to give a discretionary power to governing bodies when that discretion already exists. That may fetter governing bodies’ discretion in other areas. At present, governing bodies may do anything that appears to them to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of the conduct of the school. To provide specific powers in certain areas such as those proposed in the new clause could lead governing bodies to question their wide powers and to make them look for explicit powers in statute before doing anything. In addition, it could be construed by the courts as narrowing those wide powers.

Secondly, there is a specific point with regard to Wales that explains why we cannot accept the new clause. Governing bodies in Wales will still be required to hold an annual parents’ meeting under clause 103. The introduction of discretion for the governing body on whether to hold annual parents’ meetings would be in direct conflict with that requirement. One cannot impose a duty and give discretion over the same matter. In the light of what I and the hon. Member for Southport have said, I ask the hon. Lady not to press the new clause.

Angela Watkinson: The Minister has said that it is open to head teachers and governors to meet parents if they desire. It is clause 103 that removes the requirement, so that such a meeting need not take place but may take place if there is demand. In the circumstances, I shall not press the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 104 to 107 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 17 agreed to.

Clauses 108 to 117 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 18

Further amendments related to provisions of part 4

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Eighteenth schedule to the Bill.

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Angela Watkinson: Paragraph 2(6)(b) concerns access to buildings by special needs pupils. There are funding implications; huge costs are involved. I am a governor of a mixed comprehensive school that has several students who use wheelchairs. Because the school is on two floors, we had to install a lift at great expense, and it was incorporated into the extension that was built when the school obtained special status. There need to be special circumstances if we are to overcome expensive access problems such as installing lifts. Ramps on the ground floor are less expensive and most schools can manage to have those put in. The installation of lifts is a problem for mainstream schools that have students with special needs, particularly those with mobility problems who use wheelchairs or walking aids. For a while, we had to confine our wheelchair users to ground floor lessons. That is not real inclusion. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on that.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Derek Twigg): I know that the hon. Lady is very knowledgeable in this area and has done a lot of work involving special schools and handicapped children. The clause provides for a parent or carer to be served with a penalty notice or prosecuted if his or her child fails regularly to attend—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: May I help the Minister? The hon. Lady was talking about schedule 18, specifically paragraph 2(6)(b)(ii) and (iii).

Derek Twigg: I apologise. The best answer that I can give is to say that, when schools are built in future, we shall consider disabled access. If the hon. Lady does not mind, I shall write to her in more detail while we take the matter forward.

Angela Watkinson indicated assent.

Derek Twigg: I thank the hon. Lady.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 18 agreed to.

Clauses 118 and 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 75

Functions of agency

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: new clause 10—Duty of Training and Development Agency for Schools to consult other statutory bodies—

    ‘For the purpose of the exercise of their functions under section 75(2)(a) and (b), the Agency must consult the General Teaching Council in England and Wales and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.’.

New clause 16—Annual Report of Training and Development Agency for Schools to Parliament

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    ‘The Agency shall produce an annual report which shall be laid by the Secretary of State before both Houses of Parliament for approval by affirmative resolution.’.

Angela Watkinson: New clause 10 says:

    “For the purpose of the exercise of their functions under section 75(2)(a) and (b), the Agency”—

that is, the newly titled Training and Development Agency for Schools—

    “must consult the General Teaching Council in England and Wales and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.”

That would mean a consultation exercise to ensure that the objectives of all the bodies are held in common and the highest calibre of people exercise those powers, because their common aim is to assist the career development of not only teachers but the whole work force in schools. The work force are becoming more diverse as the functions in schools expand. The new clause is sensible, involving the General Teaching Council and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in making joint decisions after consultation about the exercise of the functions under the new power.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab): I have a few queries on clause stand part, which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to clear up. First, on the relationship between clauses 74 and 75, it is clear in the supporting notes that clause 75(2) extends the objectives of the Training and Development Agency for Schools listed in section 1(2) of the Education Act 1994 to include matters relating to all members of the school work force. In the Bill, the listed functions of the new agency do not include all the functions of the Teacher Training Agency. From memory, one of the TTA’s function is to secure the appropriate supply of teachers. That is not included in the Bill. After this Bill is enacted, are we to have two Acts, the Education 1994 Act and this one, both containing different functions for the new agency?

Secondly, clause 75(5) states:

    “For the purposes of this Part, the school workforce consists of the following members—

    (a) persons who work in schools”—

which is quite clear, and I presume includes all non-classroom workers—


    (b) persons not falling within paragraph (a) who are teachers or carry out work that consists of or includes teaching.”

