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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am quite sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, intended no discourtesy in referring to me by name. I know that from her long experience as a member of the previous government she is fully aware that Ministers may not speak in support of government policy in departments for which they do not speak and for which they have no responsibility.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, can the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, tell the House of the essential difference between this matter which affects the education system and those matters dealt with by the many quangos which were instituted by the previous government, of which she was a member? I was a member of Teesside Urban Development Corporation. The noble Baroness played a very important part in those bodies. I believe that the noble Baroness is objecting to something that the previous government did dozens and dozens of times. Does the noble Baroness accept that she owes the House an explanation as to the essential difference between the matter that she is now pressing and the matter to which I have just referred?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I can provide the noble Lord with a precise answer. First, there was no other adjudicating body beyond the urban development corporation. The noble Lord will be aware that I served on the Peterborough Urban Development Corporation. I also served in the North-East of which the noble Lord is a well known and well respected resident. There was no second-guessing of the local authority. The area of responsibility of the urban development corporations was very clear. The corporations worked in co-operation with the local authorities and did not second-guess them in any sense. These are decisions taken by local authorities which do all of the spade work: they carry out the consultation work with local parent groups, local schools and governing bodies. After that work is done it is passed to another body that tries to come to a decision. If it does not come to a decision it goes to an adjudicator who is one

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removed. There is no comparison between this proposition and the way in which development corporations operated.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am very sorry that neither of the noble Baronesses on the Benches opposite has been convinced. I had hoped that I might have persuaded them--perhaps it was a forlorn hope--that the Government's proposals were the most effective way of securing local decision making on school organisation. However, I am surprised that anyone should seriously argue that the existing system--I emphasise that it is the only other option--is to be preferred. There is a local partnership in the provision of places and our proposals enable that partnership to make decisions in spite of the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Maddock and Lady Blatch.

Where agreement cannot be reached we believe that it is right that there should be an independent means by which a decision can be arrived at. That is what the adjudicators will provide. I suppose that there is just a difference between us as to how often agreement will be reached. Both noble Baronesses are exceedingly sceptical about it. The Government are rather more confident that these committees will be able to reach agreement for the most part. Where that is not possible it is important that the adjudicators who will be trained and expert people are able to reach decisions on the basis of the facts of each case and the principles set out in the guidance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made reference to the Further Education Funding Council. It might be right for me to clarify here that the FEFC will not have a vote on any matters relating to pre-16 issues. Post-16, the FEFC has a statutory duty to secure sufficient education, and it is therefore entitled to play its part in school organisation committees. The Government will endeavour to ensure, wherever they can, that any FEFC representative is knowledgeable about local matters--something about which the noble Baroness was concerned.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I listened to what the Minister just said. That has not been made clear during the course of the Bill. Does it mean that if a decision comes to the organisation committee, which has no bearing on the diocese, the Church does not have a vote? If it is a decision that does not involve governors, for example, does it mean that governors do not have a vote? I had not heard that interpretation of how the body will work. My understanding was that it is an organisation committee with a number of different interests represented, and that each section has one block vote. It is deemed to be a committee for all purposes flowing from the organisation development plans.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the FEFC obviously has a special role to play on school organisation committees, because it is concerned with post-16 education only. Therefore it would be right to restrict its voting power in a way that is different from all the other members of the school organisation committee.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out when summing up on Third Reading, everyone is a local person somewhere. The current arrangement provides that where

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there is an objection by a local person to a proposal for change to school organisation, the decision on that proposal is removed immediately from the local arena to my department in Sanctuary Buildings. Wherever possible, local decisions should be taken by local people. The arrangements we have put in place should encourage them to search for ways to build and secure agreement. That seems to us to be a sensible approach. The committees provide a way in which that can be achieved, with adjudicators as a necessary and responsible longstop, in what I believe will be a limited number of cases where it cannot be achieved. I invite the House to support that view by reinstating the relevant clauses and schedules in the Bill, and ask that the House does not insist on their amendment to which the Commons have disagreed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Leave out Clause 24.

