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Baroness David: I do not think the noble Lord listened carefully to what I had to say. My Amendment No. 183 wants teachers to be involved. It wants the teaching and the non-teaching staff at the school to have a chance to express their views. I was not elaborating on that, but I certainly want the teachers to be able to express their views. I hope that that partly answers the noble Lord.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I am delighted that the noble Baroness wants the teachers to express their views since they are the most intimately involved. But I felt that the whole tenor of the noble Baroness's amendment was to emphasise human rights against the corporate necessity to maintain an ordered community in a school. I also believe that one of the great problems that the teaching profession faces is that there are too few referral units. I cannot quote the exact figures, but I believe that there are only about 20 in the country.
Referral units for pupils who are seriously disruptive are very important. They can also be used for those with medical problems to whom my noble friend Lady Byford has referred. I hope that in his reply the Minister will show more regard than some other Members of the Committee for the poor souls in places like Bethnal Green, and in many inner city areas, who are facing the problems. My daughter had to separate pupils fighting with a knife in the playground, and that at a junior school!
I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady David, agrees that teachers have some part to play, but we must realise that we have to give them sanctions as well. As the Minister responsible for these matters, I hope that he will pay some regard to the teachers' worries when he replies.
Lord Tope: I have some hesitation in joining in this debate because I have no intention or wish to repeat memories or confessions from my schooldays, but rather to recount some more recent experiences. I believe I mentioned on the last day of the Committee stage that I was a governor of a junior school. We had a
I particularly wish to commend Amendment No. 184 and the approach outlined there. On Thursday I expressed some doubts as to whether it is necessary to have these matters on the face of the Bill, but, if it is thought to be necessary, then I have a very great preference for the approach as well as the wording of Amendment No. 184 because it is a constructive approach. It is very much what we were discussing at the governors' meeting. We discussed bullying which, sadly, is an issue in any school. Perhaps it always has been, but it certainly is today. The school has a "no blame" approach to bullying. That may be easier to implement in a junior school than in a secondary school. I recognise that it may be easier to implement in the London borough of Sutton than in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. But it is the aim that matters and that is the aim shown here.
The approach in Amendment No. 184 is exactly right. Bullying is an increasingly important issue. While all of us stand up for the rights of individuals, be they the bullies, those being bullied, or the teachers, it is proper to approach bullying in a whole-school context. The whole school should be involved including the head--it is hard to imagine how the head would not be involved--the teachers and all the pupils, including the perceived bullies and the perceived victims. The "no blame" approach that I heard at first-hand from the head teacher last week seems to commend itself. It was working very well in that school.
I move on to what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said. Even if he had not said what he did, I would have dealt with the matter but perhaps not in quite the same style. I know the noble Baroness, Lady David, well enough to know that she most certainly recognises that the difficulties are not wholly with the child or the victim, but that they also apply to the staff. We have a responsibility and duty to teachers who have to cope with a very disruptive child in a class. Whatever the reasons for that disruptive behaviour, its effect on the rest of the class can at best be disruptive and at times be seriously alarming. I speak from some experience. As I have said before in this Chamber, my wife is a teacher and she has had to deal with similar situations. One has responsibility for other children in the class, to the school as a whole and to teaching staff.
I believe that the approach to these problems outlined in Amendment No. 184 is a positive and constructive one. I shall say a little more about how best to deal with that when we move on to the subject of exclusion. While we are rightly mindful of the needs of pupils who may be subject to exclusion, I am sure that we do not need the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to remind us again that we must also be mindful of the needs of other pupils, the school staff and the reputation of the school itself, which is increasingly important these days. I warmly
Lord Whitty: I partly agree with my noble friend Lord Peston that this group of amendments is not obviously logical. It is slightly more logical following the withdrawal of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer; but even so, it requires some explanation. If I speak to the first two government amendments it may make our position clearer. This group of amendments deals with the serious issue of permanent exclusion of children from schools. The Bill as drafted introduces a single system governing exclusions under which the LEA will have a role at the appeal stage for all schools. In the light of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on truancy and school exclusion we have tabled government amendments to give the LEA a stronger role earlier on in the exclusions process. I believe that that point is related to Amendment No. 190 moved by my noble friend Lady David. Government Amendments Nos. 189A and 189B would require the governing body to allow an official of the LEA to attend a meeting of the governing body, to consider any exclusion of more than five days, and require the governors to have regard to the LEA's written and oral representations. The LEA's role will be to offer advice on how other schools locally may have responded to similar incidents and, if necessary, to advise on procedural matters.
In some cases the LEA may also be able to offer constructive alternatives to permanent exclusion; for example, a period of part-time education in a pupil referral unit before re-integration into school, or some other form of counselling. I believe that at an earlier stage in this debate--perhaps it was late at night--I indicated the number of pupil referral units in operation. The figure is not 20 but 330. Therefore, that option is available in a large number of authorities. Under these amendments the authority will not be able to instruct the governing body to reinstate the pupil but governors must have regard to the LEA's representations. I believe that those amendments meet the same concerns as my noble friend's Amendment No. 190 and the points referred to by my noble friend Lady Lockwood and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. Therefore, I hope they agree that those amendments achieve the same aim and are prepared to withdraw Amendment No. 190.
As to the question of discipline and consulting parents, pupils and staff, Amendments Nos. 183 and 185, in the name of my noble friend Lady David, have already been spoken to by my noble friend Lord Peston. I agree that it is important to involve pupils and staff when drawing up a school's discipline policy. It is not our intention to exclude teachers from that area. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, referred to his experience. Others have similar experience. I have never been a teacher but I come from a teaching household. As the son of a teacher, I am aware that issues of discipline are some of the most difficult ones faced by teachers. It is our aim to ensure that teaching staff in particular should make a contribution to drawing up a school's discipline policy.
