PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

EDUCATION (SCHOOL HOURS AND POLICIES) (INFORMATION) REGULATIONS 1989

Wednesday 12 July 1989

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Knox

Abbott, Ms. Diane (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North)

Armstrong, Ms. Hilary (Durham, North-West)

Battle, Mr. John (Leeds, West)

Brown, Mr. Michael (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Davies, Mr. Quentin (Stamford and Spalding)

Fallon, Mr. Michael (Darlington)

Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey (Hampstead and Highgate)

Gorman, Mrs. Teresa (Billericay)

Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)

Grylls, Mr. Michael (Surrey, North-West)

Mahon, Mrs. Alice (Halifax)

Rumbold, Mrs. Angela (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science)

Squire, Mr. Robin (Hornchurch)

Steinberg, Mr. Gerry (City of Durham)

Taylor, Mr. Matthew (Truro)

Townsend, Mr. Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)

Walden, Mr. George (Buckingham)

Dr. M. R. Jack, Committee Clerk

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3 Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 12 July 1989

[MR. DAVID Knox in the Chair]

Education (School Hours and Policies) (Information) Regulations 1989

10.30 am

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West): I beg to move, "That the Committee has considered the Education (School Hours and Policies) (Information) Regulations 1989." We are debating what appears to be a minor, obscure part of the Education Reform Act 1988 and putting into action that part of the Act that transfers responsibility for determining matters such as the length of the school day and school hours from the local authority to the governing body. It also transfers from local education authorities to governing bodies responsibility for decisions about whether charges will be made for activities in schools, and, if a charge is to be made, about the extent of that charge and what remission will be available in a particular school. The issue was debated at length during the passage of the Education Reform Bill but the Opposition believe that it is important to have this short debate because time has moved on and the consequences of the Act are being felt in schools. The Government recently issued a draft circular to governors and teachers on the length and control of school sessions. I visited schools, especially primary schools, in the past few weeks where more anger was expressed about that circular than about almost any other. Primary schools face an enormous crisis. I do not know how many Conservative Members have visited primary schools lately, but those who have will know that they are inundated with preparation for the national curriculum. The House has yet to approve some of the orders relating to the national curriculum, which some schools will have to implement within four weeks, because they have already had two weeks' school holiday. I cannot escape meeting primary teachers because my brother is a primary teacher and I am reminded, if not by him then by his wife and family, of the amount of additional work that must be done by primary teachers. My nephew told me that he is fed up to the back teeth because his dad has not been seen. He comes in at six o'clock and shuts himself away with preparation for the national curriculum. He is in charge of technology in the school and, as the Minister knows, the circular on technology was issued last week. My brother's experience is shared by all primary teachers. They are spending an inordinate amount of time on preparation for the national 'curriculum and are making a great commitment to it. Receiving the circular was like a slap in the face because, as they interpret it, it was a telling off from the Government. 4 The Government are telling them, "You are not doing enough work and, what is more, much of what you have regarded as work and as an important part of your teaching day is no longer to be regarded as part of your teaching day or, indeed, as anything you need be involved in." Given that one of these items is school assembly, I am bewildered to find that after so much fuss and carry on we have ended up with a damaging settlement for religious education and assemblies. The Government say that the assembly is not part of the teaching day and should not be counted as teachers' work. I do not know how many Conservative Members are aware of the amount of preparation involved for teachers who think that school assembly is important, but to pretend that this work is not part of a teacher's contract is ridiculous. From reading the circular I see that there is a danger that we are moving towards the American system of counting only part of teachers' work as teaching time, with each extracurricular duty being seen as additional work for which teachers ought to charge. If the Government are pushing us in that direction, they are going down a slippery slope because they do not see the teacher's role as connected with the care of children as well as with their education. In primary schools especially, that is of the essence. The circular also recommends that registration should not be taken as teaching time. Again, I am bewildered. I have important memories of registration time. It is a time when teachers take account of the kids and make relationships with them, ensuring that they are there and picking up odds and ends of information about them. I cannot comprehend teaching that does not include experience of the broader social context of a child's life. Teaching is not merely about what a teacher does, it is about the nature of the relationship that a teacher develops with a child and the way in which, through the relationship, the teacher supports the child and helps it to learn. It is no good a teacher teaching unless, tyhrough his teaching, he helps learning. For us, the full teaching day includes registration, informal periods and assembly. The Government have sent a draft circular to governors, many of whom perceive its recommendations to be what they ought to set in train for September. It is complete nonsense. Why did not the Government discuss the issues more fully with teachers and teachers' and parents' organisations before issuing the draft circular? I shall be interested to hear how the Government intend to implement the circular, and within what timescale. The regulations are to some extent backed up by a draft circular which the House does not have an opportunity to debate, so we have to attach them to each other. They amount to a breakdown of consensus about the responsibilities of teachers throughout their school day. Moving from local authority responsibility to school responsibility is not the right policy, but it has been agreed. The Minister knows that my main objection is that many families have children in different schools. If there are widely differing 5 policies—particularly in an area such as mine where children already have to travel some distance to school—and parents have one child in a primary school that meets from 9 am until 3 pm and another child in a nearby secondary school which meets from 8 am until 1 pm, that will make it difficult for parents, working or otherwise, to get the children to school. There should be uniformity, at least within an area. I was surprised that the Government justified the circular by saying that they wanted uniformity in schools. The Government must make up their mind. If they want uniformity there must be discussion and debate within an area, not just within a school, to find out what is appropriate. To that end we must involve more than one set of school governors in decisions. However, it is not unusual to have contradictions in Government policy. The circular also deals with charging, and what a mess we have got ourselves into on that issue! I go to many schools which have stopped school visits and to others that are anxious to make school visits. We are lobbied by travel organisations which find that not only are their bookings falling but that they are uncertain about their position within the law. Again, the Government issued schools with a circular that muddied the waters even more. The Government are proposing to add more confusion by telling governors that they must decide, so parents will be faced with completely different practices in different schools. Further, policy on remissions is to be decided by governors and that too may well result in differences between schools. I do not believe that anyone is certain that the policy on charging is being operated uniformly throughout the country or could place his hand on his heart and reassure teachers that their practices, if challenged, will not end in trouble for them. If accidents happen to children when they are out of school, the Government's charging policy will mean that schools, teachers and parents will be less certain about taking up activities. In a survey that we carried out earlier this year, it was clear that for some children even pursuing the national curriculum was made impossible because of decisions about school trips, geography trips and so on. Despite the Minister's protestations on the Floor of the House, teachers, governors and parents are confused and unsure about pursuing a coherent policy on charging. These may appear to be fairly obscure regulations but they are another drain on teachers' morale and confidence. The draft circular on the length of the school day was received by teachers as yet another Government telling off for not doing enough work, when they have more work and less opportunity to think about what they are doing than ever before. HMI reports are saying that teachers ought to have more time during the school day to consider children's work, prepare for teaching and so on, yet the Government tell them that they are not doing enough face-to-face teaching and that activities which I consider to be very important in the teacher-pupil relationship will be excluded from teachers' statutory working hours. I believe that the Government have got it wrong.

