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Baroness Walmsley: We on these Benches have considerable sympathy with the amendment, as my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby has just said. I can think of little worse for somebody who is so committed to children that they take up a profession looking after themteaching and caring for them in some capacitythan to be falsely accused of malpractice or abusing them in some way. That must be agonising. However, the meeting with the Minister is timed for next Tuesday. We will attend this cross-party meeting with him alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe,
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on the amendment, and very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has said in support of it. It is very worrying that the number of cases has doubled and that the number of allegations seems to be growing. Clearly, certain steps have been taken that have helped. It is important to try to reduce the waiting time between when an offence allegedly occurs and when the case is heard. But I have also attended the All-Party Group for Abuse Investigationsor APGAI, as we call itfor some time, perhaps almost to counter my view that a lot of offences are, and have been, committed against children. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has played an extremely useful role in nailing these allegations so far as is humanly possible. I very much support what has been said.
Lord Adonis: We regard this as a serious issue and we look forward to further discussions, which my honourable friend will lead next week, on this difficult issue. Our concern is to ensure that allegations are investigated and dealt with speedily and confidentially. These are the two prime requirements that teachers and carers can legitimately expect from a system when their whole livelihood and future are at stake in the consideration of allegations.
We have sought to improve guidance and materials to schools on how to deal with cases. Last November, we issued new guidance on this issue to schools and to further education institutions in England. This April, the revised version of Working Together to Safeguard Children provided overarching guidance on allegations against anyone working with children in any setting. Our guidance states that every effort should be made to maintain confidentiality while an allegation is being investigated, unless and until a person is charged with an offence. It also seeks to promote expeditious investigations. The aim is for at least 80 per cent of cases to be resolved in less than one monththis would be an increase on our latest figures, for 2003-04, which show that 55 per cent of allegations were resolved in less than one monthand for all but the most complicated cases and cases that must go to court to be dealt with in less than three months. At present, the latest figures, for 2003-04, show that 22 per cent of cases took up to three months to complete and that 10 per cent of cases took up to a year, which we regard as an excessively long time.
We have also put in place a network of 15 allegation management advisers, who are based in government offices in England and who work with local safeguarding children boards to ensure that effective arrangements are in place for dealing with allegations of abuse against everyone who works with childrenthat is, not only teachers but other staff
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We are keen to explore next week the question of whether we can go further, but I shall not disguise the fact that we have encountered difficulties on further statutory protection, not least in the read-across to other public servants and others who quite legitimately expect similar protection. We are wrestling with these issues, and I hope that we will have more information to make available to noble Lords in the meeting next week so that we can at least have a stronger shared understanding of how to proceed satisfactorily on this issue.
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his reply. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams, Lady Walmsley and Lady Howe, and others who have supported the amendment. I do not know whether other noble Lords would agree, but I must say straight away that, although I hear what the Minister is saying about guidance and arrangements, sadly I do not believe that those arrangements would and could be effective in todays culture. I am afraid that we have gone too far down the road of blame and accusation. Human nature is now such that, sadly, we need a stronger deterrent to deflect this growth in the culture of accusation and blame.
I speak as a lawyer. I am always loath to legislate in these areas unless absolutely necessary, but we have to think about the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves. Teachers, particularly male teachers, are genuinely being put off the profession by this culture of blame. That is hugely unfortunate. I never thought that I would find myself saying thismaybe it is because of the late hourbut perhaps it is something to do with the media. Whatever is going on out there, people are finding themselves deterred from doing a hugely important job as a teacher because of this culture.
I urge the Minister to ensure that, when we meet next Tuesday with his colleague from another place, their thoughts and proposals will extend much further than guidance and arrangements. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 143B, 143C, 145, 145A and 166A. This is part of a large portfolio of amendments that cover selection procedures of one sort or another in relation to admissions. Amendments Nos. 143A,
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Amendment No. 143A adds to the schools that come within the bounds of these restrictions academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts, which at present fall outside the restrictions suggested by Clause 37. The Government will tell us that academies and city technology colleges are required by their funding agreements to select broadly from across the local community. We accept that this may be the caseit is written into their funding agreementsbut we would argue that if this is so and that means that they will not select by ability, then why can that not be in the Bill? Why can they not be added to the maintained schools in the Bill? Why should they always fall outside the general provisions that apply to other schools?
