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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 11:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 13 [General powers of Secretary of State in relation to companies]:

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 13:

    Before Clause 19, insert the following new clause—

(1) In relation to the conduct of education in schools and nursery schools, the Secretary of State and local education authorities shall have a duty to limit new regulation and to control the amount of material they send to governing bodies and head teachers.
(2) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report to Parliament, setting out any progress he has made in the preceding year in seeking to control or reduce the volume of regulations, circulars and codes of practice that he or his predecessors have published, and reporting any representations he has received from governing bodies, head teachers or teachers' representative bodies about the burden that regulations impose.
(3) Each set of regulations, circular or code of practice issued by the Secretary of State shall include a statement by him of the time he expects it will take for governing bodies or head teachers of schools or nursery schools, as appropriate, to read, consider and implement the regulation, circular or code of practice concerned.
(4) In making his estimate under subsection (3), the Secretary of State shall impose no additional burden on schools or nursery schools to provide him or local authorities with information."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to address the most vexed issue of the day so far as schools are concerned. In an interview for the Evening Standard on 3rd October 1996, the then shadow Education Secretary, David Blunkett, stated:

    "We will increase delegation to schools and cut down on town hall bureaucracy".

Only now are the Government talking about cutting down bureaucracy after five years of massively increasing it. While we are discussing a Bill that will generate an unprecedented amount of bureaucracy, regulations, circulars, guidance and so forth, we are also still discussing a reduction in the burden of paperwork.

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Over the 12 months to March 2002, the Government issued to primary and secondary schools documents totalling 4,440 pages. That represents 17 pages of government documentation for every single working day. That information came from a parliamentary Answer from the Government. A recent report published by the National Union of Teachers found that 57.8 per cent of teachers leaving the profession cited workload as one of the most important reasons for their departure. Despite that, the Secretary of State, Estelle Morris, claimed recently that reducing paperwork would not help teachers. She stated:

    "I say to the House and to head teachers that sending teachers less paper will [not] raise standards".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/02; col. 661.]

It is my contention that sending schools less paper would give them more time to do what they should be doing; that is, running the schools and teaching the children. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches very much support the spirit of this amendment. The Government have set new records for the quantity of paper that has been spewing forth from Sanctuary Buildings. The advice being given often goes into extremely fine detail covering many pages. One has only to look at the number of books and amount of detail issued in connection with the numeracy strategy. These days, central government lay down week by week what mathematics should be taught in the classroom.

We see this as part of the centralisation agenda which started not with this Government, but long before, back in the 1980s under the administration of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who I see is in her place. We have all suffered from the increased centralisation and bureaucracy that has beset our schools. We need a bonfire of regulations. However, I do not think that this is the right amendment to achieve it. My doubts relate in particular to subsection (3) of the proposed new clause. It suggests that, when sending out any circular and so forth, the Secretary of State should indicate the time that it will take to fill out the forms or deal with the information. The amendment states that the,

    "Secretary of State shall include a statement by him of the time he expects it will take for governing bodies or head teachers of schools or nursery schools, as appropriate, to read, consider and implement the regulation, circular or code of practice concerned".

Even if we take only the word "read", something of a problem is created. Obviously, it takes people different lengths of time to read a document because some are fast readers and some are slow. Then, when trying to work out the time involved in a board of governors considering the impact of a document, there too will be wide variation from institution to institution. It would be extremely difficult for the Secretary of State to specify times in this regard.

Subsection (2) invites the Secretary of State simultaneously to list all the representations he receives from head teachers and governing boards concerned with bureaucracy. One can bring to mind the vast numbers of letters that will be sent stating

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something like, "You expected us to read this material in five minutes, but it has taken us 55 minutes to do so".

As I said, in spirit we entirely support the proposed new clause, but in practice it is not the right way to seek to control bureaucracy. We need a bonfire of regulation, but what must be done is to go back to where we started. The problem lies in over-centralisation, a practice that was as much of a problem under previous Conservative administrations as it is under this Government.

