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Westminster Hall

Thursday 5 December 2013

[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

School Governing Bodies

[Relevant documents: The Role of School Governing Bodies, Second Report from the Education Committee, HC 365, and the Government response, HC 661.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Karen Bradley.)

1.30 pm

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a great pleasure and privilege to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Rosindell. It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon with the Minister and colleagues from the Select Committee on Education to discuss our report on the role of school governing bodies, which was published in July 2013. It is also a pleasure to see the shadow Minister and other colleagues in the Chamber.

The 300,000 governors across the country perform an important job, and hon. Members on both sides of the House would want to send our thanks for the service that they perform in their communities. Holding schools to account for the quality of the education that they offer to pupils is a serious responsibility, and it is not all about external bodies; it is important that governors have the skills, self-confidence and ability to fulfil that role. Many governors offer outstanding advice and service, and they devote large amounts of time and expertise to monitoring and improving the schools in their charge.

By contrast, recent events at the Al-Madinah school in Derby underscore the importance of governance and the need for robust intervention when it is failing. The school’s chair of governors, Shazia Parveen, resigned in late October, and the remaining trustees finally resigned last month. Despite the shambles over which they had been presiding, the governors of the Al-Madinah school were under no obligation to resign; nor could they have been forced to do so under current regulations. That example is extreme and unusual, but I should be grateful to the Minister if she told us whether she thinks that the current situation is satisfactory, or whether changes need to be made to the regulatory framework to ensure that such people can be replaced sooner if they are clearly failing in their duties.

There is considerable variation in the quality of governance across different types of schools. The former chief inspector stated in Ofsted’s 2010-11 annual report that governance was good or outstanding in 71% of special schools and 64% of secondary schools, but only 55% of primary schools and just 53% of pupil referral units had such a rating, which is not acceptable.

School governance has recently been scrutinised by the Government. In September 2012, Ministers introduced regulations that provide greater flexibility to the governing bodies of maintained schools to reconstitute themselves, so that they may be smaller, with an emphasis on skills as opposed to prescribed constitutions. Those new regulations are most welcome.

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During our inquiry, we found that schools are not making the most of the freedoms that they have. The envisaged process for strengthening governance has not necessarily happened in many areas, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on how the Government will encourage schools to make full use of the options available to them.

Our report makes a series recommendations that seek to improve the capacity, capability and profile of governing bodies. We said that the Government should study the effectiveness of governing bodies that are responsible for groups of schools, such as federations and academy trusts, and consider the optimum size for governing federations effectively.

Meanwhile, the recruitment and retention of governors continues to be a problem. Mike Cladingbowl of Ofsted told us that finding high-quality governors in all areas of the country represents

“a big and urgent national problem”.

We welcome the Government’s increased funding for the School Governors One-Stop Shop, which is the governor recruitment charity.

Our second recommendation is that the Government should work more closely with the CBI to recruit governors, as business is potentially an important source of capable governors. Will the Minister say something more about that? I know that the CBI is keen and is working with the Government. The CBI and other business groups are looking to get more involved. I would be interested to hear more from the Minister on that.

Linked to those issues is the fact that the barriers to recruitment must be removed. For example, the current legal requirement to give time off for the governors of maintained schools has not yet been extended to academy governors. That obvious oversight needs to be addressed. Last week, the CBI echoed our call for academy governors to receive time off to fulfil their duties. Will the Minister commit today that academy governors will be given the same time and opportunity to do their work as governors of maintained schools?

The third part of our inquiry concerns whether governors receive good training or, indeed, proper training at all. The Government told us that such training can be encouraged through Ofsted. Our report recommends that Ministers report back in due course on whether Ofsted’s intervention has been effective and, if it has not, reconsider making training mandatory for all governors.

We were also concerned by suggestions that few quality alternatives are emerging to the training that local authorities traditionally provide, which has been reduced in recent years. Ofsted and the Department for Education need to monitor the availability and quality of governor training, particularly in the context of greater academisation and reduced local authority services. If school governing bodies in the new context have even greater responsibility than under the old system, it is essential that the services to support those governing bodies and the training available to them are improved, rather than reduced, in quality and scope.

Ofsted has sharpened its focus on governance, which the Committee welcomes wholeheartedly. Part of Ofsted’s new approach, for example, is to provide a clear description within its inspection framework of the role and characteristics of high-quality governance.

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We received evidence highlighting the importance of a good clerk to the success of a governing body. The evidence indicates that that should be a professional role, similar to a company secretary, and it is an important recommendation of our report. SGOSS may be ideally placed to take on the role of recruiting clerks, while simultaneously ensuring some sort of quality assurance. I would be grateful to learn whether—and if so, how—the Government intend to facilitate that process.

Clerks also need to be equipped with high-quality information and guidance. We are particularly concerned that the revised governors’ handbook, which contains less detailed guidance than the previous version, is aimed only at new governors. Will the Minister inform us of what steps, if any, have been taken to ensure that the revised handbook is relevant to governors of all levels of experience and acts as an easy access point for advice and guidance?

The fourth section of our report considers the problem of poorly performing governing bodies. We welcome the Government’s encouragement for governing bodies to undertake more self-evaluation and peer-to-peer review, using tools such as the all-party group on education governance and leadership’s 20 questions—I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on his work on that all-party group—and other tools in the new governors’ handbook.

We also welcome Ofsted’s new data dashboard, which will help governing bodies to become more adept at using performance data effectively. It is important to note that, although the data dashboard provides an easier route to start grappling with such data, it is not the end of the road. One would hope that governors will use the data dashboard to get a feel for the issues and then delve more deeply into the data, to hold their schools effectively to account.

We remain concerned that current approaches to addressing underperformance and failure in governing bodies are insufficiently robust. Accordingly, we recommend more demanding appointment processes for the chairs of governors, accompanied by clear procedures for removing poorly performing chairs from office. We also recommend that time limits should be imposed for the implementation of interim executive boards.

We believe that Ofsted should explicitly recommend IEBs following an inspection, where deemed appropriate. If Ofsted goes in to review a school and finds the school’s governance to be fundamentally wanting, it is appropriate that Ofsted should be able to recommend the speedy replacement of the governing body with an IEB.

Ministers should investigate why so many local authorities and, indeed, the Secretary of State for Education have been reluctant to use their powers of intervention where school governance is a concern. We ask the Government to clarify the role of local authorities in school improvement, as that function will provide an important challenge to schools between Ofsted inspections, the gaps between which can be quite long under the current regime.

As an adjunct to that, we considered the relationship between governing bodies and head teachers. In its 2011 report on school governance, Ofsted noted:

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“Absolute clarity about the different roles and responsibilities of the headteacher and governors underpins the most effective governance.”

However, we heard evidence that schools face difficulties in managing that relationship properly. We recommend that existing regulatory and legislative requirements should be reviewed to ensure clarity on the proper division of strategic and operational functions between head teachers and governors.

The fifth and—you will be delighted to hear, Mr Rosindell—final part of the Committee’s report considered new models of governance. Academies define their own governance procedures, subject to approval by the Secretary of State. Such freedoms for academies have led to the evolution of new models of governance, from which lessons could be learned in many cases. Our report highlighted some confusion, however, about the accountability of some academy governance models, and we made three main recommendations. First, the Government should identify the roles of governors in the different types of academy. Secondly, the Government should explain how relevant local groups, including pupils, parents and staff, should have a voice in the business of the governing body and the running of the school. Thirdly, clarity should be provided on how decisions are made in academies, along with details of where to turn should concerns arise.

I have summarised the main findings of the Committee’s report. I am pleased that the Government agree with much of what we said, but with some notable exceptions. As I have explained, our report concluded that mandatory training for all governors should be introduced if Ofsted intervention is found to be ineffective. Regrettably, the Government response was adamant that good schools

“don’t need government to mandate training.”

Will the Minister reconsider that response if it becomes apparent that the standards of training remain unacceptably inconsistent between schools?

Likewise, we recommended that Ofsted should use its power and responsibility explicitly to recommend that a governing body be replaced by an interim executive board following an inadequate inspection. The Government said that they did

“not agree that there is a need for a new role for Ofsted here… Having Ofsted make specific recommendations on the proposed solution could blur the boundary of responsibilities between the Chief Inspector, the local authority and the Secretary of State.”

Does the Minister not accept that clear advice from Ofsted might be required to prompt some local authorities to take decisive action? The Secretary of State has seemed remarkably reluctant to act, even when the most obvious evidence of failure was present. The Government rejected the notion that the Secretary of State had held back from using his powers of intervention, although I would say that the evidence suggests the opposite.

We argued for more robust appointment processes for the chairs of governors, accompanied by clear procedures for removing poorly performing chairs from office. The Government agreed, but they have no plans to give governing bodies more power to remove elected governors, so the Committee finds itself only partially satisfied.

Our report demonstrated the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality, effective governors. It simultaneously identified the challenges in achieving

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such a standard. I accept that the Department for Education’s work on governance is still in development, just as the wider educational landscape is still evolving, but a continued focus on governance will be important in years to come if we are to deliver better educational outcomes for the next generation. That is ever more important in what is now designed to be a self-improving, more autonomous school system. The challenge has been laid down, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

1.42 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Rosindell. I apologise for being a few seconds late for the start of the debate.

I am a member of the Select Committee on Education, which produced the reports that we are discussing, so I hope to be able to offer an insight into the thoughts of the Committee—as did its Chairman, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart)—during the report’s compilation and the various evidence sittings, although I also have some thoughts of my own.

Without doubt, governing bodies within schools play a critical leadership role, but inadequate governance is not addressed frequently enough and has ramifications that reverberate far beyond the governors’ meeting room and reach into the classroom. School governors provide the strategic leadership and accountability that are so important in determining the success of our schools. Governors appoint head teachers and other staff and in some instances, as trustees, own the school grounds. Governors are responsible for school finance, and they work with head teachers to make the tough decisions about balancing resources. In many cases, governors are actually dependent—often over-dependent—on their head teacher to enable them to fulfil their role, particularly in primary schools. That is why one of the key focuses of our report was on training, the need for it to be comprehensive and good enough to ensure that governors know their responsibilities, and how to get the information they need to make decisions and to hold the head teacher and staff robustly to account.

Some 300,000 people serve as school governors across the country, and we can be proud of the majority, who do an excellent job leading our schools and have a true passion for improving education in their communities. We must not forget that these individuals are unpaid and that, as such, governors constitute the largest volunteer group in the UK. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. They do their very best in what I know from nearly 30 years of first-hand experience can be exceptionally challenging circumstances. We cannot, however, overlook the areas of weakness and the room for improvement. We must not lose sight of what the system does well, but attempting to convince ourselves that it is perfect would only make things worse. I was therefore pleased to have the opportunity, as part of the Education Committee, to examine the issues in much more detail.

One of my principal concerns when exploring the evidence to put the report together was the high vacancy rate on governing bodies, and the difficulties that many schools experience in recruiting. That, of course, can contribute to other shortcomings, such as a lack of the necessary skills base to fulfil core functions. Department

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for Education figures suggest that 11% of roles nationally are vacant. Having been responsible for nominating and appointing school governors for Cleveland county council before it was disbanded, and then for Stockton borough council for several years thereafter, I know the magnitude of the problem and the repercussions for the quality of governance.

