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Amendment No. 182 goes further and underlines the opposition of the Liberal Democrats to the concept of a school driven by parents. While it would prevent non-approved foundations proposing new schools without first registering with the Schools commissioner, it would also apply to groups of parents or any other private promoter. Furthermore, it would require local authorities to seek approval from the schools commissioner if they wish to establish new schools, which I am not sure is the intention here. This would mean an awful lot more bureaucracy with unintended consequences. Indeed, it is interesting to note that while the Liberal Democrats have spent so much time both here and in another place criticising the Government and the Opposition for imposing central control from Whitehall, here they propose an unnecessary central layer of bureaucracy from Whitehall.
Turning to a redefinition of the word foundation, set out in Amendments Nos. 125B to 125D, we see that Amendment No. 125B redefines foundations where a local authority is represented on the foundation. It would mean that a,
of the local education authority. However, it should be noted that members of local education authorities are currently prohibited from acting as charity trustees under the draft education regulations 2006 covering the requirements as to foundations. I am not sure what a majority, but no more than 33 per cent., means. Perhaps the noble Baroness meant plurality, although perhaps not since it also specifies that a second 33 per cent would be represented by parents. The remaining third would be represented by the community. I am not sure of the purpose behind this amendment. However, it would prevent a number of possibilities, including the possibility of a local authority entering into partnership with a philanthropic organisation such as an educational charity or livery company for the purpose of running a school, which would be a great shamein fact, it would be a disaster.
I hope that Amendment No. 125C is unnecessary since I imagine that trusts could already act in the way envisaged in the amendment. Amendment No. 125D would remove new Section 23(b) of the School Standards and Framework Act, which will allow the Secretary of State to remove charity trustees. This was raised in another place, at the end of which Sarah Teather MP said that the then Minister had addressed most of her concerns. At the time the Minister made it clear that the removal of a charity trustee was a fallback position to be used in exceptional circumstances and gave compelling reasons for having such a power, particularly that it is impossible to set out in regulations all possible future circumstances. Paragraph 7 of the draft regulations shows that the power can be used only where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person has acted in any way incompatible with the objectives or purposes of the foundation or the person is likely to bring into disrepute any school to which the foundation appoints governors. I believe that when we are dealing with children in education, it is vitally important to protect them from unsuitable persons. If Clause 125D were
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Perhaps I may add a point on the absence of information for parents to act on when choosing a school. We look forward to seeing the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, who I know is keen on having some form of information pack. Indeed, he goes further than that by suggesting information centres to give parents the opportunity to gather information easily on the different schools and choices available to them within their area.
Lord Adonis: Amendment No. 58 seeks to ensure that the time for promoters for submit proposals should be reasonable. We agree, but I am glad to say that in fact the regulations concerning this provision, which I have now circulated, lay down that the period must be at least four months. As those regulations will be in place, that will be an absolute requirement. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and other noble Lords will agree that four months is a reasonable period, including for community groups that may take longer to put proposals together.
On Amendments Nos. 59, 61, 121A, 125A and 182, we agree that there need to be appropriate safeguards against unsuitable partners being involved in the running of schools. That is why we have a proper process in place for governing bodies to publish proposals in respect of trusts and to take decisions in relation to them. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, recognised, substantial guidance is being made available to schools on this, which I think meets the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Williams. I have circulated the draft guidance to the Committee. I quote from page 128 of it:
Consider whether and how the acquisition of the particular Trust will support the school in raising standards, improving the quality of teaching and learning and improving delivery of the five Every Child Matters outcomes for all children;
Consider whether particular Trusts should be considered unsuitable on the grounds of inappropriatenessfor example, ensure that Trust partners are not involved in activities that may be considered inappropriate for children and young people (for example, tobacco, gambling, adult entertainment, alcohol etc.).
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Of course, as he suggests, the recommendations and advice given in the document that he has circulated are extremely acceptable, and anyone would recognise that.
The big question is why parents per se are not given an opportunity to contribute to that decision because they know the names and qualifications of those involved. Why do they have to go through the governing body to do that, and why is it a matter only for the governing body to determine how far their views are taken into account?
Lord Adonis: The governing body will need to take into account the views of parents. We shall debate later the noble Baronesss precise amendments on ballots of parents. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments, but this is the standard procedure for schools taking decisions of the utmost gravity affecting them in many other areas, including a whole range of other characteristics concerning the future of the school. We do not believe that, in qualitative terms, this is any different.
