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On Amendments Nos. 41 to 44, in Committee, the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Peterborough and the Bishop of Southwell reminded us that there are situations where parents might find it helpful to invite people other than parents of current pupils on to the parent council. These amendments allow that to happen. However, we want parents to take ownership of the parent council, so parent members must consent to the appointment of a non-parent member, and member and parent members of registered pupils must always be the majority on the parent council. Many schools already have successful parent councils with some non-parent members. We do not want to upset arrangements that are already working well or prevent people making a valuable contribution to their local school because they do not currently have a child at that school, hence these amendments. I beg to move.
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, as the Minister mentioned the point I raised in Committee, I shall say simply that we are very grateful to him and his officials for introducing Amendments Nos. 41 to 44, which substantially address the points we raised. I am grateful that they will enable representatives of the community, including representatives of local churches in the case of faith schools, to be members of parent councils without dominating the council in the way he indicated. I am very grateful.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 21, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 40. Amendment No. 21 prevents a foundation reducing the current statutory level of elected parent governors on the board of a school when it becomes a foundation. Power in a school resides in the governing body, not in the parent councils that the Government are introducing. The governors have legal powers, which is why we think it is importantto the Governments agenda, as well as oursto involve parents in the education of their children in a meaningful way and not to reduce the number of parents freely and democratically elected by other parents to take part in decision-making about the running of the school.
The House will realise that this amendment is a repeat of an amendment we tabled in Committee, and we have returned it because we are not satisfied with the Governments reasons for rejecting it. In Committee, the Minister said:
The model of governance that we propose for parents is precisely that which currently applies in many thousands of voluntary-aided schools, which are perfectly adequately managed within the state system.[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1231.]
He went on to say how popular such schools are. I have no doubt of that, but we are dealing with a step-change in the number of schools that he proposes should be governed in this way. There are currently only 4,288 voluntary-aided primary and secondary schools in England and Wales, and the Government are hoping that many thousands of the remaining maintained schools will enthusiastically take up their invitation to become foundation schools. Currently, one can expect a certain amount of homogeneity and consensus of opinion in the parent body of a voluntary-aided school because the members usually share a faith or an ethos of some sort and there may not be a diversity of approach about how the school is run. We cannot say that that will necessarily be the case with the new foundation schools. What currently works for a few thousand faith schools may not work for thousands of schools that change their status under this legislation.
The Minister went on to say that he expects that in many trust schools a minority of the governors will be appointed by the trust. That may well be so, but we cannot rely on that. We need to set a minimum representation of freely elected parents below which a foundation cannot go if we are to be sure that the board of governors will not be stuffed with the trusts placemen and placewomen. What we are asking for is not extreme; it is quite modest and is that the current
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I turn now to Amendments Nos. 39 and 40. When my noble friend Lady Sharp introduced these amendments in Committee about our concept of schools working together in a community trust she received a fairly encouraging response from the Minister. He said:
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.[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1133.]
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.[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. 1134.]
Perhaps I may take in order the points made by the Minister. First, he talked about 20 per cent being the normal level of involvement of local authorities in companies and trusts more widely. We are not talking about an ordinary company, such as might be set up to enhance local job opportunities or economic development, but of a school into whose hands we put the future of our children. These need to be accountable to the whole community. They do that through the local authority and through the ballot box.
Secondly, the Minister does not want a local authority to be the dominant force in a trust. Why not? It represents the local peoplecurrent and future parents of the school. Have not many local authorities demonstrated their very high level of expertise in running successful schools over the years? Are we to throw away all this expertise? I can understand that poor performing local authorities are not desirable partners, but to leave the provision only to the top performing ones is going too far.
Thirdly, the Minister talks about the opportunities for local authorities to promote community schools. He knows that the Government have stacked the odds against the ability of local authorities to open new community schools. They have to jump through all sorts of hoops that others do not have to negotiate, such as achieving top rating on an inspection. Indeed, the ability of the best local authorities to open new schools at all was introduced into the Bill in another place in response to Labour rebels and their serious concerns about trust schools.
The Government have once again demonstrated their control-freakery. They do not trust the ballot box and they do not trust local authorities, even their own, to run schools any more. They may have some justification
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Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I support the first of these three amendments. I rightly applaud the Government's emphasis on the role of parents in education and in the shape of schools. Amendment No. 21 would give legislative endorsement to that general statement, which I think Members of the House have thoroughly supported. If this provision were not accepted, I would want to know in what circumstances it would be a hindrance to good governance.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, support the first amendment. Perhaps I should declare my interest as the president of the National Governors Association. It and other organisations have serious concerns that the parent governor quota, as it were, would be, if not obliterated completely, certainly diminished in its importance. However keen I am on parents' councils, they do not have anything like the power, authority or responsibility of governors.
I understand the Ministers concern to have competent governors, especially when turning a school around, changing to trust status, and so on but, at the very least, I want maximum assurance from the Government that they will look locally for the skills required to carry out those functions. My preference would be for there still to be that degree of local representation and demonstration of what the community needs to make for a more cohesive environment.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I appreciate the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about the importance of parents being engaged in schools, including in their governance. I will address that point directly, because the Bill does not diminish the engagement of parents in the governance of schools. The specific issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is whether the proportion of parents required to be on the school governing body should be elected as opposed to being appointed, which they may be in a trust school or a voluntary-aided school as part of the representation of the trust behind the school.
