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I consulted another head of a school that I know, Christs College in Guildford, where again there was enthusiasm for the idea of a council, with contributions such as, Hey, theyre proposing a new menu, and the schools council was invited to try it. Other opinions were sought on bullying and the plans for a new buildingall useful input from the pupils. The noble Baroness referred very modestly to the role played by people such as her in representing the views of children. The headmistress at Malet Lambert is so convinced of the value of consultation that she is prepared to bring her school council to the Minister to do the noble Baronesss job for her.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I also very much support the amendments. One increasingly sees the value of consulting the consumerfor that is exactly what the student or the pupil at school isand getting a full response. They are the ones who are currently experiencing what is going on.
I was particularly impressed by the Sorrell Foundation exercise in which pupils from something like 10 primary and secondary schools got together with architectural students and devised the ideal school. If you were able to do that to improve your
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The briefing from the Children's Rights Alliance for England was excellent. It made all the points and I shall not go into them again, but I want to mention exclusion hearings. It is crucial that children have a right to hear what is going on and make their contribution. I had a very interesting discussion with the Minister about involving mentors for, in particular, looked-after children, who often face exclusion because they are rather more difficult to handle. If a mentor were there to take their part, in addition to the children themselves having a say, that would be a huge improvement. I was delighted to hear in the letter from the Minister that such a scheme is being planned using the qualities of volunteers who are trained, to a certain extent, in the community. For all those reasons, I very much support what has been said on these amendments.
Baroness David: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Turner. I shall repeat what I said about the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Judd. The UK Government must submit their next report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007. The committees comments on the previous report said that the Government should take further steps to promote, facilitate and monitor children's effective participation, including in schools via school councils. The Government should take further steps to consistently reflect in legislation the obligations of both paragraphs of Article 12. I hope that the Minister can pay attention to that, as it is important. The Children's Rights Alliance for England produced a briefing for this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I are both patrons of it, so I am sure that we should like to support the amendment from that point of view as well. I hope that the Minister can give a good response this time.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I want to say a word in support of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. One thing that struck me and the group of people who were asked by Kenneth Bakermy noble friend Lord Bakerwhen he was Minister for Education to do a report on discipline in schools was the considerable benefits that schools gained when they engaged children in aspects of the schools management. If a child thinks that the school belongs to him, anyone who does anything against the school offends against him. The same goes for codes of discipline and behaviour within a school. That can be carried beyond the level of the classroom and the school, as is suggested in the amendment.
I am not sure whether this is just a drafting point but what happens to the child when he or she is excluded is critical. In voluntary work, I have seen the extraordinarily fertile recruiting ground for crime provided by excluded children because, generally speaking, they are not given any level of education or occupation sufficient to keep them out of it, and boredom is one of the great instigators of bad behaviour.
Mention has been made of mentors. Some voluntary and other agencies are engaged in intervening before this critical stage in a childs downward slide into crime by identifying those who are next on the list for exclusion and providing adult mentors for them. Very often, they are children with no male role model in the family or immediate community to look up to and be guided by. Mentors are invaluable in these cases. These children are not always particularly articulate but the idea that they should be included in any proceedings on exclusion is invaluable.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, this has been an immensely valuable debate. I begin by saying that, if the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, would like to bring his school council to meet me, I shall be delighted to meet its members. Indeed, I am struck by the fact that, when I visit schools, it is now normal for me to meet the school council. That does not happen at my request but at the instigation of the school.
If I had to put my finger on the single biggest change that has taken place at schools between the time when I was a pupilit was not that long ago; none the less, it was a reasonable period agoand schools today, it would be the outbreak of democracy. That has been quite remarkable in recent years. I take the example of school councils, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my noble friend Lady Turner. They are now present in virtually all secondary schools and in an increasing number of primary schools.
One thing that most surprised me when I became a Minister and started to visit primary schools was the growing prevalence of school councils there and the fact that they can, and do, operate very successfully in promoting precisely the kind of inclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred toeven among the very youngest children. I had to change my thinking in respect of that as I visited schools. I realised that it was perfectly possible to consult even young children in a serious way. Of course, you have to make allowances for their age, but they can play a role. My daughter, who is very young, told me about the elections that took place for the school council at her primary school and the rival programmes that were put forward in respect of school meals and so on. I realise that this is a big idea which has a lot further to go, and we are anxious to see it do so.
