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The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I believe education action zones to be an innovative and exciting feature of this Bill, and I was most interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn.
I have had some experience as chairman of a Leeds project working with an inner city group of schools, a pyramid of schools--high schools and feeder primaries. We have been working together with local businesses to raise standards. The local businesses have included such bodies as Marks & Spencer, British Gas, GE Capital and many others. Our experience has been that partnership with the local community is of enormous importance. I very much hope that that will be part of the feature of the education action zones. It is also entirely right that
I wish to raise this point with regard to Church schools. I very much hope Church schools will be involved in education action zones. I do not presently have information about whether any of them have been included in the zones already designated, but I take it that there will almost certainly be such schools. If they are aided schools then there is a problem in relation to the employment of staff. Church schools are in some cases committed to the inner city; this is because of the Church's belief that we need to be in such areas and working on behalf of those who live in them. The ambience and ethos of a Church school, however, is to some extent maintained by the power of the governing body as employers to employ staff. Were this amendment to be passed, as I understand it the right of employment would fall to the Education Action Forum. That would create a very considerable difficulty for Church-aided schools.
At Committee stage we passed an amendment to Clause 60 which strengthened the power of governing bodies to appoint to voluntary-aided schools those people whose religious opinions were in accordance with the tenets of the religion or religious denomination, together with a number of other specifications. If the employment power were to be removed from the governing body and placed with the Education Action Forum it would raise considerable difficulties for Church schools and Church governing bodies. It would undermine their power to contribute creatively to education action zones. I would therefore wish to resist this particular amendment at this stage.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I apologise that I am responding to this amendment, and not my noble friend Lord Whitty; we have two pinch-hitters instead of the original protagonists on Amendment No. 39. I shall do my best, however, and I shall respond to Amendment No. 39 in a rather different tone than to Amendment No. 38.
Amendment No. 38 is an amendment which we firmly resist, as we did at Committee stage. We are surprised that the noble Baroness has brought it back again. It means that the governing body of any school entering an education action zone automatically loses powers over employment. In introducing the amendment, the noble Baroness said that the intention is to remove employment powers from the local authority and to pass them on to the forum; but that is not what the school framework is, and we discussed that at Committee stage. The governing bodies and not the local authorities have the power over staffing functions. As the right reverend Prelate rightly pointed out, this
Perhaps I may come back to the helpful point made by the right reverend Prelate. We were asked whether there are any Church schools in the education action zones. We have not finished doing the counting yet but, when we have done that, on Friday of this week we shall put a full list in the Library of the House. It will be available and I shall make sure that the right reverend Prelate, in his capacity as a chairman, receives a copy.
Our response to Amendment No. 38 is therefore very definite. It is important that it should be an option and not a requirement to cede staffing powers; otherwise it would not be the LEAs who would lose their powers but the governing bodies, and that cannot be desirable.
On Amendment No. 39 the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right. My noble friend was sympathetic to the objectives of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, when he introduced this amendment in Committee. Incidentally, we understand that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has to get back to writing volume three of his magnificent biography of Keynes. He has, as far as we are concerned, full leave of absence from the House for that most important purpose. When the provision was introduced, my noble friend said that he would consider it carefully and see what commonality existed between the intent of the amendment and the Bill as it now stands. We have done that and we hope that the result will be helpful, although it has not resulted in a government amendment.
The Government support the idea that, for a failing school, a range of strategies should be available to turn that school round. They should be available in the first instance to governing bodies, but if the governing body does not take action of its own accord they should also be available to others, including, in some circumstances, education action forums.
I wish to clarify the position, first, outside education action zones and then to deal with what can happen within them. We have asked a number of consultants to draw up specifications for ways of turning around failing schools. We expect to see models which range from simple packages to improve the curriculum, management systems or staff training right through to models which allow a third party to be involved more directly in the running of the school; perhaps "an approved educational body", in the words of the amendment. The key in the models we are exploring is that accountability to parents, pupils and the
In terms of the amendment, while I realise its intention I am not sure that its effects would be clear. Most schools in most education action zones will not in any case be managed by the forum but by the governing bodies, so the forum would have no power to lease them out to third party managers. Where governing bodies' powers as regards the management of schools are ceded to the forum, schools would naturally expect the forum to take on the responsibility of management along with the powers. After all, it is on the forum and not the approved third party that they are represented.
Finally, where a third party can offer services which would be helpful to zoned schools, failing or otherwise, the forum can already purchase those services from education action zones' funds but without cutting any school off from the partnership structure which the zone was set up to encourage. We have made it clear that we will not tolerate failure without improvement. I hope that it is also clear that we take the issue of failing schools very seriously, whether they are within or outside an education action zone. The amendment before us relates only to schools within an education action zone. In view of the wide-ranging list of strategies that I have outlined, I hope that the noble Baroness will not move her amendment in due course.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, that was an interesting answer. I gather that almost everything in my amendment can be achieved. I understand that a school can be leased to a third party which could be a private organisation made accountable to the action forum. That would apply if schools within the education action zone have ceded their powers to the forum. Alternatively, if the schools have decided to keep their powers, acting collectively, they could lease out to a private third party.
This is an important issue and I was cheered by that answer. However, I should be grateful if the Minister would point me to the powers in the Bill which allow that to happen. I have not seen them. Where is the power in the Bill which will achieve my amendment? Where are the powers to lease out a school which is failing with a properly defined contract accountable to the education action forum and funded under contract to the forum?
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