Education should belong to the schools and to local education authorities. We want to go back to a time when we trusted our teachers to get on with the job, when they did not have to be told bit by bit what to do; we want to trust local education authorities to run the show. We do not want even more circulars about other circulars.

While we support the spirit of the amendment, we shall not be joining the Opposition in the Lobby.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I recall helping a Conservative government once upon a time and being as much concerned then as I am today about the flow of paper into schools from government and local authorities. I do not believe that the amendment is an effective way of controlling it, but the intent is absolutely right. In the days when I was advising, a very senior official was appointed to control the flow of paper into schools. He did not succeed.

Teachers enjoy teaching—they enjoy the demands of their profession—but they are not administrators. They need time to prepare their lessons and to teach, and they are not getting enough of it. I said before how astonished I was to hear from a former chief inspector, a little over a year ago, that 400,000 teachers were teaching, and 400,000 qualified teachers were not teaching. That speaks a great deal about what teachers think of their profession.

They love teaching—they want to teach—and the greatest single service the Government can give to education is greatly to reduce the flow of paper into schools. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House some real assurances on this issue.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I have not so far taken part in the debate but there is an enormous amount of force in what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. Would not the answer be to pass the amendment and then, in the other place, subsections (2), (3) and, by extension, subsection (4), to which the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches objected, could be removed there? That would leave in subsection (1), which is the really important one. Unless the amendment is passed, that will be impossible.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I have spoken to this issue at previous stages of the Bill and once again I wish to make clear that the Government wholeheartedly support the spirit of the amendment. We understand that head teachers and teachers are

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under pressure. We are only too well aware of the importance of removing unnecessary burdens from our schools. It is something at the forefront of our minds in the continual challenge, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, to let teachers concentrate on teaching and to create the right environment for all our pupils to succeed.

I accept that when one talks to those who should be in the teaching profession but are not, or to those who are moving out of the teaching profession, they refer to workload issues. It is very important to understand what we mean by "workload" and not simply to see it as an issue—important though it is—of the amount of paper that teachers have to deal with.

I am sure that the concept of a school system with no regulation, no information and no guidance is not realistic. I accept that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, does not propose this, but we do need to be careful. Its aim is laudable but it would have damaging and obviously unintended consequences elsewhere. If we placed what would be necessarily crude and arbitrary limits on the number of regulations, we would ignore the unforeseen needs which we all know can materialise, in some cases almost out of the blue. We do not believe that it is right to surrender our ability to act swiftly and effectively to protect the rights and needs of pupils and adults working in schools simply to comply with the provisions of the amendment. Our schools need to operate within a common framework and to understand their position within it, particularly in regard to the choices open to them and the responsibilities placed on them.

Perhaps I may provide the House with some examples of what I mean. We need to be able to communicate with schools and education authorities in order to make them aware of new guidance material that we may issue. A case in point—one which is close to noble Lords' hearts—is Clause 173, which deals with the welfare of children and which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, supported. We surely would not want to put ourselves in the position of not being able to send out material on an issue of such importance because there was a limiting statutory duty to control material.

It is not only the need to respond immediately to particular issues that would be under threat but the regular work that goes on to try to improve provision for the most vulnerable children in our society and to enhance their life chances. For example, if we decided to revise and improve the admissions framework through a new code of practice because we found that it needed improvement for the most vulnerable, we would not want to tie the Secretary of State's hands by not allowing her to consult or communicate with schools.

I accept the point that schools do not gain from being deluged with irrelevant or poorly structured material. I emphasised at Report stage how important it is to ensure that our communications with schools are of high quality, and consistently so. But this

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amendment would jeopardise our ability to communicate with schools and could put us in a position of not being able to explain to schools what we were trying to do.

