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Lord Northbourne: It seems to me that the education development plan is an addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said, which will give rise to additional work both in the department and the inspectorate and the LEAs. Does the noble Baroness have a figure for the additional number of employees and officials who will be required? Has a sum of money been allocated for the cost of that work?
Baroness Blackstone: I cannot give any specific figures. I do not know whether additional LEA staff will be needed to undertake that work. I should have thought that the work would be of such high priority for LEAs and, indeed, for Ofsted that they would find the staff from their existing resources to undertake that work. However, if they are unable to do so, I am sure that the department will be told.
However, EDPs are absolutely fundamental to the whole process of improving standards in our system. I believe that the LEAs are working very hard at this already. They are anxious to do the very best possible job. If additional resources are needed, I have no doubt that that will be reflected in the resource allocation to local authorities.
Lord Skidelsky: I was rather surprised to hear the Minister say that if the Secretary of State is not required to approve an EDP it will simply become a statement of good intentions. Surely the Secretary of State has adequate powers to ensure that it is much more than a statement of good intentions, without being required to approve every plan. He will see the plans in any event and will have the power to criticise them either in public or in private. Indeed, the Secretary of State will have considerable powers to close down LEAs if he feels that they are not doing a good job or if they are failing.
The Secretary of State also has powers over individual schools. In the light of the very considerable reserve powers which already exist, it is inconceivable that an LEA would draw up a plan without due care and attention that was simply a statement of good intentions. They will be serious plans and will be scrutinised. Why do the Government need to insert the specific power that each EDP has to be approved by the Secretary of State when he can actually influence them in a variety of other ways?
Lord Dearing: The Minister will doubtless wish to respond to that point. However, I have a few comments to make. I welcome the assurance that Ofsted will be inspecting. However, as one who for many years was on the receiving end of Whitehall, I know the immense frustration caused by long delays in getting decisions; and, indeed, the frustrations caused by interplay especially when, if a plan is not approved, there has to be further consultation with the schools.
I have seen the consequences in Japan of strong central control and vast mounds of paper slowing down all action. In pursuing this clause, I hope that the Government will ensure that there are procedures which require decisions to be made quickly.
Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may respond immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. It would, of course, be extremely unfortunate if there were to be very long delays in approving these plans. As I keep repeating, they are central to everything that the Government want to do to ensure that standards in our schools improve. Perhaps it would be helpful if I made clear that the standards and effectiveness unit of the DfEE has put together teams of senior education advisers precisely to work with LEAs on these plans. Those advisers are drawn from schools, from LEAs and from Ofsted and they are organised on a regional basis. They will also work very closely with Ofsted and with senior inspectors in both challenging and supporting LEAs as they develop these plans. We want an amicable partnership between all the parties who wish jointly to share this approach to raising standards.
The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said that we do not really need the power on the face of the Bill. I think that it is right for us to have this power. It will enable the Secretary of State to ensure that EDPs are of the highest possible quality, given their centrality to our policies. Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord's suggestion that the Secretary of State already has the power to close
LEAs already undertake a great deal of planning. We want them to refocus their activities on improving standards. Therefore, I do not believe that there ought to be huge additional staffing costs. It is a matter of how they use their resources on something which is a very high priority matter for them, for us, for schools and for parents and pupils. Having further explained the situation, I say again that I very much hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Swinfen: Can the Minister tell the Committee how many LEAs there are? Further, can she tell us whether all the EDPs will be coming in for the Minister's consideration and approval at the same time of year, or will they be spread throughout the year? I ask that question because I suspect that many plans will be submitted at the same time. Therefore, there will surely be quite a long delay as regards the approval of some of them.
Baroness Blackstone: EDPs will come in over a relatively short period of time. That is part of our wish to get on with ensuring that there is no delay in trying to do something about improving standards right across the system. I should like Members of the Committee to be a little more confident as regards the Government's ability to deliver a reasonably quick response. Indeed, that is most important. The Government will ensure that the resources are available to provide the answers to the 150 LEAs which will send in their plans.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I am still quite concerned about the matter. Perhaps I may emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, which reflected mine; namely, that the response must be quick. That is the essence of the matter. Perhaps I may outline my worries. First, there is no mention of Clause 6 in the financial memorandum. Either there are people at the DfEE who will receive 150 schemes who presently have time on their hands or, alternatively, greater resources will have to be found.
The plans are quite complex. Perhaps I should explain them. The Minister thought that I did not understand them so it is quite possible that some noble Lords may not. Each school prepares a plan and the LEA co-ordinates it. From my experience of administration I know that when a plan is to be judged the officials in the department will inevitably have to look at some of the individual schools. If an LEA prepares a plan which the department finds inadequate, the latter will have to say why it is inadequate. The department will then have to look at the bricks which make up the house; in other words, it will have to do a survey. No surveyor goes round a house, just looks at it and then decides whether or not it looks good or bad. Indeed, he will tap individual bricks and look under the floorboards, because that is where he may find the smell.
In summary, there is no money for this, either for the LEAs or the department. It will not be just a matter of a cursory look. Indeed, from her own academic life the Minister knows all about looking at plans which may be found to be inadequate and have to be sent back. The LEA will not say, "Thank you Baroness", and touch its forelock like the natives did to the bwana in the woods in the old imperial days. It will question the decision. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and I say that the process must be quick. The department will have to enter into such detail.
I believe that the Minister is being very optimistic. My experience is the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and he was closer to the engine room than I have been. Indeed, the engine sometimes ticks very slowly. Therefore, I fear that my worries remain.
Baroness Blackstone: I am an optimist. Indeed, life would be pretty miserable for all of us if we did not have some optimism about the changes that we want to make and the wish to make progress in everything we do. I respond again because I am a little worried. I believe that the noble Lord is confused about how the EDPs will be prepared. It is not a matter of each school preparing a plan individually. The LEA will, of course, have discussions with every school about its targets. However, it is the LEA which will be preparing the plan.
The noble Lord suggests that we will not have enough officials to go round. However, officials are working on a whole range of other tasks at the moment. For example, they have been working on 150 early years development plans which have been provided by local education authorities to fulfil our commitment to expanding nursery education. They turned those round in six weeks. That is a pretty good record. Some of the officials who worked on that will be available to work on EDPs. Some of the officials supporting Ministers in taking two major Bills through Parliament will be able to work on EDPs. Heaven forbid that anyone should touch forelocks over this, but let us be a little more optimistic and less worried about long delays than the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington.
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