Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in introducing the amendments, the noble Baroness pointed out that she had not moved them at an earlier stage. I must confess that I am perhaps one of several Members of the House who have found it difficult to follow the thread of her argument as regards Schedule 17. Therefore, I should like to express the hope that the noble Baroness will not put her amendments to the vote today. That will give me time to read what the noble Baroness has said and, indeed, to consider the Minister's response.

In general, my impression is that this series of amendments is designed to ensure that foundation schools, voluntary-aided schools and foundation special schools have relaxed conditions as regards the employment of teachers. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether that impinges upon the whole area of conditions of employment, as I believe may be the case. We on these Benches are not generally in favour of having different conditions for those particular schools compared to those which apply to community schools. Therefore, at present, we tend to oppose this group of amendments.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Baroness just said, these are rather complex amendments. Indeed, her general impression is correct. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, claims that the amendments are about protecting standards and providing flexibility. In fact, they would remove all the procedures and protections for these schools as regards the employment of staff, although they would in one sense, I suppose, provide flexibility.

Amendments Nos. 104A and 131A would delete virtually the whole of the staffing provision set out in Schedule 17 when such a foundation or voluntary-aided school has arrangements for staffing in its instrument of government. There is a separate point here. I am not entirely sure whether the noble Baroness has corrected the situation as regards what she said at the beginning of her remarks. It would appear that Amendment No. 104A relates to schools which have a suspended delegated budget. I believe the noble Baroness has indicated there is a mistake in the amendment in which case it is clearly flawed.

Before I respond to the detail of the other amendments in the group it may be helpful if I reiterate the points stressed in Committee. The majority of the provisions on staffing are familiar to schools of all kinds. The main purpose of the staffing provisions is to carry existing provisions forward into the new

2 Jul 1998 : Column 856

framework. Most of these provisions appeared in the 1988 Education Reform Act. Some of them have their origins in the 1944 Act. Most of the staffing provisions in Schedule 17 are currently set out in the articles of government for grant-maintained and voluntary aided schools which will be replaced and rolled forward into the new framework.

The provisions of Schedule 17 are sensible and prudent and put in place the essential elements of the staffing functions that we would expect to be undertaken at foundation and voluntary aided schools. The staff at any school account for the largest single item of expenditure and the public have a right to be satisfied that there are appropriate provisions to ensure that staffing functions are properly and consistently managed. With the provisions of Schedule 17 there are therefore a clear and unquestionable set of arrangements for the essential staffing functions of those schools where the governing body is the employer.

The noble Baroness may not have fully realised the detailed effects of the amendments. By driving a coach and horses through any provision in the schedule for staffing arrangements they remove a number of detailed protections and requirements.

Amendment No. 133A would remove the procedure in Schedule 17 for governing bodies to consider head and deputy head teacher appointments. It is rarely practicable for all members of a governing body to become involved in the detailed consideration of appointments. The usual practice is for a panel of three or more governors to be appointed. The amendment would appear to delete that requirement. Amendment No. 134A would remove the need for a candidate for a deputy head teacher post, for example, to meet any staff qualification requirements. This would potentially allow foundation and voluntary aided schools to appoint teachers, or anyone else for that matter, currently barred by the Secretary of State on misconduct or medical grounds. In short, that opens up a danger to children. The amendment would also remove the provision for the governing body to make an appointment or engagement for such a post when the incumbent is absent.

Amendments Nos. 134B and 134C deal with temporary appointments. They would increase from four months to one year the reference period for the appointment of a temporary teacher and disapply the detailed procedure that is required for a substantive teacher appointment. We believe that teaching is so important that substantive posts should be properly advertised. We do not consider that the four month limit for temporary teaching posts should be extended.

Amendment No. 134D deletes the requirement to inform the LEA of a teacher vacancy. It is not entirely clear what the effects of that would be but it appears to be yet another attempt to remove proper quality control on appointment procedures. Amendment No. 134E deletes the provisions for the LEA to nominate a candidate for a vacant teaching post and includes a provision for the governing body to advertise a teaching post vacancy unless it decides to fill it by other means. This is no real change in one sense. It is not compulsory

2 Jul 1998 : Column 857

to appoint someone who replies to an advertisement but it is clearly desirable to do so in most cases. The schedule reflects that.

