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Baroness Blatch: I, too, welcome the amendment for that very reason. I believe that we are putting the Government on the spot. They have no ideas of their own and cannot think of anything. There is no definition of innovation. The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and his noble friend Lady David, serve a purpose.

Incidentally, the two subjects covered by this amendment are both within my list of things that could be done within the existing law. The noble Lord made a much more important point en passant in addressing the amendment. He referred to teachers having to be conscious every minute of the day as to whether what they are doing is within the law. My view is that until now they have not stopped to think about that, but simply got on with running the schools and teaching the children. I believe that this Bill will make them do just that. There will be a constant looking over the shoulder and wondering whether what one is doing is lawful. Time will be spent by the schools making inquiries as to whether they can teach in a particular way or use a particular form of technology.

The noble Lord made some points about technology. When I studied A-level history I remember making marvellous use of tapes prepared by the best historians in the world. One would listen to three or four eminent historians interacting with each other with the student listening and interacting with the discussions and the teacher. That can now be taken a great deal further. In preparation for further and, particularly, higher education, the student can be left unsupervised by a teacher with the properly organised use of technology. I do not believe that that is outside the law. As the noble Lord has done, I query fundamentally whether we need these early amendments and whether we should do more to encourage and promote innovation—to use the word of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—in our schools and exhort them to do so, but not to put this raft of legislation in their way.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I agree with everything that noble Lords have said about encouraging innovation in schools, and about encouraging schools to use the innovation that they are already able to accomplish. I believe that we are of one mind on that point.

I am conscious of the point made by my noble friend Lord Peston about not getting in the way of such innovation. That is a good maxim in many cases. However, I return to the central point that I am trying to make; namely, that we seek to assist schools that have found something that they wish to do, but which we are preventing them from doing. We hope to enable those schools that want to explore whether the removal of that prevention could assist them. That is the nub of the matter.

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I did not mean to suggest that teachers should know the law, and bear it in mind every minute of the day. If we are to suspend legislation for a school, it is important that we do so properly. It must be done by statutory instrument via the Secretary of State so that the law is clear. Perhaps I may take the case of special educational needs, which is something very dear to noble Lords' hearts. It is important that our educational institutions understand the law as it relates to students who have special educational needs. If we were to suspend any kind of law in another case, we would need to be clear in that respect. That is the point I make; not that I expect our teachers to spend their time worrying about the law.

I know that this is a problem for some noble Lords, but we do not have any preconceived ideas of the kind of exemptions that applicants may seek. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peston, and to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for helping us to explore this important issue. I should tell my noble friend that the use of Powerpoint and of white boards—great innovations in schools—is most important. We must enable our schools to use new technology to its fullest and greatest extent.

I should tell the Committee that I have ministerial responsibility for ICT in schools. I am greatly heartened by the work that we are accomplishing to enable schools to go forward in this field. That includes providing as many teachers as we can with lap-tops to facilitate the use of new technology, and thereby support them in their work. We also provide support in the classroom to enable students to learn. In that way, teaching and learning will be enhanced. I accept what my noble friend said about such innovations: they are useful if, like me, you are unable to write on a blackboard in a way that anyone could possibly understand.

My noble friend also talked about languages. As noble Lords will know from previous debates, I can talk for England on the subject of languages in schools. However, I accept that we can use many different ways of supporting our students in a diverse variety of languages, especially by using new technology.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about her experiences when studying history. She told us about listening to tapes and joining in with the interaction between historians. Through the introduction of new technology, it is to be hoped that students will ultimately be able to watch—and, perhaps, interact—with some of our great teachers and lecturers right across the world. Indeed, perhaps they will even be able to engage in direct conversations with, say, a school in France on the subject of geography or history; in other words, with the use of new technology, they may be able to participate in the process of language learning by taking part in discussions in other countries.

