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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The Bill does not say that. It does not exclude any single piece of legislation on education, from time immemorial to the present and in the future. There is, therefore, no safeguard to say that a piece of legislation could not be changed by the Secretary of State. Let me give an example: a school could make a legitimate application to the Secretary of State based on the claim that if it did not have in the school certain children with special educational needs it could improve its pupils' education. Under the Bill it is technically possiblealthough probably unlikely, knowing the present Secretary of Stateto agree to that application. There is, therefore, no absolute safeguard for the contents of that Bill or any other Education Bill.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Indeed, I am trying, by virtue of giving those assurances, to point us in the direction that we will pursue as we take the Bill through. I draw noble Lords' attention to policy documents that we have produced on the legislation to date.
In regard to special educational needswe believe that some of the issues that we raised in the Bill, for example, the ability of schools to federate and the school forum, particularly the admissions forumwill be opportunities to meet more effectively the requirements of children with special educational needs. That is because, when the requirements of children with special educational needs are put forward, it is always an issue that some schools have taken numbers of those children while others have not. We hope that, by looking more collectively at their needs, we will be able to ensure that we spread good practice, that schools are geared up to support those children and that their needs will be considered fully in their locality.
Lord Addington: My Lords, the point we are making is that that would be technically possible under this Bill unless there were some other form of legislation. What happens now and what has been the practice in the past is that people do not understand the conditions and make assumptions. That is the background as to why we have had to introduce legislation in the past. It is not because teachers are basically evil or because the system has not worked; it is because people have not understood what is going on. Current legislation makes them go away and think about it and do something about it. That is the kind of assurance we need in this Bill, not merely a statement of good intentions. That simply has not worked in the past.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we will return to this in detail. But we have the SEN code and the legislation; that has not changed. Within the power to innovate, noble Lords will have the opportunity to look at the guidance, to look at what the Government are proposing and to table amendments if they so wish.
I want to move on to the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and the case of Lauren Wright. In the course of the debate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised this at the beginning, I have been able to obtain copies of correspondence. The right honourable Gillian Shepherd MP wrote to the Secretary of State. This is a desperately tragic case. We recognise the importance of the issue and will look carefully at any amendments that are tabled. I give no promise to accept them. As the right honourable Gillian Shepherd has already said, we need to ensure that they fit within the legislative framework. However, we can assure noble Lords that we take the matter extremely seriously.
I turn to the issue of schools forming companies. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she understood that LEAs cannot form companies; in fact they can. They already have the powers to do that and we expect them to take an active role in school companies as they are set up.
I want to focus on the three circumstances in which we envisage the power being used. The first is that LEAs will be able voluntarily, if they wish, to contract out a wide variety of their education services. Where schools wish to get together to run the services, it
Secondly, we want schools to pool their resources to become more efficient purchasers. We are currently running pilot projects in that area. If schools form a company it will be easier for them to do that and so benefit from the economies of scale.
Finally, we want schools to be able to form joint venture companies to prepare PFI and PPP schemes more easily. Noble Lords will be aware that I will be working with the Church of England to develop its plans on improving its stock of smaller schools that would otherwise not benefit from this investment. We hope that the experience from this approach will help to shape potential future ventures.
I turn now to the issue of school governance. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rightly pointed to the fact that, having de-coupled schools, we now give them the power to "re-couple". There is a difference in that we now offer the choice. We recognise that for some schools it will be an important opportunity. Other schools which have moved away from being together because of earlier legislation, in my experience and from talking to them, will generally decide to stay that way. Quite often, where there is an infant and junior school and the junior school was the dominant partner, infant schools valued the opportunity to have their own governing bodies and move forward. But we recognise that in some communities and in some schools it is an important opportunity.
Noble Lords raised the question of the role of head teachers within staffing. We are looking, with governors with whom I have talked over the past few months and the Way Forward Group, to the recognition that head teachers would play the key role in appointments outside what we describe as the leadership group. We also expect school governing bodies to take a slightly different role in relation to staff dismissals. Instead of there being two committees, there will now be one which will deal with appeals. We will place head teachers in the role of being the chief executive of the school in that context.
