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Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. David Amess, Janet Anderson, †Mr. Clive Betts
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 2 February 2010


[Mr. Clive Betts in the Chair]

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
CS40 Home Education Advisory Service
CS41 David Hough
CS42 Action for Home Education
10.30 am
The Chairman: Before we begin our debate on amendment 140, I gather that it was the intention on Thursday to move amendment 86 formally to a Division.

Clause 6

Parental satisfaction surveys
Amendment proposed: 86, in clause 6, page 7, line 17, leave out ‘shall’ and insert ‘may’.—(Mr. Laws.)
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.
Division No. 5]
Brooke, Annette
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Laws, Mr. David
Loughton, Tim
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Wiggin, Bill
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Flint, rh Caroline
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Linton, Martin
McCarthy, Kerry
Prentice, Bridget
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Waltho, Lynda
Question accordingly negatived.
The Chairman: I understand that there was a widespread and lengthy debate on the first group of amendments to clause 6. There are more groups to follow so it is not my intention to allow a clause stand part debate. I hope that we can make progress accordingly.
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I beg to move amendment 140, in clause 6, page 7, line 24, leave out subsection (3).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 141, in clause 6, page 7, line 26, leave out subsection (4).
Amendment 188, in clause 6, page 7, line 39, at end insert—
‘(c) children of different descriptions.’.
Mr. Laws: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Betts. Your predecessors have made steady progress on the Bill. As you will have noticed, we have only made it to clause 6 so we hope that, under your wise chairmanship, we shall be able to make speedier progress today. We had a good debate on parental satisfaction surveys last week in which we set out some of our worries about them. We discussed whether they were likely to prove value for money and whether it was sensible for the Government to impose them on local authorities.
Amendments 140 and 142 tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole express our concern about how the Government intend to impose the parental satisfaction surveys on local authorities. As well as imposing the surveys, whether or not the local authorities want them and whether they think that they will be good value for money, under subsections (3) and (4), the Government seek through regulations to prescribe in detail how the surveys are carried out. The amendments would delete those subsections. They are unnecessary. We question whether it is sensible to have the surveys imposed in such a way, but if they are to be, surely there should be some flexibility whereby local authorities can decide the issues on which they want to consult parents. There also needs to be something more flexible than the blueprint that the Government have so far set out.
Amendment 188 is a probing amendment about the scope within the surveys to look at different aspects of the provision of education that might be of concern to some parental groups. It was inspired by the Special Educational Consortium, which would like a power to be created to allow local authorities specifically to seek the views of parents of children with special educational needs or disabilities. The SEC says that that large group of parents often has particular issues and worries about the provision of special educational needs not only in one school but in a whole group. We have serious reservations about the system; we would like it to be more flexible. However, within the constraints imposed by that system, we want to test whether the Government are willing to give local authorities the power to raise other issues rather than simply test parents’ views about education in a simplistic way, without specifying issues that might cause concern.
There is a further purpose to amendment 188, which the Special Educational Consortium encouraged us to table. Many other groups dealing with special educational needs would like to understand better the Government’s own interpretation of the words “different descriptions” in clause 1(7), which states that the parent and pupil guarantees can be applied differently for pupils of different descriptions. That is also the wording that we use in amendment 188. We want to hear from the Minister how he envisages using this particular discretion and whether he envisages that the pupil and parent guarantee should be watered down for young people with special educational needs, or whether additional provision and support should be available for those young people over and above that for other pupils.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Good morning to you, Mr. Betts, and to the Committee. I, too, welcome you to the Chair.
Initially, we intend to prescribe that local authorities must survey parents of year 6 children about secondary school provision. However, were we to extend the duty—for example, to primary school provision—we would need this delegated power to enable us to require authorities to carry out separate surveys. That is because, if we were to seek views on primary school provision, it might be appropriate to have a different format for such a survey than for secondary school provision. It must be right that the legislation is flexible to provide that any such additional survey is fit for purpose.
Amendment 141 would remove new section 19J(4), which allows for regulations to specify matters relating to the provision of schools on which parents' views are to be sought and the manner and form in which this should be done. In formulating this policy, we piloted it in local authorities and asked parents about how and when they would like to be invited to share their views on local school provision. The DCSF customer voice research on parent focus groups was published on 26 November 2009. Feedback from authorities in the trialling of the duty last autumn was that a level of prescription would be welcome—at least in the short term—with an agreement to review as the duty is embedded. Although that does not totally meet what the hon. Gentleman wants, there is a commitment to review it and see how it works in practice once the duty has commenced.
Mr. Laws: Will the schools to which the amendments relate, which are defined in the Bill as “relevant schools”, include academies? In other words, will local authorities also be surveying people’s views on academies?
Mr. Coaker: Yes.
Mr. Laws: So if there is dissatisfaction with schools, including academies, and further action needs to be taken to deal with that, will that be a matter for the local authority or for the Young People’s Learning Agency?
Mr. Coaker: It will be a matter for the YPLA and the local authority. They will both need to consider how to respond to that.
Regulation-making powers will enable us to apply the lessons from the trial and future consultation in order to specify the format of the survey: short, tick-box questions with an optional comments box. The survey will be issued to parents residing in the local authority, alongside the admissions pack—a framework within which to respond to the questionnaire. The local authorities must make the survey available to parents both in paper form and online, which will ensure that parents’ opportunity to influence local authority planning is maximised, and that local authorities up and down the country do not each have to reinvent the wheel and design their own survey processes and forms.
I know that the hon. Member for Yeovil is specifically concerned to ensure that the survey has due regard for parents of children with special educational needs and allows their children to share their views. I acknowledge that such parents and children are likely to have particular views, needs and aspirations. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will undertake a full consultation on the content of the survey to ensure that the important point made in his amendment is addressed as we put together the regulations underpinning clause 6. I hope that on that basis, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendments.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful, as ever, to the Minister for his response. We are pleased to hear that there will be a consultation on the nature of the survey, which may enable some of the views and concerns raised by the Special Educational Consortium to be taken into account. I fear that I am not entirely satisfied, however, by the response, given our concerns about the clause, in particular, the Minister’s undertaking that new section 19J(3) means that the measure may be extended to primary schools, and therefore the Government want to leave further flexibility to expand on the surveys in the future. It is something that concerns me because it implies even more costs, and potentially, more waste of public funds. I am surprised to hear that the feedback he has received from local authorities indicates that they welcome prescription. I would have thought that they would argue the case for local discretion. If that feedback from local authorities is not currently published, will it be possible to make some of it public?
I was also interested to hear that the YPLA, which does not appear to be mentioned in the Bill, will be one of the enforcement mechanisms in responding to parental satisfaction surveys. It is important because, although local authorities will be the ones responsible, presumably, for carrying out the parental satisfaction surveys, it is quite clear that the body with strategic responsibility for the quality of education will be required to make a response. I do not understand how, if for example, there are problems with academies, the matter will be dealt with by local authorities. Will the Minister write to the Committee at some stage to set out how the YPLA will be involved, or whether the local authority will be involved, where there is concern about the performance of academies?
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