I also appreciate that the difficulty in recruiting governors can vary enormously within the boundaries of a single local authority, let alone between different authority areas. The Committee took evidence to that effect from the National Governors Association, which confirmed that a large proportion of governing bodies have considerable difficulty in finding skilled governors. It is common sense that schools in cities and large urban areas are often better able to attract individuals with the specific skills required successfully to carry out the functions of a governor. From my experience, I know that that is not equally the case for smaller towns, let alone more rural areas, and so was able to relate to the observation, submitted to the Committee by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, that there is significant evidence that governors are recruited for their representative role, rather than for a particular skill set.

Some schools struggle to attract governors not only from the community and local business, but also from among parents, who may not have the confidence or do not think they have sufficient experience. I remember well talking with head teachers across the Stockton borough about their struggles to persuade capable parents to agree to put their names forward. The idea that an election would ever be necessary was, in many cases, a fantasy. It is true that a wholly representative structure would not necessarily lead to high-quality governance. It is equally the case, however, that governors recruited on the basis of skills alone may lack the all-important community knowledge that enables our schools to cater to specific local circumstances and challenges. An adequate skills base therefore need not be at odds with representation, but it is important to get the balance right, and training is the key element.

I was therefore pleased that the Committee’s report welcomed the Government’s commitment to raise the profiles of school governors. Governors, like teachers, are pillars of the community, but I often wonder whether they realise how important they are to our education system. Clearly highlighting the importance of governors, who have the potential to shape the future of our young people by ensuring provision of the highest educational standards, is a fundamental first step if we are to attract the most able candidates, and I welcome moves to make specific functions clear in both legislation and the governors’ handbook. I am more cautious in welcoming the removal of rules and regulations, in particular where they exist to safeguard important standards and performance, although I appreciate that it will be necessary in some cases to allow for greater flexibility to take decisions, as that can impact positively on educational standards.

During the final part of my speech, I want to concentrate again on training, and on my concerns about the Government’s failure to give clear direction on the need for both proper training and bodies to deliver it, particularly in the light of more and more schools opting to become academies, and the run-down of local authority services in the face of cuts inflicted due to both the academies programme and general central Government policy.

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I remember Ian Short, now retired, who ran the governor support service in Stockton-on-Tees when I was cabinet member for children and young people. His team won awards for the quality of its provision, and governors in the area had better understanding of their roles and responsibilities as a result. Even then, not all governors undertook training, and some did little towards sharing the burden of the governing body’s work load. It is all very well to stand at the school gate and say, “I am a parent governor”, but often such people did not know about anything other than saying, “I am a parent governor”, or how to do anything other than attend the meetings.

We have a new kind of leader, and even governor, in the brave new world of academies and free schools; some do extremely well, but there are examples of failure, and some recent reports have shown that. If we are to get the best from our governors, however, they must be trained properly and, if they take on extra responsibility, such as being chair of the governors or of the finance and staffing sub-committee, they ought to undergo even more training. Not every school can attract an accountant, a human resources professional and a lawyer to sit on its governing body—though I would argue that they, too, should undergo compulsory training. The Government must therefore ensure that such training is available, but sadly, Ministers do not appear to agree.

I do not want to defeat my own argument by suggesting that Members present might point out that even Ministers do not undergo training for their roles when appointed by the Prime Minister, and they are dealing with matters of state. There should, however, be training for governors, who have day-to-day responsibility for the most important people in our community and ought to know what they are doing. I hope that the Government will rethink the need for high-quality, preferably compulsory, training, and having done so, that they will make the resources available to provide it for maintained schools, academies and free schools alike.

1.51 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. We are having an interesting debate, which I am pleased is being held, because the Education Committee did a huge amount of work on the subject.

I also applaud those who have supported me in the all-party group on education leadership and governance, which has been an important vehicle to promote school governance. It has struck me that not only have we been debating governance within these walls lately, but I have been invited to several debates in London and beyond to discuss it; most recently, I attended a debate hosted and organised by The Guardian. That underlines the point that school governance is becoming an important subject, largely because of the changing landscape in our education system.

We need to look back to 1944, 1988 and the legislation that paved the way for the academy programme and all the rest to understand that the system has changed considerably, but that the governance structure of governors

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has not kept up—the pace of change for school governors has not been fast enough. We must understand that central point if we are to debate governance properly.

The other major overall point is that our schools need to engage not only with the community, as the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) said, but fully and thoroughly with business, professions and opportunities in the world of work. Governing bodies have a role to play, and I want to talk about that in some detail.

First and foremost, I urge the Government to start thinking about how they might inspire the best governors to be even better and great people to become governors. We need to attract from a broader range of society the kind of people whom we want to run our schools. That means talking up the role of governors, enhancing the role of governance and ensuring that people feel that, when they become governors, they count, are valued and can make a difference. We have to think about the need to inspire, and I urge the Minister to consider how the Department and others can inspire people to become governors.

On the question of regulation or deregulation. I am not a great believer in regulation; I like to see things operating freely and individuals using systems to promote good things in a good way. My inclination, therefore, is that we should not have more regulations or training programmes specifically tailored by someone else to be superimposed on people who might well have their own opinions. What is important, however, is for us to create an environment—a framework—for governing bodies to make such decisions for themselves, so that they know who they need to recruit and to train and how such training should be done. Only they know what their school and governing body need.

Therefore, I ask the Minister what can be implemented to encourage governing bodies to think about how they are structured, how their membership is formulated and other such matters. I have already urged the Education Committee to write to the Department to see how the draft Deregulation Bill might help—I would be grateful to hear from her about how that might be done.

In my constituency, I want to see more interface between business and schools; I want to see medium-sized and small businesses more engaged with education. Furthermore, I will come up with a plan to implement that, which will, broadly speaking, involve a series of seminars at which chief executives and board members of businesses can meet governors. Two things will be achieved: first, governors will see how boards operate, make decisions, decide strategy and ensure the highest standards in their businesses, whether they are a recruitment firm, a manufacturer or whatever; and, secondly, on the other side of the coin, businesses will be able to talk to education as a whole and schools in particular with a view to saying, “These are the sorts of skills that we need for our recruitment”, and to explaining the sort of people they need to design and manufacture their products, operate their services and be their professionals.

There is not a sufficiently clear interface between our education system and employers as a whole. One of the ways in which we can improve that is through improving governance, so that it becomes more business-oriented, benefiting from business skills—not to the exclusion of all the other vital skills, but to ensure that business skills are part of the narrative.

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On the question of what happens if a governing body fails, I pressed the case in the Education Committee that we should be tough on failing governance—because we have to be. Too many schools are simply not doing well enough. Worst of all, too many schools are coasting and seem to think that that is okay. We need a governing system that holds those schools to account, to ensure that coasting or the quiet tolerance of some rather poorly taught subject does not happen. As we know from the past week, we have a long way to go to ensure that our schools deliver the kind of education that we need for the long term.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My hon. Friend makes an important point about failing governing bodies. It is key that we encourage local authorities to intervene accordingly. Sadly, in my constituency a school has recently been rated inadequate; that rating included the governing body. We need quick change when there are those kinds of problems.

Neil Carmichael: I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a powerful point. I can point to similar problems in my constituency. Any Member of Parliament interested in schools in their constituency will be able to say the same thing. That is rather a sad fact.

We need to find ways of making sure that governing bodies almost fear the consequences of failure. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has suggested that he should have powers effectively to remove governing bodies that are quite clearly incapable of turning a school around from failure to success. If we see that local authorities are unwilling to act—perhaps because everybody knows everybody and no one is willing to upset someone they knew a long time ago or have worked with successfully in some other department or school—we have to find other ways.

The people we should really be thinking about are children and their parents. They are the real stakeholders. We have to provide a system that guarantees that their school will be promoted, managed and dealt with in the best possible way. So my next request to the Minister is to make sure that we have a way of getting rid of governors who cannot do the job. It is dead easy: that is what we would do in a business, so it is what we should do in a school.

We want to see self-improvement. Our whole education system is about self-improvement. Any organisation should always be motivated to improve. The question we should always ask ourselves each day is, “How can I do this better?” That is a natural thing to do, so we want to see governing bodies doing it. Of course, that must be in conjunction with head teachers. As my hon. Friend the Chair of the Education Committee correctly pointed out, we need clarity as to what the head is supposed to be doing and what the chair of governors is supposed to be doing.

Again, that may well be a matter on which different types of schools would have different opinions—I accept that. But we cannot have a situation in which chairs of governing bodies are sitting around in schools for a couple of days a week trying to do what the head should be doing—that is completely unacceptable—and we cannot have a head basically taking on the role of the chair by steering the governing body through a difficult course to cover up or disguise inappropriate

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results and the like. We have to have clarity on those roles. That is where the Department for Education comes in: we need an explicit description of what the chair of a governing body is supposed to do. That should be part of the attempt to inspire people that I referred to earlier: we want to inspire the best people to be chairs of governing bodies, so we need to make sure that they know what they are doing when they approach the job.

I have talked a lot on the Education Committee about interim executive boards. As we all know, IEBs are used to replace governing bodies if the big decision to dismiss a governing body is taken. That is quite right. But that raises the question of why, if the solution is an interim executive board—a smaller body than the one it is replacing, made up of skilled people and with a focus on improvement and the capacity to get on with the job—we do not have something similar to that in the first place: a smaller structure, made up of people equipped with the right skills, so that the school can benefit from that kind of flexible, imaginative, innovative, robust governing system. That is where I have a slight variance of opinion with some of my colleagues on the Education Committee.

Alex Cunningham: I have experience of working with an interim board that was placed in a school in Stockton-on-Tees. It brought tremendous skills to the school and helped turn it around, so I was all in favour of that approach. But I have also seen tremendous parent governors, who are not going to be the leader of the body or its chair, but are tremendous advocates for parents. Surely there is room for people such as that as well in our governing body system.

Neil Carmichael: The key point is that a lot of governors are parents anyway. I have been a governor for a long time and a parent for a long time. I do not know about the hon. Gentleman’s family life, but I assume that most Members of Parliament have children. If they do not, that would not prevent them from being a governor, but if someone does have children that would not prevent them from being a governor either. I do not think that the question concerning parent governors is relevant to what the membership of an interim executive board should be. I have seen a large number of interim executive boards and I know that their members have children.

Alex Cunningham: Does the hon. Gentleman mean that he does not think that parents should have the right to elect some of their own to our school governing bodies?

Neil Carmichael: What is really important—this was going to be my next point, so I am glad the hon. Gentleman has taken me on to it, as we are probably done and dusted with IEBs—is that if the governing body is not good enough, parents should be able to say so. Accountability rests on that point. The real interface of accountability is between governors and parents. If parents think that the governing body simply is not doing a good enough job, they should be able to dismiss it. It is important to give parents as a group the capacity to make a decision as big as that, in defence of their children’s education and future.

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Alex Cunningham: The idea of parents being able to sack governing bodies is an interesting concept; perhaps it should be explored in greater detail. Would we apply that idea to academies and free schools as well as to state-maintained schools?

Neil Carmichael: The logic of it is that if we want to make sure that governing bodies are properly accountable, we have to decide who they are accountable to. In my view, that should be parents. The problem with stakeholder representation and all that sort of thing is that it actually dilutes accountability: the fact is that once parents get on the body, they start becoming defensive of their own behaviour and conduct, when in fact what they should be doing as parents is testing what the body is doing.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I know from my experience as a governor that quite often one or two very vocal parents seem to take the flow of other parents with them, but often are not doing the right thing but the worst thing that could be done. Will my hon. Friend elaborate on that point?

