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Baroness Seccombe: I thank the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lady Blatch for their support. I am, of course, disappointed with the noble Baroness's response. She has said much tonight and it is important that I read and study it. I shall also want to talk to those who have given me the information.

At this stage I shall withdraw the amendment with the probability that I shall come back to it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 146B:

Page 31, line 26, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 146B, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 146C, 148A, 148B and 149A.

The Minister has given the most perfect introduction to my amendments. In essence, these are amendments to give greater flexibility. They are quite important amendments, and, therefore, I want to develop them as far as I can, without keeping your noble Lords too long.

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Under current legislation the government and management of each school are determined by instruments and articles of government. In the case of the present grant maintained schools--and these are quite important points--these are statutory instruments, and can only be amended after discussion with the schools concerned. The point I make about these particular technical points is that they allow local initiative for schools.

This Bill simplifies, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, the instruments and abolishes the articles and, in effect, incorporates many of the provisions of what were the articles into clauses and schedules of the Bill. In other words, it imposes a pattern.

The present situation, as we have seen from the debate that has just occurred, is that articles and instruments are personal to the school, and, as we have seen in this situation, which has aroused considerable feeling in the area, can be adapted to local circumstances, as they have been for the best part of a century or more.

I can give the Committee some examples. Under articles, which are being abolished, governors of certain schools have discretion over issues which will not be possible under the present situation where they have been included in clauses and schedules of the Bill. For example, there are issues like how vacancies are advertised, which the governors and headmaster decide; and whether there is an admission committee. Some powers are delegated to the headmaster; for example, the actual allocation of salaries subject to the overall financial control of the governing body. All this will go, since in schedules, but also in some clauses, all these arrangements are laid down for schools everywhere.

The Minister's answer to my noble friend was negative and I am puzzled by the fact that it contradicts what was said by her honourable friend the Minister of State, Stephen Byers, in the other place. When he was debating this matter he recognised the problem and said that flexibility could occur. He said:

    "There is nothing to deny schools the opportunity of adding to these procedures the detail that might at present be included in the articles of government".

The articles of government are personal to the school. I repeat that the Minister's colleague in the other place said:

    "There is nothing to deny schools the opportunity of adding to these procedures the detail that might at present be included in the articles of government. Under the present Bill, that is replacing articles by a common instrument and including much in primary education in the schedule. That would provide a narrow and focused set of requirements but there would be nothing to stop schools adding to them".

Since the Minister was in conversation with her colleague, I remind her that he said that there would be nothing to stop schools adding to the articles. Therefore, the Minister seemed to take account of the worries about the loss of local initiative, for which the noble Baroness has recently shown a conspicuous disregard.

The amendments are designed to discover whether the Minister in this House supports the statements made by her colleague in the other place. I remind her again that he said there is nothing to deny the schools. There is a lot to deny them--the Government have denied them.

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The Minister of State made a statement over the position of governing bodies where the articles have been abolished, but he is saying, "Don't worry about the articles being abolished. You can include local initiatives". I want the Minister to put flesh on these bones because that is what her colleague said. I cannot understand her comments when concentrating on the overall pattern and paying little regard to local initiative. I am worried whether my amendments will permit the flexibility which the Minister in the other place suggested because things have been written in tablets of stone in the schedules and clauses of this Bill which would deny the local initiative which at present exists. We have a contradiction in government policy between what the Minister of State said in the other place and what the Minister is saying here. I would be grateful if the Minister could elucidate.

I shall speak briefly to my specific amendments. Amendments Nos. 146B and 148A remove the straitjacket. Amendments Nos. 146C, 148B and 149A give flexibility guidance. That is what the Minister of State said he wanted, yet the Minister, faced with something that has existed since Elizabethan times, said, "No way." How do we reconcile that? I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): As Amendment No. 149A is also being spoken to, I should point out to the Committee that if that amendment were agreed to I could not call Amendments Nos. 150 to 152.


Lord Whitty: I regret that we cannot accept these amendments. If they were carried they would delete Schedules 11 and 12 which are important provisions on the way in which we give statutory backing to the government of schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, appears to believe that we are engaged in over-bureaucracy and over-regulation, but it is not our intention to provide a straitjacket which could tie the hands of governing bodies unnecessarily. School governors are corporate institutions with their own legal identity and that has always been the case. It is essential that their constitution has legislative backing. That backing is provided for in Schedule 12 to the Bill, which works together with Schedule 9.

We have slimmed down the contents of the instrument of government to the bare essentials. The instrument of government will be a brief factual document setting out the school's name, category of school, categories and numbers of governors and the names of the appointing authorities. We do not intend to go further than that, except that schools with a religious character will be required to include an ethos statement. We regard this as the minimum content for the instrument of government to ensure that there are no difficulties or ambiguities in the membership or constitution.

My understanding of the position with reference to Stephen Byers' comments, although I have not managed to check the context in the last three minutes, is that the

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provisions which we laid down by statute are the core of the instrument of government, but we specify that schools are otherwise able, provided they meet those core requirements, to regulate their own proceedings. There is, therefore, no contradiction between what we are proposing in these clauses and schedules and what the Minister of State said in another place.

This legislation does, however, abolish the old articles of government. The present position is that these articles govern the way that each school should be conducted, including the respective roles, responsibilities and functions of the governing body and head teachers in certain key areas.

It is essential that there should be a clear understanding on these issues. That is why we shall be addressing them in primary legislation and in the regulations under Clause 37. It is also our intention to issue guidance on these matters. But they cannot be left--as the amendment would suggest--to guidance alone which would have no statutory force. Nor, in our view, given the range and types of school and the lack of uniform experience of governing bodies and of head teachers, do we feel it would be appropriate to go down the path of a formal code of conduct for governing bodies, as has been suggested.

The abolition of articles of government is not primarily a deregulation mechanism, although in a sense it is. It is a modernising one. The provisions currently within articles will be applied directly through primary and secondary legislation. To replicate such legislation in the form of articles, school by school, has proved unworkable and unnecessarily bureaucratic. We believe that abolishing articles of government as a consequence of the new framework will simplify the system of governance for all schools and not put it in a straitjacket.

In future there will be no ambiguity. Schools will rely on what is set out in the primary or secondary legislation and they will have their own instruments of government. These proposals have been widely welcomed by the local education authorities who, in practice, currently carry the main burden of amending school articles of government to conform to successive batches of new legislation, which is wasteful and ties up LEA and school resources which could more profitably be used

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on other things. The abolition of articles of government, therefore, is a tidying up measure which frees school resources.

If these amendments were carried and the schedules, to a large extent at least, fell, the statutory backing for the instruments of government would fall. And if we were to drop the proposal to require articles of government school by school, the local education authorities in schools would continue to face a substantial bureaucratic burden, which would be unnecessary.

But we do build in the flexibility to which my honourable friend Stephen Byers referred in that schools can add to the core content of the instruments to meet their own particular circumstances. I hope that clarifies the position.

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