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Lord Filkin: Sometimes the problem is that until the Government have expressed, as a result of probing amendments, the intended system in more detail, it is difficult to spot what on earth is going on. On reflection, it is sometimes an inefficient process, but now is not the time to speculate on that.
I understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, says what she has said. I would share her horror if we intended to do what she worries we will do. But that is not so. We would not for a second consider that it would be remotely sensible to place the sole responsibility for turning a school around on others, to the exclusion of the school and governors. Nor do we believe that the local authority has a minimal involvement in the process of deciding what is going on in a school before, during and after an inspection report. We would expect the reverse: we would expect that the local authority, through its SIPif I can use that ghastly abbreviationwould be very actively involved in understanding that. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has indicated, a good local authority knows where there are worrying areas and it would focus its efforts accordingly.
The amendments would introduce additional requirements to the arrangements for schools causing concern, including the action to be taken by local authorities and others. Amendment No. 65 would require the local authority to consult the appropriate body for, and the head teacher of, a maintained school
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before preparing a written statement of action that it proposes. We totally agree that the LEA should consult with the school in preparing the statement. It is essential that the head teacher is involved from the outset. That already happens without any legal requirement. It must and will continue in the future.
Where a school is judged to be a cause for concern, inspectors give oral feedback to governors and to the head teacher at the end of an inspection and, therefore, the head receives early notification of the inspection findings. It is then for the governors and the head teacher to consider how to address the issues identified by inspectors. The current guidance from the department makes it clear that governors, head teachers and staff should be closely involved in drawing up school action plans. I can give the Committee an assurance that that will continue and will be made clear in guidance in the new legislation.
A similar consideration applies in relation to Amendment No. 76. That would require the proprietor of a non-maintained school to consult the head teacher before preparing a written statement of action, when notified by the chief inspector. Again, such consultation will happen as a matter of course. It is not necessary to cover it in legislation, but it will be in guidance.
In all cases, therefore, we expect the head teacher, the staff and the governors to be closely involved in decisions about action to be taken to address issues raised by inspectors. The current guidance makes that clear, as it will in the future.
Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 would require the LEA's statement to include any action it recommends the school or any others should take and the timescale for this action. I think that that is unnecessary. As we have explained, in practice, LEA's statements will be drawn up in consultation with the school and anyone else whom the LEA considers has a part to play in securing improvements.
Amendments Nos. 68 and 69 would require the LEA to send its written statement of action to the head teacher and governing body. Once again, it is not necessary to put that in legislation. Much of the action needed will fall to the head teacher and governing body. It is unthinkable that the LEA would fail to send a copy to them and anyone else with a role to play. We will ensure that this is also covered in guidance.
Amendment No. 70 would extend to significant improvement cases the Secretary of State's power to specify a shorter period than prescribed for the LEA to prepare the action plan. We do not see a need to extend the Secretary of State's powers in this way. The intention is that regulations will prescribe 10 working days from receipt of the inspection report as the deadline for the LEA to prepare its statement of action. In the majority of cases this will ensure attention is given in a timely manner to the needs of schools judged to require special measures or significant improvement. In a few cases the needs of a school may require more urgent action. The clause gives the Secretary of State power to ensure that this happens. It is appropriate for only the categories of school which give most cause for concern.
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The Bill is intended to simplify existing arrangements for schools causing concern, including the requirements for follow-up action by LEAs and schools. Clearly, this simplification would be undermined by the amendments, but the thrust of those amendments will be protected by the guidance that I have indicatedand given a commitment to the Committeewill follow through from the Bill. I hope that clarification has therefore reduced the need to press the amendment.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for that clarification. In some senses it is reassuring. It raises exactly the same issues as those we talked about in relation to appeals procedures and the involvement of pupils, and so forth. We have the assurance that of course this will happen and that it will be set out in guidance. Yet, in a sense there is always the question of, "Is it going to be set out in guidance?". Is it not useful to have at least some short mention of these issues in the Bill in order to make sure that guidance is there and that it follows the wishes of the legislature? That is the reason for seeking to have this provision written on to the face of the Bill.
Lord Hanningfield: Perhaps I may support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. If the issue is not specifically laid down in legislation, what happens is that, over a period of two or three years, different people come and go and shortcuts are taken. Therefore, there needs to be more than just guidance. We keep getting assurances from the Government, but we would like to see some of these issues on the face of the Bill so that we know that they will still happen in three or four years' time. Ministers and inspectors come and go and some of these issues might be lost if they are not in the Bill. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on this issue. It covers not only this point but also several points in the Bill.
Lord Filkin: Without wrecking our process by drifting into philosophy, there is a judgment about where that line is drawnwe had discussions about that this morningon issues like this which are essentially about important administrative procedure. I think that we have to resist cluttering up primary legislation with detailed specifications of process. That is what guidance is for. I repeat: Hansard is for ever. If we have given a commitment, we have given a commitment.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for his further clarification. Obviously it is extremely useful to have in Hansard the full explanation of the Government's intention here. Nevertheless, there are occasions where it is useful to provide the little hook within the primary legislation
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on which to hang the secondary legislation. I think that we shall come back to this at later stages of the Bill, because issues of principle are involved on which we may wish to provide some little hooks within the primary legislation. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: We were moving on so well that I felt trepidation at getting up again. In opposing the Question that Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill we hope to elicit from the Minister more detail on how the advisory panel will operate, its remit and purpose. The Bill and Explanatory Notes provide scant information on the panel's remit. We do not even know how many members it will comprise. What role, therefore, does the noble Baroness envisage? We should be careful to ensure that we do not just create another quango.
Who will choose the members of the advisory panel: will the First Minister, the Welsh Education Minister or the Assembly have the final say over the appointments? How will the independence and impartiality of each member be guaranteed? What criteria will be used to judge each candidate? How much will the panel cost each year, and where will it be based? I note that much of those details, such as members' remuneration, will be left to the regulation-making powers of the Assembly. However, it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could shed some light on this particularly cloudy area.
Why, if the National Assembly for Wales believes it would be useful and advantageous to have such a panel, does the Secretary of State feel that she can do perfectly well without it? I have heard that our new
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Secretary of State is an extremely talented and gifted individual, but why do we not have such a panel in England if the Welsh are to have one?
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