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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 4, line 30, leave out from ("regulations") to end of line 31.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 32 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 33. At Second Reading many noble Lords, particularly on this side of the House, expressed doubt as to the excessive bureaucracy embodied in the Bill. The Minister's noble friend Lord McIntosh has said something to the same effect. I understand the dilemma faced by the Government, in that in the past there have been occasions when local authorities have been less than perfect in their management of education. In consequence the Government wish to have reserve powers to enable them to deal with local authorities who fail to fulfil their functions or have the desire to improve standards of education. They have decided to use the dirigiste method of holding power at the centre in the form of the Secretary of State and his department. Without making a judgment or political point on this matter, this is in total contrast to the stance of the previous government. Faced with the same problem of local authorities which failed to fulfil their function, they decided to give schools more authority over budgets and everything. That was the essence of the grant-maintained schools policy. This amendment is designed to question the Government's reliance on bureaucracy.

I emphasise that the Government have a choice in this matter. One can follow the grant-maintained approach, which the Government reject under this Bill, or use the bureaucracy at the centre. There can be no doubt that the object of both--I say this for the third time--is to deal with a problem that has bedevilled English education, namely, that some local authorities are not as good as others.

Under this clause, in the end every local education authority development plan coming from the 24,000 schools in England will be referred to the department

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and considered by officials, and the Secretary of State will make a judgment upon them. (I shall say more about that when we come to Clause 7.)

I do not wish to insult or question the Minister, her department or the galaxy of talented civil servants who fill every chair in the corner of the Chamber, but having had almost 35 years' experience of education, some of it spent dealing with the Minister's department, I know that speed has never been the essence of that body. I speak from deep experience. Without casting any doubts on the Minister's ardour or that of her civil servants, I have serious doubts whether the department, given its present size and resources, is capable of making a meaningful and testing contribution to the education development plans to be produced by every school in the country.

I accept the difficult position of the Minister in relation to some local authorities. I am not saying that the local authorities should be left in total charge. I provide two more easily accessible judgments on these education development plans. My first concerns the inspectorate. The inspectorate has looked at these schools, studied them and written reports upon them. The inspectorate, under Chris Woodhead, has contributed enormously over the past few years to the improvement of standards, to the extent that they have occurred, in English education. It has done an enormous amount of work and has a mass of evidence. The inspectorate should be the first port of call. My second approach involves governors of schools. Governors are responsible people. Later in this Bill great emphasis is placed on the control of governors and the type of governors to be appointed. I believe that they would also be good judges of the education development plans. Those people know the schools and know the areas. They are much better groups to judge the effectiveness of EDPs than the Secretary of State and his cohorts of civil servants, not very large cohorts.

I make no criticism of the department. In England and particularly in the Department for Education and Employment, we have never had the traditions and skills of a continental state which made it its business to judge from the centre every part of the administrative system of the state. England has never had a system of prefects or intendants. The French, who run a system rather like the Minister suggests where the central department of education judges individual schools, were first taught that by Napoleon in 1799. Therefore, they have a tradition of almost 200 years of that. The tradition of the Napoleonic civil service has not governed the Department for Education and Employment. Nor, I emphasise, is speed the essence of the French administrative system, as the English lorry drivers discovered. I fear that the experience of English schools and their EDPs in relation to the Department for Education and Employment will be the same as the experience of the English lorry drivers with the equivalent French department with which they have to deal.

Therefore, I commend this amendment to the Committee because I believe that the Government are making a mistake. I understand why they are doing it.

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I cannot understand why they do not like grant-maintained schools, but the Minister need not explain that to me. The Government are wrong but the hammer which they are using to crush that multitude of nuts will be very slow and not very effective. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: Amendment No. 32 would remove the requirement for EDPs to be approved by the Secretary of State, as set out in Clause 7.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for saying that he understands our dilemma and that the Government should ensure that the plans are adequate. That is the Government's view. I do not wish to imply in any way that because the Government feel that something as central to our standards and objectives should come back to the department that we want to judge every single part of the system and require LEAs to report on every aspect of what they do. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was drawn into flights of fancy when he drew comparisons with systems which exist in France and elsewhere on the Continent.

EDPs are a key mechanism in our drive to raise standards in schools. As such, it is necessary that LEAs should produce plans that are of sufficiently high quality to make a real contribution to the improvement of schools' performance. Likewise, it is just as important that when LEAs have implemented their plans, they should monitor how schools are performing and where there is a discrepancy between the plans and schools' actual performance, authorities should take appropriate action to put that right, if necessary by seeking the Secretary of State's approval for a suitably modified plan.

Perhaps I may clarify one matter. The noble Lord implied that EDPs are produced by schools and not by LEAs. It is of course the LEAs which will do that. I am glad that the noble Lord is nodding and is clear about that because he said something which made me a little worried that he had misunderstood the position.

The amendment would remove the responsibility of LEAs to produce EDPs of acceptable quality and to ensure that their plans, in being implemented, were adapted as necessary to maintain the drive to boost the performance of schools. The EDP would effectively be neutered by this amendment, relegated from being a means through which LEAs could help schools to make a real impact on the performance and achievement of children to a mere statement of good intentions. I am sure that the noble Lord does not want it relegated in that way.

The Secretary of State's powers to consider EDPs, to judge their quality and to take appropriate decisions in approving, rejecting or modifying them or in withdrawing his approval, will be crucial to the effectiveness of them. To remove those powers would represent a lost opportunity to raise standards of achievement.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, questioned whether the department can examine LEAs' EDPs. He has thrown some doubt on whether there are enough officials to support that work and whether they have the

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skills to do so. I hope that he will have confidence and be a little more optimistic about the quality of work done in the department and its ability to do something which we believe is extremely important in raising standards.

Amendment No. 33 would require LEAs to publish and send their draft EDPs to the Chief Inspector of Schools for England and the governors of all schools affected by the plan. That would involve an unnecessary exercise in bureaucracy and additional cost, both of which the noble Lord is rightly concerned to avoid. There would not be any benefit for schools or the Chief Inspector of Schools in doing that. LEAs are required to involve schools closely in the formulation of their EDPs. There must be a very deep dialogue between schools and their local authorities about that. That involvement means that schools will be able to enter into an exchange of views with their LEAs at the most significant stage of the development of the EDP. Sending the draft EDP to governors would be of little benefit after they had already engaged fully with LEAs in agreeing targets while the EDP was being prepared.

The prepared EDPs will, as a matter of course, be sent to the chief inspector. I hope that that piece of information is helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. The Chief Inspector and his Office for Standards in Education will play an absolutely integral part in the approval process for EDPs. It will not be simply left to officials in the department. It will be a joint exercise. With the Chief Inspector, Ofsted will be invited to comment on all the EDPs. The Secretary of State will take those comments into account when deciding whether to approve the plans. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

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