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Earl Howe had given notice of his intention to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to revoke the regulations laid before the House on 11th December 2002 (S.I. 2002/3048).
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): Before the Minister moves that the first order be considered, it may be helpful to say a word about the procedure for today's Grand Committee. Our proceedings are essentially the same as those of the House. Noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be reported in Hansard.
Since this is a new procedure, I should perhaps make it clear to noble Lords that this Committee is charged only to consider orders, not to approve or not approve them. The Motion to approve will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way.
The main difference between our proceedings and the proceedings on the Floor of the House is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in a Grand Committee. Any Motion on which agreement cannot be reached should be withdrawn.
The main purpose of this order is to bring about an enabling provision to allow the department to introduce one common funding formula for the calculation of school budgets for all schools funded under local management of schools arrangements. A word of history: this legislation was introduced as a Bill in the Assembly on 24th June 2002. The Second Stage occurred on 2nd July 2002, and indeed the Committee stage had begun and the Education Committee had begun its evidence sessions.
There are currently seven different LMS formulae in operation: one for each of the five Education and Library Boards; one for voluntary grammar schools; and one for grant maintained integrated schools. They have some common features, but there are differences in the factors and the values. That meansabsurdly, Members of the Committee may thinkthat schools that are similar in size can receive quite different levels
It had originally been the hope to implement common formula funding from 1st April 2003, but there is not sufficient time. The current arrangements will therefore continue for a further year. The benefit of that is the provision of a further timescale for the notification of school budgets, facilitating further consultation with the education sector on the construction of the formula and enabling the department to work with Education and Library Boards on the better alignment of the mechanism.
I turn, if I may, to the important provisions of the rest of the order. On a point that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, touched on yesterday, although in a different context, Articles 13 to 16 introduce a best value regime in respect of services provided by Education and Library Boards and repeals the existing tendering provisions of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1993.
There are a number of provisions that deal with the protection and welfare of children. Article 17, for instance, places a duty on the board of governors of all grant-aided schoolsthat is, schools receiving public fundingto safeguard and promote the welfare of registered pupils while in the care of the school. Article 18 places the duty on the governors to ensure that there is a child protection policy at their school rather than simply the good practice guidelines currently in place.
Article 19 places a duty on all grant-aided schools to address the problem of bullying through their discipline policies. For the first time in Northern Ireland, there is a requirement for schools to consult with pupils in the development of their anti-bullying policies. I note from our discussion yesterday in the Chamber that that will be of particular interest to some Members of the Committee.
Article 36 extends the abolition of the use of corporal punishment to independent schoolsthat is, schools which do not receive public funding. This change is required to ensure compliance with a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, so that simply paying for one's child's education does not, now or in the future, give a warrant for hitting it.
I am sure that Members of the Committee will agree that these are important steps. Although the main purpose, as I have sought to indicate, is the introduction of the single common funding formula, the other matters are of importance. I beg to move.
The noble and learned Lord said in his introduction that the formula, which is one of the main purposes of the order, has not yet been fully developed. I understand that. However, the Assembly, and I suspect Members of the Committee, need to beware of that as it could become contentious. According to the officials when they briefed me, it is pretty complicated. It must become transparent and be made available for consultation. The educationists must have an opportunity for input into it, for school management and so on.
It is hoped that the order will become law by April 2004, which should give adequate time. However, Mr Kennedy suggested that it would be inappropriate to go out to consultation in May and June, for the obvious reasons of exam preparations and exams and the like, and then running into the July holidays. So consultation on this particularly complicated issue would not be welcome in May, June and July. I hope that that will be noted.
Furthermore, as the matter is complicated and it is likely that the order will be passed later today, which rushes things, it is felt very important that there should be a safety net in relation to the procedures and that we should have a review procedure. I think, if I have read Hansard correctly, that the Minister in another place has agreed that there should in fact be a review procedure which kicks in after either the first year or second year, but certainly no later, to allow adjustments to be made where necessary. We hope to have a devolved Assembly operating and in a position to do that where necessary.
There are two other issues. I am delighted to see bullying dealt with in the order. It has been a terrible problem in schools, I suspect ever since schools were started. I remember it being absolutely pertinent throughout my school career and my children's careers. I am sure that we have all had the same experience. Getting pupils involved, if it is possible, is an excellent innovation, and I hope that it works. I have always been anti-corporal punishment, ever since I was in a position of authority at school, at age 17, when I did my best to stop it in my own house at Eton. So I have been anti-corporal punishment for a very long time.
The second issue is the removal of boards of governors. I understand, particularly as a result of my discussions with officials, the thinking of government on this measure. However, it is a pretty draconian measure. Although Jane Kennedy gave a pretty satisfactory answer when questioned on this matter in another place, I should like an absolute undertaking from the Government that this measure is intended to operate only in extremis.
Our primary schools are also facing funding problems. The current level of under-funding of the primary sector will have far-reaching effects as children move through the education system and should not be allowed to continue. We need to look again, in some detail, at the balance of funding between the primary and secondary sectors in Northern Ireland. Any planned funding increase for the integrated and Irish medium sectors should not be at the expense of other school sectors. Spending should be equitable.
Further detailed consideration of the formula is required to reflect the natural progression of teachers towards the top of the salary scale, while still leaving schools the freedom to take staffing decisions within their delegated budgets. More guidance should be made available to school governors to assist them in determining appropriate individual salary ranges for principals and vice-principals and salary levels within those structures.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has already spoken on this topic. I simply add that the formula proposes to give the department power to remove members of boards of governors in order to address school management weaknesses. Can the noble and learned Lord reassure us that this power will not be misused and would be exercised by the department only as a last resortafter all other practical alternatives have been exhausted?
There is also a need to refine the way in which money is allocated for the upkeep of buildings under the formula. The formula must reflect that old buildings are much more expensive to maintain than purpose-built newer ones.
In order to guarantee and maintain openness and transparency, the schools common formula should be reviewed annually or biannually. It is important that such a review mechanism exists in order to re-evaluate the scheme and its value for public money. We await with interest the speedy publication of the scheme and hope that the department will allow an adequate period for open, transparent and inclusive consultation. There are a number of issues under the common funding formula which need to be given particular consideration.
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