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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Education (School Government) (Terms of Reference) (England) Regulations 2000

Ninth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 5 July 2000

[Mr. Jonathan Sayeed in the Chair]

Draft Education (School Government) (Terms of Reference) (England) Regulations 2000

4.30 pm

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Jacqui Smith) I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Education (School Government) (Terms of Reference) (England) Regulations 2000.

May I say what a pleasure it is for the first time to introduce a debate in Committee with you in the Chair, Mr. Sayeed.

The regulations were laid before the House on 22 June and were considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on Tuesday 27 June. They meet important undertakings that we made under section 38 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Section 38 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the terms of reference for governing bodies of maintained schools and to define the respective role and responsibilities of governing bodies and head teachers, whether generally or in relation to the curriculum. The Act also allows the Secretary of State to confer specific functions on governing bodies and head teachers.

Governers form the largest volunteer force in the country and there are now 360,000 of them. Their work is important and increasingly demanding. The School Standards and Framework Act placed on governors an over-arching responsibility to promote high standards of achievement in school. We need to ensure that governing bodies can fulfil that important and central role. Our main objective in making the regulations is to improve the way in which governing bodies do business. The Select Committee on Education and Employment, in its report last year on the role of school governors, drew attention to the need for governing bodies to have a clearer understanding of their role and welcomed the Government's intention to provide a clear statement of the respective roles that we expect governing bodies and head teachers to play.

We have been worried that some governing bodies could become too involved in detailed management issues, which should properly be for the head teacher. Not only would that result in governing bodies becoming overloaded, it could risk their getting into unnecessary disputes with their head teachers. More importantly, it could divert governing bodies from focusing on their most important task, which is to help raise standards of achievement.

In ``Better Regulation Task Force Review of Red Tape Affecting Head Teachers'', Lord Haskins identified the need to provide governing bodies with a more clear definition of their role, to allow governors to focus more on what needs to be achieved rather than on the school's day-to-day running. Both that and the Select Committee report identified the need to define roles and responsibilities more clearly to make it easier for governors to concentrate less on detailed operational matters and more on key strategic issues.

The regulations enshrine key roles for governing bodies that are widely accepted, such as setting the school's strategic direction and acting as ``a critical friend''. They increase the accountability of governing bodies by requiring them to explain their decisions and actions. The terms of reference set out-as operating principles for governing bodies-the Nolan principles of honesty, objectivity and integrity in public life. They require governing bodies to be open about their decisions and actions, other than, obviously, those that should properly be kept confidential for legal reasons or because they affect individuals. Governing bodies should be accountable for their decisions and be prepared to explain their decisions and actions to those with a legitimate interest.

The regulations also clarify the roles and responsibilities of governing bodies vis--vis head teachers. Sorting out the boundaries is crucial to getting that all-important relationship between the head and the governing body right. We want to use the regulations to secure a clearer consensus on the distinction between governance and management.

It is important not to impose a straitjacket that will not allow account to be taken of the size or type of school or the personalities and strengths of individuals. Governing bodies and head teachers need some flexibility to enable them to operate on the basis that suits them best. However, how they agree to operate should be part of a nationally agreed framework, to protect both parties from unreasonable encroachment into each other's legitimate spheres of responsibility.

Guidance on the regulations, especially on the use of delegation, will help governing bodies organise their work load more effectively as well as minimise the scope for debilitating disputes. I am pleased to inform hon. Members that copies of the guidance supporting the regulations have now been placed in the Library.

In defining the role of governing bodies, we have emphasised that they should fulfil a largely strategic role in running the school. We recognise that governing bodies have some statutory duties placed on them that are not strategic, but as far as possible governing bodies should act strategically, setting objectives and targets, formulating policies, and monitoring and evaluating progress. They should consider the head teacher's professional advice and act as ``a critical friend'', supporting him and offering constructive criticism and advice. We expect governing bodies to ask searching questions rather than merely rubber-stamp proposals presented to them.

The regulations also clarify elements of the head's role and responsibilities in the context of the governing body's responsibilities. In drafting the regulations, we have taken particular care to build on relevant aspects of the head teacher's role as defined in the conditions of employment of head teachers published in the schoolteachers' pay and conditions document. They clarify that the head is responsible for the internal organisation, management and control of the school and the implementation of the strategic framework established by the governing body. Although the head is responsible for formulating objectives and policies and setting targets, on all those issues the final decision rests with the corporate governing body.

In delegating functions for which governing bodies are responsible, the regulations require the governing body to consider its largely strategic role, as well as the head teacher's responsibility for the school's internal organisation, management and control. The head teacher is required to comply with any reasonable direction from the governing body that relates to any function that it delegates.