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--

Because the amendment is inconsistent with securing local decision-making on school organisation and a mechanism for resolving conflicts between the interests of admission authorities and wider authority interests.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 35 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 35A.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 35 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 35A--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Clause 35, page 31, line 22, at beginning insert ("Subject to section (Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body),").

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--

Because each of the schools concerned should have its own dedicated governing body to oversee standards at the school.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 42 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 42A. I am speaking also to Amendments Nos. 43 to 49 and 43A to 49A. We have listened carefully to all the arguments advanced by those who wish to maintain a system which permits a number of schools to be grouped under a single governing body. Some noble Lords have offered judgments about the appropriate administration of schools. Others have emphasised a wish to maintain the traditional governance arrangements of their local schools. We have thought hard about the points made, in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. But I am afraid that we have concluded that, in this case, our wider policy objectives of modernising the role of governing bodies and sharpening their focus on

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raising standards require us to stick to our guns. I shall be asking the House to confirm that view, as reiterated in another place.

In a system where the governing body is there to take the lead on the day-to-day management of the school, I can see the argument for saying that it is more convenient for some schools which share a site or indeed a common history to be grouped under a single governing body. Our discussion would then be about the best system to facilitate this. However the focus of governing bodies is not day-to-day management, but strategy.

Even with the best of intentions, it is inevitable that a single governing body, with responsibilities for more than one school, may be more easily side-tracked into considering cross-school management issues. We want each and every school to have its own governing body because that is the best way to ensure that the governors focus on our number one objective of raising standards. A dedicated governing body will have more direct responsibility for the performance of pupils of a specific age range and will be able to exercise this responsibility more effectively precisely because they are able to focus on those needs. It will also be more directly accountable to parents and others for the performance of the school.

There is another reason why we believe that grouped governing bodies are an increasingly outmoded idea. The Excellence in Schools White Paper made clear our commitment to strengthening parental representation on governing bodies. I had thought that this was one area where there was a strong measure of agreement between both sides of the House. By definition, a dedicated governing body will benefit from full parental representation; grouped governing bodies can offer only a diluted version. All those are significant considerations, and important reinforcing elements in taking forward the Government's standards agenda.

I have particular difficulty with Amendment No. 45. Subsection (2) of that amendment makes it clear that in the case of a community or community special school the local education authority can propose to the Secretary of State that it should have a grouped governing body with one or more other schools whether or not the school objects. Indeed, if the proposal relates to two primary schools the consent of the Secretary of State is not even required--the LEA can just go ahead. In either case the LEA is required to consult the schools first; but it is not required to observe their wishes on the matter. That is not acceptable to us. We believe that schools are, within the scope of the law, best placed to decide for themselves what co-operative arrangements they should enter into.

We also believe that those who have argued for a different approach have overstated the difficulties our proposals will cause the schools in question. We see no reason why governing bodies should not be able to make their own arrangements for cross-representation and joint discussion.

It has been suggested from time to time that an education action forum in an education action zone would be acting as a grouped governing body for a significant number of schools. I have to say that this is a somewhat bogus comparison. In contrast to the amendments

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proposed in this House, in an education action zone no governing body will have such arrangements forced upon it. It will determine for itself whether it wishes to contract specific responsibilities or cede the majority of its powers to the forum. It is also the case that these arrangements are not permanent but are limited to the life of the education action forum--a period of three to five years.

I do accept that there is something to be said for maintaining the status quo on this issue. No one has any wish to fix something that is not broken. But on balance we have concluded that grouped governing bodies are a potential inhibitor of the much more fundamental policy objectives which underpinned our manifesto last year and were set out in the Excellence in Schools White Paper. Our priority must be to enable governing bodies to focus on promoting higher standards of pupil achievement; to sharpen their accountability for the performance of their school, and to improve parents' representation on governing bodies.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 42 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 42A.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

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