I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn is interested in that area for schools within the Church. We will return to that topic and, I hope, have conversations as to how to put it into practice. In terms of federations, which the right reverend Prelate also raised, we expect the governing bodies of schools to decide whether that is the route down which they wish to go. They will of course be aware of the character, the ethos, the status of their school and I am sure will wish to ensure that it is fully recognised. We shall of course discuss further the ways in which we can consult on interim executive boards.
I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was generally happy with what we are trying to do. Though we recognise that governors have had an increased workload, part of the policy behind the Bill is to ensure that we deal with that effectively and give them a more strategic role, which noble Lords will welcome.
A number of noble Lords rightly raised the issue of school staffing. As several speakers pointed out, it is not simply a matter of financing, though that is important. There are other issues that affect the way in which we staff our schools and the expectations that we have for our teachers. In terms of the role of the STRB it is important to get this right. We have looked into the matter at the request of the review body, and we have at its request put forward the proposals for debate.
We recognise the challenge of performance pay, but we believe that we have made the right, and significant, contribution in that respect. We need to pursue this at present. We do value our teachers. We are conscious of the number of supply teachers who are in our schools. In January 2001the latest information that I havethere were 19,000 short-term supply teachers working in schools compared to 410,000 regular teachers; that is, about 4.5 per cent of the total number. We understand what Ofsted has been saying about this, though I pay credit to many supply teachers who perform an important task and carry forward their work professionally.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised the issue of non-contact time. As she is aware, we have been looking into this matter. More generally, I should add that we recognise these issues as being very important. Part of the Bill's purpose is to encourage our teaching staff to stay; to give them the power the innovate; to look at the way in which we organise our school staffing; and to support them in other ways.
Noble Lords were a little, though not terribly, interested in the issues surrounding the advisory forums. We recognise that these bodies are not perhaps as understood as might be the case. I hope that we shall get to grips with the detail during the passage of the Bill. We are trying to make it clear that there is an opportunity here for schools to work with LEAs in an advisory capacity on some of the issues of science. There are details to be discussed, to which we shall no doubt return. We believe this to be an important moveone which some schools and LEAs have already begun to develop.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, raised the question of the criteria for admissions. When considering admissions I am sure we all agree that it is most important for every child to have a place. The admissions authority is the LEA for voluntary, controlled and community schools, while the governing body performs that role for voluntary-aided and foundation schools. As regards academies, I can tell the House that the admissions policy is set within the funding agreement. Therefore, it fits into the admissions criteria of other schools.
During the course of the debate we returned on several occasions to the issue of exclusions. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked why parenting orders are not included in the Bill. We are still deliberating on how best to take this forward. I shall be very happy to have some discussion with the noble Baroness as to her thinking on the matter. It is not forgotten. It is an important part of our thinking and policy. The question is how best to do it.
The general comments that were made in the course of this debate raise the question of the role of exclusions within a broader strategy. There is a difference as regards the position of children who cannot be educated within a mainstream school and have to be removed because their behaviour is too difficultthe main reason for exclusions in this context. From September of this year they will have a place in full-time education. I know that many noble Lords will have been worried that exclusion would mean a child being out of the school system and, if you like, roaming the streets, which is something that we should not encourage under any circumstances.
We have put in place another raft of measures designed to support teachers when considering the behaviour of children and ensuring that they are able to cope within a classroom environment. We have discussed some of these measures in this House previously. It is about the role of learning mentors and it is about the role of some of our classroom assistants. In a group that I am chairing within the department we are also looking at how we can more effectively bring some of the expertise of professionals, especially in the health service, closer to schools. I believe that that will make a difference.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned children in care. The noble Earl is right: most children in care are there because of abuse or neglect. They are vulnerable children. The noble Earl said that exclusion was just part of their story; that is true. We are examining the issue of educational attainment for such children carefully among departments. In particular, we are investigating whether they have the opportunity to sit the examinations in the first place and, thereby, increase their attainment. That is an issue of great importance, to which, I am sure, noble Lords will wish to return.