Neil Carmichael: I assume my hon. Friend means parents on governing bodies, and I completely agree, as I have seen that behaviour myself. We should be making sure that governing bodies are truly accountable and responsible to the key stakeholders, who seem to me to be the parents. Having parents on the governing body is a great idea, but not as a specific group of parent governors—they should be people who happen to be governors and to have children. That is the way to look at the issue.

Mr Graham Stuart: I fear my hon. Friend might be confused about interim executive boards. He seems to think that because the people on those boards are focused, dedicated, highly skilled and small in number, we can extrapolate from that the idea that all governing bodies everywhere should be small and similar in make-up to IEBs. That is simply not possible, given the weight of work required of governing bodies. That was the evidence we heard: as Professor Chris James of the university of Bath said, there is no statistical relationship between governing body effectiveness and governing body size or vacancies. I put it to my hon. Friend that there is no evidence for his view. If we could have astonishingly elite, small boards of dedicated people to put the time in, it might be a better system, but we do not have those people and they do not have the time.

Neil Carmichael: There are two points about the size of governing bodies. First, with a governing body of about 20, the influence of individuals is diluted. That applies to any committee system, including school governance. Secondly, it is not necessary to replicate exactly an interim executive board because that would be counter-productive. The word “interim” does not imply permanence, the word “executive” does not imply strategic decision making, and the word “board” is not commonly used in schools. The characteristics of IEBs and how they operate are important and we should think about how that might influence the way in which governing bodies will be shaped.

Craig Whittaker: Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent changes to the legislation to allow flexibility and innovation with smaller governing bodies are in place

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and do exactly what he is arguing for? The problem is that the Government have not communicated those models widely enough.

Neil Carmichael: That is precisely why it is important to signal that governors, and particularly chairs of governors, should be aware of the opportunities to reshape their bodies, and why I suggested that the Minister should demonstrate how that might be amplified and improved on. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that we do not want an avalanche of more regulations. We want to encourage governing bodies to shape themselves around the needs and characteristics of their school. That is yet another reason why we should not require certain organisations to be represented; we should allow the governing bodies to make those decisions.

If all the schools in Stockton are absolutely determined to have stakeholder representation, they should have it, but if schools elsewhere want to focus specifically and exclusively on the skills they need, that is what they should do. We should have a system that enables that to happen. We want to ensure that governors and governance are fit for purpose, that our schools are constantly improving and delivering the best possible outcomes for their pupils, and that our pupils have the ability to seize and exploit opportunities in the world of work and whatever else they want to do with their lives.

To my mind, the future is not about replicating what happened in the past. It is about understanding the dynamics and changes that will influence people’s experience of work and economics. We are talking about a global economy, new technologies, new ways of working, new relationships and new structures. Governance must change to be able to respond to all those dynamics.

I want to ask the Minister several things. First, how will she inspire the best people to be governors? Secondly, how will deregulating the system ensure that governing bodies can shape themselves to reflect the sort of school that they want to have and their interpretation of their community and the business world? Thirdly, will she consider how to get rid of failing governing bodies? I have put on the table the idea of the ultimate option—parents revolting—but there are processes between doing nothing and using a “nuclear deterrent”. Those processes must be teased out and must have some relationship with measurement of attainment and inspection of schools. Fourthly, it is key to ensure that we focus on skills rather than just stakeholders. One can be achieved without excluding the other, but the most important thing is to have the best people governing our schools for our children and their future.

2.15 pm

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mr Rosindell, to speak under your chairmanship. Having been a school governor, over the last 20 years, of two Calder valley primary schools and a local high school, I can honestly say that the role is one of the most rewarding in the community. The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) alluded to the fact that well over 300,000 individuals are serving as school governors throughout the country. All are selfless individuals actively putting something back into their communities, and all are committed to driving forward standards in their local schools.

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I am a member of the Education Committee, and its inquiry on the role of school governing bodies did not suggest that radical change was required to the system of governance in English schools. Recent legislation provides adequate flexibility for governing bodies to innovate, and that flexibility could bring about radical change, should governing bodies implement it more widely. However, our report showed that evidence indicates that few governing bodies are taking advantage of the new regulations, which suggests that the Government should to do more to clarify what models of governance are now possible, and explain how they could be beneficial in different school contexts.

Vacancies on governing bodies have constantly been an issue locally and nationally, despite there being more than 300,000 individuals serving as school governors. The number of vacancies is disputed, but the Department for Education understands that 11% of governor posts are vacant. The Committee heard Professor Chris James of the university of Bath explain that the vacancy picture is complex and that overall vacancy figures may be misleading. Governing bodies with a high number of vacancies—for example, 25%—at the end of one school term may have none at the end of the next because the vacancies have been filled. None the less, 2% to 3% of schools persistently have high vacancy rates for governors.

The National Governors Association has found that a large proportion of governing bodies have difficulty finding skilled governors, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) alluded to that. The National College for Teaching and Leadership has also observed that there is “significant evidence” that governors are recruited for their representative role, rather than a particular skill set.

We learned that vacancies are a particular issue for primary schools, and Ofsted judgments have found primary school governance to be considerably less effective on average than secondary school governance. In her 2010-11 annual report, the former chief inspector of Ofsted found “considerable variations” in the quality of governance across different types of school. Governance was judged to be good or outstanding in 53% of pupil referral units, 55% of primary schools, 64% of secondary schools and 71% of special schools.

When I was Calderdale council’s lead member for children’s services, we found that an effective recruitment tool for governors was advertising vacancies in our local magazine, Calderdale Call, which the local authority sends to every household quarterly. We also found that circulars to larger local employers, such as Lloyds TSB, Crosslee and many of our vast array of manufacturers in Calder Valley, also produced many fine individuals with much-needed skill sets to serve as school governors.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): I am encouraged to hear about the success that there has been in finding people in the hon. Gentleman’s area by going directly to employers. Does he think that there is scope for more incentives for employers to encourage their employees to become governors?

Craig Whittaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Yes, exactly; one of the recommendations that our Committee put forward to the Government was about offering further incentives. In my conclusion, I will ask the Minister to do more in that area.

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Evidence to our inquiry showed mixed opinions on the appropriate balance in a school governing body between individuals with specific skills and representatives of stakeholder groups, as we have discussed today. Overall, there was agreement with the DFE’s view that the stakeholder model does not preclude skills, but conversely, several witnesses felt that individuals recruited for specific skills may lack important local or community knowledge.

Evidence from a national leader of governance warned that in areas where the local community skill base is low, the dilemma will grow if either more skilled non-locals are parachuted in, or a less skilled local governing body remains. That will widen the gap between less skilled communities and the average, and will have questionable sustainability. I experienced that—we have spoken about it today—when we had a failing school and an interim executive board had to be established. In those circumstances, too, skill sets are a priority over local knowledge; they have to be, for the sake of the school’s revival.

I do not want to keep anybody much longer, Mr Rosindell, but I want to ask the Minister what her Department is doing to remove any potential barriers to the recruitment of effective school governors, and what is being done on communication with governing bodies to explain more thoroughly the recent legislation changes, and the flexibility and innovation that those changes may bring. The Committee recommended that the Government review the incentives for, and requirements on, businesses to release their staff for governor duties. We also recommend that the legal requirement to give time off for governors of maintained schools be extended to academies, as our Chair has said. I know from my local experience that local businesses are a great place from which to fill those skills gaps and skill sets, where needed, in local schools. Thank you for your time this afternoon, Mr Rosindell.

2.22 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate, Mr Rosindell. I think I am the only Member here who is not on the Education Committee, apart from the Minister and shadow Minister of course, but we are discussing a critical role, and I am so pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) led his Committee in an inquiry on it. It is a really important subject.

I was a school governor, back in the mid-’90s at a school in Kilburn, and in the late noughties at a school in Hampshire. At both schools, the experience was very interesting. In the mid-’90s, we seemed to spend a lot of time talking about children and teachers, but by the time I next became a school governor 10 years later, most of the agenda at our meetings seemed to be focused on whether we had done this or that policy update, or what about the charter mark we were going for, or what about this and what about that. As a consequence, the amount of time we spent speaking about children and teachers was dramatically reduced. I am pleased to see that there seems to have been quite a revolution in reducing the amount of direction given, and in allowing good school governing bodies to get going. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who is no longer in his place, made

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an eloquent point about the need to tackle poorly performing governing bodies, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

In terms of recruitment and retention, my experience is that one of the barriers to becoming a school governor—at the moment in my constituency, I am trying to encourage people to become school governors—is perhaps the perception of the amount of time it takes, and the feeling about what value people can add. We know that some of the brightest and best business people are already dragged into so many other situations and are being asked to give their time, whether on issues to do with the future of the high street, their business association, or the chamber of commerce. Nevertheless, I find that when people do the work, they really enjoy it, and recognise that an effective governing body is critical to the good—if not outstanding—performance of a school. I encourage more people to come from business, but also from our public sector.

On the tools available, the Committee was right to talk about data, such as those data provided by RAISEonline—reporting and analysis for improvement through school self-evaluation. Although I have a PhD, I will not pretend that it is always the easiest thing to encounter cold, but it gives people very detailed information about children’s progress. That is why I was so pleased to see the data dashboard that came from Ofsted last year. Some amendments have already been made to it, to try to focus on the key issues. I have been to every school in my constituency and have met plenty of school governors, and I took great delight in encouraging them to use the tool. I cannot wait for the next set of results to come out, so that we can continue to try to understand whether progress is being made. The division between key stage 1 and key stage 2 was particularly illuminating for some primary school governors in deciding where they should be focusing their efforts, and I welcome that.

Importantly, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness referred to clerks. He is so right: they can make a critical difference to whether a governing body is effective. High levels of training should be made available, and I recommend that clerks should not serve in a school for more than a certain number of terms—not school terms, but terms of appointment—because it is useful to exchange clerks and make sure that things stay fresh and that the latest ideas come in.

I agree with the Government on pay; I do not think that we should pay school governing bodies. As is pointed out in the Government response, it is open to any governing body to buy in services, and that is very useful. Federations are a new model of governance. I represent a mainly rural seat, and with 54 schools in 300 square miles—some of those schools are very small—there are, rightly, increasingly moves towards more federations, the sharing of head teachers and so on. However, what has not happened yet, but should happen, is a merging of the governing bodies of those schools. I understand why people might feel concern that that reduces accountability, but it absolutely does not. There should be a partnership across schools. A suggestion was made in the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce report on Suffolk schools, called “No school an island”, to have parents’

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councils to ensure—how can I put it?—that schools do not feel ignored. We see services merging, and the sharing of head teachers and senior teachers; I think we need to see the same with our school governing bodies.

In terms of the mix of skills, I wonder, at some schools, how prepared governors are to be critical friends. It is not the role of the chairman or chairwoman of the governing body to be only a cheerleader. We see that dilemma at the BBC: is the noble Lord Patten a cheerleader, or a critical friend of the BBC Trust? We have the same challenge for our school governing bodies; we must try to address what is really going on.

Head teachers should ensure that their teachers are up to scratch, but there is also another challenge. In one of the governing bodies on which I served—thankfully, I joined just after this took place—it took more than two years to try to displace a head teacher who was simply letting children down. It is very challenging for governors to do that kind of thing, and sometimes, the easiest way out is simply to do nothing at all. As has been said eloquently today, we cannot allow that to happen, which is why I am very pleased to see that a number of colleagues—I do not know how they manage to fit it in—continue to be school governors. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) is a governor of Ravenswood community primary school. I was delighted to see that, in the recent round of inspections in Suffolk, his school moved up the ratings to “good”. I shall be honest: many schools in Suffolk went the other way, so I thought that that was good for its credibility. I need to inspire myself to take that leap and go and do something to help the schools that are struggling in my area.