Amendment No. 143B adds no selection by aptitude to no selection by ability. This issue takes us back to the old arguments about the difference between aptitude and ability. In general, our Benches are sceptical about selection by aptitude, with perhaps two exceptions: sport and music. Otherwise we can see little case for any element of selection by aptitude where secondary schools have various specialisms. How many of these specialist schools select by aptitude? How many have needed to have these provisions? Is it a necessary provision for them to retain in the Bill?
Amendment No. 143C takes us forward toClause 49 and the issue of pupil banding. In effect, it reinforces Amendment No. 143Bon selection by aptitudeby suggesting that selection should be permitted only for the purposes of pupil banding. At this stage, I ask the Minister a question that might be better asked when we reach Clause 49: how feasible is it to apply banding systems to just one school? Surely, if banding is to be applied, it has to run across all the schools within a community served by those schools. Does banding applied to a single school make any sense at all?
Amendment No. 145 relates to an issue that we on these Benches feel rather strongly about. If we are to try to get to a needs-blind application system for places at popular secondary schools, just as with examinations, applications should be anonymous, judged on their own merits, the names being attached only after the decisions have been made. That was one of the suggestions put forward by the Select Committee when it considered the White Paper that preceded the Bill. We would have liked to have seen the Select Committees suggestion incorporated in the Bill. The purpose of the amendment is to achieve precisely that.
I turn to Amendment No. 145A, which relates to Clause 38 and the code of practice for admissions. The main purpose of this amendment is very similar to that of Amendment No. 146; namely, that the code
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Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 166A, yet another amendment that seeks to extend the application of the admissions code not just to maintained schools, which are defined in the Bill as community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and foundation schoolsand, in future, trust schoolsbut also to academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for technology for the arts. In this case, it is a question of banning interviews. In our view, if interviews are regarded as bad practice for one kind of school, the code should be applied equally to all other schools funded from the public purse, whether so-called independent state schools or not. I beg to move.
Baroness Buscombe: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 144, regarding the use of home school agreements and admissions, and to AmendmentNo. 146. I also give notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 38, regarding the admissions code, stand part of the Bill. I will also speak to Amendment No. 169, regarding interviews allowed for children over compulsory school age and Amendments Nos. 176 to 178, regarding banding.
Amendment No. 144 introduces home school contracts as part of the admissions code. It offers an incentive and a positive relationship between the family and the school from the outset of a childs education. We agree with the Governments sentiments outlined in the White Paper regarding the reinforcement of parental responsibility for discipline. At Second Reading, I voiced my concerns about parenting orders. They are reactive measures to poor discipline, offering little more than enforcement, and they fail to create overall results.
A constructive approach is required. By introducing a contract at the start of a childs education, schools and parents will work in a constructive partnership by actively practising an ethos of discipline. Agreeing to an informal contract between school and home, both teachers and parents send a message to children that behaviour in the home and at school are considered to
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I turn to Amendment No. 146 and the Question whether Clause 38 should stand part of the Bill. These concern the admissions code. Amendment No. 146 would ensure that the code for school admissions would have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it could come into force. That reflects the change in the nature of the new code for school admissions compared to its predecessor, the code of practice for school admissions. The code of practice is made under Section 94 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which Clause 38 amends. It required bodies and persons exercising functions under that chapter of the 1998 Act only,
The code may include guidelines setting out aims, objectives and other matters in relation to the discharge of their functions under this Chapter by local education authorities and such governing bodies.