However, over and above the requirements on the school governing body both in terms of how it makes the decision and the factors that it must take into account, we have given a power to local authorities to refer proposals to the adjudicator when they are concerned about the implications for a particular trust of standards at a school. The adjudicator will then make a professional and impartial judgment, which, of course, will override that of the governing body in the event of that judgment being different. We do not think it necessary to regulate further than that. In particular, we believe that the creation of a national register would act as a barrier to innovation and fetter the freedom of governing bodies to decide what is best for their own schools, subject to oversight by the adjudicator.
In so far as the register proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is intended to be illustrative and informative to encourage the development of appropriate trusts, this function will indeed be performed by the national schools commissioner, who will keep a record of all trusts established and make it available on his website. Therefore, there will be no need TO use the FoI Act, as the noble Baroness feared.
With regard to the kinds of trusts that may come forward, we expect that they will include higher and further education institutions, existing successful schools and bona fide education and business foundations. A particular concern of the noble Baroness is whether they can include community trusts. If she means trusts that have local authority engagement within the provisions of the Bill as it stands, they absolutely can. We will give strong encouragement to local authorities to be engaged in trusts alongside other local community groups and organisations which can make a substantial contribution to improving schools.
Amendment No. 60 would require a notice published by a local authority inviting bids in a competition to specify in what ways proposals would improve education in the area, especially those from disadvantaged homes. I believe we have covered that. The illustrative regulations
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Amendments Nos. 125BA and 125C seek to enhance the influence of the local authority over trusts and trust schools. As I say, we support the concept of a community trust. If that means a trust as set out under the provisions of the Bill, of course it can proceed. The 20 per cent level for local authority engagement in trusts, as set out in the Bill, gives local authorities the flexibility to play a valuable role in brokering those relationships and supporting the formation of trusts in their communities. The 20 per cent figure is also consistent with provisions in local government legislation about local authority involvement in companies and trusts more widely.
However, we do not believe that it is right to increase that proportion beyond 20 per cent, which will get close to making local authorities the dominant force in a trust. If a local authority wishes to have that level of control over a trust, it anyway has the option of promoting a community school and exercising this control directly, provided that its track record is good enough. When taken in the round, our policy on trusts is balanced, proportional and workable. Our policy on collaboration is enabling and not prescriptive. I hope that I have met the concerns that have been raised.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I should like to clear up one or two misconceptions on the part of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, before replying to some of the points that he has made. I should make absolutely clear that we are not opposed to trusts being established by groups of parents. Essentially, we would very much like to see that. The concept of the local community trust is the local authority and local groups of parents getting together to promote a local community of schools. I am sorry that the noble Baroness did not read Amendment No. 182 to mean this, but that is what we meant.
I also think that the noble Baroness misread another amendment. The clean version which has been circulated in manuscript today makes it quite clear that we are looking at members of local authorities. We are specifically looking to a situation where it might be the district council, which is not an education authority, participating in the local community trust. We feel that this is a question of trying to get local community and democratic representation within the concept of the trust. So far as the trust is concerned, schools will be spending a considerable proportion of money. It is appropriate
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In relation to the other set of amendments, we accept, as the Minister says, that four months is reasonable. As I have suggested, in so far as it would be a group of parents proposing to do this, it would take time to get together, particularly if proposals have to be put forward in full legalistic form. It takes time to find the appropriate legal expertise and to raise the money to pay for the expertise that one has to lay on in the circumstances. The Minister made it clear that it is up to the school governing body to be discriminatory among those who might be suggesting themselves as sponsors of trusts, particularly if it is a small primary school, However, it is also important to remember that it is not always easy for such a governing body to be particularly knowledgeable and in this sense I am pleased to hear that as far as he is concerned they will have the help of the schools commissioner in being able to discriminate between what one might term good and bad sponsors. The framework of regulations as he says lays that down but nevertheless they have to be interpreted and implemented by the governing body and it is not always easy for a governing body to be able to discriminate in this way. It could be useful to have a register in such circumstances.
I am delighted that the Minister is as positive ashe is about the concept of community trusts or foundations. From these Benches this is very much our vision of the way in which we would like to see the provisions working. We have made it clear that we are not enamoured of the private sector sponsors and would prefer to see such foundations emerging from the local community, but with the reassurances that he has given us I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
( ) The Secretary of State may not refuse consent under subsection (5)(b)(ii) in any case in which the request by the authority for such consent is shown to be supported by parents in such numbers and in such categories as may be prescribed by regulations.
The noble Baroness said: The heart of this group of amendments concerns ballots and their consequences and the expression of parental opinion in a clear majority with regard to the establishment of new schools and the laying down of proposals for the establishment of new maintained schools. The essence of the Governments view of the Bill as I mentioned a moment or two ago is that the role of parents should be given the fullest possible width and that parents should be involved in the maintenance and establishment of schools to the limit that is possible within a system.
