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House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, Mrs. Joan Humble
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Hayes, Mr. John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Knight, Jim (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Miller, Mrs. Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Sharma, Mr. Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Simon, Mr. Siôn (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol, West) (LD)
Chris Shaw, James Davies, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee


John Dunford, Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders
Ms Chris Keates, General Secretary, NASUWT
John Bangs, Assistant Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 5 March 2009


[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
AS 09 Alliance for Inclusive Education
AS 10 National Union of Teachers
9 pm
The Chairman: Good morning, and thank you all for coming to give evidence. I hope that you will be able to keep your answers succinct so that we can cover as much ground as possible before 10.25 am, when we have to adjourn this sitting. Please briefly introduce yourselves.
John Dunford: I am general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents secondary school leaders and college leaders, predominantly sixth-form college leaders.
Chris Keates: I am the general secretary of the NASUWT, which represents teachers and head teachers across the UK.
John Bangs: I am assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, with responsibility for education, equalities and professional development.
Q 220220Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Welcome to our proceedings. It is very good of you to come in. One theme that runs through the briefings on the Bill from all three unions is that it seems to increase the bureaucratic burdens on schools. John Dunford, in the ASCL’s submission you talk about an unnecessary increase in bureaucracy and work load for school and college leaders and diminished powers for school and college leaders with regard to day-to-day management. Similar concerns are expressed in the brief from the NUT, which has reservations about making children’s trust boards statutory and would oppose any requirement on schools to provide separate reports on pupil behaviour to them. Will each of you comment on your overall concerns about increased bureaucratic burdens on school leaders and teachers?
John Dunford: Our overall concern about the Bill is that it is part of a massive regulatory climate in which schools work, which has increased hugely over the years. Every time we get an education Act—we get one or two every year and so have had at least 20 in the past 20 years—each one has increased the duties on schools and the bureaucratic burden, particularly on head teachers, to fill in forms and make reports on this, that and the other. We accept our duty as public servants to be accountable for spending public money efficiently and effectively, but we want to do that in a climate that is as unbureaucratic as possible so that we can really get on with the job you pay us to do.
Chris Keates: As you rightly observed, Nick, by referring only to the ASCL and the NUT, the NASUWT has not taken quite the same line: we are actually broadly supportive of the Bill’s aim, which is to bring coherence right across an important public service, acknowledging that schools alone cannot meet all the needs of children and young people and therefore have to be part of a much tighter community.
We are very supportive of regulating children’s trusts and many of the other regulatory functions in the Bill. We do not see it as imposing additional burdens on schools; most people would say that they are doing those things already—that they are co-operating. Our view is that if they are doing those things already, then the regulation is not going to place an additional burden. There is no reason why a regulatory provision, for example on children’s trusts, should be a burden on schools. It simply places a duty on them to co-operate, across the local authority, with the young person’s plan and surely that has to be right when you are trying to make a service more coherent. I cannot see huge bureaucracy coming from that, but clearly schools will have to play their part in that structure.
John Bangs: There are a number of points, but I would first like to thank the Bill team. Conversations with them have been extremely productive and there has been a genuine listening process. That has happened in previous Bills, but I think that this has been one of the best conversations we have had.
In parts, there is too much bureaucracy. In parts, there are sections which are very important and we have chosen not to comment on them or promote them, particularly on apprenticeships for example—that is a very important section. There are other themes that run through the Bill as well: the establishment of three new agencies; one non-ministerial Government Department; and, if children’s trusts become statutory, a set of local agencies as well. We therefore see the development of agencies as a theme running through the Bill.
I agree with John, in part, about the issue of work load as it bears down on teachers. There is an issue, a potential consequence, of work load, but in a sense we think—and we will comment if there are any questions on those particular areas—that a teacher’s professional judgment is likely to be undermined in certain aspects, particularly under the behaviour sections of the Bill. We would obviously like to have the opportunity to comment on those. So there are the issues of professional judgment and agencies, and in part I agree with John about the work load.
Q 221Mr. Gibb: I would like to ask you about another issue: the provisions relating to behaviour and the new powers for schools. What is your view of those and do you think that they deal with the problem of proportionality, which I understand is a concern for teachers. The phrase in the existing legislation is that teachers have to “act proportionately”. Of course, they are going to want to act proportionately and do act proportionately. However, the requirement in the legislation to act proportionately is, I understand, a cause of uncertainty in the profession that prohibits and is a disincentive to using those powers. Will you let the Committee have your views about the current provisions in the Bill relating to behaviour and the existing legislative structure?
John Dunford: We welcome the additional search powers, but we refer to some very specific issues in our briefing and I very much hope that the Committee considers them—for example, the number and gender of teachers who have to be with children when they are searched. I presume you do not want me to go into that level of detail in this general session. In general terms, we welcome the search powers, but please look carefully at what we say in our briefing, because we think that you could actually make it more difficult, instead of less difficult, which is what you are trying to do.
