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Mr. Brady: It sometimes seems to head teachers and teachers that the Government do indeed have no control, and that they simply spray out regulations, directives and circulars daily. In that regard, perhaps the hon. Gentleman has inadvertently put his finger on the matter. In describing the amendment as vague, he is probably trying to suggest that, if we had a duty to control the volume of paper pumped in the direction of schools4,400 pages of documentation were produced last year, equivalent to some 17 pages a daythe danger is that useful regulations might go, rather than useless and unnecessary ones. It would be a useful discipline for Ministers to know that they had to limit the amount of dross and rubbish.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. In the light of his proposal to put a statutory limit on departmental circulars, how many pages and Government directives would be appropriate in a given year?
Mr. Brady: There is a very simple answeran awful lot fewer than we have at the moment. The whole teaching profession would like such a reduction. The rhetoric from Ministers is that they want autonomy for schools and teachers to be given the freedom to teach, but in practice they are trying to micro-manage every minute of the school day in every school in the land.
Rob Marris: I should declare an interest to the House, in that my partner is a primary schoolteacher. When the hon. Gentleman responded to my earlier intervention, he referred to lessening the volume of paper. Leaving aside the electronic issue that we mentioned earlier, that would appear to be more specific than the vague wording in subsection (1) in Lords amendment No. 14.
Mr. Brady: If the hon. Gentleman's partner is a primary schoolteacher, perhaps we should all wish that she were here to vote on the amendment tonight instead of him. I suspect that a primary schoolteacher would find the amendment irresistible, because it would be an opportunity to lighten the work load that is put unnecessarily on teachers. He says that the wording is too vague. I do not hold that against him because he was not in Committee with us, but if he considered the original wording, he would discover that the new subsection (1) would be one of the most precise and closely defined aspects of the Bill. The idea that the Bill should allow the exemption of schools or LEAs from any aspect of education legislation
Mr. Willis: I am loth to help the hon. Gentleman, but will he also address the issue that the Minister mentioned in his opening remarks and which hon. Members who were not in Committee will not fully appreciate? One of the central aspects of the Bill is that it depends on secondary legislation at every step. It is the secondary legislation that will create a new raft of bureaucracy that we cannot even imagine, because the regulations have not been published.
Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman is right. The amendment is an opportunity to reduce the secondary legislation necessary and to provide clarity for those who need to get on with the running of schools. The Government believe that they have addressed the concerns of the teaching profession that were raised in the other place. I imagine that one or two Labour Members will have received the NUT briefing on this evening's proceedings. If they have not, it explicitly states:
The Government's amendment does not go nearly far enough. Teachers and head teachers will see little point in an annual report which does nothing more than describe what has been sent to schools. The amendment does not commit the Government to reducing the amount of paperwork sent to schools and does not provide any indication that the Secretary of State is prepared to stop imposing centrally prescribed initiative after initiative on schools and to finally start 'trusting teachers'."
Teachers want the freedom to teach and to have a breathing space from the torrent of regulations that are placed on them. They want an explicit and clear statutory requirement that will give some relief from what has, admittedly, been the education practice of all Governmentsalthough this Government are particularly badwhich is to over-regulate, over-control and centralise education provision, even as they claim that their objective is to deregulate, decentralise and allow greater autonomy.
James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that extra classroom assistants and administrative support are key to reducing the bureaucratic work load faced by teachers? Will he therefore support the extra funding announced today and will he argue with the shadow Chancellor that the Conservative party should also support it?
Mr. Brady: It is obviously excellent if we have classroom assistants in schools, but we do not want teachers to have to employ accountants and lawyers so that they can process the heaps of documentation that are thrown at schools by the Government. We want teachers and classroom assistants to be able to get on with the job of teaching. Lords amendment No. 14 would deliver that.
Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend has hit on the point that the Government do not want to be subject to controls on their interfering and meddling tendencies. The Government are happy to have extra levers of control over others, but they should accept that they are the worst offender. They are producing needless documentation, bureaucracy and regulation, and taking teachers away from the task of teaching. It is not schools that need to be regulated or from which teachers need to be protected: it is Ministers. If they want to be taken seriously when they say that their aim is to allow teachers the freedom to teach, Ministers would embrace Lords amendment No.14. I hope that the Minister will come to his senses and do so, especially on this most auspicious day. I understand that it is his birthday and I wish him the happiest day possible under the circumstances. I accept that this may not be the way in which he would have chosen to celebrate his birthday, but perhaps he will offerin a spirit of friendshipa present to teachers and head teachers and signal a genuine commitment to reducing bureaucracy and red tape in our schools.
Mr. Willis: I support many of the comments made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) and I, too, wish the Minister a happy birthday. The hon. Gentleman made some slightly barbed criticisms about the fact that Baroness Sharp and my other colleagues in the Lords did not support the amendment. They did not do so because of subsection (3), which states:
Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman said that the Liberal Democrats in the other place did not wish to support new subsection (3) of the new clause that is amendment No. 14. Is he prepared to confirm that the Liberal Democrats support the principle in new subsection (1), and may we hope to have the support of his colleagues on such an amendment in the future?