The earlier group of amendments that we discussed was intended to give the maximum possible information about future sponsors of schools to parents. This group of amendments concerns the right of parents to make their views known about the establishment of a new community school or a new community special school in certain circumstances where it is clear according to regulation that parents have established that they have a majority wish to go ahead with the establishment of a new community school that should override any attempt to limit that, for example, by requiring the Secretary of States consent.
To put it simply, either the Government believe that parents should have the decisive voice in the establishment of one type of school or another, or they do not. We have therefore indicated in this group of amendments the circumstances in which parental opinion should be decisive. One of those is with regard to an attempt put forward by a local authority to establish a new community school where it is clear after consultation with parents that the majority of parents wished that to happen. We do not believe it is right that there should be additional sets of bureaucratic requirements that would override that wish of parents.
We have also indicated that where a local authority puts forward proposals for a new community school, those proposals should be published if again it is the wish of the parents of children registered at school or registered at feeder schools that the proposals should be considered and should go ahead. Some years ago, parents were largely excluded from the education process. That changed rather dramatically in 1976 with the Taylor commission, which was the responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who is I am delighted to say a Member of this House. The commission proposed that one-quarter of the governors of the governing bodies of maintained schools should be elected by parents and should represent them.
One concern that we have about this Bill is that with trust schools and academies the role of parents is decisively reduced. We find that hard to associate with a Bill that is intended to give parents a larger not a smaller voice. Therefore, to put it straightforwardly, on the crucial issue of changes in category of schools and on the proposals for establishing new maintained schools, and for putting forward those ideas, we believe that a ballot should be held. The ballot should turn on a majority of parents having their voices heard and their opinions made known, which should be a decisive factor in deciding whether to establish a new school of a maintained community nature or, for that matter, in putting forward such proposals.
I remind the House what the former Minister, Ruth Kelly, said in another place, when she referred to the common sense of parents. My noble friend quoted her remarks. But if we do not know what parents want, referring to their common sense does not add up to very much. I pay tribute in that respect to the previous Conservative Government, who insisted that there should be a ballot before a school became a grant-maintained school. Some 2,000 ballots were duly held, after the establishment of the idea of grant-maintained
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So what is the argument against ballots, in straightforward terms? The strangest one that I have heard so far, which was put forward in another place, was that ballots would in some way restrict the likelihood of foundation schools being allowed to go ahead and restrict the innovatory prospects for academies and CTCs, so that it would not be wise to give parents this major part in the system. One thing that has emerged clearly from discussions on the Bill, from beginning to end, in discussing children with special educational needs and those who are disadvantaged and whose parents do not take a full part in concern for their education, is that it is crucial to a good education that parents are involved from the beginning to the end. It is crucial that their association with their childs future and school and with their own responsibilities in that respect should be considered as a primary purpose of legislation.
Sadly, we live at a time when there is not a great deal of trust in the political system and when more and more people argue that they are not consulted and listened to and that their views are not taken fully into account. There is a simple mechanism for taking those views fully into accounta mechanism that has been tried and tested over many decades in this country and which, above all, should apply to schools. It has been much welcomed by parents, who have enthusiastically taken part in ballots of this kind. Indeed, the grant-maintained school ballots attracted turn-outs of 67 per cent and more on average, far above the level of turnout that one associates with local government and roughly level with what one associates with general elections. There is no evidence whatever that parents are apathetic about this kind of question; indeed, they feel very deeply involved.
Not to prolong the discussionalthough I believe it to be central to the whole nature and quality of this Billwe must ask whether we believe that parents should be fully involved. If so, why do we not trust them to make that decision on the basis of a properly organised ballot on the crucial issues of changing a school from one category to another and of whether a school should continue when there is a proposal to discontinue it? Surely, we should listen to the parents and, when they are of suitable age, the pupils. I beg to move the amendment, and I do so with very strong feeling about how much is at stake.
Lord Gould of Brookwood: I am strongly in favour of empowering parents; I am in favour of empowering everyone. That is the basis of my politics and that is why I support this Bill. I want parents to have the chance to choose the school that is right for their children; not just a good local school, but the best possible school for them. This Bill is about empowering parents and about giving them choices, voices and access, as the noble Baroness said, from the beginning until the end. That does not mean a compulsory one-off ballot; it is not about that. It is about a continuing process of engagement and participation through school choice, parental councils, schools that respect and listen to the views of parents as mandated by the Bill, real rights of redress and a real involvement over time on a continuing basis. Some 72 per cent of parents want more involvement in their schools, and the Bill enables that to happen.
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