Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Peston: My Lords, I wish to make two brief points. First, when in an earlier amendment my noble friend on the Front Bench referred to "all" children, I had assumed that that would include disabled children with those special educational needs, and that the term would carry over to every provision contained in the Bill. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm that that must be the correct interpretation.

My reading of Amendment No. 14, in particular the phrase,

is that it cannot mean anything other than a reference to all the children in that school. The performance of a school cannot be distinguished from that of all of its children. Again, perhaps my noble friend will confirm that because if one thing unites all noble Lords, it is the need to ensure that children with special educational needs are not forgotten.

Secondly, I had always assumed logically that "or" includes "and", therefore we do not need to change that. The word "nor" does not include "and"; you have to use the phrase, "or, but not and". My noble friend will be the expert in this area and will respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. However, I do not think that there is any problem about the word "or".

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I think that there is a problem here because the two words are different. If a thing is one thing or the other, it is one thing or another. But if it is one thing and the other, both criteria would have to be satisfied. That has always been my understanding of the wording in legislation.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. This is a point of

17 Jun 2002 : Column 539

theoretical logic. The logicians have been studying this subject for a great many years. I can assure the noble Baroness that the word "or" includes "and".

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we shall wait for the definitive response from the Minister.

I wish to put a different question. In the previous group of amendments and in the amendments now before us, the Minister referred to "short" inspections. I understand that Ofsted has proposed that by 2003, the majority of primary schools will be given "light touch" inspections. Will earned autonomy therefore apply to all primary schools that pass their short inspections? It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could clarify this point.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I shall begin by addressing Amendments Nos. 16 and 17. I wish to express my total support for the sentiment that lies behind the two amendments; that is, a wish to see disabled children or those with special educational needs at the heart of decisions relating to earned autonomy.

However, I believe that the amendments are unnecessary and do not offer the best method of achieving those aims. Amendment No. 16 would introduce a considerable degree of uncertainty to the application process. It would mean that a school might not know if it was eligible until after it had applied and it had been determined whether the evaluation plan was acceptable. That would be the very opposite of the automatic process for which noble Lords have rightly pressed.

As I have pointed out many times before, safeguards are already in place to protect the interests of children with special educational needs, all of which are included in the inspection regime.

Similarly, with respect to Amendment No. 17, if there were a clear and unambiguous measure of attainment for these children that could be applied in appropriate cases, I should be happy to accept such an amendment. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It is notoriously difficult to develop a simple measure of attainment for children whose educational needs are so varied and where there are huge differences from school to school in the nature of their special needs and special needs provision.

The amendment would require us to specify such a measure in regulations, but there is a real danger that that would turn out to be unfair. It could deny schools earned autonomy because of a measure that was inappropriate to the nature of the special needs that they catered for. A further effect of the amendment—although I am sure that this was unintentional—would be to deny earned autonomy to any school without pupils with disabilities. It is impossible to demonstrate high standards of achievement for children with disabilities if there are no such children at the school in question.

However, I wish to give the following assurances which I hope will convince noble Lords of our commitment to children with disabilities and those with

17 Jun 2002 : Column 540

special educational needs. First, I do not believe that earned autonomy poses any threat to children with special educational needs, in particular given that the freedoms available relate only to teachers' pay and conditions and the national curriculum. Within the latter, we have said that no subjects will be dropped, so that only programmes of study will be available for disapplication or modification. In any case, these provisions cannot change any of the special educational needs legislation, so that schools will continue to be required to make the provision and meet the needs outlined in special educational needs statements.

In addition, we have strengthened our commitment to ensure that the needs of special educational pupils are met in schools by putting forward government Amendments Nos. 14 and 15. As I said earlier, we are proposing, as a basis for consultation, to grant schools earned autonomy if they have qualified for a "short" or "standard" inspection by Ofsted and have received a good report. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, used the term, a "light touch" inspection. While this will ensure that more schools qualify, I wish to make the important point that we shall also ask Ofsted to consider whether an assessment of special educational needs provision might be made during all inspections from autumn 2003 and thus be used in determining suitability for earned autonomy from that date.

Furthermore, Ofsted is committed to the use of value-added data as and when sufficient data become available, which will provide yet another means of holding schools accountable for the progress of all children. With regard to earned autonomy, I shall consider further whether it should be a requirement of a school's application to set out how its exemptions will impact on disabled children and those with special educational needs.