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10.45 am

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) has amply made the case, and I should like to add only a few points, having been not long out of school teaching myself. My impression is that the Government are trying to say that teaching does not take place outside actual teaching hours: for example, during assembly and registration. That shows a profound lack of knowledge of what goes on in schools. I suggest that the Minister and some of his hon. Friends go into a few schools and see what actually happens. Let us take assemblies, for example. In my school, assembly was an integral part of the school day. It was not simply a time when one got together with the kids at the beginning of the day, said a quick prayer and got out. That was not the idea behind assembly. It was a very important part of the day, when we tried to stimulate the children's religious and moral views, artistic skills, oral and performance abilities and musical appreciation. Assembly was well prepared and week by week teachers shared arranging the theme of assembly, which probably followed on right through the term. To say that assembly is a gathering of kids before the day starts is inaccurate. Similarly, registration is not just a case of calling out kids' names and seeing that the pupils are sitting in their places. A certain amount of pastoral work takes place during registration. It is also a settling-down period. It is a time for calling the kids in, getting them seated, calming them down and ensuring that everything is ready for the first lesson of the day. My view of a teacher's lot is not that he only teachers when he is front of the class teaching a specific subject. He is teaching from the moment he walks through the school gate at 8.30 on a Monday morning to the minute he walks out at 3.30 or 4 pm. A teacher teaches all the time; he does not switch off. Therefore, for the Government to say that teaching takes place only during specific hours during the day is ludicrous. Schools are in chaos; they do not know where they are. I spoke at a seminar last Saturday morning at Durham university on a Master of Arts degree course and heard the general chit-chat that went on. It is amazing that the Government are not prepared to believe the lack of morale in the teaching profession. It is remarkable that whenever people talk to teachers, they find that they have a strong desire to get out of the profession. Teachers are looking for other jobs, sick to death of the Government's dictatorial and unsympathetic attitude. They feel that they are undervalued, that they are in teaching just to carry out the whims of the Government. Changes are coming along thick and fast, and teachers' work loads get higher. Let me assure the Minister that morale in the profession is lower than it has ever been before. We must not confuse morale and dedication. Teachers are dedicated. They carry out the Government's wants to the best of their abilities, with very little thanks They do so only out of 7 dedication to their profession. Morale is undoubtedly at its lowest ebb. Were the Minister to visit some schools, I am sure that she would discover that, not only in my local education authority, but throughout the country. Teachers do not know how they stand when it comes to charging. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West says, they are having to negate their responsibilities by accepting education cuts. The new directive on supervision of children says that they should be supervised virtually 100 per cent, of the time. All teachers know that that is impossible. Again, teachers do not know where they are. The consequence will be that after-school activities will cease, because teachers will not be able to accept the responsibility that the Government are forcing on them. The charging system will also frighten many parents away. My hon. Friend has also explained the difficulties surrounding the length of the school day. If the Government ensure that local education authorities lose responsibility for determining the length of the school day to governing bodies, schools in the same area will have different starting and finishing times. Children in one school who have brothers or sisters in another will suffer. Parents will not know where the devil their children have got to. School transport will be affected. Some children may have to travel to and return from school in the dark, which is obviously a serious problem. Has the Minister ever had experience of working with school bus companies which organise transport? They comprise some of the most intolerable people that I have ever met. They operate on the basis of contracts, but it is virtually impossible to get them to do anything more or to help with the school timetable. If schools are to start and finish at different times, it will also be almost impossible to integrate or co-ordinate school transport arrangements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West said, the regulations appear to be minor, but are in fact very important. The Government should consider the criticisms levelled by the Opposition. Many more problems will be created if they do not. Above all, the Minister and the Government must listen to teachers, which they do not do now. Morale in the teaching profession is, as I have said, at rock bottom. Quick and drastic action must be taken, or else the Government will have tremendous problems in dealing with the profession.