We have great enthusiasm for, and are working towards all such developments. They do not require the power to innovate. However, as we explore these new ways of approaching technology and consider the way in which we want teaching and learning to

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improve, there may be something that we could do to help and support schools, or education authorities, and enable them to do it in an even better way. That may apply to a particular way in which we are teaching or learning in schools. We are simply saying that we are not prescribing that; we want to look for it. Where schools believe that they have found it, we want them to be able to come forward and propose to us—

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Perhaps I may put this to the Minister. Is the noble Baroness not worried that in passing this legislation many schools that are currently engaging in these activities as a matter of course will feel that they must now have permission to continue with them? That is the worrying aspect of the matter. Indeed, rather than encouraging innovation, this Bill may stultify it. Everyone will be writing letters to the Department for Education and Skills, but they will not receive a response for about six months. The whole process could go on for ever.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: During my time in the department I have not heard of anyone having to wait six months for a response from the Department for Education and Skills. I pay tribute to the officials who work incredibly hard on our behalf to ensure that they respond within set and very strict timetables. I hope that Members of the Committee will recognise that if you write to the department you will receive a reply within the allotted time. I wish to place that on the record.

I understand the point that the noble Baroness has made, but that suggests that we would somehow use this power to prevent schools from carrying out current innovations. We all recognise that schools may need to be encouraged to innovate in ways that are currently allowed through better understanding. My hope is that the innovation unit will play a part in that process by supporting teachers to spread best practice. Where legislation is halted for a fixed period, it is simply a matter of ensuring that, after four years, schools may apply for a possible extension of three years. We should be allowed to do that.

I turn to my noble friend's question about all the activities he described. If there were something within the power to innovate that could be implemented, schools would be able to apply on that basis. However, many of the activities that he mentioned are currently practised by our schools.

Lord Peston: I thank my noble friend for her informative reply, which I shall summarise. I believe she said that the sort of activities that I described did not require permission from this Bill and the Secretary of State because they are happening, and they will continue in that way. Sadly, I suppose that I must admit to being a rather thick pupil because I believe my noble friend used the expression, "Well, what requires the powers to innovate?" I know that it is not easy to answer that question, but I have to ask it. Indeed, we shall have to face it at some time.

What, specifically, are we missing here? This features in the next and the following amendment, where, again, I am fairly certain that I shall be told that

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such activities do not require the powers to innovate. My question remains: what requires the powers to innovate? I shall, of course, withdraw the amendment at this stage, leaving that question hanging in the air.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 11:

    Page 1, line 11, at end insert—

"( ) In this Bill "innovation" and "innovative projects" refer inter alia to—
(a) teaching arrangements, and
(b) organisation of the school day, week and year."

The noble Lord said: I can be much more brief with this amendment, which relates to innovation in another area. By "teaching arrangements", I mean the processes of setting, streaming, and so on. For example, a school that is already setting or streaming may decide that that is not a good way to proceed and may, therefore, abandon the practice. Are those arrangements examples of innovation, or would changes in them be innovative? In that case, would the Bill have any leverage in that respect? Alternatively, would such matters be decided by schools themselves, with the position not changing if the Bill were passed?

Under the heading of "teaching arrangements", perhaps I may raise a point previously mentioned by another noble Lord. I refer to the whole question of the research base for all the activities that schools pursue. Not surprisingly, many activities in which schools engage do not have a research base. If you are "innovative", it means that you are trying something for the first time. Therefore, by definition, you think, "This is a good idea; let's try and do it".

As someone who is totally committed to education and very keen on people trying new things, what worries me is not merely the diffusion of what they discover, and whether or not it works; I also hope that a system exists whereby a school that has found a good way forward—let us take, for example, the great row regarding the best way to achieve literacy—should be able to contribute as part of a research base to enable other people to learn from it. I say that bearing in mind, in particular, a standard social science point that something that works in one school may work for special reasons, and, therefore, cannot be generalised. That issue requires further thought.


    "organisation of the school day, week and year",

as set out in the amendment, is another one of my favourite topics. I am not quite clear on the law in this respect. My noble friend is in the ministerial position where she can explain the law to us. I have never understood the position where a school decides that it would rather teach certain hours rather than others. I have a feeling that schools are not free to operate in that respect. The same goes for the school week and the school year. However, let us suppose that a school

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decided, in its judgment, to start school at 8 o'clock in the morning and finish at lunch-time. I have forgotten which country in Europe follows that practice—

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