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Baroness Blatch: First, I accept all that the noble Baroness says regarding the number of documents that may be prepared on the way--drafts and redrafts of documents--until one arrives at the definitive document. I am not sure therefore whether my noble friend meant that all those documents should be widely distributed.
Perhaps I can ask two questions. The first is in relation to Amendment No. 42. If I understand the noble Baroness's point correctly, there will be modifications which are so small in nature that they are inappropriate for wide consultation, being either minor or technical. As I understand the amendment, it says,
In other words, if the LEA considers it to be appropriate, there should be consultation. For instance, if there is an impact on a school, an aspect of the curriculum or some change of policy in some way, it seems appropriate that there should be consultation, and the amendment gives the local authority discretion to do that. I should have thought that this was a fairly inoffensive amendment. Even if it were not accepted on the face of the Bill, it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could say that there would be an obligation on local authorities where the change was not just minor or technical but where there was an impact on policy or on the delivery of education.
There will be occasions--one hopes not very often--when there is a tension between the DfEE and the local authority. The local authority will submit its EDP and the Secretary of State and the people who will be judging on his behalf may reject it for one reason or another. That sets a tension between the local authority and the department. If I were a parent in that authority I would want to understand the nature of the disagreement between the DfEE and the local authority. I know that the system is that the DfEE will request the local authority to modify its plan according to what is deemed by the Secretary of State. I am not quite sure, because I do not understand the Bill, what will happen if the local authority refuses to accept the advice or the
It ought to be a matter of public record if an EDP is rejected by the Department for Education and Employment so that not only the councillors in the local authority understand what the tension is between the DfEE and the authority--it is not just between one official and another--but the local authority understands what the tension is; and if it is serious, then the school, the head teacher and the governors and parents should know. I just wonder what facility there is for making it public that there is a disagreement pending the outcome of the definitive plan that is satisfactory to the Secretary of State.
Baroness Blackstone: I accept what the noble Baroness said about Amendment No. 42. It is inoffensive. On the other hand, we do not think it is necessary to put it on the face of the Bill. I accept what she said and we shall try to reflect that in the guidance.
With regard to Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 and the possibility of disagreement between the LEA and the DfEE, the EDPs have to be agreed by the Secretary of State. She is right in saying that the department will continue to negotiate until agreement has been secured. That is entirely understood by local authorities. I think it would be a matter for the LEA to decide whether it wanted to indicate to its head teachers or others that there had been some disagreement and what the nature of that disagreement was. I do not think the Government would want in any way to restrict LEAs from providing that information. That is something we should leave to them.
Lord Lucas: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. However, I still find some difficulty with what she is saying on Amendment No. 42. I entirely accept that there will be many circumstances where what is proposed by way of an amendment is minor. But let us suppose that what is proposed is major and has a significant effect on several schools or on a substantial part of the local education authority's area. The Government go to the lengths in Clause 6 of requiring that local authority to consult on the original plan but impose no conditions at all as to consultation under subsection (8). I would be content if she would say in terms that if the amendment was a major one the Secretary of State would not approve it unless there had been consultation. However, if we are not in that situation I really think that this is a matter which I would have to bring back at a later stage. Perhaps she would care to give me the comfort I seek, that, if there is a major modification, consultation will have taken place before the Secretary of State approves it.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I wish to oppose Clause 7 standing part of the Bill. I will not burden your Lordships too long over this before supper because I have set out most of the reasons why I am worried about Clause 7. Perhaps I may put it simply and concisely. I and many of my noble friends believe that the inspectorate, Ofsted, would be a better judge of these education development plans than having the whole paraphernalia of the Secretary of State. That is the essence of our situation. Under Clause 7 the Secretary of State first has to approve the plans. If he decides not to approve them or to make modifications, he notifies the authority. The authority can say whether it agrees with the Secretary of State. Then the authority may submit modifications. There is an elaborate process here and the Ofsted system could do it better.
I realise that I am burdening the noble Baroness with a good deal on this but I should like further reassurance that all the processes that are gone through will be done quickly. Again I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said. I should like a clear assurance from the Minister that even if the local authority questions it--there will be times when the local authority and the Secretary of State are opposed to each other--she can guarantee what the time span will be. Can she take the risk--she is an optimist, so optimists must put their money where their mouths are--and say how long she expects these processes will take in the case of an objection? Is it six weeks or eight weeks? Two months is a long time with a school and a local authority not knowing where they stand. Can we have nice, big optimistic assurances to send us to dinner in a happy frame of mind?
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: When the noble Lord replies can he say clearly what will happen to a local authority which refuses to change the plan in the way the Government are insisting on? If there goes on being a problem, the Bill does not seem to say what will happen. The Minister said that the local authority will carry on arguing. There could be a confrontation. I think the Bill ought to resolve that.
The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, made an interesting suggestion that Ofsted should be responsible for all the procedure. If he wants to do that he should table amendments to that effect, but what he should not do is to take out the clause without replacing it.
Baroness Blatch: It is going to be basic, fundamental information for Ofsted anyway. It now has the responsibility for inspecting LEAs. It is a policy that we were about to implement and it has been picked up by the Government. We applaud the fact that local authorities will be inspected against their own plans. They will be inspected against the quality of their plans, their implementation and the output from them.
It seems that we now have two tiers and a raft of bureaucracy which will bypass Ofsted, going to the Secretary of State and to-ing and fro-ing the great paper chase. We are asking: why not have one bureaucracy instead of two?
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