I was a latecomer to the debate, but this is such an important topic. I am glad that it has been given the prominence that it has. I see the Government response, and I admire all of it. I encourage the Government to go further—to stand up for governors and to recognise that they are the people who can make the difference, alongside great head teachers and great teachers.

2.30 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, on an entirely different brief from my previous one. I congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), and the hon. Members who serve on that Committee for this welcome contribution to a very important subject.

As the Chair of the Committee and other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), have said, 300,000 volunteers serve on governing bodies—probably the largest group of volunteers working in a particular field in the whole country. I, too, pay tribute to them for the work that they do. Like a number of hon. Members in the debate, I had the opportunity to be a governor, not of a school but of a further education college, and I know how valuable that is. Hon. Members bring expertise and practical experience to the debate.

When Labour was in government, we gave greater responsibility to governing bodies. We reduced local authority interference in how governing bodies operate and made changes relating to their composition. We also started the academy programme—a targeted

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intervention to try to lift the performance of the worst-performing schools in the country, which were often in deprived areas, and to raise standards. Governing bodies played a very important role in that arena.

I want to take the opportunity to tell the Minister that what I have described is different from simply rebadging a school as an academy and expecting school improvement to happen automatically. It will not happen without effective interventions to try to improve standards, including having strong governance arrangements, encouraging the effective leadership and management of schools and ensuring proper accountability of governing bodies.

This report is therefore welcome and timely, particularly as we are seeing so much reform in the education system. There is so much change, including the proliferation of free schools and of course more academies, and we need to ensure that governing bodies play an effective role in this rapidly changing environment.

I shall focus on a number of the themes on which the Select Committee report makes recommendations. The Chair of the Select Committee, in particular, highlighted some of these points. First, the Select Committee recommended mandatory training for governors. This is a crucial issue. As I said, it is crucial in this time of change that we ensure proper accountability. At a time when local education authorities are losing powers of oversight and there is no clarity about what the role of a middle tier would be, it would be helpful for us to make sure that governing bodies play an important role in ensuring that accountability.

Mr Graham Stuart: On a point of clarification, we did not recommend that training should be mandatory. We said that that should be looked at again if it turns out that the input from Ofsted and other Government inputs do not lead to the improvement in training that we hope to see brought about in the system. That improvement would be brought about in a non-regulated way ideally.

Rushanara Ali: Okay; we are talking about non-regulatory training. The point is that appropriate training is vital. According to TheTimes Educational Supplement, 93% of the respondents to the joint survey said that this would be helpful; they supported training. That reinforces the Select Committee’s recommendation. The Government should examine the issue closely, genuinely to ensure that governors have the appropriate support and that schools get the kind of governing body that they need to respond to the challenges of running their institutions. Governors need to feel equipped and able to perform their role effectively and work towards building achievement and raising standards in schools. In the end, that is what motivates people in communities to take part in this work as volunteers. They give their time and make that contribution to see a transformation in their schools.

I therefore hope that the Minister will recognise the importance of training—other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North, highlighted this issue—and explain how the Government will seek to address the Select Committee recommendation and ensure that governing bodies get the training that they need. The National Governors Association has also given evidence and pushed for that recommendation to be implemented.

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Alex Cunningham: On a point of clarity, I think that I said when I opened my contribution that I wanted to offer some of my own thoughts and I do believe in some form of compulsory training, but should not leaders in our schools accept that they, too, can learn? They should submit to training without being compelled to do so.

Rushanara Ali: The exemplars clearly do that. All of us will have seen schools taking on this role actively and ensuring that proper training is provided. I certainly benefited from training as a governor of a further education college. The charitable organisations that provide training to governors, not just of schools and colleges but of charities, charitable organisations and social enterprises, are vital. The question is about those schools that currently are not able or willing to provide training. How do we ensure that they step up and apply the appropriate mix of encouragement and pressure, to extend the training that is needed to get their governors to perform the kind of role that they need to perform?

Mr Graham Stuart: Does the hon. Lady agree that one way to encourage more training for governing bodies is to have clerks as professionals, facilitating, raising aspiration, sharing best practice and not being a member of staff from the head teacher’s department? Does she agree that the role of a clerk should become a professional role?

Rushanara Ali: I do, and I will come on to that point shortly, but before I deal with clerks, I want to focus on federations and multi-academy trusts. In their ideological drive to force schools into academy status regardless of the views of parents, governors and school communities, the Government have been ignoring the benefits of federations of schools as drivers of school improvement and as an opportunity for governing bodies to work more strategically. A number of hon. Members have highlighted the need to examine that area. In many cases, working together in that way—sometimes through co-operatives—can bring all the benefits for teaching and learning of a more strategic partnership, without unnecessary and sometimes painful organisational upheaval.

In my constituency, when schools have come together and worked together collaboratively—governing bodies, as well as teachers of different subjects—standards have been radically improved. We need to ensure that that happens and that the role of governing bodies is considered in that context. Will the Minister commit to supporting those local initiatives, rather than imposing models that are not necessarily fit for purpose or appropriate for local areas? Will she commit to giving groups of small schools that federate to improve outcomes the same sort of grants as multi-academy trusts receive?

On profile and recruitment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North and the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) pointed out, governors are fulfilling a vital role voluntarily. Recruitment is a major challenge in many areas, so we must take urgent action to ensure that employers can provide the flexibility—day release or time away from work—that their staff require to make a contribution. Particularly where we want to bring in expertise from professions that may be pressured, it is vital that employers support their staff to make a contribution as a governor.

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When the previous Labour Government were in power, civil servants had the scope to take a few days’ leave for their work as school governors or in similar roles, with the permission of their employer. I hope that the Government will consider how that might be done appropriately, without burdening employers and recognising that the role of school governor is crucial and that people need to be given flexibility to fulfil it properly and effectively. I hope that the Minister will set out in her response how such measures might be introduced.

As the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness has said, the Education Committee highlighted the importance of having professional clerks. The National Governors Association is campaigning for their introduction and is disappointed that the Department for Education has not set out its intention to make that happen. I hope that the Minister will reconsider and support the Education Committee’s recommendation, which will be good news to the hon. Gentleman and to me.

On accountability, there is a worrying trend in the reforms introduced by the Secretary of State. We have observed in previous debates on governance that there was an unexploded ordnance in the system and the lack of accountability would result in scandals. As we have seen in the case of the Al-Madinah free school, the Kings science academy, Barnfield federation in Luton and others, there are real concerns, and we must ensure that such incidents do not occur again.

There is concern about several other schools, and we must make sure that the school governing bodies have the appropriate power. Where the governing bodies are at fault, the system must be effective enough to intervene to ensure that the relevant action is taken to address such problems. At a time of reform when there are concerns about accountability, we must ensure that school governing boards are properly held to account and given appropriate support if they have to take action against school management to improve matters, as happened in the examples that I have given.

Performance is clearly a major issue. A balance must be struck between attracting the best possible people and ensuring that they are rooted in their communities. Recently, the Secretary of State described governors as

“Local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status not a job of work.”

I hope that the Minister will emphasise that we should not be using such language to refer to governors, who play a vital role. I hope that she recognises the important work done by governors, the need to support them to make their contribution and the need to improve their skills and capacities, so that they can continue to make a vital difference to our education system. I hope that she will take into consideration the questions that have been raised and the points that I have made and that she will take on board the importance of improving accountability and the status of governors in schools.

2.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) and the Education Committee on this

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excellent and well thought through report, which casts valuable light on an important issue in our education system that does not always get the attention it deserves. I am pleased to hear that so many members of the Education Committee are dedicated governors, and I congratulate them on that. A great deal of understanding of what goes on in the front line has informed the Committee’s report.

The Government believe that school governance has a vital role to play in driving up school and pupil performance. In an increasingly school-led system, we need governing bodies that create robust local accountability, and the future of schools is truly in governors’ hands. As has been said in the debate, there are more than 300,000 governors across the country, all of whom give of their time with great passion and effort to improve schools, and to improve the lives and outcomes of the children who attend them. Schools need dynamic, confident and skilled governing bodies that understand their responsibilities and are focused on their core functions. Many governors benefit from their role as school governors, which helps them to build up their skills in leadership and management, and improve their understanding of what goes on in schools and the community. We must all highlight the benefits of being a governor when we talk about that extremely important role.

The Government have made several reforms to improve the ease with which governing bodies can operate, and more sharply to focus the work of governing bodies on improving educational standards in schools. As several hon. Members have mentioned, new regulations have set out the strategic role of the governing body and the central role of the chair in setting the vision of the school, holding the head teacher to account for educational performance and ensuring that the school’s money is well spent. Those functions reflect the criteria that Ofsted inspectors use when they consider the effectiveness of governing bodies. Ofsted plays an important role in ensuring that those governing bodies are fit for purpose.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) commented, governing bodies may unfortunately have been diverted on to other issues of less strategic importance. The purpose of our reforms is to ensure that governors can spend more time holding the head teacher to account, ensuring that funds are well spent and that the quality of education in the school is high. One of my roles in the Department is to implement the new national curriculum, which will be ready in September 2014. I see one of the key roles of the governing body as ensuring that that implementation takes place and that schools take advantage of their new freedoms to create new school curricula. The governing body is a helpful conduit of information between the school and the community.

Alex Cunningham: On the question of accountability, does the Minister share the view of the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) that parents should be able to sack their governing bodies? Assuming that she does agree, should that apply to academies and free schools as well?

Elizabeth Truss: I am not sure that that is exactly how my hon. Friend put his point. It is down to Ofsted to identify weak governing-body performance. Ultimately, it is the decision of either the Secretary of State or the

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local authority to replace that governing body with an interim executive board, should it not be doing what it is meant to be doing.

[Official Report, 6 January 2014, Vol. 573, c. 1MC.]

Mr Graham Stuart: Will the Minister spell out how the powers of the Secretary of State and local authority to act if governance is failing differ between maintained schools and academies?

Elizabeth Truss: I will come to that point later in my comments, but in essence, the governing body in both cases can be replaced with an interim executive board.

Many hon. Members commented on retaining and recruiting high-quality governors. It is clearly critical that governors have the right skills to do the job. We set out clearly in the governors’ handbook the important strategic nature of the governors’ role and, as I commented, we have cut back on rules and regulations that tie governors up in red tape They now have much more flexibility in the way they operate. The best governing bodies identify explicitly the skills and competencies they need and audit regularly the skills of their current members.

There was some debate this afternoon about the size of a governing body. The Government’s view is that the size of a governing body should be no greater than it needs to be to get the necessary skills, but the No. 1 thing is that it gets the right skills. Size is secondary to ensuring that the skills are in place to do the job. My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) pointed out what can be done locally to recruit governors. I commend him for his activities in Calder Valley to promote the role of governors with employers. He lays out a lesson for many MPs about what they should do to promote the roles of governors in their local communities. We absolutely need to get the message across that the role is valuable and will help individuals in whatever career they decide to pursue.