In replying to this group of amendments, I shall speak also to government Amendments Nos. 116 and 136. Government Amendment No. 136 would amend Section 176 of the Education Act 2002, which provides for local authorities and governing bodies to have regard to guidance on the consultation of pupils
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Amendment No. 8 tabled by my noble friend Lady Turner would place a direct duty on school governing bodies and local authorities to have regard to the ascertainable views of all their pupils on matters that affect them, having regard to each pupils age and maturity. It would place a duty on schools and local authorities to consult pupils.
We do not agree that amending primary legislation is the best or most powerful way to bring about the improvements that we seek. As I said earlier, local authorities and governing bodies must already have regard to statutory guidance on the consultation of pupils in connection with decisions that affect them. We are encouraging schools to put into practice the 2004 guidance called Working Together: Giving children and young people a say, issued under Section 176, in ways that are meaningful to children and young people. A prime example of that is school councils, which we are strongly encouraging. Indeed, we part fund School Councils UK, an educational charity.
Further to that, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked Professor Geoff Whitty, the director of the Institute of Education at the University of London, to report to us specifically on strengthening the guidance in respect of school councils. Professor Whitty is engaged in that work at the moment. We expect his report early in the new year and we will be guided by him on issues such as the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred; whether we should follow the practice in Wales of making school councils statutory. In the Education Act 2002 we have the power to do so, but we want to wait for the report of Professor Whitty, who is engaging very substantially with young people in drawing that up, before we decide on a precise way forward in that respect.
Furthermore, we have ensured that school inspection arrangements make the views of children and young people an important part of assessing how local areas are doing and we have changed the law so that school governing bodies can now appoint pupils as associate members, allowing them to attend governing body meetings and become members of committees. Last month, when I visited Finland, I was very struck by the engagement of pupils on the
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Current arrangements offer a non-prescriptive approach for schools, allowing them to find the best way for them of involving young people. We believe that this is the right way to proceed and we do not wish to proceed by means of mandatory requirements on all local authorities and all schools in all circumstances. We want to avoid introducing a very broad statutory requirement that is likely to cause schools difficulties about the meaning and interpretation of the law and increase the risk of judicial review. We want to secure practical improvements in student participation and in taking account of the voice of the child. On that basis, I hope that my noble friend Lady Turner will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I now turn to government Amendment No. 116. Clause 85 places a duty on the school governing body to draw up a statement of principles on behaviour and discipline that will inform the school behaviour policy determined by the head teacher. Clause 85(3) obliges the governing body to consult various persons before making or revising the statement of principles. Those persons include the head teacher, parents, and a sample of the registered pupils at the school.
When we were debating Clause 85 in Committee, the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp of Guildford, laid an amendment that sought to oblige school governing bodies to consult not just a sample of pupils but all registered pupils at their schools on the principles underlying the school behaviour policy. I agreed at the time that the case for seeking the views of all pupils in this regard was compelling. I committed to taking another look at this clause. I am glad to say that government Amendment No. 116 removes the sample qualification and extends the consultation process to include all registered pupils at a school, precisely to meet the points that she made again this afternoon and the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton; namely, that the more pupils at a school own the behaviour policy and feel a real stake in having forged it, the more likely they are to comply with it for the general good of all pupils and the general good of the wider school community.
