Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Laws: Indeed, I did. I also want to congratulate the Minister on being one of the members of the Committee who was not absent without authorisation this morning. Before the Under-Secretary leaves the proceedings completely, I thank her very much for presiding over such a long sitting today and particularly for doing so with great patience and for taking all the interventions. I congratulate her on not necessarily hitting a huge number of sixes, but on staying at the wicket for a long period and not allowing many balls to get past her. Even though she was to some extent let down by the absence of some of her colleagues this morning, she has done a fine job for her Department and for the Government.
May I also say that it is a great pleasure to see the interest being taken in education today by the Government’s Deputy Chief Whip? It is always very encouraging indeed when one finds colleagues trying to improve themselves by taking an interest in areas outside their remit.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is referring to the fact that the Government’s Deputy Chief Whip was in the oral evidence sessions on more than one occasion for at least half an hour—if not an hour and a half—as I noted at the time? Does he mean to refer to that and did he notice that himself?
Mr. Laws: I do not want to go too wide of clause 191, but I fear either that there is great competition for places in the Government and the education Department or that the Deputy Chief Whip is concerned about the management of parts of the Bill.
To return to the clause, we are coming to an important area of the Bill, which contains not only part 10, but part 11, which deals with complaints. I want to register, because I am aware of the time—
The Chairman: Order. I interrupt the hon. Gentleman now because clause 191 merely introduces schedule 13. I think the hon. Gentleman intends to speak to the contents of that schedule. If that is so, the time to do that is in the next debate, which will be on the question that schedule 13 be the 13th schedule to the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will keep his remarks on the clause brief.
Mr. Laws: I certainly will. I merely wanted to draw to your attention, Mr. Chope, and to the Committee’s attention that the part of the Bill that clause 191 ushers in is important, and that in spite of the late hour it is important that we give it adequate scrutiny. We have the potential next week to cover the other items in the Bill. I realise that this is a detention for Labour Members who were absent without authorisation this morning, but if the Government want to continue our consideration—
11.6 pm
The Chairman’s attention having been called to the fact that fewer than seven Members were present, he accordingly suspended the proceedings.
11.7 pm
Other Members having come into the room, and seven Members being present, the proceedings were resumed.
Mr. Laws: I think I had concluded my introductory comments on clause 191. I do not know whether the Minister wants to respond.
Jim Knight: The clause speaks for itself and as you so wisely told us, Mr. Chope, it introduces schedule 13.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 191 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 13

Powers in relation to schools causing concern: England
Question proposed, That the schedule be the Thirteenth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Laws: As clause 191, which we have debated, makes clear, schedule 13 makes provision for schools that are causing concern in England. Under the schedule and the clause that follows it, important powers fall to the Secretary of State in particular to intervene through local education authorities to tackle school performance and to address teachers pay and conditions warning notices.
I have some questions about the intention behind paragraph 4 of the schedule, which inserts a new section 60A in the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The new section introduces a system of teachers pay and conditions warning notices, as the explanatory notes make clear, which allow LEAs to issue notices to the governing body of maintained schools when the LEA is satisfied that the governing body has failed to comply, or failed to secure compliance by the head teacher, with the provisions of an order under section 122 of the Education Act 2002. The explanatory notes also make it clear that new section 60A provides that if a teachers pay and conditions warning notice is given and after a compliance period the governing body has not complied with it or successfully made representations to the LEA against it, the school will become eligible for intervention.
Rather than hearing from the Minister that the schedule speaks for itself, I want to know why the Government think it important to introduce such powers, what evidence they have that the powers are needed, what problems the Department has identified in the implementation of the teachers pay and conditions document over the past couple of years, and how those cases have been dealt with. In other words, is the power really necessary, is use likely to be made of it and is it worth legislating for?
Jim Knight: Local authorities will for the first time be able to intervene in schools that do not comply with the statutory provisions in the school teachers pay and conditions document—the STPCD. The document sets out school teachers’ conditions of employment and places a number of duties on head teachers and others, including that of carrying out the induction performance management of teachers in accordance with relevant regulations.
Those conditions are incredibly important to the standards agenda for a number of reasons. First, we cannot expect our teachers to raise pupil attainment if they have not been inducted into the profession properly. Secondly, if we want schools to play their full part in the heart of the 21st-century system of children’s services they will need a highly skilled and motivated work force who are well led, effectively deployed and able to engage effectively with a range of professionals from across the children’s service spectrum. Thirdly, they are important because statutory requirements are just that—statutory requirements. They are not optional extras that schools can choose to disregard, just as key stage 2 standard assessment tests are not optional extras.
However, there is evidence that some schools do not comply with all the document’s statutory requirements relating to teachers conditions of employment. Although arrangements exist to resolve non-compliance, they are cumbersome and slow. For example, discussions between one school and the local education authority took more than a year, which was extremely burdensome for the local authority and frustrating for the staff. It is for those reasons that we seek new powers for the local education authority and the Secretary of State.
Mr. Laws: I hope that I am not pre-empting the next part of the Minister’s speech, but as it seems that he might be nearing the end of it will he specify what non-compliance issues there have been over the past couple of years, and whether any of them are ones from which academies would be exempt?
Jim Knight: On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, the STPCD does not apply in academies, so the question does not arise.
Mr. Laws: I was exploring whether any of the non-compliance issues demonstrate a use by maintained schools of some of the flexibilities given by the Government on a statutory basis, and therefore whether the Committee might have a different attitude to those flexibilities than to other abuses of the pay and conditions document from which academies might not be exempted.
Jim Knight: I am sorry, but there are aspects of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention that I may have missed. It might help if I tell him of some of the non-compliance of which we have evidence.
In March 2008, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers did a work-load audit of its members; it reported that 5 per cent. of respondents had been denied planning preparation and assessment time, and 37 per cent. said that they were directed to do activities not related to planning, preparation and assessment in PPA time. In particular, there have been problems with invigilation roles.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for being so patient. Are those identified areas ones in which academies are also exempt?
Jim Knight: We give academy governing bodies the power to innovate in relation to employees’ terms and conditions; they do not have to abide by national pay and conditions. That is a key plank of academy policy, and one that academy teachers most frequently cite as contributing to transformational change. Academies are exempt from all aspects of the STPCD.
Mr. Laws rose—
The Chairman: Order. Is the Minister giving way again?
Jim Knight: No, I do not think that I should give way again, although for one moment I was tempted. Through the device of interventions, I have adequately explained the elements referred to under the schedule. The Committee will note that there are also measures for intervention on the basis of performance, in respect of the power to direct local education authorities to consider issuing a performance warning notice, and for an expansion of the Secretary of State’s ability to appoint additional governors or direct that there should be an interim executive board.
11.15 pm
Mr. Laws: Given the number of important issues under the next clause that we are to discuss, I shall not hover too long over the schedule other than to note that the Government seem to be taking additional powers to direct schools to do things from which some schools are exempt. That raises the same issue that we discussed earlier about the way in which academies have greater curricular freedoms. My questioning of the Government is not because I want to take away those powers, but because of their policy between different types of schools and whether that inconsistency is based on a rational analysis of the needs of schools.
Jim Knight: I will not labour the point long, but when I and my predecessor who had responsibility for academies looked at the individual case for an academy in particular circumstances, one of the things that we examined was how the sponsor would propose using the freedoms that are available to academies in order to do the difficult job of turning around performance. The freedoms in respect of pay and conditions are one of the things that we look at given that they will probably pay more money than the STPCD allows to recruit the very best people to turn around those particular schools.
Mr. Laws: Yes, but I am not sure the Minister has reassured me. He seemed to be saying that the Government are giving freedoms to academies, but looking carefully at how they will use them. That highlights the Government’s inconsistent approach to school freedoms and how they are acquired throughout schools. The Government wish to give freedoms and flexibilities to a particular class of school yet are legislating under the Bill for powers to force other schools to do things from which academies are exempt. However, I shall not press the issue to a Division.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 13 agreed to.