I turn now to the specific questions that have been put to me. My noble friend Lord Peston was right to point out that "all" means all children. The way in which we have looked at the issues of management, leadership and performance means that the new drafting allows us to use any combination of the three criteria in the regulations. It is proposed to use all three, but it would allow us to consider that again as we look more deeply into the school system. In this context, I am reliably informed that "or" does include "and", which I hope answers the questions put to me.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 15:

    Page 4, line 9, after first "of" insert "the Chief Inspector,"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 19:

    Page 4, line 14, at end insert—

""the Chief Inspector" has the meaning given by section 1(3);"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

17 Jun 2002 : Column 541

Clause 6 [Exemptions available to qualifying schools]:

6 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 5, line 32, at end insert—

"( ) In so far as regulations made under this section relate to a curriculum provision, they shall, in addition to providing for an exemption or modification, require persons responsible for the delivery of the curriculum in any school to have regard to the need to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum in that school."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I wish to move Amendment No. 20 and speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 21 and 23. Amendment No. 20 is designed to ensure that whatever curriculum exemptions a school may attract under this clause, overall the pupils will retain the right to receive a broad and balanced curriculum. That is clearly the intention of the Government since they have said so in the policy statement accompanying the Bill. The Minister also said that in a letter she sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on 17th May. I would assume therefore that the Minister will have no objection to this point being inserted wherever relevant on to the face of the Bill, thus putting it into the public domain.

Noble Lords will by now be aware that we on these Benches are in favour of all schools having a reasonable amount of flexibility to adapt the curriculum to the needs of their pupils. However, pupils currently have under the national curriculum an entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum and this must not be compromised. There is no reason why, by adapting the currently rather overcrowded programmes of study, a school cannot make the space to innovate while still providing pupils with maths, English, science, IT, a modern language, humanities, the arts and sport.

It would be helpful to have clarification about some slightly contradictory statements by the Government. Paragraph 5.2 on page 4 of the document, Policy Statements and Draft Regulations Supplied to Standing Committee G, states:

    "Without removing the fundamental entitlement of all pupils to a broad and balanced curriculum",

and yet, in the same document, we are given the four options for increased curriculum flexibilities and freedoms for qualifying schools. The broad possibilities are: first, suspending some programmes for study outside the core so that schools are required to cover, for example, two of the four programmes of study; secondly, total suspension of all programmes of study but still a requirement on schools to cover all non-core foundation subjects; thirdly, suspending all programmes of study outside the core but requiring schools to teach at least one humanities subject, one art subject and so on; and, finally, total suspension of all programmes of study and each school to determine subject coverage through defining what is meant by "broad and balanced curriculum".

If, as I understand, the Government appear to favour the last one, each successful school allowed earned autonomy could decide for itself what is meant by a "broad and balanced curriculum", in which case, what safeguards are in place for pupils' entitlements? Do not these two parts of the paper contradict each other? The

17 Jun 2002 : Column 542

Government are happy for there to be a safeguard on the face of the Bill in relation to innovation, so why not for earned autonomy as well?

Amendment No. 21 requires the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to consult with a range of bodies, as appropriate, when making an order to exempt from educational legislation. LEAs, governors and teachers all have a role to play in decisions serious enough to require the law on education to be waived and it is entirely appropriate that they are consulted.

In Committee, the Minister said that such consultation would be difficult to operate. She also said that some of the bodies listed may not have a direct interest in the orders, nor have the time or resources to comment. The amendment includes the words "as appropriate" to take care of that objection.

During the Committee stage, the Minister said:

    "The amendments do not appear to take account of the key point that under employment law, any changes to teachers' contracts that could follow on from pay and conditions exemptions orders cannot be imposed unilaterally on teachers but can take effect only following appropriate negotiation, which may, of course, involve teaching unions".

She continued:

    "I therefore do not believe that it is necessary to require consultation on every change, no matter how small, to involve all teacher unions. If teachers at the school were in favour of the application and the unions at local and national level were not, it is hard to know what the governing body would be expected to do with responses. Surely what matters is what teachers at the school concerned think of the application. Any teacher in such a position would be fully entitled to seek advice from his or her union".—[Official Report, 7/5/02; col. 1047.]

The problem with this argument is as follows. The Minister is fully aware that in negotiations at a school level, teacher representatives aim to act in the best interest of the teachers in that school, as they try to do at local and national level. For instance, it is not unusual for one union representative to act on behalf of a classroom teacher while another representative from the same union will be negotiating on behalf of a head teacher member. Both representatives will seek the best solution whatever conflicts of interest there may be. I should therefore like to press the Minister on Amendment No. 21.

Consultation with parents and teachers in the way provided for in Clause 7 is not really enough. Amendment No. 23 requires governing bodies to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State or National Assembly for Wales and to consult parents, teachers and the LEA. In her welcome Amendment No. 22 the Minister inserts only consultation with the local education authority. While we greatly welcome her positive response to the amendment when it was tabled by the Liberal Democrats in Committee, we must press her to go further and to include consultations with the other stakeholder groups as well. I look forward to a positive response from her. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page