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Lord Filkin: My Lords, to one extent I would argue that the fact that the powers have never been used shows that they are very effective powers. It is desirable that they are there in the cupboard as a long-stop, ensuring that people pay attention in the rare circumstances when school rationalisation might be at risk of being fudged or ducked because of local political difficulties.
The noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland, spoke clearly, powerfully and from experience on these issues when we discussed them in Committee. The broad thrust of their points was that things do go wrong at times, and you hope that you will not need to intervene, but to throw away any power of intervention is foolish if you have at heart the interests of parents and children. We must strike that nice balance between leaving as much as possible to local discretion, local leadership and local schools while not completely abdicating responsibility, so that if things did go seriously wrong you could intervene.
For those reasons, the powers are necessary and useful. They are utterly unburdensome, as is illustrated by the fact that they have not actually had to be switched on. But I know for a fact that officials from central government have at times drawn aside officials in local government to remind them that there was a need to reflect on these issues, because there was that reserve power just in case. The powers are necessary and not burdensome, so I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, not to press her amendment.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I believe that I spoke in Committee about the necessity of trusting people to get on with the job at local level. That also involves trusting them sometimes if they do not always get it right. Sometimes Secretaries of State do not always get it right. I am afraid that I should like to test the will of the House.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 81) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 94; Not-Contents, 105.
Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 82:
"ABOLITION OF INDEPENDENT APPEALS PANELS
Subsections (3)(c), (4)(a), (6) and (7) of section 52 of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32) (exclusion of pupils) shall cease to have effect."
The noble Lord said: The intent of Amendment No. 82 is clear for all to see. It is similar to an amendment that we moved in Committee. I hope that our drafting has improved significantly since that time and that we are now referring to the correct sections of the Education Act 2002. We had a discussion about the independent appeal panels during an earlier debate today, and at that stage there was a lot of unease about some of the ways in which the appeal panels operate. The appeal panels are rather discredited and unpopular, and they are not trusted by parents or pupils. We had a debate earlier in the day about pupils. Reforming the system is therefore a priority.
We saw a case recently where two boys were expelled from Glyn Technology School in Surrey after making death threats against a teacher, only to be reinstated by the appeal panel. I said in Committee that this sort of situation was not acceptable. Then last month we heard that a pupil from Hurst Community College in Tadley, Hampshire, had been reinstated by an appeal panel following an assault on a teaching assistant. As I said in Committee, all sides of the equationparents, children, and teachersare unhappy with the functioning of the appeal panels. They are rather secretive in operation, confusing and often intimidating, which is another reason why the system cannot continue in its present form.
Additionally, we return to the philosophy of how best to run our education system and how best to run schools. Interestingly, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said earlier that regulation should be left to the LEA and the schools. This issue should also be left to LEAs and schools. Expulsion is the last resort for head teachers, but it is crucial that they have that option. Going back to our debate the other day about discipline in schools, one needs to be able to support schools in the operation of discipline. The decision of the head teacher, with the support of the governing body, should be the main factor, rather than the decision of the appeal panel.
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Perhaps we should have another debate on it today. We feel strongly about it; they are not operating well. I beg to move.
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