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Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 14:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 14 relates to school governors and the new stakeholder model of school governors being introduced. The amendment has had a good deal of discussion both in Committee and on Report. As has been noted, the current regulations for governors in schools were introduced in 1999. The Government are proposing to change those within two years. There has been some discussion as to whether it is necessary to change those regulations. We have given up battle on that. The Government seem to be determined to introduce the so-called stakeholder model.

In the previous rules there were separate categories for teacher and support staff governors. That was the first time that support staff governors had appeared. It was a considerable achievement on their part. A result of the stakeholder model is that that category now disappears and there is only one group. Persons will be appointed as staff governors, irrespective of whether they are teachers or support staff.

The Government are probably aware that that has caused unease among the teachers and real hurt among the support staff who felt that they had achieved a great deal on the previous occasion. They were pleased. They now feel that all that has been lost, in particular because the new regulations specify that there should be at least one teacher among the staff represented. The representation of the support staff is not mentioned.

We have tabled the amendment again because it is a just cause. On the previous occasion the Minister rejected the amendment partly because of our reference to very small schools. One of the objections

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raised in Committee was that in a village school where there is only a head, a teacher and a member of support staff, all three members of the school staff would be on the governing body. It was felt that that would be a little extreme.

That was countered on Report by suggesting that we should limit the exception to the governing body of the smallest category of schools. We were told that there was no such thing as a "smallest category of schools". We have now tabled two amendments which mention the possibility of a limitation in the case of the smallest category of schools, and include a definition of a small school in order to overcome that objection.

I hope that the Minister will look kindly on Amendment No. 14. Some hurt has been caused to support staff in schools as a result of the proposed change. It would be good to see them remembered and thought about. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will see fit to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 15, which is in this group. On Second Reading, a number of noble Lords spoke positively in favour of the special character of voluntary-controlled Church of England schools. The Minister has been helpful on the issue at earlier stages of the Bill and has indicated the Government's intention to ensure, through regulation, that voluntary-controlled and foundation schools of a religious character have at least two foundation governors. I welcome that assurance.

So why am I bringing the issue back once more? We are concerned with the character of a particular category of schools. What does it mean to be a voluntary-controlled school? What makes such a school? In part, their governance is vital, representing a delicate balance of interests. My humble submission is that anything less than two governors, as a legal requirement in primary legislation, could destroy that balance.

The Minister has accepted that for some Church schools the foundation should be protected in primary legislation. She moved an amendment to ensure that foundation governors of voluntary-aided schools should outnumber the other governors and gave assurances that regulations would make it clear that they should outnumber other governors by two.

I am asking for similar protection to extend to voluntary-controlled and foundation Church schools, where the place of the foundation representing the interest of the Church and the particular religious characters of those schools is more precarious than in voluntary-aided schools.

Almost all these schools predate the Education Act 1944. The Church of England founded them, often in the 19th century, well before government grant was available to help with capital funding. The voluntary-controlled status was an ingenious and creative solution to a particular problem in 1944, but it has stood the test of time. It reflects visibly and practically the Church of England's understanding of itself as a folk Church serving this nation.

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Voluntary-controlled schools serve their local—often rural or inner-city—communities entirely inclusively, providing education for all who seek it on usually the same kind of admissions criteria as our community schools. However, they often have a closer link with the local community through a prized and important relationship with their parish church.

I press the issue because experience has shown that sometimes it is difficult to remind voluntary-controlled Church schools that they are Church schools of a particular kind if foundation governors are always outnumbered by the other governors.

In 1998, the Government recognised the importance to the Church of working to preserve the religious character of such schools in times that may be adverse for religious schools. The School Standards and Framework Act of that year allowed the governing body, when appointing a head for such a school, to have regard to that person's ability and fitness to preserve and develop the religious character of the school in the controlled status. I readily and gratefully acknowledge the support that the Government give to Church and other faith schools. I also acknowledge the support given by the previous government.

Our point is that, although primary legislation can be changed, it cannot be changed as easily as can regulations. The Government's present commitment may not always be reflected by their successors in office.

The amendment is modest in its demands, but would be wide in its effects. It does not in any way conflict with the stated government policy on the issue. The Minister said on Report that her door was open on the issue. A number of us went through it to discuss this. I hope that she is willing to support the amendment.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, very briefly, I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on Amendment No. 15. He has eloquently made the arguments behind the amendment. One of them is about the autonomy of Church schools. Another is about their changing character, should there not be sufficient governors—in this case foundation governors—who are committed to the ethos of that school. At a time when the Government have signalled their willingness to allow further faith schools to be created and have seen the value of those schools and the contribution that they make to our education system, it would be ironic if the ethos of existing Church schools was diluted because insufficient protection was given to the governing body.

However, like the right reverend Prelate, I am conscious of the support that the Minister has given to Church schools throughout the Committee and Report stages and the sensitive way in which she has dealt with these issues. I hope that she will be able to tell your Lordships more about the regulations that she intends to introduce. Although the right reverend Prelate is correct that primary legislation is a greater

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safeguard than regulations, I hope that she will be able to say enough this evening to avoid us having to press the amendment to a Division.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I support all three amendments. I was diffident about supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, until I saw the protection clause for small schools. My experience on two governing bodies is that there is value in having staff governors.

I am conscious from some work that I have done on Church schools of the slight nature of the Church's position. The head does not have to be a practising Christian, but must have the ability and the attitude of mind to carry forward the ethos of the school. Two governors constitute a small minority on the governing body. There is no point having Church schools unless they are distinctive. Those who come from a church background can contribute most to that distinctiveness. If we are to continue to have Church schools—that has been the will of this House—it is fundamental that they should be distinctive. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us clear satisfaction that there is no doubt that that will be maintained.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I shall briefly support all three amendments. It is essential that one of the partners of the environment in which those working in a school are engaged should be part of the governing body. My view is that pupils should also be represented on the governing body, but I may have to wait a little longer for that.

I support what my noble friend Lord Dearing said about Amendment No. 15. Two is not a large number. When I chaired the commission on the future of cathedrals, one or two representations were made about the over-dominance of the religious representation in schools. A lot has changed since that time. Two is a minimum. I entirely support that proposal. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept all the amendments.

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