We have given governing bodies the power to reconstitute themselves under a more flexible framework and to become smaller and more skills focused. We agree with the Committee that not enough governing bodies are using the flexibilities at the moment. We plan to consult on whether a move to reconstitution should be mandatory by September 2015, because we do not think that enough governing bodies are doing it at the moment. It will be interesting to see the results from that consultation.

The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) spoke extensively about training. I think we all agree that we want well trained governing bodies that are capable of exercising their role. We are keen for schools to use their budgets effectively. Ensuring that governors get the quality training they need is an effective way to do so. There might be a debate about how we achieve those objectives, but our view is that the outcomes of the Ofsted inspection process are the best way to make an assessment, rather than insisting on mandatory training, which can sometimes become a tick-box exercise. We want high-quality training and we want to know that, following that training, governors have the skills they need to do the job.

Developments in the level of training are needed, so in addition to expanding its training for chairs and aspiring chairs to offer 6,700 places by March 2015, early next year, the National College of Teaching and Leadership is launching specific training workshops for

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governors on understanding RAISEonline data, which my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal mentioned, driving financial efficiency in schools, and performance-related pay. Where we identify a gap in the training available, the NCTL is helping to provide it. We are continuing to expand the NCTL national leaders of governance programme, to mobilise outstanding chairs of governors to provide free peer-mentoring support for other chairs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) talked passionately about the need for the involvement of business in governing bodies, and I could not agree more. The Government are working with the Confederation of British Industry on a campaign to promote the role of employers in freeing up employees to get more involved in governing bodies, but the issue is broader than that and about more than governance. We need more business leaders in our classrooms working with children on specific subjects. That helps children to form high aspirations about the types of role they can go into. The new national curriculum is much more flexible and will enable more business involvement. We have seen some very good developments, for example, organisations such as Mykindacrowd facilitating the new computer curriculum that is coming in.

I also agree about the role of the professional clerk. NCTL is developing and will deliver a training programme for clerks. By 2015, it will have provided training for 2,000 highly skilled professional clerks, who have a vital role on the governing body.[Official Report, 6 January 2014, Vol. 573, c. 1MC.]

Mr Graham Stuart: Does the Minister feel that there needs to be regulatory change? We heard tales during our inquiry of the clerk of the governing body, whose role is to hold the head to account, being someone who works in the office of a headmaster. We felt that that was not the right situation. If changing it requires regulatory change, will she consider that?

Elizabeth Truss: As yet, we do not feel that that requires regulatory change, but if my hon. Friend has evidence of specific issues that have arisen, I will be interested to hear about them.

A number of points were raised about accountability. As the programme for international student assessment outcomes has shown this week, autonomy and accountability are two of the key drivers in any successful education system. Lord Nash told the Select Committee that he thought the Ofsted inspection framework was the sharpest tool in the box for improving the quality of governance. I certainly think that is true. Any school failure is a failure of governance. Interim executive boards can be an effective solution in certain schools to secure a step change in the schools’ performance, through a complete change in the school’s leadership and management. IEBs are not always necessary; sometimes the governing body can self-improve—ultimately, it is up to the local authority or the Secretary of State if the school is in an Ofsted category. Where individual governors are not pulling their weight, it is a matter for the chair of governors. We would like all chairs to have annual conversations to take stock with every member of the governing body. Ultimately, it is the chair’s responsibility to ensure that members of the governing body have the skills they need to do the job.

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Alex Cunningham: Will the Minister give way?

Elizabeth Truss: I am sorry. I must complete my remarks, otherwise we will run out of time before I address all the other points raised this afternoon.

In a multi-academy trust, things are more complicated, but there are significant potential benefits. The board of the multi-academy trust is responsible and accountable for all the academies within a trust and can take a strategic perspective. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) asked about maintained schools. The existing regulations contain ways that schools can federate that allow them to share governing expertise across schools, so we do not think there is a need for additional flexibilities in that respect. My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley asked whether we plan to extend the time off work that people are entitled to if they are governors to governors of academies. We do not think that that is necessary at this point. We do not want further regulation to get in the way of what should be a co-operative arrangement between schools and businesses. Our approach has been to remove regulations and point out the value of the job.

Ultimately, performing a role on a governing body is of benefit not only to the employee in building up their skills, but to the employer in having well qualified staff who are getting extra training provided by the school and can go back to contribute in the business. We would rather sell the role as a positive than say to employers, “This is something else you need to do.” The NCTL is developing a resource on multi-academy trusts to be published early next year. It will offer useful guidance on establishing a multi-academy trust and case studies on how academies have implemented the structure.

As I mentioned, the Government recognise the value and benefits of governance structures spanning more than one school or academy. It can bring opportunities for a far more strategic perspective and the ability to contrast between schools in the grouping. That can bring more robust accountability for head teachers, because the governors have more points of comparison when looking at different schools. In the next version of the model funding agreement, we will offer multi-academy trusts even greater flexibility by allowing local governing bodies to govern more than one school.

The Government recognise and celebrate the role of governors. We are working in a changing landscape that is moving towards a school-led system. The role of governor has never been more important. We are doing a lot of work, including working with the CBI to

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promote the role of governor, ensuring that we get new governors into the profession, as well as increasing the flexibility of schools.

3 pm

Mr Graham Stuart: It has been a great pleasure to have this debate today. The Minister looks shocked and horrified at the prospect of my summing up, but I am sure she will survive. We have had contributions by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, and thoughtful ones at that. Many of them were from Members who not only sit on the Select Committee and hear the evidence we receive, but who, prior to that, spent many years on governing bodies themselves, trying to making a difference to schools.

In her response to the debate, the Minister said, “The future of schools is truly in governors’ hands.” The Government have made good progress in taking the role of governors seriously; I congratulate her on that. I and the other members of the Committee will be delighted that the Government will be working with the CBI, the School Governors’ One-Stop Shop and, I assume, the national college on a campaign to promote the role of governors, in order to attract more people to be governors and to make a difference by filling the empty places for governors that we have heard about.

I would not be doing my job if I did not chide the Minister on one thing, which concerns the legal requirement to release staff. At the moment, companies are obliged to release staff for maintained schools but not for academies. Now, either the Government think that that requirement is an over-regulation and it should be abolished, so that all schools are on the same playing field, or they should extend that to cover academies. I cannot see any case—intellectually or otherwise—for justifying an unlevel playing field, such as the situation we are in now. So I ask the Minister to look at that issue again.

I have one final point. My understanding, and it may well be incorrect, is that the Secretary of State does not have the power to appoint an interim executive board for an academy; they have the power only to rescind the funding agreement. However, I may be wrong about that. If it turns out that the Minister is incorrect, perhaps she could write to me, as Chair of the Select Committee, to clarify matters. That would be very helpful in ensuring that we are all on the same page on that issue.

It has been a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Rosindell, and we look forward to our next debate under Sir Alan Meale.

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School Sport

[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: School sport following London 2012: No more political football, Third Report from the Education Committee, HC164, and the Government response, HC 723.]

3.2 pm

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan—as the Ministers, my hon. Friends the Members for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), swap places—and to have secured the debate this afternoon, and to have colleagues from across the House who are members of the Select Committee joining me.

My Committee published our report, “School sport following London 2012: No more political football”, in July this year. As the first anniversary of the Olympic and Paralympic games approached, we wanted to hold a short inquiry into school sport. Both the 2012 games were an extraordinary display of sport’s potential to inspire, move and excite us. For young people watching, the achievements of the likes of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and David Weir were a tremendous example of what hard work and dedication can achieve, as well as a great advert for a healthy lifestyle.

The games represented a badly needed opportunity to turn the tide. For too many young people today, sport does not play a significant role in their lives. As a consequence, they are significantly less fit than previous generations. In November, American researchers published an ambitious new dataset, covering more than 25 million children across 28 countries. It showed that children today run a mile 90 seconds slower than their counterparts from 30 years ago. Closer to home, in this country, one in five children are now overweight or obese when they enter reception class. The figure rises to nearly one in three by the end of primary education. That gives some sense of the scale of the challenge that faces us as a nation.

We were delighted by the interest in our inquiry. Our online survey about sports provision in schools received more than 300 responses from teachers, while a similar survey of young people received nearly 800 replies. We also visited three schools in east London: Hallsville primary school and Curwen primary school in Newham; and Barking Abbey school, a sports specialist college for 11 to 18-year-olds.

What were our main conclusions about school sport? First, we concluded that just as the foundations for verbal literacy and numeracy are established in the primary years of school, so too must the foundations of “physical literacy” be established. School is the one place where all young people have access to sporting activities, and it is where a lifelong sporting habit can be formed and built upon, which should be a priority for every pupil.

The Government’s position on school sport, as outlined in December 2010, emphasised the role of competitive sport. However, many witnesses told us that a focus on competition discourages some children, particularly girls. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation has reported

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that as many as half of girls are currently put off being active by their experiences of PE and sport in school. It is not that schools should not offer competitive sport—far from it. They should offer both competitive and non-competitive sporting opportunities, to ensure that sport provision appeals and is accessible to all pupils.

Our second conclusion was about how school sport is delivered. Pupils’ opportunities to become involved in school sports are often limited by a lack of facilities. For example, we were concerned about the availability of accessible swimming pools, especially as a recent survey by the Amateur Swimming Association found that around half of children aged between 7 and 11 could not swim 25 metres. Think about that; it is a truly sobering statistic.

That issue could be tackled through partnerships between schools to promote the sharing of facilities and, where possible, by encouraging private schools to make their pools available to local state schools. However, fruitful co-operation between schools is not simply a question of sharing physical resources; it also involves co-operating to set up sporting events. School sport partnerships were highly regarded by many witnesses. Their main strength lay in the links and networks that they created, particularly between school sport and community sport—the clubs in the communities around schools.

Evidence suggests that the Government’s decision to end funding for SSPs has had a negative impact on young people’s opportunities to access competitive sport in school. The Smith Institute reports that a third of schools have experienced a decrease in school sports since the end of the ring-fenced funding for SSPs. In our report, we recommended that the Government should devise a new strategy for school sport, building on the many positive elements of the SSP model. Can the Minister provide us with an update today on whether the Government intend to take such a strategy forward and, if so, on when we can expect it?

Our third finding related to the quality of sport teaching in schools. Ofsted has found that PE teaching needs improvement in 30% of the primary schools that it visited, and as I said earlier, it is at primary level that we need to get high-quality sport teaching in place, to build the positive attitudes, habits and interests for lifelong sporting activity. Research by the Youth Sport Trust shows that many primary teachers lack the confidence and competence to deliver PE properly.

In particular, we were very concerned by the discovery that many mainstream schools are unable to provide sport for disabled children, who are too often sent to the library instead of participating in sport. Initial teacher training for primary school teachers should include a more substantial course on PE, including PE for children with disabilities or special needs. When the Minister responds, I would be grateful to him if he clarified what action he will take to ensure that new teachers receive the training that they need, particularly at primary level, to deliver the transformation that the figures that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech show is clearly required.

If all these things are to take place, the right funding framework needs to be in place. The fourth conclusion of our report was that the Government need to ensure that sustained funding is available for school sport. Successive Governments have failed to provide long-term

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stability in this area, and the coalition should avoid falling into the same trap. The SSPs, which I have already mentioned, were undeniably expensive, and it is worth remembering that the previous Labour Government’s plan was not that SSPs should continue; they had planned for SSPs to come to an end.

