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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hope I can reassure my noble friend but I am very sceptical about my ability to do so, with good experience. It has never been the Government's intention in this Bill to restrict in any way the ability of unions to organise, or workers to take part in, industrial action. Indeed, the whole of Schedule 5, to which we shall come later and which is about the unfair dismissal of striking workers, goes in the opposite direction by providing protection for workers where industrial action is properly balloted and otherwise organised within the law.
The Government intend to use the power contained in paragraph 127 of Schedule 1 to draw up a model for collective bargaining. The imposed procedure will be exactly what it says, a procedure for bargaining. It will not impose new requirements on employers or unions beyond the procedural duty to bargain in the way set out in the method. It will certainly not constrain the ability of unions to organise, or workers to take part in, industrial action.
I am legally advised that there is no risk of the Bill leading to the courts--and I should say to my noble friend that this does mean the High Court or, in Scotland, the Court of Session--reading into the proposed procedure terms which restrict industrial action and, as a result, restraining such action. It is not possible to restrain industrial action by an order of specific performance. The procedure will contain no condition restricting individuals within the terms of Section 180 of the 1992 Act. I am advised, therefore, that the noble Lord's amendment is unnecessary.
However, since my noble friend Lord Wedderburn is moving this amendment, I undertake to study carefully what he has said. If there are any new matters which the Government have not so far considered, we shall, of course, examine them and will, if necessary, be prepared to bring forward an amendment at Report stage. I shall be glad to discuss the issue with my noble friend between now and then. In the light of that assurance, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I am delighted to hear the words that preceded my obligation to withdraw the amendment, and one especially. We can read it in Hansard, but I believe the noble Lord said something to the effect that it is not possible to restrict industrial action by an order for specific performance. I contest that. I ask the noble Lord to look at it again. It may not be the normal case, but it is possible to restrict industrial action, and indeed a lot of other things--and the case that I made did not rest only on industrial action--by specific performance. I would be very grateful if the noble Lord would look again at that question. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they welcome Surrey County Council's decision to seek private sector bids for the running of King's Manor School, Guildford; and, if so, whether they will lay down guidelines for the procedures to be adopted by local education authorities seeking similar bids in the future.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the experience of King's Manor School in Guildford raises a number of interesting issues of principle which it is worth our while debating. I wish to talk about the background issues which led Surrey County Council to seek bids from external contractors and the process itself before coming back to what I regard as the key issues of principle in the affair.
Guildford is an affluent town of some 70,000 inhabitants, 35 miles to the south-west of London in the Surrey commuter belt. The population is, in relative terms, well educated, with a disproportionate number, by national standards, of those with academic and professional qualifications. This is reflected both in the aspirations of the parents and the quality of the schools.
We have a number of leading private schools and, in addition, five state secondary comprehensive schools, two of which are Church schools, one a grant maintained school, one a large and thriving LEA controlled school to the south of the town, and another school, King's Manor, on which this debate focuses, to the north of the town.
The school has room to house over 1,000 pupils, taking 150 per year. Its roll is now down to 360. Last September's intake was only 40, well short of the numbers needed. Located at the edge of a large council estate, it was never a popular choice with Guildford's middle-class parents. Its position has worsened over the course of the last 10 or 15 years. The publication of league tables and increasing competition between schools have highlighted its poor performance. In addition, the fact that it was the only school in the area with excess spaces led to the school acquiring a disproportionate number of those excluded from other schools.
Because it had space and because the building lent itself better than others to conversion, Surrey County Council invested considerable sums in disabled facilities in the school. It grew to have an increasing reputation for being the school in the area with both staff and facilities to cater for secondary school pupils with special needs. It met the full range of special needs.
A full inspection in 1994 recognised these strengths and spoke of a special school within the school. However, an inspection carried out last summer was less sympathetic and pointed to low standards of achievement, with an average of only 20 per cent of pupils gaining five GCSEs at grade C or better, compared to a national average of over 40 per cent.
One of the teachers, commenting on the difficulties she faced in teaching biology to GCSE level, told me, "Just as you have the class working well and you think you have a group from whom you will achieve good results, two or three new pupils with a history of disruption and truancy at other schools are moved into the class and you are back to square one, having to start all over again in trying to establish trust and confidence and getting the group to work together".