That could include itinerant music teachers and people brought in for special reasons. It may even mean supply teachers. I do not know. I am all in favour of the revamped agency taking over responsibility for the whole school working community, but we are discussing an agency that will have responsibility for the training of the dinner staff, the caretakers and the people who work on the grounds. The provision will almost double the responsibilities of the new agency. Well, perhaps they will not increase by that much, but the provision will massively increase the agency’s responsibilities.

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I would like to hear from the Minister how he envisages the new agency expanding its staff, its required expertise and its budget to cover the increase, and whether he can assure me that the new agency will be competent to train groundsmen, for instance, in how to look after football pitches, or caretakers in how to unblock toilets. It is a huge increase and it is welcome, but I do not get any indication from the Bill of how the competencies of the new agency will change and expand to cope with it. Those questions will come up again in relation to schedule 13, where I think there are some more anomalies, but I will raise those when we discuss that schedule. I would welcome the Minister’s response to those points.

3.15 pm

Mr. Stephen Twigg: This is an important part of the Bill. The clause sets out the overarching framework for the activities of the Training and Development Agency for Schools. My hon. Friend has just asked about the remit of the agency, as set out in the Bill, and how it fits in with previous legislation, and particularly the 1994 Act. I can certainly assure him that the duty on the Secretary of State under section 11A of the 1994 Act remains in force. It remains the primary function of the agency to ensure that we see a continuing improvement in the standards of teaching and learning in our schools.

In response to the perfectly reasonable points that my hon. Friend raised, it is worth clarifying that the agency’s job is about making training available. It is not about the direct delivery of that training. It needs to build the capacity in the market and to do that in conjunction with a range of organisations, including some that the hon. Member for Upminster has set out in her new clause, to which I will come in a moment.

The role is therefore different. It addresses the needs of the whole school work force in the way that has been set out. The role is geared to raising standards in the classroom. For example, it is geared to learning assistants, sports specialists and others and to ensuring that the proper training, support and development is in place for those other members of staff, as well as for teachers in the classroom. The provision, and the associated work that is going on to ensure that it becomes a reality, is the product of a great deal of debate, discussion and engagement. The agency itself is keen to take on the role and believes that it has the capacity and resources to do so. Detailed work is going on between our Department and the agency to ensure that the resources are in place. I am happy to write to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) to set that out in much more detail and to copy that to all members of the Committee.

On new clause 10, I welcome the acknowledgement from the hon. Lady that, in exercising its functions, the new agency needs to work closely with other bodies with an interest in raising the standards of teaching and learning, such as the General Teaching Councils and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. However, the new clause is in danger of achieving precisely the opposite of what she wants. Similar, related amendments were first tabled in another place.
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In response, Carol Adams, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England, writing to my noble Friend Lord Filkin, said that

    “while we do not believe that these amendments have undermined the concrete and positive nature of our partnership working and contribution to the TTA, we are concerned that they may have had the potential to do so”.

I know that that view is shared by the agency.

In encouraging the agency to take an inclusive approach to its business, it is vital that we do not encumber it with bureaucratic procedures to an extent that could inhibit its ability to act. The new clause seeks to oblige the agency to consult various organisations and agencies before doing anything with the objective of raising the standard of teaching and other school work force activities, or promoting careers in the school work force. In practice, that would encompass most of what the agency’s routine funding is for and its other activities, and it could turn out to be—I am sure that this is unintended—a recipe for pointless red tape and wasted time and resources for all the bodies involved. If there is any doubt on the issue, let me assure hon. Members that the TTA already works closely, not only with ourselves, but with the General Teaching Councils and the QCA—for example, through the School Workforce Development Board and the school work force strategy group. Likewise, in the past, the TTA has always consulted those and other bodies when they were likely to have an interest in particular activities. The new body, the TDA, will obviously continue to do so in the future.

New clause 16 raises the important issue of parliamentary oversight of the TDA. The TTA is already accountable to Parliament in two main ways. First it is required to make an annual report on its activities to the Secretary of State, who in turn is required to lay the report before both Houses. Secondly, the agency is required to submit its accounts annually to the Secretary of State—and to the Comptroller and Auditor General—who in turn is required to lay them before both Houses with his report on them.

The provisions figure in schedule 1 of the 1994 Act, and they are re-enacted in schedule 13 of the Bill. We have proposed no lessening of parliamentary scrutiny of the finances and performance of the agency and it remains open to either House to debate or table questions on any of these documents. The mechanisms for parliamentary scrutiny, inquiry and, if need be, censure that I have described are proportionate to the importance of the work that the agency undertakes.