The reason why we have maintained and will continue to maintain their position is that where the trust itself appoints a majority of the governors, it is permissible to diminish the number of elected parent governors because otherwise it is impossible for the trust to appoint a majority. The capacity for a trust to appoint a majority is necessary for the trust to be able
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The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, largely answered herself. She said that she thought that 4,288 schools was too small a base from which to draw conclusions about successful governance. In all my experience of public policy, there are very few areas in which we have a model that is successfully operating in one in five among the totality of cases. I stress the words successfully operating. Voluntary-aided schools include a high proportion of the most successful schools in the country. They are not simply Church schools; a number of other trusts are represented among those schools. The noble Baroness argues against a model that works very satisfactorily in 4,288 cases across the country and in which parents feel manifestly engaged in governancethose schools are substantially more oversubscribed than community schools, on average, which is the acid test of whether parents in the locality think that those schools are successful. It is simply not credible for the noble Baroness to argue on the basis of that successful experience that there is somehow either a danger or a diminishment of local community engagement, including parent engagement, in making the same governance arrangements available to a wider number of schools.
Let me stress that under the Bill, no school will be forced to acquire a trust or to allow the trust to appoint a majority of governors. It will be for the governing body of that school to decide whether it thinks that the benefits that will come from an external partner are worth the transition to trust status. It is the governing body as presently constituted that will make that decision. So no external force is being applied in the matter.
Within acceptable boundswe believe that the bounds in the Bill are acceptablewe want to extend to schools the freedom to shape their own governance in the way in which voluntary schools and academy schools currently can. Specialist schools, voluntary schools and academies draw enormous benefit from their governance partnersincluding, I should stress, governors appointed by those relevant sponsors from the community that the school servesin developing their individual character and ethos. Trust status will allow these opportunities to be available to any school that wants to benefit from them, whether they want to do so individually or collaboratively with other schools.
On Amendments Nos. 39 and 40, we believe that the 20 per cent limit on local authority membership and voting rights in a trust is appropriate. This proportion is consistent with provisions in local government legislation about local authority involvement in companies and trusts. The provisions of the Bill already allow for parents and the local community to form a trust and to involve the local authority in that trust, subject to the 20 per cent limit set out in the Bill. The amendments would mean that a local authority may not be involved in a foundation with partners other than parents and community
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In addition, imposing a requirement that the membership of any local authority that is a member of a trust must be precisely 33 per cent, as envisaged in the amendments, would provide the local authority with considerably less flexibility to carry out its role as it sees fit than do the provisions in the Bill. The amendments also prescribe that, where the local authority is involved in a trust, all schools that are part of that trust would be required to federate. We strongly encourage federation and collaborationindeed, the trust model is intended to add to the options for such partnership-working. As the noble Baroness knows, many successful models of federation are now developing in the state system. We do not believe, however, that these relationships are at their most effective when they are forced on schools.
Just as the community school is not the only category of school at the heart of the community, collaboration and community engagement will not be the exclusive preserve of a trust with this type of membership. We already know of schools that are planning to use trust status to facilitate collaboration. Last month, we published a list of trust pathfinders that showed a very large group of schools seeking collaborative arrangements. Indeed, almost all the proposals set out in the trust pathfinders are for collaborative arrangements between schools. Only a very small number of the trust pathfinders that we have published are for single schools seeking to develop individual trusts. We want to retain the flexibility for trusts to engage in partnerships of that kind, and it is precisely that kind of flexible arrangement that is made possible under the Bill.
The prescriptive amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would limit the opportunity for real collaboration and partnership to grow, and would exclude any local authority from playing a part in the sort of exciting partnership that I have just described.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I shall say very little about Amendments Nos. 39 and 40, and will concentrate on Amendment No. 21. We tabled Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 again to emphasise our strong commitment to all schools in an area that are working together for the benefit of all the children. We would include all the schools in the area because what happens in any one school always has an impact on other schools in the area, and we do not want there to be any chink that allows any school to become a sink school because of the good things that are happening in another school nearby. They should all be working together. Our vision is co-operation, not competition between schools.
On Amendment No. 21, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for their support. The Minister said many things with which I agree, but I disagreed with his statement that we should rely on what works well in one in five of our schools. What about the other four in five? They are all being governed very successfully in most cases. Failing schools are very much in the minority.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I appreciate that, but these schools are oversubscribed not because they have two elected parent governors but for much more complex reasons to do with the school ethos and parents beliefs. As the noble Lord has just said, it is for the governing body to decide, which I appreciate. But we must remember that, where a school is moving to foundation status, it is under pressure from members of the forthcoming foundation and may be over-influenced by what it wants. In order to emphasise our sincere commitment to the meaningful involvement of freely elected parents in the governing bodies of schools, we would like to test the opinion of the House.
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