One can understand only too well the pressures that the school was under. I think that the teachers did a fantastic job. By inner city standards, it was not a bad school; indeed, in many senses, it was not a failing school. Yet the fact remains that the school was failing to provide the requisite quality of education for many of those attending it, and certainly failing to meet the aspirations of many parents in the Guildford area. Against this background of falling rolls, the failed Ofsted report and being put on special measures, Surrey County Council decided last autumn to put the running of the school out to tender. It argued that it had done all it could to try to turn the school around and had failed. Given projected numbers of teenagers in the Guildford area and the lack of space in the other four schools, all of which are oversubscribed, closure was not an option. A new start was needed.
Whether Surrey really had exhausted all other options is a moot point. Parents and teachers at the school argued that the county had never really attempted to put in the resources necessary to turn it around. A name change in the early 1990s had come not at the behest of the county but at the behest of the parents and governors. Moreover, for an education authority that had been one of the first in the country to be subject to an Ofsted inspection and had come through with plaudits and accolades for its efficiency and competence, it was strange that it really felt that it did not have the competence internally to turn the school around. The answer is of course that had Surrey put its mind to it, it could have turned the school around, as other successful experiments in turning schools around have shown. It could have put in a new management team, committed the resources necessary and made all the difference to the school. The decision on privatisation was essentially a political one. The leadership of the county council wanted to use King's Manor as a guinea pig to see what could be achieved by the privatisation route, and I think the Government were interested to see what resulted from that.
Having decided on privatisation, the next issue that arose was how. Given an annual budget at the school of approximately £1.5 million, any contract fell within EU provisions requiring an announcement in the Official Journal and adherence to tender procedures laid down within the European Union. A specification was drawn up by the contracts department at Surrey County
There was, nevertheless, a very strong feeling in Guildford that the problems of the school were a community issue that ought to be solved by community action. There was good will from the other schools in the area, both state and private, from the further education college, from the university, from the Church and cathedral establishment and from the borough council. They were involved because King's Manor formed the nub of a single regeneration budget project in north Guildford. These players were in the event brought together by a Church-based initiative under the aegis of a rapidly created Guildford Community Education Trust--GCET--which set about raising the resources to put the bid together. In a short time it had on board a former deputy education officer, two former head teachers, other educationalists, lawyers and accountants, and the bid was submitted, as required, by early December.
The bid brought together the offers of support from the various institutions in the town into a coherent educational plan and raised also the possibility of charitable funds to the tune of more than £5 million to be invested in the school. It was one of seven bids forthcoming in December, but it was not one that was short listed. The bids had each been subject to an evaluation procedure by a panel set up by Surrey County Council which consisted of two officers of the council and two heads, one from Surrey and one from outside the Surrey area.
While the plans being put forward by each bid are certainly counted in the evaluation procedure, the EU procedures also required that weighting be given to the experience of the bidder in the matter involved--in this case, turning around failed schools--and to the financial viability of the bidder. For both items, GCET, being a new enterprise with no track record and only the promise of resources, got a zero mark. When this was questioned, GCET was told that EU regulations required only that events in the past were taken into consideration. The input of such advice would seem to be that no new company, or, as in this case, ad hoc grouping coming together to make a bid for such a contract can ever succeed.
That brings me to the second part of my Question. I start by making my own position clear. My view of the situation at King's Manor, which is not untypical of other failing schools in areas such as Guildford, is that
What is more, the solution chosen, bringing in an outside contractor--in this case the 3Es group, which had already run the successful Kingshurst City Technology College in Birmingham--may, and I certainly hope will, solve the problems of King's Manor, but it will be at the expense of other schools in Surrey, particularly perhaps other schools in Guildford. Already Surrey is ploughing an extra £1.5 million into the building and equipment at the school to bring it up to the standards required by 3Es. That is good and it is about time too. But that is £1.5 million less for Surrey schools, which are already strapped by the local education settlement. The school is going to call itself King's College of Arts and Technology.
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