Education Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: Although it is difficult to go all the way with the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough in his absolute prescription, he will recognise the concerns of the companies that will be involved. We discussed those concerns extensively in our debates on clauses 10 and 11, but sadly not on clause 12. The hon. Gentleman referred to the King's Manor example, and I defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West who was much more an architect of the scheme that was applied. Any company that is interested in the process will be anxious about control. The composition of a governing body is germane to the Government's scheme to incorporate companies. That will be dependent on the provisions: the confusion abounds.

Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman knows that I am heading him off via the amendment, which would not allow for the King's Manor situation to arise. We disagree on the composition, but the Government are prescribing for the situation. They do not understand the consequences of the legislation, and this probing amendment should encourage the Minister to revisit it.

When a parent considers a school, the two key people are the head and the class teacher. Parents perceive those individuals to be the school, but they do not consider the governing body in the same light. We like to think that they do, because many of us were governors, but that is not the case. Young people also perceive their teachers to be the key people in the school. That is right and proper, and the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) is nodding his approval—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Willis: I am sorry, Mr. Griffiths.

The Chairman: I realise that you were tempted.

Mr. Willis: You are supposed to protect me from temptation, Mr. Griffiths.

It is important that the head teacher is a member of the governing body, although I recognise that that is optional. I preferred to be a member of the governing body.

I know that Hansard may not record this, but I had a chair of governors who insisted on signing every order, and a £3.5 million budget meant many orders. Sometimes, one has to protect governors from their own enthusiasm. [Interruption.] If the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills were as good at his explanations as he is at asides, he would be a brilliant Minister. I should not have said that: he is a nice chap.

Teachers are at the heart of the school, and are perceived by parents and children as important. We should ensure that teachers participate in governing bodies. The Minister proposes that we should have only one category of staff governor. That may be more democratic, but if a vote occurs in a school, teachers will always win because they can assemble more votes. That means that support staff would be dismissed. Support staff have been excluded from governing bodies for a long time, and that is wrong because they are an important part of the school framework.

Amendment No. 149 would

    ''include such numbers of persons employed to work as teachers at the school . . . having regard to the total number of teachers so employed''.

The number of teacher governors and staff governors would depend on the total number of staff. We want to instil some sense and order into the organisation of school governing bodies. The last thing governors want is yet another reorganisation. They want to strip out their current needless responsibilities, yet there is virtually nothing in the part on governance to reduce the work load of governors. It merely throws them into more chaos about the reorganisation of governing bodies. I remain doubtful whether it will do anything for standards in our schools. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

Mr. Brady: I shall be brief. We have had the beginnings of an important debate, fleshing out the bare bones of the clause. Important amendments lie ahead, but I am focusing now on amendments Nos. 176 and 177, of which amendment No. 176 is the more important.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough was right in his assessment of the centrality of the head and the teaching staff to a school's worth. Most people regard it as appropriate for teaching staff to be represented on a school's governing body. They can obviously represent the general interests of teaching staff and also provide invaluable insight into the challenges and difficulties of a particular school. The governors, as a corporate body, should be aware of those challenges and be able to draw on the experience of teachers in their wider deliberations.

I do not go so far as the hon. Gentleman in amendment No. 149, which is designed to secure a proportionate number of teachers on the governing body relative to the size of a school's teaching staff. However, the Bill should contain the stipulation that at least one member of the teaching staff should serve on each governing body. Amendment No. 176 would achieve that.

I accept that under the regulations Ministers would have the power to stipulate that at least one member of the teaching staff should be appointed on all governing bodies, but once again we are confronted with a Bill in which that stipulation has been resisted. It is a glaring omission from the Bill and should be viewed as a serious cause for concern by the teaching profession, which seeks greater security from the Bill. We must all be concerned about Ministers' true intentions. If it is always their intention for a member of the teaching staff to have a place on the governing body, they should have no difficulty building it into the Bill. If that is not their intention, they should come clean and admit it. The Committee and the public should know about it.

The amendment is straightforward. I hope that the Minister will accept that it would hugely reassure not only the teaching profession but all who are interested in the good governance of our schools and want a proper balance on the governing body.

