Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 5:


Page 47, line 1, leave out subsection (1) and insert--
("(1) Arrangements concerning the staffing of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools may be made in the instrument of government.
(1A) An default of such arrangements, Schedule 17 shall have effect in relation to the staffing of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 13 to 23. For self-governing schools, there is no greater factor which influences standards than that of staffing. The quality of staff is absolutely crucial. Quality, recruitment and retention of staff are critical, particularly to a good school. The best schools fulfil that function very well and are, in the words of the Minister for School Standards, to be allowed to get on with what they do best without undue interference. But that is what Schedule 17 is: extensive and undue interference. It is incredibly bureaucratic. No business in the land would put in place an equivalent to Schedule 17 to allow that company to recruit the best staff available. Why should a school be any different? Speed is often of the essence; again, good companies know that. Often, in order to recruit a good and talented teacher who may

13 Jul 1998 : Column 43

come onto the market unexpectedly, the school needs freedom and flexibility. It does not need any bureaucratic hurdles in its way.

It may be said--no doubt it will be said by the Minister--that some schools will steal a march over others and that the bureaucratic hurdles must be in place so that there is a level playing field. Local authorities, it is argued, need time to consider whether they approve the names on the list; approval must go down the line; and the school governors must consider what the LEAs have to say. That really is a nonsense. We are talking about freedom and flexibility for schools which care about the quality of staffing to employ the most suitable and talented staff and sometimes to do so very quickly.

My preference--and I repeat what I said at the last stage of the Bill--would be to see Schedule 17 removed altogether from the Bill. The schedule is a nonsense. I happen to know that at least one ministerial member of the Government agrees that it is a nonsense. But given that I cannot take Schedule 17 out of the Bill, or rather that it would be considered bad form to do so, I have made an honest attempt to rewrite it in such a way to provide schools with the freedom and flexibility to secure the most talented staff without impediment.

I looked at and re-read the arguments used by the Government on the previous occasion. Not a single defence was put forward against my amendment. There was nothing which made sense to the schools concerned about this matter. I should put right what I said a few moments ago about having rewritten the schedule. I have not done that. That has been done by grant-maintained schools--people concerned with the GM schools sector. They have drafted the amendment. They want to continue to be good schools and want to have the freedom and flexibility to recruit the best possible staff without bureaucratic impediments in their way. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I make only three brief points. First, in some ways we can see some merit in a critique of Schedule 17 as being extremely prescriptive on schools. On the other hand--and this is my second point--if there were to be any loosening of the schedule, I see no reason why that should be limited to certain classes of schools. The amendment seems to us more an attempt to continue special status for some schools rather than a loosening of the bonds imposed by Schedule 17.

My last point is that at present, with a case at law which reveals, if it does nothing else, that people's qualifications have not always been verified as carefully as they may have been, it is important to continue to impose upon local education authorities the responsibility for doing just that. I hope that the schedule will be used to that effect. Therefore, although we have broad sympathy for some aspects of the amendments, in general we do not support them.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Baroness indicated, similar amendments were tabled at an earlier stage. I apologise in advance that I shall have to repeat many of the arguments which the noble Baroness found

13 Jul 1998 : Column 44

unconvincing. However, the major point is that the effect of the amendments would not be, as the noble Baroness claims, to protect the flexibility of a few good schools. But it would drive a coach and horses through the protection offered by Schedule 17 for all schools against abuse or maladministration in their staffing provisions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, delicately reminded us, sometimes under the existing system that goes wrong. We should not wish to do anything which removed the protection and guidance given by statute to all schools.

Schedule 17 is extremely important in that it provides a framework which makes clear the responsibility of voluntary-aided and foundation special schools in relation to their staffing. It reflects also what the noble Baroness wishes to see; namely, that LEA intervention should be in inverse proportion to a school's success.

It is not the case that Schedule 17 reduces schools' flexibility. But there is a difference between schools and private companies. Schools in the state sector are funded by public money. They are subject to a great deal of public interest and to scrutiny by local authorities, by Parliament and by the inspectorate. They also care for children. It is therefore extremely important that there are certain safeguards. Among those must be to safeguard the way in which teachers are appointed. Head teacher and deputy head teacher vacancies need to be advertised nationally. Classroom teacher posts need to be advertised, not necessarily nationally, if there is no possibility of an internal appointment. It is right and good for standards that schools establish a field from which to make appointments. It is no hardship that they should be required to adopt the good practice of advertising posts. It is not that we are restricting schools in that respect. Indeed, the schedule provides a system whereby those schools have the widest choice of excellent staff. Schedule 17 also provides a framework which minimises the danger of schools falling foul of employment law. It offers flexibility. For example, schools are unable to appoint temporary and agency staff. Without such a provision, such appointments would be unlawful. Temporary appointments should not be allowed to linger any longer than is necessary for a school to find a good permanent member of staff, but we need provision for short-term temporary appointments.