The amendment has defects, too, in that it requires the Secretary of State to work out how much time each head needs to read, consider and implement any specific regulation or circular. This assumes the "one size fits all" approach to regulations to which we are precisely opposed. Guidance, regulations and codes of practice will often apply to different schools in differing degrees according to their individual circumstances, and they will spend different amounts of time in considering and implementing them. We would not want the Secretary of State to spend time trying to second guess to the minute how long schools will spend reading documents. Schools will decide that for themselves. If they believe it is too long, I trust that they will make recommendations to us and we will act accordingly.

The amendment is lacking in that it does not address the issue of the quality of information issued. I know from my own experience of being both responsible for issuing information and being on the receiving end as a chair of governors until last year that it is the quality equally as much as the quantity—indeed, more so— of the communication or regulation that is of paramount importance.

With this in mind, I wish to give the House an example of some of the regulations that will emanate from the Bill. On the new school governance regulations we will be "road testing" draft guidance and regulations with focus groups involving representatives from the main stakeholder groups before we formally consult. This will ensure that what is being proposed is clear and fit for purpose. We want schools to get all the information they need, but no more than is necessary, to implement the planned changes.

The new guidance and draft regulations have already been considered by our advisory group on governance, discussed with Church representatives and piloted with focus groups of governors, local education authorities and diocesan boards in Darlington, Coventry and London. The focus groups warmly welcomed the opportunity to participate and made useful suggestions, while commending the department's general approach. In all cases, schools will get only exactly what they need for their own purposes, tailored to the category of school. This is what our approach to regulation is all about—discussing our changes with stakeholders, ensuring regulation is fit for purpose and tailored to the end user.

As I have explained at previous stages, we take very seriously our responsibility to remove those burdens on schools which should not be there. I have referred to the range of measures which are in place, from greatly increasing the numbers of support staff in schools to the current programme of 32 pathfinder schools which is exploring new and better ways of tackling teacher workload.

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Perhaps I may explain to the House the kind of resources we are looking at for these pathfinders. We have provided additional resources, including a new laptop for every teacher, Internet access and ICT support. Noble Lords will have heard me speak many times on the issue of new technology. I believe that new technology can be absolutely fundamental in helping our teachers to reduce their workload, simply because it provides a framework in which planning and other activities which we know take teaching time can be done more effectively. It is a very useful communication tool between schools, local education authorities and the department. We want to explore very carefully ways in which we can use the technology.

We have provided additional teaching assistance and administrative support in the pathfinder areas, including bursarial staff, to help free up teachers and school leaders to focus on professional responsibilities. We have introduced training for all staff in the use of the new ICT provision. We have increased non-contact time for teachers to free them up for lesson planning and marking, professional development and school planning activities, and we have put up to seven days the professional support time to be used in helping to deliver the changes and receiving advice on a variety of approaches to reduce teacher workload.

The 32 pathfinder projects are there—this takes nothing away from the issue of ensuring that the department sends schools what they need and no more—because we recognise that we also need to look in a broader context at the issues of teacher workload. They do not all rest on the bureaucracy to which noble Lords have referred. It is within the context of examining the 32 pathfinder projects that we want to ensure that we get this right. We recognise the pressure in this House and elsewhere to ensure that we do this properly. That is why we have set up the pathfinder projects.

We are not complacent about this matter. As noble Lords will be aware, the Secretary of State is considering her response to the report of the School Teachers' Review Body on teacher workload. I believe that it would be short-sighted of us to make hasty decisions about one aspect of workload pressures without thinking through the interplay with other factors which place pressures on teachers. We are engaged in thinking of ways to reduce these in conjunction with all those who have an interest in this area. Therefore, I do not want to act now, ahead of the Secretary of State's response in the autumn to the teacher workload report. I believe that to do so would be premature and possibly counter-productive.

Our intentions are very clear. We believe in sensible regulation fit for purpose. We wish to provide essential safeguards in the education system. We are committed to providing high-quality, clear communications for schools which recognise the needs of those delivering education. We are dedicated to an approach that involves stakeholders in deciding on these issues.

Having recognised the spirit in which the amendment has been proposed, I believe that it would not assist us in completing the work that we have

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started in this area. With those commitments, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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