The Government now propose to introduce the primary sport premium, which was announced in March this year. We believe that this programme is correctly focused on the primary phase of education. However, it is due to last for only two years. That is simply not long enough for schools to develop lasting provision. If the primary sport premium is not extended, this very worthwhile idea risks becoming yet another short-term fix.

Must we wait for a major sports event to be hosted in this country before the then Government announce some short-term measure? Occasional attempts at pump-priming or, more cynically, headline grabbing, are simply not good enough. We are also concerned that head teachers lack simple guidance on using this funding in the best way to meet the needs of their pupils and staff. Will the Minister therefore promise to look into how funding can be arranged for the long term? Will he also tell us what progress has been made on providing detailed guidance for schools, so that they can make the most of the primary sport premium in the time that it has left?

Of course, improving school sport is not simply a question of funding. Our fifth finding was that schools need to be made more accountable for their PE and sport provision. That would prevent resources from being diverted to areas on which schools are measured and held to account. Schools are rightly strongly held to account for the outcomes of their pupils, but where something is not a central focus for the school, it will be put to the side, and that happens all too often with sport.

Until 2010, schools were required to report on the number of pupils who participated in at least two hours a week of PE or sport. We acknowledge criticisms that that measure did not capture information about the quality of pupil engagement—it was not perfect—but we are concerned that, without some measure of activity, schools are not fully accountable for whether their pupils receive a decent amount of exercise. At the moment, it is highly unlikely that a head teacher will find their job under threat because they have failed woefully to provide for their pupils’ physical needs, so they concentrate entirely on the academic. We therefore recommended that schools be required to report annually on their website the proportion of children involved in at least two hours of core PE each week. If the Minister has alternative proposals, we would like to hear them, but sport at the moment goes by the bye, and that cannot be allowed to continue.

Beyond the time spent on PE and sport, the need to monitor the quality of teaching and provision was a theme that ran through all the evidence that we received. The Youth Sport Trust told us about school games kitemarks, which have been introduced to measure the quality of provision in schools. Schools should be encouraged to achieve such quality marks, but they should check that the scheme that they enter is sufficiently rigorous and meaningful.

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I have summarised our main recommendations. Five months on from our report, where do we stand? I confess to being rather disappointed. Although the Government response to our report was broadly supportive, it avoided committing to specific actions or a changed agenda. It did not address our concern about the need for a longer-term funding commitment—quite the contrary. Nor did Ministers make any conclusive statements about their plans to improve schools’ access to sport facilities. Regarding our concern that schools need to be more accountable for the quality and quantity of sport provided, the response implied satisfaction with current accountability structures. Like many Government Members and possibly Opposition Members, I do not want unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation, but in a schools system driven by the outcomes on which schools are measured and held to account, we must ensure that important factors such as sport do not lose out, as they do today.

The Government response is all the more disappointing because, last month, the House of Lords Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy published a report that largely echoed our concerns. It found that an exclusive focus on competitive sport risks discouraging some children from participating. That may be controversial in the Daily Mail, but I do not think that it is controversial with anyone who has had any experience of working with different children. The Committee reported that the difference in participation between young people with a limiting disability and those without is “unacceptably stark”. Its report highlighted the need for teachers, particularly in primary schools, to have specific training and skills to teach PE, and it called on the Government to conduct a review of initial training for specialist PE teachers. Their lordships also identified the importance of co-operation between schools, particularly between primary and secondary schools.

There is, therefore, great consensus about what needs to happen and about what is at stake. This summer, Public Health England reported that 70% of young people do not undertake the recommended one hour’s physical activity each day. What we do to address that lies in our hands. Sport is important for all our children, not just future Olympic hopefuls. I am optimistic that London 2012 can have a long-term legacy, but we need to do more to ensure that the promise that the games would “inspire a generation” is honoured in fact, not just in words.

If that is to happen, there is a challenge for every part of the system. Schools need to offer competitive and non-competitive sporting opportunities to maximise participation. The Government need to commit to longer-term funding provision and to hold schools properly to account. Teachers need to be properly trained, so they are confident in delivering high-quality PE and school sport. That is not rocket science, but it will require sustained funding, focus and ministerial support. In other words, it will require precisely the qualities that made the London Olympics such a success and that could now revitalise sport in our schools if Ministers take this opportunity.

3.15 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. As with my earlier contribution on school governors,

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I hope to offer further insight into the Committee’s thoughts—this time on school sports in the post-2012 environment—while expressing some of my own thoughts along the way.

Nobody doubts the importance of physical activity, and of having opportunities to participate in sport from a young age. Nowhere is that more appropriate than in our schools, where children are a captive audience and can learn of the full range of benefits that involvement can bring. I do not need to go into detail, because every Member present knows that sport can nurture the very best personal attributes; develop strong skills that cut across social, educational and physical frontiers; and inspire advancement away from the sporting arena.

Needless to say, the Committee’s report rightly recognised the importance of school sport as a central piece in that bigger picture. We were in broad agreement that the correct target for future Government investment is primary school level, as funding would allow positive messages and benefits to reach children at an early age and to stimulate the formation of positive attitudes that will shape future behaviours and, hopefully, last a lifetime.

That builds on the need for the Government to develop a long-term strategy for school sport, matched by sufficient funding to promote that vision. The primary sport premium, which is doubtless a step in the right direction, is not sufficient in itself. Similarly, while the Committee welcomed the Government’s announcement that 120 primary school specialists are to be trained, I share the concern that such a programme will struggle to improve sport provision across the 17,000 primary schools in England. With each specialist responsible for an average of 142 schools, I have difficulty imagining that any tangible benefits will be felt from investment on such a small scale.

At the same time, I am concerned that the positive outcomes of sport in schools are being jeopardised by the focus poured on to competitive sport, which risks turning young people away from physical activity altogether and undermines the purpose of encouraging a programme of school sports. The Chairman outlined that in considerable detail.

Like many of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee, I do not think that competitive sport should be done away with in schools. People, and children in particular, are competitive by nature. However, there is certainly a time and a place for competition, and I feel strongly that competitive sport should not automatically be favoured over non-competitive activities, as seems to be the current default position.

Inclusion and participation must be paramount, and they can be achieved in the simplest ways. It was great to visit the schools in east London, and to see some of the things happening there, including the multiple games taking place in the playground. However, one thing really tickled me. We were standing by a door, when all of a sudden, 20 or 30 children ran out of it and ran all the way round the playing field and straight back into their classroom. The head teacher told us that the school was using that physical activity as a way of stimulating the children. They might have got past the stage where they were learning anything in the classroom, so they needed to use a bit of energy and to express themselves in a different way. The head teacher told us that that small amount of physical activity ensured that the children were ready to learn as soon as they were

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back at their desks, which was tremendous. If such small activities can have a major benefit, a proper school sports programme can, too.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I am afraid that I could not resist the temptation to say that my hon. Friend raises that point only because he was jealous at not having the opportunity to join in. Is he aware of the scientific research—I do not think we considered it in our inquiry—that points to the link between physical activity, brain development and learning in the classroom? The head teacher was making the point, based on her experience, that physical activity clearly works, but the scientific evidence is there to back that up.

Alex Cunningham: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I do not know about the issue in as much detail as he does, but that is certainly a contributory factor. I assure him that I was not that jealous, because having played squash into my mid-40s, I now have a knee that says, “You shouldn’t run round the school playground.”

If the price of competition is inclusion, we should perhaps rethink whether a new balance is needed in the national curriculum between competitive sport and other activities, perhaps taking additional measures to encourage and promote more competitive sport as an extra-curricular option. With that idea in mind, I welcome the school games, not only as a legacy of the London 2012 games, but as an additional channel to enable young people to participate competitively, should they wish to. It is important, however, to ensure that funding is secured for long-term sustainability, and to allow participation to grow beyond the 60% of schools currently taking part.

Continuing the theme of participation and inclusion, the Committee’s report examines in detail school sport partnerships and the impact that cuts to funding have had on sport provision in schools. We heard from Linda Cairns, a school sport co-ordinator at George Abbot school in Guildford, that the funding cuts have resulted in the system tailing off, and that there are only a handful of school sport co-ordinators left. That was backed up by evidence from the NASUWT showing that 48% of local authorities recorded a decline in the number of partnerships, while a further 28% had no functioning partnership in their area. When I questioned her further, Linda said that the upshot was a hole in local sport provision, and that communities and local authorities lacked

“somebody who can link primaries to secondaries and all schools to clubs and community sport”.

Without those important ties, the glue that held together a highly successful and internationally recognised model for school sport has all but disappeared.

I am in no doubt that that is a tragedy for school sport and for the future well-being and development of young people. I know from personal experience in the borough of Stockton that the partnerships work. They encourage greater uptake and promote wider sporting opportunities, and such participation leads to positive outcomes. More than that, however, the partnerships created a true link between secondary and primary schools. I saw young people working with much younger children, which gave them someone to look up to and even admire. When we visited east London, we saw older students acting as mentors to the young. I was

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extremely encouraged to see their relationship. The younger ones hung on every word that the older pupils said. In another school, we saw the Football Association in action, and the young people were captivated by their tutors.

It does not matter where Select Committees go on their visits—it can be Holland, Denmark, Singapore or Timbuktu—but we are always taken to see the best. We get to see the things that work well, and the best practice. Of course, we know that that expertise or high quality is not to be found in most places. However, although we did not see some of the poorer provision in the country, we took evidence about the impact of the partnerships’ demise, and that may have redressed the balance to an extent. Many witnesses lamented the loss, because the partnerships were successful. Several witnesses strongly put forward a view that was supported by Ofsted, which reported that the impact of partnerships in maximising participation and increasing regular competition

“was clearly evident in the vast majority of schools visited”.

The evidence that stands out in my mind came from triple-jump gold medallist Jonathan Edwards, who told the Committee that dismantling partnerships

“wasn’t well thought through and left many people feeling incredulous”.

There was also universal agreement that SSPs were an efficient way to ensure that all young people had wider opportunities to take part in school sport, and to enable expertise to be developed in school. I acknowledge that school sport partnerships were expensive, but they worked and achieved tremendous success.

The Government claim to have removed the requirement on schools to belong to partnerships, but not their ability to do so. That is technically true, but in reality, without funding, partnerships cannot continue. I hope that the Government will remain true to their word, and that they will closely monitor their approach. Successive Governments have tinkered with school sport and have not got stuck in to create a long-term approach. I hope that after analysis and evaluation the present Government will recognise the sustainable and lasting benefits brought by partnerships, and will correct their mistake by reinstating the funding. School sport partnerships are a true investment in the future, in every sense. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs, and the need for funding cuts is not reason enough to forgo the positive outcomes of happy, healthier and engaged young people.

3.25 pm

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I am pleased to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Alan.

As we all know, good-quality school sport is important: it can deliver improved education, health and social outcomes for the nation and individuals. School is the one place where everybody gets the opportunity to play sport and take part in physical activity, so it has an important role in the development of a lifelong sporting habit. The Education Committee wanted the inquiry because one of the aims of the London Olympics was to “inspire a generation”. The report was timed for the first anniversary of the London games. We also wanted to see whether the Government’s policy was achieving

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an increase in school sport; to scope the appropriateness of their plans for a school sport legacy from the games, and the likelihood of those plans being carried out; to assess the impact so far of London 2012 on the take-up of competitive sport in schools; and to assess what further measures should be taken to ensure a sustainable and effective legacy in school sport following London 2012.

