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Baroness Perry of Southwark: I briefly reinforce what has been said about Amendment No. 5. There is a fundamental disagreement between what the Government propose and what we are trying to say. The Government propose micro-management on the part of the Secretary of State or people in the department—one hopes with advice from Ofsted—as regards approving or disapproving every single scheme which is submitted. Our amendments suggest that the Secretary of State shall lay down the things which schools can do, not in the form of a detailed list but in terms of the appropriate objectives of innovation. Several Members of the Committee suggested that the Secretary of State should lay down the things which schools cannot do such as remove provision for children with special needs. But if the Secretary of State were to lay down the objectives of innovation and the things which schools could not do, why not just let them get on with it?

Baroness Blatch: I add to the comments of my noble friend. We are back to the fundamental point; that is, that the man in Whitehall does not know best as regards determining the way forward for every school in the country. However, we are in Committee and we are having to table "what if" amendments. If neither Amendment No. 1 nor Amendment No. 15—those are fundamental amendments—is accepted, what then? If Amendment No. 5, which seeks to delete the words,

were successful, it is my view—I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, agrees with me—that a measure such as that contained in Amendments Nos. 1 or 15 would have to be put in its place. Clearly there would have to be some framework within which

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schools would work. My difficulty is the following. I should like to support the amendment as we do not believe that the opinion of the Secretary of State should prevail. However, if the Government have their way and the scheme is implemented in the way that the Government would like, I should like to add the words "or the Chief Inspector" as that would lessen the workload of the Secretary of State and his department and also the chief inspector is rather better informed about every school in the land. For some time the chief inspector through Ofsted has on a regular basis visited every single maintained school. I believe that the chief inspector is better equipped to understand the matters that we are discussing. If one allowed the chief inspector under certain criteria automatically to give schools the right to innovate that would lessen the incredible workload that will be put in train by the Bill.

If the Minister says that the Government would expect the Secretary of State to liaise with the chief inspector in order to be informed about schools, that would simply compound the system about which we have heard and which we understand the Bill proposes. As I say, I should like to support the removal of the words,

    "in the opinion of the Secretary of State",

but, if that is not possible, my Amendment No. 6, which refers to the chief inspector, would at least be helpful.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for telling me that I shall pay for the Bill. It is an interesting first Bill for me to take through all its stages. The Committee is being indulgent in trying to ensure that I address all the questions that are raised.

As we are back at the heart of the Bill I make two or three comments by way of an overview. First, I gave retrospective examples. I believe that I said that they were retrospective. The purpose of the power is to seek projects of which we are not yet aware. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that we should lay down what schools cannot do. However, it is precisely in the area of what schools cannot do that we are trying to look for new ideas. We have an education system of which all Members of the Chamber are rightly proud but we also know that it does not perform as well as it might with all our children. Within that system we seek to enable the people who know our children—teachers and local education authorities—to suggest ways in which they believe our legislation could get in the way of supporting those children. That does not detract from all the existing innovative ways in which schools can develop. As I said, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to many of those. We do not seek in any way to constrain what schools can do already. We simply seek to add something extra. We seek to say to schools and to local education authorities, "If, in the course of looking at

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how best you can serve our children, you say to us, 'We think that we have something special which is worth exploring'"—

Baroness Blatch: I intervene as this is Committee stage and we shall have no other opportunity to be iterative. The noble Baroness said that we were addressing the heart of the Bill. However, she has just said that the Government are merely trying to introduce more flexibility in case there is something they have not thought of. She also said that she could not think of an example of that. If the noble Baroness cannot think of an example—I gave a long but not exhaustive list of ways in which schools can innovate—what on earth is the point of all this and why is such a strong defence—almost a stone wall—being mounted against what I regard as sensible ideas to allow innovation to take place and to set schools free to innovate without this absolutely strapped around system of bureaucracy?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: This is not a stone wall. I am trying to explain that there are issues connected with the way in which we want our schools to take forward education. We want to enable them to think more fully about such matters. The measure is at the heart of the Bill. We are not trying to do anything other than allow schools and local education authorities the right to be creative and the right to come to us to seek change because we believe fundamentally that change should be led by our schools and local education authorities. That is the opposite of a centralising approach.

