Education Bill

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Clause 184

LEA functions: qualifications

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): May I also for the last time welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike? I am sure that when you and I attend the next works outing we will have many happy reminiscences of our time in Committee Room 10.

This clause is intended to clarify the legal position of local education authorities in England and Wales that engage in the award or authentication of educational qualifications. It makes specific provision for LEAs to develop, deliver and award qualifications and to charge a fee for those services. It also enables LEAs to make arrangements with other persons and form, participate in or be members of a body corporate to exercise these powers. The clause applies those provisions retrospectively so that there will be no doubt that LEAs that have exercised them hitherto have done so lawfully. As the provisions are for clarification, they do not limit any existing powers of LEAs.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 184 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 185 to 189 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Mr. Touhig: I beg to move, That schedule 11 be transferred to end of line 5 on page 178.

This minor change ensures that the order in which schedule 11 appears on the list of schedules to the Bill matches the order in which the relevant clauses give effect to them. Clause 189 gives effect to schedule 11. The change will have no legal or policy effect. Currently, schedule 11 appears before schedules 12 to 18. According to convention, however, it should appear after them, as they are given effect by clauses that precede clause 189.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 190

Publication and provision of material

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Turner: My question relates to subsections (4) and (5). Will the Minister clarify what ''qualifying material'' means? I take it that it is not material that is specified verbatim by the National Assembly, but material that fulfils purposes outlined by it. In those circumstances, it is interesting that subsection (5) states:

    ''No material published or provided under this section may name any individual to whom it relates.''

If parents are choosing a school for their children, one thing that may interest them is who the head teacher is. They may also be interested in whether a former pupil is a Wales international rugby player, a successful pentathlete or something similar. Will it be illegal to name them under the clause?

Column Number: 624

Mr. Touhig: I can help the hon. Gentleman. The clause provides for local education authorities and governing bodies of LEA-maintained schools in Wales to publish material provided to them by the National Assembly, which is designed to help parents to gain a broader understanding of the performance of schools in their communities. The ''qualifying material'' referred to in the clause will include public examination results and outcomes of national curriculum assessments.

The clause enables the qualifying material to be put in context by the inclusion of value-added indicators and benchmark data that reflect the socio-economic conditions that prevail in different communities and different parts of Wales. The intention is that any information that the National Assembly requires LEAs or governing bodies to publish under the new power will first be checked by each school concerned.

Mr. Turner: Is that in addition to anything that schools or local authorities may choose to publish?

Mr. Touhig: Yes.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 190 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 191

Partnership agreements and statements

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Turner: The clause appears to be very widely drawn and allows the National Assembly for Wales to alter completely the balance of responsibilities between school governing bodies and local education authorities from the settlement in the Education Reform Act 1988 that was substantially re-enacted in the Education Act 1996 and the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. My remarks may relate better to the next clause, but may save us debating that clause. The clause will also alter the power of parents to express a choice of school for their children. Will the Minister clarify whether the powers have the effect that I fear they have?

3.15 pm

Mr. Touhig: I refer to my remarks on the previous clause, in which I stressed the importance of giving information so that parents can make proper choices about where their children are educated. The clause enables the National Assembly to make regulations that require any LEA in Wales to enter into a partnership agreement with the governing body of each school maintained by that authority, or each school of a prescribed class. The agreements will be about how the LEA and the governing body of a school discharge their functions in relation to the school in such matters that may be prescribed and other matters that the LEA and the governing body may agree should be prescribed. It is necessary to sustain and enhance existing partnership working between the LEA and the schools maintained by that authority in that way, so that both parties can work together effectively to promote high standards of education in those schools.

Column Number: 625

We envisage that the partnership agreements will set out the procedures that the LEAs and schools should adopt to establish agreed common objectives for pupils' educational progress, the actions that the authority will take in exercising its functions, such as visits by advisory staff, and action to be taken to ease the transition of pupils between phases of education and schools. The regulations may provide for review of the agreement and for a deadline by which the LEA or governing body may comply with any requirement imposed by the clause. The clause also enables the LEA to draw up a statement setting out how it and the governing body will discharge their respective functions in relation to the school if neither party is able to reach an agreement.

Mr. Turner: That explanation is certainly helpful, but it would assist me if the Minister would consider an example. Let us say that the LEA would like to have a firmer agreement about the redeployment of redundant teachers than is possible under the current legislation, although we know that schools, not LEAs, are responsible for the appointment of teaching staff. The LEA canvasses the views of Members of the National Assembly, which requires LEAs to enter into a partnership with their governing bodies.

The purpose of the partnership arrangement is that matters such as facilitating the redeployment of redundant teachers may be prescribed. Some schools object on the grounds that they do not want others' cast-offs, but the LEA may be closing several schools and is determined that it will be less expensive. Most schools in the area do not have any vacancies for teachers and so do not fear the consequences. Most of the schools are able to reach an agreement with the LEA, for the purpose of subsection (1), but one or two schools may not. The LEA then draws up a statement that sets out how they will discharge their respective functions, and governing bodies accept redeployment staff who are available in the LEA. Does the clause permit that?

Mr. Touhig: I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the clause sets out only how LEAs and governing bodies carry out their functions. It does not alter their functions. It cannot change the law through the power, and so could not change any of their responsibilities in relation to staffing.

Mr. Turner: I thank the Minister for that explanation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 191 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 192 and 193 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 19 agreed to.

Clause 194 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 195

LEA functions concerning school lunches, milk etc

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 626

Mr. Turner: I have a question about proposed new subsection 512ZA(2) on page 117, which says:

    ''A local authority shall charge every person the same price for the same quantity of the same item''.

That sounds admirable. In some schools, teachers are provided with lunch free of charge in return either for specific duties or an agreement to undertake lunchtime supervision or other activities. Would that be forbidden by the clause? Similarly, would it be forbidden for schools to offer lunches to old people in the local community at either a reduced charge or the market rate?

Mr. Brady: I want to raise another example that might be important under this clause and on which I would welcome the Minister's reassurance. Might it be sensible and appropriate in various circumstances for a larger quantity of certain foods to be offered at the same price? I shall not detain the Committee for long with this anecdote, but when I was at university there was a dispute in my college over the amount of food available to students. The principal at the time, a splendid lady named Irene Hindmarsh, made the memorable suggestion to the junior common room that we should always sit next to a person of the opposite sex, on the premise that a larger male sitting next to a smaller female might have some of the food that the girl did not want. I am sure that many beautiful relationships began as a result.

A more prosaic example in the context of a school is where a class has been out on the playing fields on a cold winter's morning and a well-meaning dinner lady gives a little extra food to those in need of sustenance. It would be unfortunate if an over-prescriptive clause were to prevent such a common-sense act of kindness.

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