On the use of force, we are clear that if there is a major use of force then that is something the school would wish to communicate about with a parent, and schools already do that. If, on the other hand, a teacher goes into the playground to break up a fight and does so, we do not want to get into a position where that kind of thing has to be reported to parents—we should just deal with it and get on with life. It might be on the face of the Bill or it might be in guidance, but we want to make it clear that that duty relates only to significant use of force—if you feel that that can be properly defined. Otherwise, frankly, we would not want another legal duty in this area.
Chris Keates: We are broadly supportive of both the power to search and reporting the use of force. As for bureaucracy and workload, there are problems with these in schools but we do not believe that they are generated by regulation or will be generated by regulation in the Bill. This Committee is obviously not hearing details about what generates bureaucracy in schools, but our extensive work on that shows that it does not come from regulation. It is normally generated internally or by things such as the inspection process.
We are supportive of the power to search—particularly where the Bill specifies which areas can be the subject of search. We think that that protects schools against claims of abuse of the rights of the child. There is already a power to search for offensive weapons and schools are putting in systems to deal with that. It has not been a matter raised with us as a cause for concern, either by our school leader members or teacher members. We think that the power is going to be helpful to teachers.
In terms of reporting the use of force, why would schools not want to record and report any significant incident with the use of force? Schools have a health and safety legal duty to protect employees and pupils. Therefore, recording is going to be an important part of protection for the school, for the individual staff and the young people. Schools ought to be collecting that kind of data. How do you analyse and make strategic and operational decisions about how to deal with issues arising in the school if you have no data to back them up? Recording incidents, assaults and bullying allows the school to analyse where the pressure points are. Are there particular things about the way the school is organised? Are there problems in particular areas?
We welcome the clarity and transparency that this will bring. The recording system need not be highly bureaucratic. We have seen some very simple systems where teachers can enter the data quite easily, and would have to do so anyway if there were a serious incident. A system where it can be entered once and then analysed and reported appropriately would be a good move.
Though it is right to report incidents of this sort to parents, we think it is important that the school has the flexibility to determine how that is done. For example, there could be a child who is at risk of abuse at home, and reporting directly to the parent about an incident might put that child at even further risk of abuse from the family. The school must have the flexibility to say that it would report to the parent but through an agency that might already be dealing with the family, such as social services. So, reporting to parents is the one area where we think clarification would be helpful.
John Bangs: We have a slightly different view on part 11 on pupil behaviour. We supported the provision in the Education Act 1996 to protect teachers in relation to physical restraint. If there is any lobbying to water that down from other groups during this Bill, we will set up a counter-lobby to resist it. That was a necessary protection because teachers were being accused of child abuse when they were in fact intervening to protect children from their own actions and the impact of their actions on others. There is a theme running from that: teachers have to be protected sometimes in their use of professional judgment. The term “power” is very important when it comes to the search for weapons. If the head teacher or teacher believes, in extremis, that they had to search immediately for a weapon, they should not be subject to prosecution for doing so.
The reference in the accompanying notes to the Bill is to health and safety. That is absolutely right. It should be health and safety. Therefore, lumping together alcohol, drugs and stolen property, and simply describing that as an extension of the power to search without the necessary test—the protection of the teacher’s professional judgment when used to seek to protect other pupils and possibly staff—is partial and it could also kick back on the teacher themselves, because the burden of proof rests on the teacher’s shoulders that they were right to search for stolen property. We would like, and we have argued for this during discussions in the ministerial stakeholders group, a clause additional to the existing clauses on offensive weapons that does not specify areas, but says that when teachers search they do so on the grounds of imminent harm to pupils. That meets the test set out in the explanatory notes too, which is about health and safety.
We are concerned that the more you put in to specify items, the more you leave out. For example, if a teacher decides that a child has in their bag 200 cheap cigarettes from abroad and is going to sell them there and then, they are not covered by the Bill. If a teacher decides that some material brought in by a student is offensive, such as violent pornography, for example, it is not covered in the Bill but it could be dangerous and harmful to other pupils. We think that there should be a test within this clause to back teachers’ professional judgment when they decide to search, because they cannot call in the police or the designated security guard because there is not enough time, and the student resists. We have been pressing hard for that.
There is another aspect, as we are on behaviour and I am very glad that Mr. Gibb raised this area, and that is the burden of school behaviour partnerships. Incidentally, we agree that there should be a requirement to have school behaviour partnerships. Our concern is the requirement to report to children’s trusts, and the statutory requirements of children’s trusts may come up later. We do not believe that collections of schools or individual school governing bodies should be required to report. It is not simply that it is an additional burden. We just do not understand the purpose. Reporting to a statutory body has to have some consequence other than just putting material in the report. The issue is how can behaviour partnerships help all schools.
Finally, on short-stay schools, we welcome the new title for pupil referral units but we are concerned that if the Secretary of State decides to move and close down a short-stay school, there has to be a replacement with sufficiency of provision.
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