The first change by the coalition Government was the announcement that the ring-fencing for school sport partnerships would end in March 2011, the rationale being that that would increase and encourage more competitive sport in schools. That brought quite a high level of disagreement from schools and, as a result, the Secretary of State announced an extension of the funding until August 2011. He also gave an extra £65 million to enable secondary PE teachers to spend a day a week assisting and supporting primary schools. In March 2013, the Government announced new ring-fenced funding of £150 million per annum for two years, for primary school sport. That, unusually, is funded from three Whitehall Departments—the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Each primary school in England is getting approximately £9,250 per annum. That, as hon. Members will know, is called the primary sport premium. At the same time, as the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) said, the Government announced a pilot in which 120 new primary teachers were trained this summer with a specialism in PE.

Those who championed the previous £2.5 billion programme of SSPs regarded them as part of the golden age of school sports and an excellent model for universal delivery—so much so that the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) told us that they were admired and copied internationally. Jonathan Edwards told us that the removal of SSPs left many people feeling incredulous. There was almost universal agreement from all our witnesses that, where SSPs worked well, they were an incredibly effective way to ensure that all young people had wider opportunities to take part in school sport, and to enable expertise to be developed in schools. Even Ofsted, we heard, reported that SSPs were maximising participation and increasing regular competition.

Having said all the above, virtually every witness said that the new policy was exactly right to aim pump-priming money for school sports at primary schools, and that it was right to ring-fence the primary sport premium, ensuring that the money was spent on sport.

The biggest problem for the primary sports premium, as with SSPs, is that the money is not long term, and there is not a long-term strategy. As was said by the Chair of the Education Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Committee strongly felt that now is the time to say, “No more political football with school sport.” Neither the previous nor the current Government seem to have had a long-term policy or strategy for school sports. In fact, the Minister said that he could not commit to any longer-term funding and would be “batting very hard” for further funds. The Committee believes that the £300 million funding for the primary sports premium could be important, but the risks associated with its

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being wasted if it is not put to effective use, long term, could lead to danger of its becoming a short-lived gimmick.

I need to mention special needs and disability sport, because London 2012 had the most successful Paralympic games in history. Baroness Grey-Thompson told us that mainstream schools had traditionally made it hard for disabled people to find competition activities, compete on a level playing field, and be included. Often they were sent to the school library during PE classes. We also learned that special schools were often better at delivering sports for disabled pupils, which was often down to both facilities and teacher training in mainstream schools.

Witnesses praised the school games highly as a means through which disabled young people could access competitive sporting opportunities. Some 14,000 disabled children took part in the games in the first year, but there was criticism, too, with some referral units or special schools unable to access funding to support the games beyond local level. It was nigh on impossible for pupils with particularly challenging behaviour to attend.

We took evidence on various subjects, ranging from whether the standard of two hours of PE per student per week in schools being scrapped was a good thing, to whether physical fitness should be a part of the new education, health and care plans. What were our conclusions and recommendations? Some have been mentioned, but there were 24 in all—some recommendations and some statements—and I shall mention just two, which are crucial to ensuring that we meet the ambitions of the London Olympics, crucial to the legacy of those games, and important for the health and well-being of our nation.

I shall talk about recommendations 4 and 10. On recommendation 4, school sport is too important for it to rely on occasional efforts at pump-priming. The Government must commit to a long-term vision for school sport, accompanied by long-term funding. We recommend that the Government set out a plan for the sustained support and development of their school sports policy, including measures to ensure a cross-departmental vision and effective working across all relevant Departments.

On recommendation 10, we said:

“We are concerned that the timeframe of the primary sport premium is not sufficient to allow a long-term provision to be built. It risks replicating previous short-term fixes rather than creating a long term solution. On its own,”

as we have heard,

“the primary sport premium is inadequate. If the Government is to secure a legacy from London 2012 and demonstrate its commitment to school sport, the primary sport premium must be embedded within a long-term strategy, with sustained funding.”

Of all our recommendations, those are the two key ones that need urgent attention, and that we need to embed for the long term; that would be an investment in the long-term well-being of our nation.

3.34 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I will mention a number of comments, particularly by the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), who made some good points, as did my hon. Friend the Member for

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Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and the Select Committee Chair, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart).

Hon. Members have mentioned Jonathan Edwards’ excellent account to the Committee, when we met him with two young athletes. He was clear about the wider benefits of sport, physical activity and participation. He drew our attention, in his concluding comment, to the health impact of taking part in sport. The wider benefits are as important, if not more so, as the benefits of taking part in sport, including competitive sport. That came out in the evidence of a number of witnesses.

This was an inquiry about school sports and the Olympic legacy, so we asked questions about the legacy, too. Jonathan Edwards drew our attention to the fact that Pierre de Coubertin, when setting up the modern Olympic movement, visited this country because he was impressed with the way that sport was integrated throughout the education system and that we demonstrated the principle of a healthy mind in a healthy body. In the 19th century, the principle of the value of sport and education was well established in this country. It is instructive that there is nothing new in some of the things that we discuss today about the origins of sport and its role in school, and the evidence of what constitutes good practice.

The hon. Member for Calder Valley demonstrated the value of the primary sport premium’s being brought together with funding from three Departments. We heard in evidence just how hard that has been historically. [Interruption.] The Minister is reacting as if I may be on to something here. It has been hard, historically, to get Ministers from different Departments together to discuss issues where there is a crossover. The way that Whitehall and Government work often makes such things far more difficult than they should be. The Government deserve some praise for achieving that success.

As hon. Members said, we heard a passionate defence of school sport partnerships from pretty much every witness. My authority in Sefton had a well organised school sport partnerships model, with the secondary schools providing the support, expertise, co-ordination and enthusiasm to include the primary schools. The engagement of children in primary schools in Sefton was exceptionally good, while the school sport partnership model survived. I am afraid that it is a different story today, although it has been instructive to listen to teachers and others involved in making the best of the primary sports premium money, and to see how they are achieving that, to a greater or lesser degree.

It is fair to say—I will return to this point—that there is some patchy evidence. There are some good and not so good examples of what is happening already with the primary money that is available. I agree that, in times of financial restraint, primary is the place to invest limited amounts of money. However, I regret—this point was made in evidence—that the successful model had to be completely dismantled first and that there was this gap. A number of schemes have been completely stopped and then, some two or three years later, the Government have brought back a reduced level of investment. Building Schools for the Future is another example, in the education sector, of a programme’s complete cancellation and a later investment in school building.

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The reason given for the cancellation of the school sport partnerships was largely about the high level of investment; we heard the figure of £2.5 billion just now. However, if the criticism is that it was too much money, why was a reduced level of investment not maintained, given the success that had been achieved? I hope that some of those successes will be re-instigated by the new programme.

When we went to Curwen primary school in east London, we heard evidence about some of the challenges of the new model. The head teacher there told us how he had been inundated with calls from commercial suppliers wanting him to spend money on their coaching programmes. He adequately analysed how that would be unsuitable, because the money was just not going to last long, and there was no co-ordinated approach. What he was after was advice, guidance, support and some kind of co-ordination, as we had with SSPs, to make the most of the money.

I have heard similar things in my own authority regarding some the ways in which the money might be spent. I am afraid that some schools are using the money in that way, and the money will not be as effective as it might be. I understand that the Government are keen to allow schools to make their own decisions and to provide them with the autonomy to do so. However, I urge the Minister to ensure that guidance and co-ordination are a way not only of getting good value for money, but of making the best of the programme to the benefit of the children who are supposed to benefit.

The hon. Member for Calder Valley mentioned education, health and care plans. The report indicates that physical activity should be part of that, which was a comment made to us by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. That is an important point for disabled children, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it.

Regarding long-term funding, I do not know whether hon. Members have missed this, but the Chancellor has today announced an extension of the funding for a further year to 2016. That is of course to be welcomed, but it does not get past our recommendation that funding should be on a long-term, sustainable basis, which we need to move on to.

The issue is not just about primary schools. While primaries are the right place in which to put investment when one does not have much money, we need to create a culture. That comes back to physical literacy, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. If we want to create a culture where people engage in sport of one sort or another and are physically active, to the benefit of their health, their brain development, their academic study, which is evidenced as well, their behaviour, their concentration and the self-confidence that comes from physical activity, we need to look at a longer-term strategy, whether that means additional money or linking with the way in which the primary school partnership system works.

The programme cannot end at 11. I know that secondary schools have greater resources and that school sport is well established in secondary, but somehow there needs to be a link, some co-ordination, a long-term approach and a correctly balanced combination of physical activity

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and sport. As someone who still does a lot of competitive sport—or tries to; that is probably the right way to put it these days—I am passionate about the role of competitive sport. However, I recognise that, for a lot of people, it is not the be all and end all. It does not excite them; in fact it can be quite off-putting. Nevertheless, if we want people to be physically active, our effort should not end in secondary school, but continue into further education, higher education and the world of work. We need to look at our longer-term culture. That links back to the Olympics legacy. I hope that that is where the policy could end up. As a result of the report, that is very much an opportunity. The Youth Sport Trust said in its evidence that physical activity goes much wider than participation in competitive sport. That point is well made, but I understand the emphasis on competitive sport.

Again, the report was about the Olympic legacy. I agree that we want to see our high fliers achieving. We had a fantastic Olympics. If we can maintain that at Rio and beyond, in terms of Olympic and Paralympic medals, who knows? We might even retain the Ashes—we can but hope—and go to the World cup having discovered some new players who can do reasonably well. That is the pinnacle of sport. That is the pinnacle of what we are trying to achieve. It makes a huge contribution to our national success, but it is about everyone, and it is important to have an inclusive approach.

We heard about teenage girls’ reluctance to take part in competitive sport. They are not the only group who are reluctant, but it is of particular concern. I forget which witness it was—it was probably more than one witness—but they talked about involving teenage girls in some kind of physical activity, where they realise that they can take part and that it is not the end of the world if they have a hair out of place; I have to be careful, because my daughter would have me in a lot of trouble if I say the wrong thing. There are opportunities, and I think the evidence is that once teenage girls get involved in some kind of physical activity, they go on to participate in more and more, including competitive sport. I hope that our evidence about girls in sport will be considered.

I have mentioned the other benefits, including benefits to health and school work. Those are incredibly important. If we are looking to improve education attainment, school work and a child’s life chances, the value of physical activity is not just a value in itself, incredibly important though that is. If we want successful young people, the importance of physical activity and of sport should not be underestimated. We saw evidence on our visits and we heard evidence in some of the sessions of how important that is for many young people, who otherwise can be excluded. However, once they get involved and find something that they enjoy doing, the benefits for them in other parts of their lives and studies are second to none.

The report is excellent. It was one of the best inquiries I have been involved in since I have been here. It tied into many other issues, not least performance in school and qualifications. All the recommendations are worth looking at.

One point that came out, which other hon. Members have touched on, was the lack of PE training for primary teachers. The work force issue is important. I remember hearing from one of the witnesses that many teachers go into primary deliberately because they do not like

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sport. That is the reality in the primary sector. Therefore, support for PE teachers is incredibly important. If the money can be used for anything, perhaps it should be on that support. Again, at Curwen primary, we saw the way in which the FA went in to create self-sufficiency by producing a skills programme and trained the teachers to run it over a longer time. I encourage the Minister to consider how that money could be used to create self-sufficiency, so that the importance of physical activity and sport in primary schools is well understood and teachers in the primary sector are in a position to deliver on the report’s recommendations. I know the Government would like to see that.

3.50 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir Alan.

