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Lord Whitty: I am not sure why noble Lords give the impression that I have suggested that education action zones should treat all their schools in a uniform way. Clearly, there will be a mix of schools, attainment, performance, demography and history. All of those schools will be treated differently. As to the regulations, they will provide a very high degree of flexibility. Neither I nor the regulations advocate--and the Bill does not imply--a uniform approach. The bulk of the regulations will be procedural rather than substantive and a good deal of discretion will be left to the education action zone. A substantial amount of innovation about how the schools are run will be available to the forum in the individual zones. Nevertheless, the zone consists of a number of schools which support, challenge and learn from one another. The forum will be responsible for the education attainment within the zone as a whole and therefore it must be approached as a whole. That does not imply uniformity or exclude the input of energy, initiative, ideas, new management and educational techniques for which the noble Lord is looking. Indeed, quite the opposite. We hope that the education action zones will deliver those differentially according to the needs of the schools in their areas.

What we do not want to see, and fear slightly given the noble Lord's amendment, is one school completely outside that mutually supportive system dealing with an entirely different management structure. Nevertheless, I believe that most of the objectives of bringing in expertise and so forth can be achieved within the structure that we propose.

Baroness Blatch: In the light of the answer just given by the noble Lord, and as I understand my noble friend's amendment, it is only if the action forum, having looked across the diverse range of schools, decides that a particular school has specific needs that it goes to a third body to which it will give its authority. It will stay within the family of the zone but will buy in expertise, turn that school around and give it different measures from those required by all the other schools because the forum has defined it as a specific issue. It is the forum which gives birth to the proposition and retains control,

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because that body will be accountable to the forum for as long as it exists. If that is so, what is there to fear? It is not outside the control of the forum because the forum has the final responsibility to ensure that education is improved in that area. That will be the contract between the forum and the body given the specific job of turning the education around in one of its schools.

Lord Whitty: Certainly, there is no barrier to the forum bringing in particular expertise and managing the school in that way, subject to its overall control. It may be that the terminology adopted in the noble Lord's amendment gives us greater cause for concern than it should. However, "lease out" means that for a period one can lease out a school to a separate educational institution. Although it will remain accountable in that it must fulfil its contract, it will be separate from the overall structure of the education action zone. Perhaps there is some terminology that is half-way between us, but the concept of leasing out gives the impression of not simply an arm's length relationship of the kind to which the noble Baroness referred but one in which the school is treated completely outside the education action zone when we want to see a mutually supportive system between all the schools in the zone.

Lord Skidelsky: If there is some terminology that is half-way between us, why do the Government believe that it is not appropriate to put it on the face of the Bill?

Lord Whitty: It may be that that is something which will be covered by the regulations and I shall think about that proposition. However, I am not sure that we want to start hares running by suggesting a new approach which would mean that an individual school could be treated separately from the whole action zone.

Lord Skidelsky: I welcome the assurance that the Minister will reflect on the matter and possibly go half way somewhere in the Bill to meet the arguments which my noble friends and I have been putting forward. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Disapplication of pay and conditions order in relation to teachers at participating schools]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 65:


Page 11, line 26, leave out ("For") and insert ("After").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 66 and 158. If I understand the Bill correctly, if Clause 13 is passed in its present form there will be a substantial invalidation of part of the 1991 Act which deals with disapplication of pay and conditions in existing participating grant-maintained schools.

As the Minister will see from my amendments, I wish to ensure that grant-maintained schools do not disappear in the course of the new proposals. But whether or not they do and whether or not we succeed in convincing the Government, we believe that those provisions should be transferred to the newly formed foundation schools.

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One argument used in the past by the Minister and no doubt destined to be used again is that although there has been this provision for grant-maintained schools, not many of the schools have made use of it. If only one finds an advantage doing it, first, there is no fear on the part of the Government that it will be operated wholesale; and secondly, the fact that it benefits one or two schools seems to me an argument for at least allowing the flexibility for that provision to remain in place.

My case is that that part of the 1991 Act should not be repealed. Amendments Nos. 65, 66 and 158 seek to preserve what has existed in the past and what we believe will still be a useful facility for schools, particularly as we now have this widespread facility for action zone schools. It may be that if the provision works for action zone schools, it will become more popular over time. But whether or not it becomes more popular and whether it is taken up by one or 101 schools is not relevant to the case I am putting. I am simply saying that the facility has been beneficial, has done no harm, and does not get in the way of good education. Perhaps the Minister has interpreted the disapplication measures as meaning, in practice, better pay and conditions for teachers rather than a worsening of the provisions. I await her response.

The case is a good one. It would be unfortunate if that part of the 1991 Act were to disappear. Therefore, I wish to ensure that those provisions are retained in addition to the Clause 13 provisions. I beg to move.

1 a.m.

Baroness Blackstone: It is important that education action zones are able to apply to opt out of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act, even though there is considerable flexibility within the legislation. However, these amendments are about allowing other types of school to opt out. Grant-maintained schools are already able to do so, but, as the noble Baroness admitted, only two schools have in fact taken up the opportunity. She is absolutely right to anticipate that, in these circumstances, the Government do not think it right to continue with the arrangements.

The Government do not want to extend those freedoms to large numbers of individual schools at present. It would be more appropriate for schools working collectively in education action zones and with additional resources to have that added scope. I make the point again that EAZs are for experimentation of this kind; they are a test bed. They may well point the way to the future, as the noble Baroness suggested. For all I know, there may well come a time when large numbers of schools will benefit from greater flexibility in teachers' pay and conditions. However, these are pilots. I really do believe that it would not be right to allow any grant-maintained schools to do so; that is, if they were to survive. I know that the noble Baroness has tabled further amendments in that respect. The intention is that they should become foundation schools. It would not be right at this stage for any foundation or voluntary school to be able to opt out. We must wait and see how a properly monitored and evaluated experiment operates

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before we move down that particular path. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: That was a deeply disappointing answer. This is not an experiment, nor are we asking for schools to opt out. We are saying that schools should have available to them the facility for disapplying the pay and conditions of service for teachers. There is no question of schools opting out and no question of experimentation. Indeed, this has been tried and tested over many years since grant-maintained schools were established. Therefore, we know the consequences of disapplying, albeit in two schools. Nevertheless, we have seen it work in practice and observed that it actually means a better deal for teachers when it happens.

I took note of what the Minister said. She said specifically that the Government do not want to extend this to a large number of schools at the moment. But that is precisely what the Government are doing: they are extending it to cover over 300 schools. If there are to be 12 zones with a possible number of 20 participating schools in each zone, that is nearly 300 schools, with another 325 schools in a matter of six months' time. So the contention that the Government do not wish to extend this to a large number of schools at present is simply not true.

There is a proposition built into the Bill that this facility will be afforded to hundreds of schools. So, first, it is not an experiment because it has been tried and tested. Secondly, it has not been a great threat to teachers. In fact, those teachers who have enjoyed the benefits of it have received more generous pay and conditions as a result of the move. I simply cannot understand the arguments put forward by the Minister. I am clearly not making much headway with the amendment, but I shall return to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 66 not moved.]


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