Education Bill

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Chris Grayling: I commend the hon. Lady on the principles of her amendment. Her commitment to the involvement, well-being and success of the pupils in her constituency and beyond is evident.

The older generation does not always do the best job in planning for the needs of the younger generation. A personal bugbear is that our country's response to a lack of activities for the young tends to be, ''Let's build a youth club''. We tend to concentrate on offering fixed assets rather than on things to do. In providing for the younger generation, I would like to see a greater focus on activity rather than infrastructure. The hon. Lady pointed out the need to ensure that pupils' aspirations, interests and views are clearly reflected in the management of schools, and that too many schools have pressed ahead without the staff taking that into account.

I endorse the principle behind the amendment, but I am not sure that one can legislate for good management practice in schools; that is something that good heads, teachers and governors are doing anyway. If we want them to be more open to the views of pupils, we should encourage good management practice. I do not think that the amendment would deliver a framework that would achieve that. It would be better to invest more effort in guiding and training

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teachers, heads and governors to think about the best ways of involving their pupils.

The hon. Lady raised the matter of pupils as governors. Having sat on governing bodies, there is a lot to be said for them taking on board more clearly the views of pupils. If I have a reservation about the concept of pupils as governors, it is that commercial and confidential information is raised at meetings, which would require a pupil governor to be in and out like a yo-yo. Topics such as disciplinary matters and matters related to staff pay simply could not be discussed, even with the most responsible of pupil governors, without carrying the risk of sensitive information flying round the school at high speed. That is why I believe that pupil governors ultimately could never work. However, the involvement of pupils in parts of governors' meetings or discussions would be an asset and should be taken on board by heads and governing bodies. With those comments, I applaud the amendment and hope that Ministers will take into account the principle behind it.

Mr. Willis: The Liberal Democrats also strongly support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Don Valley, and I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell about the hon. Lady's support for and commitment to education, which shine out in everything she says and does.

My sadness about the amendments is that they do not go far enough; they are timid. I accept the hon. Lady's reasons for that timidity, but most of the schools that want to operate such inclusive policies are already doing so. The amendments will not make a blind bit of difference. Those schools in which students are still regarded as the enemy or an inconvenience should be targeted. I have often heard teachers saying that school is great on Baker or in-service training days when the kids are not there. That is partly because there is not the engagement with young people that the hon. Members for Don Valley and for Epsom and Ewell want.

I remember disregarding young people's voices at great cost. I once filled in an exam paper when I was incredibly bored while invigilating. I filled in all sorts of strange answers and put a fictitious pupil's name at the top. I wrote at the bottom, ''I will give you 5, sir, if I get a good mark''. Little did I know that a student of that name had just arrived in the school. The outraged head of science took the pupil and the offending paper to see the head, and severe retribution was exacted on the young person while he protested in great innocence that he did not even sit the exam. That was a salutary reminder that we should always listen to children. I confess that it was many months afterwards before I admitted to what I had done. As the family had just arrived from Kenya, I saw the young man and his parents to reassure them that that was not the way in which the British did things.

With that slight aside, I must say that the amendment is serious. The United Nations convention on the rights of the child makes it clear that the voices of young people should be heard. With the code of practice following the Special Education

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Needs and Disability Act 2001, the Government enshrined the right of young people to be heard whenever we make provision for them. If that is possible for young people with special needs and disabilities, it should be right for every child. I support the amendment and hope that the Government will examine it, and ensure that the Bill gives young people those rights.

As a party, we are committed to extending the right to vote to young people at 16. We cannot hope to engage young people in the politic general without giving them real power, which means giving them a vote. Sadly, waiting until young people are 18, by which time they are engaged in many other activities, means that many are turned off totally. I hope that if the Government do not accept this amendment, they will propose others to enshrine in legislation the right of children to be heard in matters that concern them.

Mr. Timms: We have had an interesting discussion. My hon. Friend the member for Don Valley has achieved remarkable consensus on both sides of the Committee on her amendment and her contribution to the matters under discussion. The debate is important and will continue outside the Committee. We recognise that the voice of young people is an important one, to which we do well to listen. We need the perspectives and fresh thinking of young people on debates about our education system and other issues.

In November, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who is the Minister for Young People in the Children and Young People's Unit, published the core principles that we will follow to ensure that children and young people are involved in the planning and delivery of the policies and services that affect them. All Departments have given a public commitment to those principles and will implement action plans to encourage more opportunities for the involvement of children. My hon. Friend is the first Minister for Young People and will lead that brief. All Departments will be helped and challenged in that work by the Children and Young People's Unit.

We are determined that we should lead the way in that area, not least because we have a good track record on which to build. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley referred to the introduction of citizenship into the curriculum from next September. We want to encourage the greater discussion of issues that affect young people, and to see greater involvement of young people through participation in communities and public life. We funded the School Councils UK's production of a secondary schools' toolkit to support students' active participation in the decisions that affect them through school councils and to build on the successful version that exists at primary level. That model is working well, and we want to see more such positive and effective examples.

I was going to set out some of the steps that we have taken to increase children's and young people's participation, but I may not in view of the time. We referred to that participation in the Green Paper last year and in the White Paper in September. In the

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White Paper, we referred especially to the way in which Ofsted proposes to consult children more in reviewing and inspecting what happens at a particular school. Ofsted has issued questionnaires since September that seek the views of sixth-form pupils, and it is proposing to extend the use of questionnaires to all secondary-school pupils as an automatic part of the review process.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the member for Don Valley will welcome that change. She mentioned that Save the Children has been active and has made a valuable contribution to these matters. In November, we held a consultation day on the White Paper with Save the Children. I found that meeting useful, and several interesting lessons emerged from it; not least the concern of children and young people about the problem of challenging behaviour in schools and the need to focus on supporting those who behave badly so that they behave better. It was interesting how important that theme was in the thinking of young people on the proposed changes.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley will recognise that we are determined and committed to the participation of pupils in issues that affect their school and in the wider debate about policy. The question is what is the most effective way to make that happen. Schools should be free to choose the best way in which to do that. The extent to which pupils are involved in decisions on, for example, what part school councils will play in the delivery of citizenship will depend on the circumstances of the school. Primary, secondary and special schools will be different. It is right that young people should be consulted on the matters that are important to them, but imposing a statutory obligation is not the best way to achieve that. My hon. Friend gave a great example of the seven-year-old who commented on some proposals. If the school and its governors were breaking the rules, real problems would ensue. I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment. She made an important point, and the debate will continue outside the Committee.

Caroline Flint: I am glad that we have had this debate, and I agree that it should continue outside the Committee. Young people's rights are important, and I am open to persuasion on voting at 16. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June 2001] and the order of the Committee [11, 13 and 18 December 2001], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Question put, That clauses 27 to 35, schedule 2 and clause 36 stand part of the Bill:

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5.

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Division No. 18]

AYES
Bailey, Mr. Adrian Coaker, Mr. Vernon Flint, Caroline Heppell, Mr. John
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Lewis, Mr. Ivan Purnell, James Timms, Mr. Stephen

NOES
Brady, Mr. Graham Grayling, Chris Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen Willis, Mr. Phil

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clauses 27 to 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
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