Amendment No. 177 is more of a probing amendment. Reference has already been made to the experience of King's Manor. Concerns have been expressed and a company formed to deal with a school. Where corporate risk is a factor, the position for a major contractor or corporate partner must be clear—

Caroline Flint: If a contractor is engaged to provide a service, why should that person or organisation have a place on a governing body? There might be a specification in the contract that bound the two organisations together in terms of what is being provided.

Mr. Brady: The hon. Lady is quite right. The amendment is permissive. It would not require representatives, but it would make provision for the possibility of representatives of the contractor on the governing body. [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Member for South Shields has a great deal to offer the Committee if he chooses to break away. Uncharitably I suggested earlier that he was doing his Christmas cards. Now we know that he was scribbling the early rough drafts of the European constitution. We should leave him to it. That is obviously more important than the governance of our maintained schools.

9 pm

This is a permissive amendment. It would allow for the representation of contractors on the governing body. I have said that it is a probing amendment and that I seek the Minister's view on whether and in what circumstances it would be appropriate for contractors to be represented on the governing body. I am sure that the whole Committee will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Two of the amendments in the group are my responsibility. Amendment No. 166 merely repeats something that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has included in one of his amendments: parents should always be entitled to form one third of the composition of a governing body. Amendment No. 138 safeguards the position of the foundation in any school. The Bill merely provides that representatives of the foundation shall be appointed but does not safeguard the position of the foundation in a foundation or voluntary aided school to the extent that the churches demanded when the Education Act 1986 and the Education Reform Act 1988 were going through Parliament.

I would be surprised if the Government proposed to reduce the number of foundation governors in a foundation or a voluntary aided school. They are not as foolish as Stalin, who is said to have asked how many divisions the Pope had. The Pope, as we know, has a large number of divisions in this country and quite dangerous they are from time to time. No Government with any sense would oppose them. But Governments have done so in the past and certainly if some right hon. and hon. Members were in the Minister's position they might want to reduce the number of foundation governors in voluntary aided and foundation schools.

These two amendments merely tighten up the requirements. Again, why are the Government so averse to providing detail? What do they want to be able to do? Do they wish to be able to reduce the representation of the churches on the governing bodies of voluntary aided schools? Do they wish to be able to reduce parent representation on the governing bodies of schools in general?

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I find the hon. Gentleman's remarks somewhat odd. The whole thrust of the Opposition's argument on Second Reading was that the Government were hell bent on centralising, but he now seems to argue that the legislation should be more centralist and prescriptive.

Mr. Turner: Perhaps I may ask the hon. Gentleman's forgiveness. I clearly have not explained clearly enough as I did not when I intervened on the Minister to say ''Physician, deregulate thyself''. There is a great deal of merit in the Government deregulating schools. There is enormous merit in the Government deregulating teachers and some merit in the Government deregulating LEAs. However, if the Government deregulate the Government it merely prevents Members of Parliament from scrutinising what the Government are doing and prevents those outside from understanding the framework within which the Government are operating.

The Government in this country have sometimes been described as an elected dictatorship. That is our fault because we allow them to get elected, but it does not allow them total moral freedom to move in any direction they wish. They have gone to the trouble of bringing a Bill before Parliament that entitles them to act in any way they wish. Well, jolly good. Congratulations. They observed at least that facet of the constitution.

However, deregulating the Government is not deregulation. I applaud the Government when they genuinely deregulate, but deregulation is about deregulating the poor blighters who have to deliver education—the governors, teachers and local education authorities.

I wish to make just one more observation. Two of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough referred to King's Manor. I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that his amendment No. 221 would not prevent a similar situation recurring. I declare an interest as one of the two shareholders in a company that provides education services to local education authorities. King's Manor was converted from a county to a voluntary aided school so that the company that won the contract to run it could be appointed as the foundation, which, in turn, would be able to appoint the majority of foundation governors. The procedure took some time to work out, and we had to be convinced that the then Secretary of State, the present Home Secretary, was happy with it. I am pleased to say that he was open to that private sector intervention. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough's amendment does not prevent such a course being followed in future, and I applaud it for that reason.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 18 December 2001