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Baroness David: Germany.

Lord Peston: Anyway, one not exactly uneducated country operates in that way. Such a school may say, "We have seen them do it. We would like to try it to see if it works". Can my noble friend say whether that would fall within the rubric of this part of the Bill? Is it currently illegal, and needs to be made legal, or what?

Those are the kinds of questions that I have in mind. I do not want to delay your Lordships by going through example after example, but I hope that I have made my argument clear. I want to know whether innovation covers such matters, whether the Bill has leverage on them, or whether this is an area where the Bill turns out to have no play on such matters at all. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: This is another opportunity to probe innovation further. The organisation of the school day and school year was an area that I thought may require legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has mentioned the national curriculum. It strikes me that if there is an argument for compulsion, it is an argument for compulsion and not an argument for exemption. Another area is punishment, where we are, in a sense, ruled by European Union law.

My understanding as regards Amendment No. 11 is that paragraph (a) would be within the law, but that paragraph (b) would be outwith the law. I believe that there is an argument for saying that the Government should consider the matter. The irony that springs to mind is that a school that took a radical view about following the European system of an early start to the day and having sport and recreational subjects outside the curriculum in extra-curricular time would probably be turned down, because it would have an impact on other schools around, it would make life difficult for working parents and so on. One may expect applications to come forward for lengthening or shortening the school day, or having a four-day week rather than a five-day week, or teaching for more weeks in the year—a whole host of options—that genuinely schools, their staff, their governors and the parents may consider would make life easier.

Amendments have also been tabled in relation to five and six-term school years. That is an area that may require a change in legislation. It would be interesting to know whether the Government would allow some flexibility in the use of the school year, setting down criteria for how it could be accommodated without the need for the draconian early part of the Bill, which means that schools would have to make an application for almost any minor change in the organisation of the time spent in school by children.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: This is an apposite amendment. Only this morning my husband asked me

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whether there was any legislation relating to the school week. The school of which he is a governor is trying to rearrange its school week. It is considering finishing at lunchtime on a Friday so that teachers can use Friday afternoon as preparation time for the following week. As my husband is a county councillor, he has been asked to find out from the council whether there is any legislation covering this point. Depending on the Minister's reply, I may be able to tell him.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: The noble Lord, Lord Peston, has raised a profound issue. That is a good example of an area where schools may produce some innovative ideas that may need some relaxation of the law. However, trying to deal with individual schools and their individual ideas is not the way to proceed. If the regulations that currently determine how much of the day, the week and the year children must spend in school are inhibiting good and desirable innovation, why not create for all schools a new relaxed law that allows them, within carefully defined limits, to explore the innovation that the noble Lord has described? We could then see what good ideas they come up with, the process could be properly monitored and researched, as the noble Lord has suggested, and in terms of the outcomes we could see whether the ideas improve pupil performance. We shall then know whether or not we have done the right thing.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: This has been an interesting debate. Perhaps we can look at the powers in more detail. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Peston and Lady David for raising the issue and I am delighted to be able to help the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The law says that there must be two sessions with a break in between. Noble Lords are correct that if we want to make radical changes to the school day, perhaps to what has been described as the continental day, but which is in fact a combination of the German and the French model, we would need to use precisely this power.

Although I accept the thrust and the spirit of what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, we come back to the central point that whatever we do must raise standards for our children. That provision would need to be within the models that one may want to explore. Changes could not be made for convenience or for other reasons, but they must be made in the genuine belief that our children will benefit educationally. That must include children with special educational needs, children who are gifted and talented and so on.

We would look precisely in those areas for schools to come forward with ideas. We would want to allow them to develop the model that they believe would work best for their school. They may want to explore a different model; for example, a model that developed along the French lines—four days of school plus Saturday mornings—or a German model that starts earlier and finishes earlier.

We are trying not to prescribe for schools precisely what we believe the limits should be, but we want them to come forward with ideas. Part of the purpose behind such a move is to enable good ideas that work to come

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forward in primary legislation and become part of our school system. Noble Lords will agree that we do not want to experiment with our children. We want to ensure that the way in which we approach the situation raises standards. We want to allow schools to come forward with carefully considered ideas that are to the educational advantage of the children. We also want to respond in a positive manner and to monitor the situation carefully.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: We cannot know in advance whether an experiment raised standards. Trying to approve matters before they have taken place is like making wild guesses. Is this something we like the look of or not? If we allow limited and carefully controlled innovation and we ensure that it is properly monitored, we shall know after the event—not beforehand—whether it has worked. The idea of approving something beforehand is not an appropriate way to proceed.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I do not believe that schools make wild guesses. Schools consider carefully what they are trying to achieve. Schools already consider carefully innovations that they make, and they carefully consider what they will achieve by taking on a particular measure. That is the essence of the argument. The controls that we have put in place are precisely to ensure that we are not guessing wildly, but making the best possible judgment. That is why this power is important in allowing schools to come forward with and to develop ideas, and it will allow us to assess and to evaluate them, with the schools, to ensure that the ideas raise standards. When we can see that ideas have had an effect, we want to be able to come to your Lordships' House and the other place with legislation.

In answer to my noble friend's question: yes, we want to see the potential to raise standards in those areas explored. I hope that he will accept that response to his amendment.

Lord Peston: I thank my noble friend for that answer. I have two brief comments. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is right. We have taken the concept of innovation from industry. An industrialist would regard it as ridiculous if one were to say, "Can you guarantee that this will work?" because by definition an innovation is something that one cannot guarantee. An innovation needs a basis for trying it, although one knows full well that it may fail. If we believe in innovation, as I believe all noble Lords do—certainly the Minister does—we must accept that an innovation may fail, although we hope that it will succeed. I believe that that is the correct interpretation.

I have one slightly dissenting remark. My old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, used the word "punishment". Whatever else I have in mind in this amendment, I am strictly a non-punishment man. In terms of fundamental philosophy, I believe that, in order to achieve something, carrots are the way and not sticks. Whatever else happens via this Bill, I hope

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that nothing happens to increase the role of punishment in schools. Subject to that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 12:

    Page 1, line 11, at end insert—

"( ) In this Bill "innovation" and "innovative projects" refer inter alia to involvement of the parents in the school."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we come to the third of our probing amendments to try to discover what comes under "innovation" and "innovative projects". This probe concerns whether parental involvement in schools is included in the scope of Clause 1.

Enormous advances have been made in promoting the involvement of parents in schools, mostly without any legislative backing—with the exception of parental involvement in governing bodies. Parents are welcomed to a range of tasks in schools, and that is good; for instance, helping with reading by reading aloud a story or whatever; helping with sports and with drama. Those are all very good. My question therefore is this. If a school were to ask to be allowed to carry out an innovative project which reduced the level of parental involvement, would the Secretary of State support it? I beg to move.

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