I turn to the specific amendments before us. I turn first to Amendment No. 3. By introducing the Bill—and giving the Secretary of State the power to respond to schools and LEAs—we have already demonstrated our commitment to promoting as well as facilitating innovation. The promotion of innovation is an aim that the Government share and the Bill in its very essence provides for it.

But to add the words proposed in Amendment No. 3 would if anything increase the role of the Secretary of State in the process. At present, the power is intended merely to allow the Secretary of State to respond to proposals from schools and not to initiate her own. The current balance between the role of the Secretary of State in responding to proposals and schools or LEAs in coming forward with them rightly places the emphasis on promoting innovation at a school or a local education authority level so it is in the hands of those who know what works best.

Of course, we want to do whatever we can to support schools and local education authorities in coming forward with innovative proposals. We decided to set up the new innovation unit which will be established later this year. We hope that that will be important in creating the right climate for innovation and in supporting teachers to develop and share their best ideas. Therefore, I can reassure the noble Baroness that we are at one in believing that the Government should promote innovation. I reassure

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her that we shall be doing so. I hope that she will agree that it is not necessary in the context of this clause to change the legislation in order to secure that result.

Given the unintended consequences of the amendment and the reassurances that I have given about the Government's commitment to support and encourage schools and local education authorities in coming forward with proposals, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw Amendment No. 3.

I turn to Amendment No. 5. I agree with the noble Baroness that innovation in our schools should not be the preserve of the Secretary of State. Schools are and will continue to be free to innovate within the law in all that they do, without any involvement from the Secretary of State or any other central body. I reassure her that this chapter in no way reduces schools' and LEAs' existing scope to innovate. Only when such innovation is prevented or hindered by provisions in education legislation would it be necessary for schools to apply under the power to innovate.

However, if we are to have confidence in our ability to respond effectively to schools and LEAs in a wide range of circumstances, the breadth of the power is necessary. What we are creating is a power to enable the Secretary of State to respond to schools and LEAs where their proposals require the temporary "disapplication" of legislation to work. That is not about centralising power in the Secretary of State's hands. If we are going to give schools and LEAs the freedom to pilot new ways of raising standards, there must be some safeguards and some parliamentary process to ensure that projects that are put forward will contribute to the raising of educational standards. In that context, it is important that schools know the law.

I therefore believe that the role of the Secretary of State is absolutely essential. The Secretary of State must be able to make a judgment before making an order that, in her opinion, in light of all the available evidence and, where necessary, following consultation with the chief inspector—I shall discuss that later—a project will contribute to the raising of educational standards.

As I have already said, the Secretary of State's opinion also provides an additional protection for vulnerable children and means that she would not make any order where she believed that that would be detrimental to the interests of those children. The proposal is not about the Secretary of State acting on her own or ignoring the views of schools and LEAs. But I believe that it is essential that every proposal receives independent scrutiny in the light of the best available professional advice.

While I therefore do not believe that removing the opinion of the Secretary of State would be helpful, I am ready to discuss whether there may be other helpful ways of strengthening the protections that are already in place in the legislation. I hope that in the light of that, the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 6. Clause 2(3) already requires the Secretary of State to consult the chief inspector before making an order. I would expect the Secretary of State to make full use of the chief

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inspector's expertise—the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested this—where appropriate, in considering proposals from schools and LEAs. However, it is important that we are clear about the fact that it must be the Secretary of State who lays an order. We must not be in a position where the law is in doubt in relation to any school. There must be a clear statement that is publicly available to all that makes clear each individual's rights and duties. That means that whenever an exemption is granted, a statutory instrument must be made. That is quite clearly a role for the Secretary of State in relation to England and for the National Assembly for Wales in relation to Wales.

I also believe that there should be accountability and the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of those statutory instruments. That is again clearly secured by giving the role of making the statutory instrument to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales.

Given those arguments, I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that the Secretary of State must be the one to lay an order. It would be strange to have an alternative decision-maker at that stage and it might involve questioning the role of Ofsted. Of course I agree with the noble Baroness that the Secretary of State should, wherever necessary, take into account the chief inspector's views. But I am not sure of the benefit of adding him as an alternative source of opinion prior to the final exercise of discretion. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

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