Schedule 17 gives a balance between flexibility and safeguards. Schools are already subject to safeguards through existing statutes and that is carried forward in Schedule 17, or through the pre-existing articles of government which are being abolished. Those provisions are broadly carried forward by means of the schedule. I deny the noble Baroness's claim that this is excessively bureaucratic. Most schools are familiar with the provisions because they were there before under articles of government.

I believe I need to say a little about the details of the amendments. I shall begin with Amendments Nos. 5 and 13. Incidentally, Amendment No. 13 appears to be defective as the intention presumably is to make arrangements in Schedule 12 pursuant to Section 63(1), rather than Section 63(1A). In view of the strictures of

13 Jul 1998 : Column 45

the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I shall not make a great point of that. Nevertheless, I assume that to be the intention.

We do not consider that the amendments are either a sensible or a practicable way for foundation and voluntary aided schools to make arrangements for their staffing provision. There would be no guarantee that new practicable and workable provisions would be put in place. But, more importantly, there could be serious problems as regards reaching agreement with the LEA over the content of the instrument of government with respect to staffing matters.

As noble Lords will know, the Bill provides for the instrument of government of schools without foundation governors to be made and reviewed by the LEA in consultation with the governing body. Where there are foundation governors, the instrument will be made by agreement among the governing body, the LEA, the foundation governors and any trustees and relevant diocese. If there is a dispute, the Secretary of State will make a direction. However, we wish to avoid disputes. We want instruments to be made amicably. We certainly do not want to set up arrangements which will be almost bound to promote disagreement between LEAs and schools. That would be the effect of Amendments Nos. 5 and 13.

The remaining amendments seek to replace much of the provision in Schedule 17 regarding the appointment of teachers in foundation and voluntary aided schools. None of the amendments would be beneficial, either because they remove safeguards which we consider appropriate or because they are no improvement on what is already in the schedule. For example, Amendment No. 14 would remove the procedure in Schedule 17 for governing bodies to consider head and deputy head teacher appointments by setting up a selection panel, which is the usual practice. I know that a small number of church schools do use the whole governing body to consider senior staff appointments--indeed, we have made provision for that--but that is not the general rule and not something that other schools have requested.

I believe that the noble Baroness has still not yet realised what the full effect of Amendment No. 15 would be. Again, we are entering into the territory mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. By removing the need for a candidate for a deputy head teacher post to meet any staff qualification requirements, it would allow foundation and voluntary aided schools to appoint teachers, or anyone else for that matter, who are not qualified and who may be barred by the Secretary of State on misconduct or medical grounds. Surely we do not wish to remove such a safeguard.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 would increase from four months to one year the reference period for the appointment of a temporary teacher. This period would disapply the more detailed procedure that is required in making a substantive teacher appointment. The Government believe that teaching is so important that substantive posts should be properly advertised and filled. We do not believe that the four-month limit should be extended.

13 Jul 1998 : Column 46

Amendment No. 18 would delete the requirement to inform the LEA of a teacher vacancy. We wish to promote co-operation and good relations between schools and LEAs. The noble Baroness appears to start from a position of wanting to cut off the flow of information and then stir up difficulties between them. Amendment No. 19 would delete the current provisions for the LEA to nominate a candidate for a vacant teaching post and includes the provision for the governing body to advertise the teaching post vacancy, unless a decision is made to fill it by other means, without being committed to appoint anyone who replies to the advertisement. That does not seem to us to be an improvement on the existing provisions in the Bill. At present, it is not compulsory to appoint someone who replies to an advertisement.

Amendment No. 21 would delete the current provisions for interviewing and deciding on teacher candidates where the governing body advertises a vacant post. Again, this does not seem to improve matters for the school; they will need a procedure. Indeed, the procedure set out in the Bill is very flexible. So, again, there would be no improvement in that respect. Amendment No. 20 would delete the current provisions to advertise a vacant teaching post and includes a requirement for teachers to be employed,


    "under a written contract of employment".

That requirement would apply across the board and would cause a difficulty by preventing flexibility in that it would prevent schools from engaging supply teachers from teacher employment agencies.

By looking at the detail, I believe noble Lords will see that, far from providing flexibility for schools, the amendments would, on the one hand, remove some of the flexibility and, on the other, remove safeguards. I give way to my noble friend.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page