I turn to Amendment No. 82A in the name of my noble friend Lady Turner, concerning exclusions from school. In Committee, my noble friend rightly pointed to the fact that during deliberations on the Education Bill 2005 we undertook to strengthen DfES guidance to emphasise that the excluded child, or child threatened with exclusion, should be encouraged to make representations about his exclusion at various stages of the exclusion procedure, including at the point of exclusion, but have not yet brought forward those changes. I said in Committee that I regretted those amendments had not been made, but I am pleased to assure the House that they were made in September in the latest exclusions guidance. Although my noble friend has quoted views to the contrary, I
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I have here the guidance on improving behaviour and attendanceI shall readily make it available to noble Lords. It highlights on the first page the main changes that are made in the more recent version of the guidance. As one of the key changes made, it highlights:
but alsothis is a further changehow the pupil may be involved in that. Pupils are also invited to attend exclusion hearings and to speak, if the parent agrees. I believe these changes meet the commitments that we gave during the passage of the Education Act 2005.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does that also include a right at appeal? Is the emphasis on the agreement of the parent? We have found that sometimes a child wants to appeal, but the parent does not. It seems to us, and to Save the Children in particular, that that is not good enough. Sometimes a parent is not prepared to back the child when perhaps the child should have that support.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I believe that is true also for appeal hearings, but I shall confirm that to my noble friend. On the actual decision to appeal, I believe that that still resides with the parent, on the ground that the parent is the responsible person to take that decision. Of course, we expect parents to consult the child before making decisions that affect the childs welfare in this way.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that what he is talking about would also apply to the mentor of a looked-after child, given that a parent would not necessarily be available? Would a mentor be able to speak on behalf of a child at an exclusion hearing?
In cases where a [looked-after child] is excluded, anyone who is legally defined as a parent will have the right to make representations and to appeal. The definition of a parent for the purposes of the Education Acts is broadly drawn and includes
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Lord Elton: My Lords, will the Minister, in his own time, consider whether it is possible to get a mentor into this process if the parent is agreeable? If a parent were not willing or able to appear and a child had an appointed mentor, it would seem sensible that the mentor should be able to appear in place of the parent.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, could that also be extended to cover the case where there is no parent? I know the Minister says that is not covered at the moment, but could he consider that to see whether it could be covered?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I shall certainly do that. If we were to make a change of the kind suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that a mentor, for example, could appear at a hearing if authorised to do so by a parent, those people who have parental responsibility in respect of looked-after children would be able to make the same decision in respect of looked-after children. I shall certainly look at this issue further.
I believe I have gone as far as I reasonably can to meet the points that have been raised in the debate. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that the report of Professor Whitty on the role and the support that we provide for school councils would have a good deal to say about pupil engagement in schools more broadly. That may offer us an opportunity to proceed further. I believe that our bone fides in this matter are sound, given all the measures that I have elucidated this afternoon. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not feel it necessary to press this amendment.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his sympathetic response to this interesting debate and I thank noble Lords who contributed to it. We have had a good debate on a subject that is important to a lot of people. I was interested to hear that the Minister feels there has been an outbreak of democracyI am sure we are all glad to hear about thatand to learn that there has been a large growth in school councils and that, as a result of the experience in Wales, where school councils have recently been put into operation, there is to be a further study of how they have developed. I note what he said about exclusion. I would like a bit of time to consider that before we come to the next stage of the Bill. I am a little unhappy about the provisions for children who may face exclusion and
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( ) No person may be appointed as a school improvement partner in relation to a school which has a religious character unless the local education authority appointing him is satisfied that he is fit and able to assist the governing body in the preservation and development of the religious character of the school.
The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I intend to speak to Amendment No. 9, which amendsClause 5, and then to comment on other amendments in this group. The matter that my amendment addresses was raised in Committee by one of my colleagues when I could not be in my place. I raise it again because I am not satisfied that without the prompt or goad of legislation local authorities will consistently appoint as school improvement partners for schools with a religious character educationists who fully understand and support that character. We have anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I know anecdotal evidence is always a little dangerous, but never mind, we have it. In a number of cases, SIPs are being appointed who are undoubtedly highly qualified and experienced teachers and advisers able to help the school in various ways, but they are hampered because they do not really understand the religious character of the school. My amendment is modest; I am not asking for the appointment only of people of the same faith as the school, but of people who are able to help the school preserve and develop its religious character. I know the Minister understands the point, and I do not labour it. I hope he may smile on my wish to see the point enshrined in law.
Let me now turn to the other amendments in this group. I must confess that my speech almost feels like the two journeys I made as a child when we went to Denmark for Christmas in 1954. On the way over on the DFDS ferry, the North Sea was as flat as duck pond and we could see our faces in water, but on the way back, the storm doors went up before we left Esbjerg harbour and the linen tablecloths were soaked to prevent the crockery sliding off on to the floor. We will see how the debate goes.
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