However, the question is where, how and when that input takes place for both pupils and staff. Our approach is that that should be a matter for individual schools in the light of their particular circumstances. In some cases that may be before the governing body makes its statement of general principles; in others, head teachers may decide that it is best to consult pupils and staff when determining the detailed rules and codes of conduct. Therefore, for reasons of flexibility we are not convinced that it is necessary to include a specific requirement on the face of the Bill for widespread consultation either by the governing body or the head teacher. Schools require flexibility, and that is best left to guidance rather than wording on the face of the Bill.
Amendment No. 184 seeks to be more prescriptive and specific than the present wording of the Bill about the principles of school discipline. Most of the comments in that regard have related to the proposed paragraph (d), which is concerned with bullying. It is important that schools' discipline policies take action to combat bullying. We all recognise the seriousness and probable growth of this problem, although it may be a decade or two ago since my noble friend Lord Peston and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, experienced bullying. But it is not tolerable even if it produces the kind of talent that both noble Lords have exhibited in this House, together with that of the thespian friends of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Nevertheless, it is intolerable and sometimes deeply destructive of children.
The main aim of our policy in this area is to provide schools with clear and helpful guidance so that they can tackle the problem of bullying. Reports of the Chief Inspector of Schools have shown that most schools have clear procedures to deal with bullying and that the use of the department's anti-bullying pack indicates that most schools operate it either separately or as part of a wider behaviour and discipline policy. The question is how effective that policy is in practice. We believe that that is best left to guidance rather than prescription on the face of the Bill.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 191 and 198, which relate to pupil attendance at appeal hearings. In many cases schools already allow or encourage pupils to attend governors' meetings to consider their exclusion or make an appeal to an independent appeal hearing. In many cases, particularly for older pupils, it is right to allow the excluded child to present his or her case. Certainly we expect the school to give the child an opportunity to set out his or her version of events before a decision to exclude is made. But to allow a pupil to attend the appeal hearing will not be appropriate in every case, particularly where a very young or immature child is involved.
While we acknowledge that the amendment before us would not force the pupil to be present at either the governing body hearing or at the appeal, we are concerned that by placing this right on the face of the Bill we may create an expectation that the pupil should be there in all cases. Therefore, implications could be drawn from the pupil not being there. We consider that to meet the point it is more appropriate to have statutory guidance. I hope that my noble friend Lady David agrees that that is the best way to allow children to
Amendment No. 191A deals with referral to a medical officer. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, also referred to this matter. We recognise that there is scope for many exclusions to be prevented by earlier intervention by schools and other agencies, including in some cases health agencies. A strong focus on early intervention on a multi-agency basis is often appropriate. Schools and LEAs are under a statutory duty to identify and assess children's special educational needs, having regard to the SEN code of practice when they do so. Our Green Paper contains proposals for improved identification and provision for all children with SEN, including those whose special needs could give rise to difficult behaviour. To answer the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, the Green Paper includes proposals to improve that aspect in the training and information available to teachers. We shall publish an action plan to bring about these improvements when full consultation on the Green Paper has been concluded, as soon as possible after the school summer holidays. We are particularly concerned that exclusion could from time to time be used to punish poor behaviour that arises from unmet special educational needs or special medical needs.
The department will be issuing new guidance emphasising the importance of identifying such cases early and providing the necessary support which might include referring the pupil to the health professionals, as requested in this amendment. But that would be a matter for guidance. There will be detailed and flexible arrangements to ensure that such things are considered, which would help to avoid exclusion at a later date.
That deals with the amendments that have been proposed by various noble Lords in this group. I also have to speak to Amendment No. 193A. This amendment, in one sense, might logically have been better grouped with the amendments standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Archer, Amendments Nos. 192 and 193, but they deal with the question of providing reasons for exclusion.
As currently drafted, the Bill requires the governors to notify the parents of their decision but the governors do not have to give the reasons for their decision. The Government Amendment No. 193A rectifies this omission by requiring the governing body to set out a statement of their reasons for upholding a permanent exclusion when notifying the parents of the outcome of their consideration of the case. I trust that my noble friend Lord Archer will bear that in mind when we come to that group of amendments. I think it deals with one of the points covered by his amendments.
Lord Peston: Before other noble Lords who have put their names to amendments possibly speak again, may I ask my noble friend a question. I apologise to him for asking it because I have forgotten the answer to the question. When the subject of guidance has come up
The reason I ask is that in one or two of these cases it seemed to me--and here I differ from my noble friend--to be compelling that the matter should be on the face of the Bill rather than left to whether you respond to guidance or not. I refer to bullying as one obvious example. Merely to say in guidance, "Our guidance is that you should do something about bullying", seems to me to be immensely less than having in this statute something of the sort we have here. I have to say to my noble friend that I did not hear him give an argument. I heard him say he prefers guidance but I did not hear him tell me why guidance is the way to do it. Unless I have totally forgotten what we used to say about guidance--and I was then in opposition so I should have remembered it better than I do--guidance was not a bad thing in many cases where it would not be unreasonable sometimes not to accept that guidance. But in this case I think it would be so unreasonable not to accept the guidance that I should have thought my noble friend might at least like to reflect on whether the rightness of the argument is much more on the side of my noble friend Lady David than it is on the side of the department and we should, at least for one or two of these matters, find a way of putting them on the Bill.
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