Education and Inspections Bill
Mr.Gibb: I am grateful for that eleventh-minute intervention.The hon. Lady makes a valid point, but the amendment is designed tocreate consistency between the two systems and allow flexibility in payand conditions. That would deal with the very problem that shearticulatesdiffering costs of living in certain areas. Schoolswould be able to react tothat.
We note thatthere does not seem to be any objection to the Welsh Assembly settingpay and conditions in, for example, the NHS. It should therefore be forthe Welsh Assembly to decide how it implements the measures in theBill, especially as education is now a devolved matter, as the hon.Lady says.
AmendmentNo. 85 would ensure that the power to innovate could be granted tospecialist schools without necessarily putting their specialist statusin jeopardy. That is particularly important if a head teacher proposesto alter the curriculum. If redesignation under the specialist schoolsprogramme is prevented and a school loses the financial benefits of itsstatus, it could act as a disincentive to those considering a widerange of otherwise worthy proposals, such as those at Tavistock collegebrought to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge andWest Devon (Mr.Cox).
Amendment No.276 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to give a certificatesetting out reasons for refusing the power to innovate when it isrequested and denied. There needs to be transparency in the process ofapplying for an order if schools are to take full advantage ofit.
Amendment No. 277would increase the effectiveness of the power to innovate by allowingthe Secretary of State repeatedly to renew freedoms granted. Atpresent, the Secretary of State may renew an order lasting for threeyears on only one occasion. That is no longer necessary, and it meansthat a school may be granted a freedom for only six years, after whichit is required to reapply to continue its innovation further. Incircumstances in which the Secretary of State wishes an innovation tocontinue, it seems burdensome for schools to have to reapply.
Amendment No. 278 would alsohave important beneficial effects. It would require the Secretary ofState to
secure that advice and informationabout making anapplication
for thefreedom to innovate. LEAs would have to ensure that each maintainedschool in their area was aware of its ability to apply for the freedomto innovate. Ofsted inspections could suggest whether the school wasmaking appropriate use of powers under the relevant chapter, and schoolimprovement partners, which we debated earlier, would be required toconsider whether the powers were an appropriate method of raisingstandards in a particular school.
Finally, the amendment reflectsthe fact that very few schoolsaround 200have takenadvantage of the power to innovate under the 2002 Act. Many of thoseschools were piloting Government initiatives or proposals that went onto form the basis of legislative changes. Freedom to innovate should beconsidered a more fundamental tool that is available to the appropriatebodies for the purpose of raising standards in schools. That is thepurpose of the amendments, and I hope that they receive a favourablehearing from theMinister.
Mr.Leigh: To back up what my hon. Friend says, let me addthat we are all in favour of powers to innovate, but the powers arealready in the legislation and I do not believe that school governingbodies should have to consult their LEAs before applying for powers toinnovate. As my hon. Friend said, out of approximately 26,000 schoolsin England and Wales, only 178 have made use of the powers in the threeyears for which they have existedless than 1 per cent. ofschools. The Minister might want to explain why that figure is so low.My view is that the Bill just adds another layer ofbureaucracy.
AmendmentNo. 202, which I tabled, would require schools merely to inform LEAs.If a school wants the power to innovate, it should have the freedom todoso.
JimKnight: This is a wide-ranging series of amendments. Ishall start with amendment No. 275 and new clause 21. Hon. Members willbe aware that powers relating to teachers pay and conditionsare not transferred to the National Assembly for Wales under theGovernment of Wales Act 1998. Powers set out in sections 119 to 129 ofthe Education Act 2002 apply to the Secretary of State in respect ofboth Wales and England, and the amendments are incompatible with thatprimary legislation and would rewrite the devolution settlement, whichis not something the Committee should do lightly. It is important thatany changes that may be contemplated at local level are consideredagainst the background of pay policy as awhole.
The aim of theGovernments proposals is not to prevent the National Assemblyfrom considering power to innovate orders that relate toteachers pay and conditions. They do not do that. They allowwider consideration to be achieved in a sensible way, whereas theamendment would dispense with that practical and effective checkingmechanism without adding to the essentials of the Assemblyspowers. I therefore urge
Amendment No.85 would relax the requirements for redesignation under the specialistschools programme when the existence of a power to innovate order inrespect of schools was, or was perceived to be, a barrier todesignation for that school. If such a circumstance arises, theSecretary of State already has discretion to consider the individualcircumstances of schools that apply for redesignation, because thespecialist schools programme is not statutory. He could thereforeremove the barrier. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman not topress that amendment.