In the light of that, I do not believe that it is necessary for us to adopt the proposal that the hon. Lady has put before us. Both new clauses 10 and 16 may have unintended negative consequences, so I hope that she will reflect on what I have said and not press the motion to a Division.

Angela Watkinson: The remit of the new agency is clearly wider than that embraced by the General Teaching Council because the career development of other categories of staff in schools will be covered by the new agency, whereas the GTC has not traditionally
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involved itself in that. I would like to see career paths to enable teaching assistants, for example, to move into teaching and I wonder whether the General Teaching Council would be attracted to that and might give it as a reason for becoming involved with the new agency.

Given the Minister’s reassurance that new clause 16 is a duplication of what appears elsewhere in the Bill, I will not press my new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 77

Membership etc. of Agency

Angela Watkinson: I beg to move amendment No. 25, in clause 77, page 43, line 38, at end insert—

    ‘(1A)   In appointing the members of the Agency the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of including persons who appear to him—

      (a)   to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in—

      (i)   teaching in schools,

      (ii)   teaching in higher education (other than training teachers), or

      (iii)   training teachers, or

      (b)   to have held, and to have shown capacity in, any position carrying responsibility for—

      (i)   the provision of education in schools,

      (ii)   the provision of higher education (other than the training of teachers), or

      (iii)   the training of teachers; and in appointing such persons he shall have regard to the desirability of their being currently engaged in the provision of, or in carrying responsibility for, such matters.

    (1B)   In considering the appointment of members in accordance with subsection (1A) the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of including persons whose relevant experience or responsibility is, or was, in or in relation to—

      (a)   institutions of a denominational character, or

      (b)   teaching persons with special educational needs.’.

This amendment relates to appointing members to the agency and the circumstances surrounding their appointment. The inclusion of people with relevant expertise and experience would be essential in enabling the agency to exercise its functions. The appropriateness and relevance of qualification and experience of those people appointed to the agency is important and it must ensure that the greatest expertise is available to the agency so that standards can be driven up. Every element of the whole spectrum of school provision should be included in the field of expertise in the new agency.

Mr. Pickthall: I have some sympathy with what the hon. Lady is aiming at, but the list set out in the amendment seems to me a very limited one. I know that the phrase “desirability of including” is used, but it is nevertheless limited, particularly taking into account the expansion of the responsibilities of the agency, which we discussed a few moments ago. The provision also seems a bit incestuous, in that the list is entirely composed of those who have come through the route of teaching in schools or higher education.

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I do not therefore support the amendment, although I sympathise with the hon. Lady in her attempt to clarify what sorts of people will be required for the agency. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to what extent the list in the amendment would reflect the make-up of the Teacher Training Agency as it is now and as it has functioned for some years.

I have a simple question about the clause. It is very open ended in stating that the agency

    “is to consist of such number of members appointed by the Secretary of State as the Secretary of State may determine”.

That could mean any number of people, and could be added to whenever a Secretary of State thought fit. I am sure that the present Secretary of State would not do that, but the agency could be infinitely expandable; every time a problem came up someone would be bunged on to it. Eventually about 500 people would be sitting there trying to sort out a new range of responsibilities.

Why is there no upper limit on the number of people who can be members of the agency? Would it be advisable for the Minister to think about the range of suitable people, from business, trade unions and commerce—given the importance of teacher education to the welfare of the country—and to come up with a list of appropriate areas of expertise that might be represented in the new agency?

Mr. Stephen Twigg: Amendment No. 25 would re-enact a substantial portion of the 1994 Act, so the answer to my hon. Friend is that the list very much reflects the existing make-up of the TTA. However, in his opening remarks, he set out the argument against the amendment, which is that it is prescriptive, particularly in the context of the changing role and remit of the agency.

I take my hon. Friend’s point that, in extremis, the clause could result in a very large agency. However, we want to maintain flexibility, because of the challenges and the way they change over time. The agency may meet challenges in two or three years that even this Committee could not anticipate today. Clearly, it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the membership of the agency does not become unmanageable, and the Secretary of State will be the guardian of that.

My hon. Friend has raised an important point about direct representation of industry and employers in the agency’s work. It is important that we maintain the flexibility that our proposal sustains, rather than setting out in the Bill the detail of membership which, as he said, could be unnecessarily restrictive.

I do not suggest that the groups specified in the amendment or in the 1994 Act should be without representation; we want sufficient flexibility in the system to enable those groups with a close interest in the activities of the agency to be represented, although not at others’ expense. My fear is that the amendment would unnecessarily restrict our ability to proceed in that way. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

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