10.54 am

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold): First, may I deal with the draft circular on the length and control of school sessions? The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) has put her view eloquently. Let me make it clear that this is a draft document that is out for consultation. The consultation period ends on 31 July. Before making a final submission, the Government will take into account not only the hon. Lady's comments, but those of many people who have written to us. The regulations offer guidance on the use of time 8 in school sessions. I remind Opposition Members that the hours referred to are times of session, which include everything except the dinner break. Some of their arguments fall by that definition. We shall consider the proposal that the act of daily worship should be excluded from the suggested minimum teaching period in the light of schools' responses to it. In the draft circular, the Government are attempting to provide a working definition that will avoid misunderstandings or false comparisons. The hon. Member for the City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) mentioned insurance cover. As long as teachers are at work, they are insured, and that policy will continue. The circular is a draft, and the feedback received from primary schools and others will be considered seriously before the final document is drawn up. I hope that that will allay the hon. Lady's fears to some extent. Charging was debated at some length during discussion of the Education Reform Act 1988. The Government had no evil intention of granting schools the right to charge. The Education Act 1944 had been challenged, and local education authorities had sought the Government's assistance to clarify which services they could charge for. After much debate, the education authorities' associations made recommendations which we put into legislation—namely, that the principle of free education should be underpinned and that schools should not be invited to charge for it. However, the legislation also recognises that there are occasions when schools might legitimately want to provide extracurricular activities which would enhance and enrich children's experience, and that it would be a mistake to prevent schools from participating in them. The legislation contains a definition which has been distributed to schools in the circular. Some people find the circular more difficult to interpret than others. Nevertheless, many local authorities have interpreted it successfully, and have made satisfactory arrangements for extracurricular activities with the aid of voluntary contributions. The Government believe that the draft circular and the legislation are the best that could be devised without breaching the important principle of free education. We are working with local authorities to ensure that the legislation is workable and that valuable extracurricular activities are provided. There should be provision for local authorities and schools to raise funds to extend their activities beyond those encapsulated in the principle of free education. I was surprised that the hon. Lady thought that local authorities should not be allowed to determine school hours or what may be provided under the charging regulations. I thought that Labour Members wholly supported the principle of local financial management—LMS, local management of schools—which allows a school's governing body to determine a school's hours and its policy on charges. That is why I was surprised at the way in which the hon. Lady phrased her comments—but perhaps she did not mean them in those terms. 9 In defence of the Government's policy on charging, I submit that we are working hard with local authorities and schools to ensure that children continue to receive maximum benefit from participating in extracurricular activities. Those activities should be kept within a framework of legislation, which they have not been in the past.

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Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, "That the Committee has considered the Education (School Hours and Policies) (Information) Regulations 1989.

Committee rose at one minute past Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Knox, Mr. David (Chairman)

Armstrong, Ms.

Brown, Mr. Michael

Davies, Mr. Quentin

Fallon, Mr.

Rumbold, Mrs.

Squire, Mr.

Steinberg, Mr.

Townsend, Mr. Cyril D.