Through amendment No. 276, hon.Members would create a statutory duty on the Secretary of State and theNational Assembly, as appropriate, to provide a certificate to thequalifying body when an application was refused under the power toinnovate provisionsthe certificate setting out the reasons forthe refusal. When the Secretary of State decides not to grant an order,correspondence is sent to the qualifying body for the relevantapplication, setting out the decision and stating why it was made. Suchletters also contain advice on any freedoms and flexibilities that mayexist.
Introducing aduty to provide a certificate to the qualifying body would replace thesupportive and informative arrangements that are already in place witha bureaucratic process. For that reason, I urge the hon. Gentleman notto press theamendment.
AmendmentNo. 277 would provide an option to qualifying bodies with a power toinnovate order, whereby the order could be varied or renewed more thanonce. The orders are set for a limited period to allow an innovativeidea to be tested without compromising existing education legislation.If the Department decided subsequently that it did not want to reviewthe legislation in question, allowing individual orders to be extendedbeyond the current six-year limit of one renewal would create pocketsof legislative anomaly that might be difficult to monitor. That couldundermine the legislative framework that has been so carefullyscrutinised by the Committee over the last six weeks. I therefore urgehon. Members not to press theamendment.
AmendmentNo. 202 would change the duty to consult to a duty to inform. The powerto innovate has proved powerful in enabling and encouraging schools andlocal authorities to test innovative practice, but it was a key featureof that provision that before new ideas could be tested all those withan interest should be consulted. The outcome of that consultation is animportant part of any consideration of an application to liftregulatoryrequirements.
Merelyinforming local authorities and qualifying foundations would limit theinformation available on which to base a decisionfor example,whether other schools or students in the local authority or foundationmight be affected, especially those with special educational needs,about which there was considerable concern in the Committee and duringthe passage of the 2002 Act. I therefore ask hon. Members not to pressthe amendment.
Amendment No. 278 wouldintroduce statutory duties to provide advisory services and informationon powers to innovate. I welcome the enthusiasm for promoting knowledgeand understanding of the potential of powers to innovate to raisestandards in schools, and I assure the Committee that we already fullyexpect the suggested measure to be carried out, so it would beunnecessary and inappropriate to legislate to ensure that thathappened.
I could sayplenty more, but I hope that what I have said will persuade the hon.Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton not to press theamendment.
Mr.Gibb: I have listened carefully to the Minister, who madevalid points about some amendments but underestimated the importance ofthe power to innovate. It is a pity that so few schools have taken upthat power and I believe that amendment No. 278 would providemechanisms for using the power more often in our schools, so I shallpress that proposal to a Division at the appropriatetime.
I beg to askleave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave,withdrawn.
Amendmentproposed: No. 278, in schedule 16, page 221, line 32, at endinsert
3A (1) Chapter 1 ofEA 2002 is amended asfollows.
(2) After section 5insert
5ADuties to provide advisory services and information on powers toinnovate
(1) The Secretary ofState shall secure that advice and information about making anapplication for an order under section 2 is available free of charge toany qualifying body.
(2) Alocal education authority shall ensure that each maintained schoolwhich they maintain is aware of its ability to make an application foran order under section 2.
(3)When conducting an inspection the Chief Inspector may, if he considersit appropriate to do so, report on whether a maintained school ismaking appropriate use of the powers available under thischapter.
(4) School improvementpartners appointed under section 5 of the Education and Inspections Act2006 are required to consider whether an application for an order wouldbe appropriate measure for the purposes of raising standards at theschool..'.[Mr.Gibb.]
Questionput, That the amendment bemade:
TheCommittee divided: Ayes 5, Noes12.
Schedule 16, agreed to.
Powerto repeal references to local education authority andchildrens services authorityetc
Mr.Leigh: I beg to move amendment No. 381, in clause 147,page 99, line 11, leave out may' and insertshall'.
I wishto speak at great length on this important amendment to clause 147,which will abolish the words local education authority.Why is the Secretary of State being given the reserve power to abolishthat familiar phrase, which we all understand? Is it because he wantsthe task of amending every document simply because he anticipates thatat some time in the near future all maintained schools will exercisefull independence of management and that the education remit of localcouncils will not be necessary? Is that hisaim?
Mr.Leigh: Good! Or, rather, what a pity! My amendment wouldmerely substitute the word shall for the wordmay. What a pity I shall not have a chance to speak tomy new clause to introduce vouchers. Labour Members would have beenfoaming at the mouth at my longspeech.
I have had achance to put forward my alternative vision of education in thiscountry, which will one day lead to a great new crusade for allschools.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2006||Prepared 12 May 2006|