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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 196A:

Page 95, line 40, at end insert--
("( ) The code shall require that local education authorities, in performing their functions under subsection (1)(a) and section 5, shall not have access to a school without the permission of its governing body if the school is performing within the top third of schools or is consistently improving its performance in national performance tables for National Curriculum tests or GCSE examination results.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in speaking to this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 197B.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, before the noble Baroness proceeds, and since she has said that she

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is going to speak to Amendment No. 197B, she will know that this amendment, as well as Amendment No. 186B, were debated in exactly the same terms in Committee and were rejected on a Division.

I very well understand that the noble Baroness is acting properly on advice from the Public Bill Office that it is proper for these amendments to be tabled and debated. I acknowledge also that in my very junior capacity representing the hierarchy of this House, I should have said what I am saying on Amendment No. 186B rather than now.

However, I, too, have taken advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments and he has drawn my attention to the paragraph in the Companion on page 89 under the heading of "Motions" which states:

    "It is contrary to the practice of the House for a Question once decided to be put again in the same Session".
The Clerk of the Parliaments has advised me that if he had been consulted on this matter he would have advised that this amendment should not have been tabled and should not be debated.

I have no power to instruct the noble Baroness as to what she should do. However, I ask her to exercise restraint in her actions on the amendment and I should advise the House that in view of the conflict of advice which has been received, it would be appropriate for this matter to be referred to the Procedure Committee.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I always act on advice, but I am speaking to Amendment No. 196A. The code of practice will require that local education authorities, in performing their functions under subsection 1(a) and Clause 5, shall not have access to a school without the permission of its governing body if the school is performing within the top third of schools or is consistently improving its performance in national performance tables for national curriculum tests or GCSE examination results.

Mr. Byers said this week that he is looking for ways to leave excellent schools to get on with the job they do well without undue intervention. He also said that excellent schools should be treated differently from other schools and that they should have more flexibility and freedom. My amendment will give the honourable gentleman in another place precisely that which he seeks and it is for that reason that I ask noble Lords to support it.

If a school is operating in the top third of schools, and if it is consistently improving its performance year on year, what can be the reason for anybody wishing to intervene in that school against the wishes of the governors? It is absurd and not conducive to good relationships with that community.

The Government will almost certainly argue that it is better to have partnership and agreement. That is not the point of my amendment. The amendment concerns an over-zealous inspectorate at local authority level or local authority officials themselves wishing to intervene where it is not necessary. If the governing body does not agree that there are good grounds for intervention then the amendment would allow intervention only in the best schools, those that are performing well and

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consistently improving their performance, when the school and governors agree that there should be intervention and co-operation on any matter concerning the operational running of the school. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, we on these Benches find this a very peculiar amendment because the code of practice governing the relationship between LEAs and schools covers a wide range of different topics, and when we speak about standards in schools we are not just talking about levels of achievement at O-level or A-level or at the key stages. Moreover, it is unnecessary. I have been a member of an education authority, and it is customary now for everybody who wants to go into a school to have to ask permission or at least to notify the head teacher that this is about to happen. In my experience schools and head teachers are extremely jealous of their space, for very good reason indeed, namely the security of pupils. If a teacher should observe LEA employees measuring up classrooms so that they can be improved, without having first informed the head teacher that they were about to do that, they would be given short shrift and asked who they were.

The amendment is illogical and unnecessary. It interferes in the relationship between governors and head teachers, since it is normally the head teacher who is in control of the day-to-day operation of the school, and this is very much a matter of day-to-day operation.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we also find this to be a very peculiar amendment. It appears to restrict the access of LEAs when they are performing their duty to ensure high standards, which seems a peculiar thing to have to explain to the parents, teachers, or anybody else. It probably reflects a very important difference of philosophy between the Conservative Party and ourselves on this matter.

Although we absolutely endorse the principle of school self-management, we also believe that schools should not pull up a drawbridge between themselves and the outside world, and especially not between themselves and LEAs. The local education authority has a responsibility for all schools; indeed, the new framework represents that. The amendment, at least in part, seems to be trying to pull out the best one-third of schools from the new structure. Under the Bill, we are giving LEAs new duties to promote high standards and to prepare education development plans in consultation with schools. However, those activities cannot be carried out if a school remains outside the process. The LEAs provide leadership and the dissemination of best practice.

It seems to me that the amendment assumes that a school's performance in national curriculum tests or in GCSEs tells us absolutely everything that we need to know about how successful it is. However, that is not always the sole criterion. The LEA should have the right to intervene in a school in a number of other areas. Because schools and their pupils appear to be doing well, we should not assume that they are not capable of doing even better.

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I understand that the noble Baroness is anxious to protect schools from undue interference from LEAs; so are we. That is precisely why we have a code of practice to ensure that all those with responsibilities for the education and safekeeping of pupils carry out those responsibilities reasonably. The code is designed to prevent disagreements from arising and to ensure that LEAs do intervene, broadly speaking, in inverse proportion to success and do not use their powers unreasonably; in other words, we are looking for a light touch of management from LEAs and, in most cases, a lighter touch for the more successful schools.

As noble Lords will know, that draft code of practice has been out for consultation for over three months. We have received a large number of replies. We are looking for partnership between LEAs and schools in an endeavour to improve standards. The amendment gives the impression of conflict, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, is in most instances simply not there. If there is conflict, or if there is a legal basis for a school to close its doors to an LEA, then certainly there is a problem which needs to be addressed by the local education authority in concert with the school and not by building up barriers between them. We believe that this amendment is particularly misplaced. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, one really must be suspicious of the Government's motives on this issue. As I understand it from the Minister's reply, in the best schools in our land the Government are now condoning intervention by a local education authority against the wishes of the governing body. Perhaps I may take the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Where a head teacher believes that an LEA is being over-interventionist and over-zealous in its anxiety to come into a school, he would inevitably, if he wished to take the matter further, go to the governing body and seek some authority and endorsement from it that that intervention should be challenged. The governing body would then make representations to the LEA. In the interests of good relations, I cannot believe that there should not be at least some protection for such a situation.

The Minister referred to LEAs being there and to the fact that they offer leadership and support. Of course that is true; indeed, no one is arguing about that. My amendment would do nothing in that respect. However, from the actual language that the schools Minister has used in presenting the LEA draft code of practice, we know that the Government are very concerned. In fact, they become very threatening at times in that document in saying what they would do should an LEA intervene disproportionately rather than proportionately.

The Minister also said that the code of practice was designed to prevent disagreements. My amendment would deal with a situation where a disagreement has arisen. Rather than wait for the Government to find another legislative slot to do something about the matter, my amendment would allow fairly instant opportunity for a school to say that the intervention is just a touch too much. I cannot believe that there is no such protection to cover the relationship between an LEA and

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a school where the head teacher and/or the staff, together with the governing body, believe that the intervention is disproportionate.

My amendment addresses those occasions when there are disagreements. I am sorry that the Government do not agree with that. That shows a little more of their thinking. I am seriously suspicious of what is behind not only this part of the Bill but the Bill itself. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 197:

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