Clause 192

Power to require LEAs in England to obtain advisory services
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment 148, in clause 192, page 110, line 38, leave out ‘the Secretary of State’ and insert ‘the Office for Standards in Education’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 1, in clause 192, page 111, line 10, after ‘are’, insert
‘judged by Ofsted to be’.
Mr. Laws: The clause is important. It gives power to the Secretary of State to require LEAs in England to obtain advisory services. This part of the Bill is significant because it is about the mechanisms through which the Government want to ensure school improvement. We had an interesting debate in Committee a few days ago about the Young People’s Learning Agency and the role of local authorities in securing school improvement. Different views were expressed about whether the Government’s approach was right.
I draw attention to an excellent paper produced by Policy Exchange within the past few weeks entitled “A Guide to School Choice Reforms”, which no doubt the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will already have read twice, being the assiduous reader that he is. The document draws several lessons from the experiences in the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom and refers to the importance of accountability to drive school improvement. It states:
“Accountability is difficult to manage at a national level: The problem of entirely ignoring local government is that it is very difficult to authorise and oversee schools from central government.”
We of course believe that it is important that local authorities have some kind of oversight role of schools and a duty to ensure improvement of school standards within their area. We believe that it is important for Ofsted, working as part of what we think should be a much more powerful education standards authority, then to hold local authorities to account for school improvement and ensure that they actually do their job in a way that, frankly, many local authorities, particularly Labour local authorities in deprived areas, were simply not doing five or 10 years ago, and perhaps even today.
Getting the structures of accountability right is crucial. Ensuring that the decisions taken by Ofsted, local authorities and the Secretary of State are right and fair is extremely important. What we do not want to end up with, in giving these powers to the Secretary of State, is an irrational and unfair system of driving school improvement. Indeed, I would question whether we really ought to have the Secretary of State involved in such matters at all, or whether in a properly functioning system the accountability should not be through local authorities and then through an independent inspectorate.
Some of the problems that arise when central Government are given the power to direct both local authorities and schools are highlighted in the report by Policy Exchange, which shows the dangers of the Government using crude measures to determine how they intervene in schools and therefore implicitly in local authorities. The report highlights specific issues that are relevant to amendments 148 and 1. It deals with what it described as the slightly Orwellian national challenge that has been implemented by the Government over the past year and the 638 schools that were identified in it.
The report states that the definition of failure used by the Government is woefully simplistic, as it assumed, for example, that an inner-city school achieving 25 per cent. good GCSEs on the five A* to C benchmark might be performing worse than a suburban school scoring 35 per cent. That might be debatable on the basis of its intake. Indeed, perhaps more encouraging in terms of making rational decisions about school performance, we recently saw one of the first grammar schools being criticised by Ofsted in respect of its performance, even though its five A* to C figures were extremely good.
Policy Exchange goes on to state that it hopes the school report cards that the DCSF is considering introducing will bring a new level of nuance to school improvement policy that, for now, is based on a crude and arbitrary cut-off point. Some of its concerns reflect our worries about this part of the Bill, which gives powers to the Secretary of State to interfere in respect of local authorities.
The clause amends existing section 62A of the Education Act 2002.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 30 March 2009