Bodies and persons exercising functions under the relevant chapter of the 1998 Act will be expected to act in accordance with the code rather than have regard to it. The skeleton admissions code makes clear at paragraph 2 that it,
It is clear that this code is much stronger than the one made under existing legislation. It is also clear that the change in the status of the code was made to win the support of various rebel groups within the Labour Party.
No one approach towards admissions will work in all circumstances. This is why we want to ensure that all self-governing schools ... are free to use the approach to fair admissions that they think will best meet their local circumstances, as long as it is compatible with the Admissions Code.
The public face of government was consistent with the White Paper. All radio, television and newspaper interviews given by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State between the publication of the White Paper in October 2005 and the concession letter of 6 February this year categorically ruled out the code of practice having any more statutory compulsion than it had already. On 24 November, the then Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, said in another place that:
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the code achieves its ends of ruling out selection by ability on its current statutory basis. He is confusedthe code already operates on a statutory basis. Schools take it into account, and then the adjudicator, which is also statutory, can use its discretion to say whether the school has interpreted it correctly. Interpretation of the code, however, is very important for schools that want to create their own distinctive ethos.[Official Report, Commons, 24/11/05;col. 1644.]
The wording in Mr Justice Jacksons judgment in the London Oratory School case, which involved the governing body of that school and the schools adjudicator, shows how prescriptive the code can be. He said:
Let me first consider the statutory effect of the Code. Section 84(3) of the 1998 Act imposes an obligation, first on the Governors of the Oratory School and then on the Adjudicator to have regard to any relevant provisions of the Code. The phrase to have regard to means to take into account. It does not connote slavish obedience or deference on every occasion,
The code could evidently be incredibly restrictive. Indeed, the Bills powers could be used to impose a single admissions criterion across the country. That is why we feel that if there must be a strengthened code, accompanying it should be a high level of parliamentary control embodied in the affirmative resolution procedure. However, our preferred solution would be to remove Clause 38 altogether. It is unnecessary.
First, to impose the code with that additional strength requires us to anticipate all the varied decisions in which a school might find itself. We need to ensure that schools have sufficient flexibility to respond to local needs when setting up their arrangements. In relation to guidance for Clause 3 the Minister in another place stated:
When we are recommending good practice, it goes into guidance and it is for local bodies to take it into account sensibly in their local situations.[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 30/3/06; cols. 152-153.]
Why should schools not have the power to tailor their admissions arrangements to local circumstances? I suspect that the furore surrounding admissions reflects
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But that legal judgment had occurred before the publication of the White Paper. In fact, the London Oratory School case was decided in December 2004, some 10 months before the publication of the White Paper. Had the Government truly intended to strengthen the code, they had months in which to make their intentions clear. The fact that they did so only when threatened with a rebellion inside their own party is extremely telling. The words in the White Paper belie the Governments real stance:
We recognise that no form of admissions arrangements can increase the number of places at an oversubscribed school. This is why we are continuing to increase the number of good schools and the number of places in good schools.
Our preoccupation should be with the creation of more good school places, not the shifting of one set of children out of a good school and replacing them with another. That merely substitutes one injustice with another. The disparity in our education system is caused by a lack of good school places, not in the fact that one school might have slightly different admissions policies.
I turn to the skeleton code. It is a pity that we were not presented with a more detailed example. However, we are satisfied that it goes no further than the draft code that was withdrawn last year. The code recognises that first preference first is poor practice. That is welcome, as first preference first schemes often lead to parents choosing schools tactically rather than on the basis of genuine preference, particularly where there are grammar schools in an area. If specialist schools decide to select 10 per cent of their intake by aptitude, it will be even more important that the decision is taken on the basis of the fairer equal preferences system.
I have concerns with some aspects of the code. It continues to outlaw making admission conditional on signing a home school contract, an issue on which I hope to speak later. I am concerned also about the less technical wording of the part of the skeleton code concerning social fairness. The code states at paragraph 1.27:
Admission authorities should analyse information about their intakes, and where possible their applicants, to find out whether they attract a wide range of families or whether their school fails to attract all sections of local communities.
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