It is not the case that the Learning and Skills Council is inherently anti-sixth form. I have answered questions in the House by saying how much we value the importance of the role of sixth forms in schools. We are simply making sure that we have a rational view. The Learning and Skills Council will be able to make proposals only where there is a problem. I am interested in ensuring that small schools with small sixth forms have the opportunity to collaborate with others. That can extend the opportunities for children with their studies.
The 14 to 19 curriculum was referred to by many noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, raised the question of the legislation itself. Clause 81 re-enacts Section 354 of the Education Act 1996; it does not change anything in the curriculum. In particular, it does not make anything optional. The Bill simply re-states what is in the foundation subjects. For "foundation" one should not read "optional". That is not what we are describing. As we have a consultation on the 14 to 19 strategy, we want the results of that consultation to be enacted in the Bill. That is why we have taken key stage 4 and described it slightly differentlyin order to put it in its place in the Bill.
Noble Lords have raised the issue of languages and will be aware from previous debates that I am working closely on that matter. That is why we produced a document on language learning at the same time as the 14 to 19 strategy. It is not true that it will take until 2012 to have a full primary entitlement. I hope that we will have moved substantially towards that in a short time. It is simply that it is important to hold us to account on what we are trying to do. The purpose of the languages strategy is to consider lifelong learning of languages, focusing on primary education but offering opportunities to every citizen who wishes to take up languages. In your Lordships' House I have described a system rather like music grades that we might use.
We talk about academic and vocational education. I have said before that those are false issues. Some of our most vocational or academic people, in a sense, cross over: wanting to be a doctor or a teacher is a vocation, but those people need to achieve high academic standards. It is important that we do not maintain a system that says that vocational education is somehow inferior. In the 14 to 19 strategy we are trying to provide the flexibility that will enable us to offer children and young people genuine choices; it is not about selection at 14, which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, was particularly worried about. It is not about classifying children or saying that the less able will take vocational GCSEs. It is about a tailored education that is appropriate for our children.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, for not mentioning Wales in my opening remarks. I shall endeavour to make up for that during the passage of the Bill. The noble Lord described many of the joys of devolution. It is true that the National Assembly for Wales will make its own decisions. In the Bill there are separate clauses for Wales which will be appropriately dealt with. In that discussion, the noble Lord will have the opportunity to raise any issues. It is worth saying that the Assembly Government fully supports the Bill, and the Assembly will debate secondary legislation. Whether they choose to debate the Bill itself in plenary session is a matter for them, not me, as noble Lords will appreciate. But, of course, the United Kingdom Parliament remains responsible for primary legislation in Wales, while the Welsh Assembly is responsible for secondary legislation. Therefore, this House is in order to scrutinise those parts of the legislation that relate to Wales. We have worked very closely with the Welsh Assembly government to reach the provisions that reflect the policy aims of both administrations and the Bill is supported by them.
Noble Lords have spoken at length about centralisation and I know that we shall return to this in greater detail. I draw noble Lords' attention to the report from the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. We shall be picking up the points that have been made but my reading of it is that it is fairly supportive in terms of how we have tried to do this. It is a matter of opinion whether what
The matter of attendance has been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and other noble Lords, as being important. I was delighted to learn while sitting here that my noble friend had 100 per cent attendance from the age of 11 to 18. That is something we should all commend him for. However, the links were very firmly made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, between those who end up in our penal system and the attendance issues. When we come to that part of the Bill we shall look carefully at what kind of attendance we are seeking in order to understand the difficulties for schools and the need for us to think very hard and very carefully about how best to ensure the highest possible attendance for our children and the role of parents and schools within that.
Some noble Lords welcomed the work of the academies and the work that we are undertaking within the Bill to expand outside of city academies. As I said before to the noble Baroness, Lady David, academies are subject to the same admissions rules. In the context of their discussions concerning different kinds of schools, the noble Lord, Lord Preston, raised the question of funding for the schools in greatest need. There are significant sources of funding for weak schools.
The Schools in Challenging Circumstances programme provides additional support for approximately 500 schools which face the biggest challenges, but are not in special measures. Excellence in City provides additional support. There is considerable targeted support for those schools.
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