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Session 2009 - 10
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Children, Schools and Families Bill



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. David Amess, †Janet Anderson
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Cryer, Mrs. Ann (Keighley) (Lab)
Flint, Caroline (Don Valley) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Johnson, Ms Diana R. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Prentice, Bridget (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
Purchase, Mr. Ken (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Timpson, Mr. Edward (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Sarah Davies, Sara Howe, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 26 January 2010

(Afternoon)

[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Clause 1

Pupil and parent guarantees
Amendment proposed (this day): 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.—(Mr. Gibb.)
4.4 pm
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out first ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out second ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 2, line 33, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 3, line 5, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 3, line 6, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 10, in clause 2, page 3, line 7, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 11, in clause 2, page 3, line 15, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 12, in clause 2, page 3, line 18, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 13, in clause 2, page 3, line 20, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 14, in clause 2, page 3, line 22, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 15, in clause 2, page 3, line 24, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 16, in clause 2, page 3, line 25, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 17, in clause 3, page 3, line 35, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
Amendment 18, in clause 3, page 3, line 43, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
Amendment 19, in clause 3, page 3, line 45, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 20, in clause 3, page 4, line 3, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 21, in clause 3, page 4, line 9, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 22, in clause 3, page 4, line 16, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 23, in clause 3, page 4, line 19, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
Amendment 24, in clause 3, page 4, line 21, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 25, in clause 3, page 4, line 24, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 26, in clause 3, page 4, line 30, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 27, in clause 3, page 4, line 37, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 28, in clause 3, page 4, line 40, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
Amendment 29, in clause 3, page 4, line 42, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 30, in clause 3, page 4, line 45, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 31, in clause 3, page 5, line 4, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 32, in clause 3, page 5, line 11, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 33, in clause 3, page 5, line 14, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
Amendment 34, in clause 3, page 5, line 16, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 35, in clause 3, page 5, line 19, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.
Amendment 74, in title, line 1, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Welcome to our deliberations, Mrs. Anderson. We look forward to serving under your chairmanship.
For the benefit of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, I wanted to begin by saying, “Bonjour tout le monde,” and I might try a few other linguistic phrases to get back into the flow of where we were this morning, as we were discussing languages with regard to guarantees, although I now immediately regret doing that.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Mr. Coaker: I hope that that was polite—I am sure it was.
May I return to what we were saying about the importance of language? The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton would change the word “guarantee” to “entitlement.” I was in the process of referring to the “Oxford English Dictionary”, because the definitions in it show us that what seems to be a minor amendment—just changing a word—would make a significant change, as the hon. Gentleman will know.
An entitlement, according to the “Oxford English Dictionary”—I hope that no one would argue with that—is something that gives someone a right to do or have something. A guarantee, on the other hand, is a formal assurance that certain conditions will be fulfilled. Given what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton was saying this morning, I think that he will particularly like the second part of that definition, which is that a product will be of a specified quality. I thought that that was quite a good point, because he tried to berate me this morning for not being concerned about quality. Of course, that is not the case; we are all concerned about quality. The word “guarantee” implies that a product will be of a specified quality unlike an entitlement, which just gives someone a right to something that is vague and meaningless. A further aspect of the definition of “guarantee” refers to something that makes an outcome certain.
I would have thought that those definitions encapsulate the heart of our debate. We have been saying to the hon. Gentleman that we want to ensure, through these pupil and parent guarantees, that parents and pupils are guaranteed a quality of education that does not vary between schools, or between areas, rather than setting up what he referred to as something that could lead to a number of spurious references to the local government ombudsman. That is very important.
It is important to recognise, as the ombudsman confirmed when we took evidence, that the LGO has measures in place whereby it can refuse to investigate vexatious claims. If the LGO believes that a claim is spurious, not based on evidence or not worth investigating, it can choose not to pursue it. My understanding was that one of the reasons why the hon. Gentleman wanted to move away from guarantees and towards entitlements was because he was concerned about that issue, but that point is dealt with in the Bill. I read that into the record because it is particularly important.
The hon. Gentleman then said that teachers and schools would be for ever looking over their shoulders because they were worried. Let me deal with that point because it comes up time and again. For example, in relation to behaviour, we are not saying that because we want a guarantee on policies around good behaviour and bullying, there will never be an incident of bullying or poor behaviour in a school. That would be foolish and not based in the real world—people would rightly say, “What on earth do the Government think they are doing?” Although a school might not be able to guarantee good behaviour in every single lesson and in every single instance—some individuals might cause a problem—a guarantee, rather than an entitlement, would ensure that, in every single circumstance, a school would have a bullying and a behaviour policy, which I think everybody would say was common sense.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson.
My hon. Friend the Minister gives us some illustrations of what he means by a guarantee, and I take it as read that the definition will be in the Bill and that it will be what he means it to be. However, I understand that the meaning of a word is what a judge in court might say it is within the context in which that word is placed. If a parent says that the guarantee has not been met, could such a case go to court? If it does, could the word “guarantee”, in this context, be defined as meaning something else by the judge? Is there any route for such a case to be taken to court?
Mr. Stuart: The guarantees—or entitlements; whatever we want to call them—work fine as a conceptual model, but can the Minister tell us how, in reality, the guarantee that every 11 to 14-year-old will enjoy “relevant and challenging learning” in all subjects will be enforced? He said that the ombudsman could dismiss cases that were vexatious or frivolous. Would the ombudsman be entitled to dismiss cases on the basis that the statute was so woolly as to be absolutely unenforceable, or would it be that a parent at a school that was put on special measures would immediately be able to say to a court, “My child is obviously not getting relevant and challenging learning, so I insist that my child is moved to a school that offers it.”? That would lead to even greater chaos in a school that was already in trouble.
Mr. Coaker: It would not lead to chaos. We are laying out in the guarantees our expectation with respect to the teaching and learning available—whether it is for primary school children, 11 to 14-year-olds, or 14 to 16-year-olds. If the hon. Gentleman reads the rest of the guarantee, as I am sure that he has, he will see that it lays out some of the ways in which we expect that guarantee to be fulfilled and talks about musts and shoulds. I understand the point that hon. Members are trying to make, but what I am saying—especially with regard to the situation quite rightly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East—is that there are already obligations on schools that would enable a parent to go down a legal route if they chose to do so, but that happens only in extreme circumstances. The vast majority of people do not want the expense or trouble of going through all that. They want their son or daughter’s situation to be sorted out so that they can enjoy lessons, learn in the way that they should, and be kept safe—all the things that we normally expect. Alongside that will be the redress that we are seeking to make available.
4.15 pm
Mr. Stuart: Parents do not go to court at the moment because they know how expensive and in many cases futile such a pursuit can be. The question that I put to the Minister was about a school on special measures in which there might be a teacher with a particularly poor record of results. Does the Minister want parents at that point to use the guarantee to demand they get their child out of that class, and probably out of the whole school? If parents cannot get their child out of a poor class or school, what is the point of it, and if they can, what does he think that means for the education system?
 
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Prepared 27 January 2010