Amendment No. 134F deletes the provisions to advertise a vacant teaching post and includes a requirement for teachers to be employed under a written contract of employment. This would in certain circumstances reduce flexibility because it would prevent schools engaging supply teachers from employment agencies. Amendment No. 134G deletes the current provisions for interviewing and deciding on teacher candidates where the governing body advertises a vacant post. It is not entirely clear what the intention of that deletion is as the procedures already set out in the Bill are flexible.

It seems to me that the detailed effects of the amendments are either obscure or are intended to remove quality controls. The clear strategy behind the proposals is to remove any legislative control on appointments to these categories of schools. That is not the Government's approach, not because we oppose flexibility and innovation in appointments but because the public have the right to require school governing bodies in this sector to make appointments in such a way that the quality of the teachers who are appointed can largely be guaranteed. We do not think the strategy behind the amendments is a sensible one. We believe that such requirements which have featured in most education Acts for many decades should also feature in the future.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if ever there was a response designed to strengthen rather than weaken the case for my amendments it is the one we have just heard. Is the noble Lord really saying that the quality of staff recruited by the Oratory school in London or the George Spencer school in Nottingham is poor because they have had the flexibility to operate without Schedule 17? When the noble Lord says that I seek to remove the requirement to inform the LEA, that does not make for appointing a better teacher. It is an administrative procedure which sometimes can cause a delay and stand in the way of appointing a good teacher. The very idea that we are fighting for flexibility in order to appoint unsuitable teachers is breathtaking in the misunderstanding it reveals. I ask the noble Lord to talk to head teachers who have enjoyed this flexibility and who have recruited first class staff, sometimes at short notice because they have not had to go through this restrictive straitjacket of bureaucratic procedures. There is a serious misunderstanding of what the schedule is about.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that I shall not put the measure to the vote. I apologise for the mistake I made. I was referring to Clause 55 and not Clause 54 which was originally in the amendment on the Marshalled List. All the amendments in this group are designed to introduce flexibility. One of the reasons it has been so difficult grouping these amendments is that I would have preferred to take Schedule 17 out of the Bill. However, the apoplexy on the part of noble

2 Jul 1998 : Column 858

Lords opposite at the thought of losing Schedule 17 altogether would be a serious matter. However, I have attempted to include a provision in Schedule 17 to enable schools to be more flexible and to exercise some independence.

The other point that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, made has great force. I have absolutely no philosophical or practical objection to extending this kind of flexibility and freedom for appointing staff to all schools. I thought it was preferable to take a step-by-step approach and in the first instance extend that flexibility to those schools which have already proven their worth.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness while she is in full flow. However, I should make clear that my purpose in making the comments to which she referred was not to suggest that these relaxations should also be applied to other schools.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I would have no objection to the provision being extended to other schools. If the noble Baroness is arguing that it should not be extended to any schools, we shall simply have to agree to differ. The noble Baroness said that she did not want any different treatment as between schools. We had no hang-ups about this matter whatever. We realised that certain schools were distinctive and operated within different frameworks. The Government in their wisdom have chosen to create foundation schools rather than all schools becoming community schools. The Government did that either because those schools were distinctive within the system or they were not. If they are distinctive, there has to be some distinction made between how those schools operate and how other schools operate. The distinction has already been made by the Bill. As I said, it is flexibility and independence that I seek. Under my step-by-step approach I seek to apply my amendments at present only to foundation schools and voluntary aided schools.

Mr. Byers made an interesting speech last night for which a number of my colleagues were present. I know that they and a number of others found his remarks interesting. They experienced what we have experienced all along--the yawning gap between rhetoric and practice. This schools Bill is the first legislative opportunity that Mr. Byers has had to put some of his words into action. It is a God given opportunity. Arguing for more freedom and flexibility is one thing; however, by supporting these amendments he could put those ideas into practice. Instead, the schools Minister who talks about standards supports the straitjacket which, from time to time, will stand in the way of good schools appointing quality staff.

I shall not press these amendments because they are flawed I wanted to give people an opportunity to understand what I was trying to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

2 Jul 1998 : Column 859

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page