The regulations allocate responsibilities to governing bodies and head teachers for agreeing and implementing the school's curriculum policy and the performance management policy. The requirement for a school curriculum policy merely formalises what is already happening in schools. Although the performance management policy is new, agreeing it should not be onerous, as the Department has produced a national model performance management policy. The governing body can ask the head teacher to formulate the policy, which must be established by 31 December this year. It should review the policy once a year. It should ensure that all teachers at the school are consulted, but it can ask the head teacher to undertake those consultations on its behalf. The performance management policy will underpin the Education (School Teacher Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2000 laid on 20 June.

During consultation on the regulations, a strong consensus was expressed that the regulations are timely. In clarifying this grey area of governance and management, we hope that governing bodies and head teachers will have a clearer appreciation of each other's roles and responsibilities. The majority of governing bodies and heads work well together. We want all governing bodies and head teachers to work effectively together for the good of the school. I therefore commend the regulations to the Committee.

4.39 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I join the Minister in saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Sayeed-in my case, as in the Minister's, for the first time-to consider these regulations on school government. I pay tribute to the extremely valuable, public-spirited work of thousands of school governors throughout the country.

Section 38 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the parent Act of the regulations, refers to the governing body of a school promoting high standards of educational achievement. We share that aim and recognise the contribution that governors make to its fulfilment. However, we invite the Committee to pause and consider how much additional work the regulations will involve. They will create work not only for governors, but for head teachers, who are not exactly short of additional work at the moment.

As I calculate it, governing bodies are required to undertake at least 14 separate procedural steps under the provisions of section 4 of the Act and under the regulations. Much of the legislation will clearly generate further paperwork, which might be detailed and lengthy. Head teachers are required to take seven procedural steps under the regulations and if, as seems likely, the head is directed by the governing body to formulate a performance management policy, he or she will have to undertake a further four procedural steps. That formulation can clearly not be made in an instant. It might-and probably will-require the head to consult the school's entire teaching staff. To draw up a policy encompassing everything involved in the performance of a school will take time. We give pause to consider that aspect of the regulations. In the present circumstances, it is important to pause on any regulations before the House that impose extra burdens on head teachers. Has the Minister estimated the time that it will take heads to fulfil each procedural requirement in the regulations?

Regulation 5(2)(a) is about the formulation of

    aims and objectives for the school.

Regulation 5(2)(b) is about the formulation of

    policies for achieving those aims and objectives,

while regulation (5)(2)(c) concerns the formulation of

    targets for the achievement of those aims and objectives.

In each case, we should bear in mind that the head is required to obtain the approval of the governing body, which may modify or reject what he proposes. Does the Minister have any idea of the targets that heads must set and formulate under regulation 5(2)(c)? How many targets will there be? How will they differ from the many other targets that schools have already been set?

As the Minister observed, guidance has been placed in the Library about the regulations. It suggests that 64 decisions are required to be made by or are delegated to the head, or are to be made by the governing body with advice from the head. It also suggests 32 separate responsibilities for heads in schools with delegated budgets. As a result of that extra work in the regulations, will head teachers expect to receive any more documents in the post entailing more hours of additional work for them? A head in my constituency told me that he had come to dread the prospect of receiving more such documents every morning.

Does the Minister dispute the estimate that heads of secondary schools were sent 46 separate documents up to the middle of May this year? Some contained guidance and some information, but heads were required to read them all. Will she confirm the fact that, since May 1997, each school has received at least 366 separate pieces of paperwork directly from the Department, not to mention many of the documents sent by her Department to local education authorities that are sent on to schools?

It is small wonder that there are more and more reports of head teachers coming to the end of their tether with the red tape emanating from the Minister's Department. The Minister may have seen the report in last week's edition of The Times Educational Supplement under the banner headline ``Red tape boycott looms for heads''. In that report, Mr. Mick Brooks, president of the National Association of Head Teachers and a Nottinghamshire primary head, is quoted as saying

    One head said to me, why don't we just return stuff to the DFEE unopened, marked ``return to sender''? I can see some heads coming to the end of their tether.

I hope that the Minister will understand why I have set out those points. We need to consider how much additional work the regulations create. The Minister herself mentioned the Government's better regulation task force and quoted comments from it. We might do well to bear in mind the conclusion of that task force:

    There is a widespread and deeply held view that increased red tape is acting as a distraction from the drive to raise standards Over-elaborate processes are being used to achieve straightforward objectives, leading to unnecessary duplication and confusing excessive lines of accountability.

In the light of that analysis, we should scrutinise these measures particularly carefully and ask just how much extra work is created. The Government need to give pause and reflect on the situation of the teaching profession, particularly head teachers. Such regulations may seem important in the Minister's scheme of things, but they can consume the time and energy of head teachers and take them away from the day-to-day task of providing leadership, which is so important in running a good school and giving our children a good education. Although we enter that forceful reservation about the regulations, we will not press the matter to a vote.

4.47 pm

 
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