Education Bill

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley): A local education authority may not provide services that a school wants to develop. For example, after-school clubs are not run directly by LEAs. In recent years, few schools have been willing to open up their premises for after-school facilities, and that has been a point of contention. As a constituency MP, I have raised that issue on behalf of parents and after-school providers who have had to look for other suitable premises. My hope for the Bill is that, through the inclusion of child care and other services as part of a school's possible remit, governing bodies will engage in discussions with head teachers

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and the wider community about putting those measures into practice.

Provision has already developed in some areas, where there are after-school clubs, holiday play schemes or adult learning in community centres. In my constituency, several community centres have had support and resources from the Government to set up adult learning facilities using computers and other technology. Schools would be cutting off their noses to spite their faces if they did not engage with community groups, organisations and services. If such groups provide better value, or can work in partnership by encouraging after-school providers to come into schools, that is welcome. I hope that the Minister will be mindful of those groups that have a stake in the development of new facilities and services by schools. Under subsection (4)(a), I hope that Ministers will consider recognising those groups and organisations in guidance provided for schools.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Further to the comments of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), I believe that it is important that after-school clubs and a variety of community groups are able to use school premises, which remain idle for a large part of the week. That highlights the flaw in clause 26, especially subsection 4, which requires a head teacher to seek permission from a local authority to act. If three or four parents want to run a small after-school club for a dozen kids in a classroom and it is not a problem for the school, the governing body will have to submit a request to the local authority to allow them to do that. The clause states:

    ''Before exercising the power under section 25(1) a governing body shall consult the local education authority''.

That puts an extra burden on a school using common sense to make a decision.

Caroline Flint: I interpret ''consult'' as consulting, not seeking permission. Furthermore, LEAs are members of early-years child care development partnerships, which aim to develop boroughwide or districtwide child care. They try to balance the provision of early-years education and a range of child care support services across the borough, and the LEA plays an important part. I suggest that we should take in good faith the emphasis on consultation.

Chris Grayling: Many of us have been involved with local authorities and schools. The measure requires a head teacher to have a discussion with the LEA—whether to consult or to seek permission—before he or she can allow three or four parents to use a classroom for a couple of hours after school on a Thursday. While some limitations on the power may be sensible, that seems an unnecessary element given what the Government are trying to achieve with the Bill. The reality is that the measure puts an extra burden on a head teacher who is actually making a simple, common-sense decision; therefore, it is unnecessary.

Mr. Ivan Lewis: The debate has been interesting. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West used his opportunity to speak on the clause to discuss the amendment that he would have made if he had not been so engrossed in the document that was circulated

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in the Committee. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) referred to that, tongue in cheek.

Conservative Members seem to have distanced themselves from the common-sense revolution, as they used to describe their policies. Much of the debate has been about common sense. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley was right to draw attention to the fact that a range of community service providers are linked to school sites or have partnerships with schools. The obvious body to play the crucial role of ensuring proper consultation and partnership arrangements with existing providers is the local education authority. It is the conduit that links voluntary-sector and private-sector service provision with the services that it provides directly.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) discussed the key word ''consult.'' We are not suggesting that head teachers or governing bodies must seek permission. However, it is common sense that they should consult the local education authority about significant community activity development in order to consider the implications for all the community. To ensure that young people obtain maximum benefit from the resources, ideas, innovations and facilities that exist or that are in the pipeline, it makes sense to consult and involve the local education authority. It can provide sensible, sound advice to the school, and can also look at the bigger picture of the shape, design, development and expansion of community activities.

Frankly, people who talk about the days when local authorities blocked initiatives and new ideas because they competed directly with their service provision are living on a different planet. Most elected members in most local authorities are desperate to rebuild communities that were decimated under years of Tory rule, and the Government are intent on doing so and on providing a better quality of life for the individuals in them. The clause is integral to the overall vision that the Government have for the rebuilding of communities as part of the rebuilding of society. The attempt to portray local education authorities as a bar to initiative and an impediment to community development is a complete misreading of what any half-decent local authority of the 21st century wants to achieve. That is the proper role of local authorities, and it is also in their self interest as it can improve public perception of their performance. A local authority will benefit directly from enhanced and cohesive services for individuals in communities that it is elected to serve.

Mr. Brady rose—

Chris Grayling rose—

Mr. Lewis: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West.

Mr. Brady: The Minister was uncharacteristically partisan in his opening comments, which I am sure he regrets. Will he consider one particular example from my constituency? There is a good local partnership between Bowdon Church of England school and the Bowdon hockey and cricket club. They co-operate in making the best use possible of a pitch that they have used jointly for many years. The Minister referred to

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the need to rebuild communities, but the local authority, Trafford metropolitan borough council, is intent on allowing building on that pitch. It will be the local authority that will frustrate an existing partnership that is working effectively and has done so for a long time. In those circumstances, what possible benefit can there be from consulting the local authority?

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on what is clearly a politically sensitive issue in his constituency without a full briefing of the facts and without both sides of the story. I hope that he does not mind me saying this, but I am dubious about whether his account is a true reflection of the behaviour of a Labour local authority, given that he is the Conservative Member of Parliament. I would imagine that there is considerable disagreement in the community about what is in its best interest. I am not prepared to comment on particular circumstances without the full facts and a balanced picture.

To return to the point, consultation can involve a detailed submission to get in-depth and professional advice from the local education authority on a significant community development proposal. It can also mean a telephone call to the relevant officer in the local education authority to say, ''We're thinking of doing this. Do you know what our neighbouring schools or the voluntary sector are doing or planning? Does the idea sound sensible?'' We want a common-sense, strategic and cohesive overview. We do not want to eliminate competition or to support local authorities, as portrayed by Conservative Members, that try to subvert innovation or to limit the expansion of services that would benefit their populations.

12 noon

Mr. Willis: I am encouraged by the Minister's comments on local authorities, because that is my experience too. In contrast to what was described by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, a new hockey club has been built in Harrogate with the support of Sport England, the county council and Harrogate Granby high school. It is a good and well-used facilities, and an example of co-operation.

There is one flaw in the Minister's argument: and he has siren-like qualities from time to time. There is no problem with a win-win situation like Harrogate Granby, where an all-weather hockey pitch provides good facilities for the school, club and community. However, I am sure that the Minister and the hon. Member for Don Valley would agree that we need to involve schools in some of the more demanding aspects of community activities. Some youngsters are difficult to deal with, and helping them may be one of the less sexy aspects of youth work.

A flaw that was deliberately engineered by the previous Tory Government is that schools can turn away organisations that most need the school for facilities. Local authorities cannot insist if schools refuse to help groups in the greatest need of facilities. We have tabled a later amendment to deal with the

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problem, but will the Minister respond to this important issue now?

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