I congratulate the Select Committee on its excellent investigation into school sport. The report is important. It is very sad that we are having this debate. The Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), set out the case powerfully, and I pay tribute to him for his comments. There was a great festival of sport in 2012. After winning the bid in 2005, we talked a great deal about the need to build a legacy by using the opportunity to inspire a generation. Sadly, the foundation on which we should have been inspiring that generation—the structure through which we delivered school sport—was taken away. I commend the Select Committee on what it has done.

Modesty forbids me from commending the report published by the Smith Institute, which the Chair mentioned, because I edited it and wrote the foreword. A number of eminent people wrote essays in the report on how we should structure the future of school and community sport to try to put right what has clearly gone horribly wrong.

We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), and from the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), and there is broad consensus that school sport partnerships worked, that wider benefits come from people being involved in sport, and that there is a need for a long-term, coherent plan to take us forward on sports. That consensus is evident in the report and in the comments made today. It is worth considering the history, because the Government’s thinking has been inconsistent for some time.

Mr Graham Stuart: School sport partnerships were a characteristically very expensive and temporary arrangement by the previous Government, so it is not as if this Government have dismantled a long-term vision and framework. We have moved from one expensive and patchy system to another. Successive Governments have failed to provide the long-term framework and vision that we need.

Clive Efford: I am reluctant to differ with the hon. Gentleman, but school sport partnerships were in place for some time and had a major effect on participation in sport. I would accept his point if we had moved smoothly from one system to the other, but that is not what happened.

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Prior to the general election, the then shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), who is now Health Secretary, and the then shadow Sports Minister, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), produced a document, “Extending Opportunities: A Conservative policy paper on sport.” Two things were mentioned in relation to school sports. First:

“The school environment provides the majority of children with their first experiences of sport. This experience is likely to govern their approach to sport for the rest of their lives.”

The document goes on to address the contribution of school sport partnerships. On the same page, the document states that the Conservative party would:

“Re-examine Building Schools for the Future to see how sports provision can be enhanced.”

I mention that document because the sad thing is that as soon as the Government came into office, both Building Schools for the Future, which, as the document recognises, improved school facilities, and the funding for school sport partnerships were taken away. That announcement was made in October 2010, and it was almost the kiss of death for two key elements of delivering sport in our schools. There is no doubt that Building Schools for the Future improved facilities in our schools; we could have used it to build a framework for delivering excellent sport provision, both competitive and non-competitive, in our schools. There was inconsistency between what the Government said before the election, and what they did after it.

It is also worth setting out what the school sport partnerships achieved, because in 2002 the PE and school sport survey highlighted that only one child in four was doing two hours of PE a week. Under the school sport partnerships, by 2007-08, the figure had increased to 90%. In fact, the success of school sport partnerships led in that year to steps being taken to introduce a target of three hours of PE a week, and the five-hour commitment meant that almost 55% of children were doing at least three hours of PE a week and were moving towards the five-hour commitment.

We set very challenging, but achievable, targets as a measure of our ambition. We wanted to get 2 million more people active and, by 2012, we wanted 60% of children to do five hours of PE a week during curriculum time and after school. Before the election, the then shadow Sports Minister said on Radio 5 Live that he thought it would be wrong to dismantle school sport partnerships after 13 years of work, and that his party would build on the partnerships. The Conservative party’s “Sport in schools” policy briefing note stated that schools would be

“free to enter as many or as few sports as they want, and there would be preliminary city and county heats, perhaps using the School Sport Partnerships infrastructure”.

Again, we see what the party went on to do.

The Conservative policy also states:

“We will also publish data about schools’ sports facilities and their provision of competitive sporting opportunities”.

In opposition, the Conservative party committed to introducing competitive sport in schools and went on and did it. The current Government built on the school games introduced by the previous Government, which is an excellent example of what can be achieved for

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sport in our schools, and I support what they have achieved, but as has been pointed out, the funding has a limited time scale, which makes me question whether it will exist in the long term. A consistent criticism—of both the previous and current Governments, I grant—is that what we need is some form of long-term planning. If the Government are to produce figures for participation in competitive sport, surely it follows that they should provide statistics on non-competitive sport, too, so that parents may have a clear idea of exactly what they can expect from physical and recreational activity provided to their children at school.

In 2010, money was taken away from the school sport partnerships with no consultation and no planning whatever. We have heard what Jonathan Edwards thought about that, and at the time many others were highly critical of what the Secretary of State for Education did without considering the consequences or putting anything else in place. That is a key point. The Secretary of State wrote to Baroness Campbell of Loughborough:

“I can confirm therefore that the Department will not continue to provide ring-fenced funding for school sport partnerships. I am also announcing that the Department is lifting, immediately, the many requirements of the previous Government's PE and Sport Strategy, so giving schools the clarity and freedom to concentrate on competitive school sport.”

He continued with a list:

“I am removing the need for schools to:

Plan and implement their part of a ‘five hour offer’”—

so the five-hour offer was off the agenda—

“Collect information about every pupil for an annual survey;”—

so we had no idea what was going on in schools—

“Deliver a range of new Government sport initiatives each year;”—

if we are trying to get uniformity of delivery across schools, why would one want that?—and

“Report termly to the Youth Sport Trust on various performance indicators”.

I might actually sympathise with that last one, because the Youth Sport Trust was heavy on data collection, but that does not justify the Government taking away all its funding and that of school sport partnerships in the way that they did. Everyone has said that the partnerships were a foundation on which we could have built. If things were wrong, we could have altered or reformed them to make them more effective.

Bill Esterson: On my hon. Friend’s point about reform, it would have been a good idea—it is still possible—to measure how effective the programmes or projects were. That is what should have happened. Given that we are where we are, does he agree that we need to measure the effectiveness of the primary school sports premium? It is a long-term project, so it is important that the data have value.

Clive Efford: The Government have said that the scheme will be externally evaluated, and I would like to hear how that will be done, and what will be looked at.

This point goes back to the intervention from the Chair of the Education Committee. Following the Secretary of State’s announcement, and the decision to take money away from school sport partnerships on a whim, there

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was a hue and cry from people involved in sport and school sport in particular. If you check


, Sir Alan, you will find that I was one of those angry people. I am sure that a sense of how shocked and angry I was at the sudden announcement just leaps out of the page. The Secretary of State was forced to come back to Parliament to make another announcement, in which he reinstated £65 million—£32.5 million a year for two years—for PE teacher release, whereby teachers would be released for a day a week to co-ordinate sports in their area. Through a series of freedom of information requests, I found out that that funding was resulting in 60% less time being spent organising school sport than was spent by school sport co-ordinators under school sport partnerships. Despite attempts to back-fill the hole, the damage had been done. There was a significant reduction in the amount of time being spent organising sport outside the classroom.

In addition—it really is a sorry pattern—the Government have watered down protections for school playing fields in the national planning framework. Schools are no longer required to provide a specified amount of playing field space; they merely have to provide suitable outdoor space. It also beggars belief that free schools can open up with absolutely no sport provision whatever. That cannot be right and is not consistent with the actions of a Government who value school sport and consider it deserving of higher priority in the curriculum. In August 2012, the Government abolished the two-hour target; without any means of monitoring what is going on, it is difficult to judge what the implications have been.

The announcement of the £150 million scheme was welcome, but as I pointed out to the Chair of the Education Committee, it came after the dismantling of the structures put in place for school sport. The emphasis on primary schools has been welcomed, and I echo that to some degree, and will return to the subject. The funding is ring-fenced, which is another U-turn, because we have been told that ring-fencing was out of favour under this Government, and that schools should use money as they wish. How will the Government monitor the scheme? We welcome the specialist PE training of 120 primary teachers, but it is a drop in the ocean across 17,000 primary schools. There are also questions about Ofsted’s capability. Can we be sure that Ofsted personnel are properly trained and equipped to evaluate what is going on? The issue is not just the two hours, but what happens during those two hours. We want to ensure that school sport is evaluated in the right way.

When the Government announced the school games, which I welcome, it was an excuse to cover up the loss of school sport partnerships. That was an attack on people who value increasing participation. In a blog on the “ConservativeHome” website in 2011, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey, said that the Government were

“banishing once and for all the left-wing orthodoxy that promotes ‘prizes for all’ and derides competition”.

That is a classic example of accusing one’s opponent of being in favour of something and then abolishing it. The previous Government introduced school games and certainly were not at all opposed to competitive sport. In fact, we said that where people were motivated, and wanted to excel and to participate in competitive

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sport, they should be able to do so. School sport partnerships were successful at increasing participation in competitive sport.

Craig Whittaker: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but only to a point. It was clear from evidence heard by the Education Committee that where school sport partnerships worked well, they worked very well, but they did not work well in many areas. Another piece of evidence made it clear that, given the £2.5 billion cost, they were perhaps not the most effective way of spending the money.

Clive Efford: Rolling up all the money to £2.5 billion makes the programme sound very expensive. It was actually £162 million a year, and this Government have put £150 million into the primary school sports premium. I do accept, however, that school sport partnerships did not work so well in some areas, but that does not justify getting rid of the whole scheme. They were a good foundation on which we should have been building.

I must start to draw my comments to a close. In the Government’s response to the Education Committee’s point about competitive sport, I notice that they mention dance as an activity that they want to be encouraged in schools. I assume that that means that there is a difference of opinion with the Prime Minister, who was being critical when he said that the

“two hours that is laid down is often met through sort of Indian dancing classes.”

I assume that that policy is no longer being followed.

I will conclude, because I want to give the Minister a fair go at coming back at me. I think that I have been going for nearly 20 minutes, Sir Alan—the speech timer seems to have stopped.

What do we want in the future? What are we looking for? I welcome the point about core physical literacy and the investment in primary schools. Investment in specialist teaching in primary schools is not to replace PE, but in addition to it. We must not have teachers feeling that they have somehow abdicated responsibility for teaching PE because that money is going into our primary schools. It is important for PE to be part of the curriculum, and I support the Select Committee recommendation that teacher training be altered to cover that. We also want co-ordinators for PE in every primary school, as we have for maths and literacy, so that it has similar status, and so that someone takes responsibility for ensuring not only that a decent amount of PE is taught—we would restore the two-hour minimum requirement—but that it is taught at a decent standard.

On physical literacy, we need to get it right from day one, which means starting when children are at pre-school. We need to talk to carers, parents and the health service—health visitors and such people—to ensure that everyone understands that developing core physical literacy from day one is important. From an early age, if children feel inadequate, they may start to use avoidance tactics, so that they do not get into a situation in which they feel challenged, and we see that behaviour in relation to physical activity. It is therefore important that we encourage everyone to instil the idea of physical activity in the right way, and that we develop physical literacy and core physical strength in children from the earliest age.

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I support the primary premium money, so that children, in particular at key stage 2, get the broadest experience of as vast a range of sports as we can achieve at that stage of their education. When they go to secondary school, they can then make informed choices about the sports and physical activities that they might want to get involved in. I agree with points made earlier: this is not only about competition. It has to be about getting people active and instilling that habit in them for a lifetime.

We need long-term planning. I have been all over the country, talking to people involved at all levels of sport, including PE teachers and co-ordinators, and they want long-term planning from Government. They also want politicians to co-operate with one another. I would welcome the opportunity to sit down and talk across Government about a long-term plan for sport and recreational activity in our schools and communities, so that we can give people the consistency and therefore the confidence to plan ahead for the sorts of sports that they are delivering in their communities. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.