Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Filkin: Although my speaking notes might say "no", I am inclined to say "yes", but with qualifications. Perhaps I may explain that in more detail. In the two previous groups of amendments we debated our stance on targets. I shall not repeat that, given that we each know our positions, even if we cannot persuade each other.

There are 7 million adults in this country who do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills and that type of horrific figure drives us all to believe that we must do better in our system. We are also comforted by, but not complacent about, the fact that schools in the most deprived areas have seen the greatest improvement in performance in recent years.

The amendment seeks to require the Secretary of State to keep under regular review the targets related to national curriculum and other assessments. It is prompted by the decision of the Welsh Assembly to undertake such a review. We remain committed to our system of national testing and the independent Qualifications and Curriculum Authority maintains a comprehensive system to guarantee that the tests are of good quality and reliable. We are always ready to listen to constructive suggestions about the content of the tests.

The Welsh review is an interesting contribution to the debate on assessment. It centred on the educational needs of pupils in Wales, while ensuring that evidence from assessment is available to inform those who need to know about the learning of individuals and groups. At this point, we see no need to replicate that review in England. We will keep performance targets under review and the national targets are reviewed every two years as part of the Government's spending review.

Perhaps I may go a little further, because it is almost a truism of public policy that after a while the performance lift that is obtained from an innovation in terms of method can start to abate—in other words, over time, you obtain diminishing returns from some initiatives. Over and above that, government should constantly ask themselves, "Are there better means to achieve clear ends?".

Clearly, on much of the children's agenda we share a common goal with local government and with schools as regards our aims. Therefore, we have to
24 Jan 2005 : Column 1066
continue to review—probably more than periodically—and that is fundamental thinking about whether a different system is likely to give us better lift. That is part of what good government means. I do not believe that we require statute to tell us to do that; we should be doing that anyway, as we must always seek a better outcome for what we put into the system.

I can assure the Committee that part of our responsibility is to reflect periodically on whether the curriculum formula and the performance formula systems are the best or whether there is a case for doing more. That is what we should do. Without agreeing that we should legislate for such a matter, I hope that reply is helpful.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for that reply. He has stated that reviews may take place regularly anyway, but the link between the targets and rising standards is not reviewed. It is assumed that the rising standards are a result of the targets, as the Minister has said tonight. I do not think it is unreasonable to scrutinise that assumption very carefully. There may be other reasons. Wales, for example, has carried out a review. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth that Wales is not doing better. Does the Minister want to reply?

Lord Filkin: As the noble Baroness knows, I am absolutely clear that the lift in educational attainment in England, which has been remarkable, has, in part, been the product of the challenge and ambition that targets set. It is a fact of life that if one does not have a target, one just administers; whereas a sensible target motivates one to think about what needs to be changed to improve. I am a passionate zealot for targets.

I am with the noble Baroness on what she was signalling; that—without being silly about it and having debating points—one should periodically reflect on root and branch systems. The Bill does exactly that. The new relationship with schools is about getting out from input controls and giving them the freedom of resources; the new inspection framework is about getting out of much of the detail and asking schools, local authorities and Ofsted to challenge whether they can raise attainment. They are explicit illustrations of a new model about how one improves performance and support people to do that. Therefore, as regards the future, we should consider matters broadly and have everything in scope. Without implying that we are about to throw away targets, which we are not, I am with the noble Baroness on that.

Baroness Walmsley: I have to agree with the noble Lord that targets can be very helpful. No one who has been to Weight Watchers would argue with that. However, the part that targets play, along with other factors, has to be considered. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 99 agreed to.
24 Jan 2005 : Column 1067

Clause 100 [Removal of requirements for governors' reports and parents' meetings]:

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 145AB:

"( ) In section 22 of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32) after paragraph (b) insert—
"( ) take such measures as they consider appropriate to promote and encourage the membership of parents of registered pupils of school governing bodies""

The noble Baroness said: We come now to the part of the Bill which removes the requirement on schools to hold parents' meetings and for the governors to produce annual reports. It replaces the annual report with a school profile. Grouped with my amendment is the question whether Clauses 100 and 101 should stand part of the Bill. I support both of those propositions.

I believe that it is vital that parents should be involved as much as possible with schools and that, for many reasons, everything possible should be done to encourage parents to do that. We need the involvement of parents in their children's education; they need to understand the context in which that education is being delivered; they need to know something of their children's day-to-day experience; and they need to know about the curriculum so that they can help at home. We also need parents on governing bodies. If parents do not become interested in schools and do not have regular opportunities to visit schools, they will not be sufficiently interested to become governors.

If we remove the obligation to have an annual meeting, some schools will decide not to hold one and that will lead to problems with accountability of governors. Every corporate body, every charity has to have an annual meeting, providing financial information for the customers and shareholders of a company or donors to a charity. Schools use hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money and it is being suggested that they do not have to hold an annual meeting at which the governors can be held accountable for all that money. I believe that is very wrong.

Despite the fact that I would like to remove Clauses 100 and 101, I thought it would be helpful to table an amendment to ensure that schools have to take such measures as they consider appropriate to promote and to encourage the membership of parents of registered pupils on school governing bodies. As we heard earlier, many parent governors go on to schools forums where their input is needed.

There need to be better opportunities and strategies for the involvement of parents in schools. Some schools find it very hard to recruit sufficient governors of the right, age, gender and ethnic background to reflect the local community. The School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2003 require one-third of governing bodies to consist of parent governors by 31 August 2006. One of the most effective ways to tackle under-representation is to target parents. Greater parental involvement has all the benefits that I mentioned earlier, including family
24 Jan 2005 : Column 1068
learning to support community cohesion. What sort of signal does it send out to parents if schools do not have an annual meeting?

There are approximately 350,000 school governor posts in England, which is about 1 per cent of the adult population. I gather it is the largest volunteer force in the country. However, at any one time around 12 per cent of governor posts are vacant with some inner-city areas having higher vacancy rates. This is not the time to remove the obligation on a school to have parents in at least once a year.

One of the three roles of the governing body is accountability. One of the main stakeholder groups that it reports to is the parents and it could be argued that parents are the main stakeholder group. Certainly, by the enlargement of the parent group in the new regulations for 2003 on the constitution of governing bodies, the Government have implied that that is their view, but at the same time the accountability to parents is being considerably relaxed. There appears to be a lack of consistency.

There is an expectation that if governing bodies are no longer required to have annual parents' meetings, a very large percentage of governing bodies will not hold them this year, despite the fact that the Minister reminded us last week that this provision would not stop a school holding an annual meeting if it wanted. That would put more pressure on the annual report as the governors' main vehicle of accountability. However, the school profile proposal replaces the governors' annual report.

I have great problems with the proposals about the school profile. I do not believe it is anywhere near as good as the school annual report. It appears to be a box-ticking exercise and, according to the Bill, it is very prescribed by the Secretary of State.

I have received some briefing from the Special Educational Consortium expressing its grave concern about the replacement of annual reports with school profiles. It believes that information about the school's special educational needs policy, information about the school's arrangements for disabled pupils and information that I mentioned earlier about the finances for schools relating to the accountability of the governors is better given in an annual report.

On top of all that, I just cannot see how you can get a feeling for the ethos, the character, the very nature and the soul of the school, if you like, from a pro forma where you have to tick boxes. I do not see how it could work. Therefore, in the interests of being helpful, at least on Clause 100, we have tabled this amendment which we hope the Government might accept; although we are very firmly against Clauses 100 and 101, and I suspect that view will be echoed in various other parts of the Chamber. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page