Clause 15

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:45 am ar 4 Chwefror 2010.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Power to provide community facilities etc

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I beg to move amendment 234, in clause 15, page 16, line 20, at end add—

‘(5) The Secretary of State shall publish guidance for schools on how they should respond to applications to provide community facilities including applications about which the governing body has concerns.’.

I welcome you to the Chair, this morning, Mrs. Anderson, and thank the Minister for the statement that he made a moment ago. I do not want to detain the Committee on the clause for too long, given the other matters that we must get through. My intention, as I believe that the  Conservatives do not intend to speak on the matter, is to raise both the amendment and a wider issue on the clause without the need for a stand part debate, unless you correct me and feel that it would be appropriate to deal with the two separately.

Clause 15 deals with the power of schools to provide community facilities. The clause would amend section 27 of the Education Act 2002, so as to require governing bodies in England to give consideration, at least once in every school year, to whether to use the powers to provide facilities for community use. I hope that the Minister can deal with two issues.

First, many of the representations that we have received expressed the view that it would be helpful, as set out in amendment 234, to have clear guidance. [Interruption.]

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid some of the background conversations are making things very difficult for the Hansard writers. I once again urge restraint on members of the Committee.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful, Mrs. Anderson.

The purpose of the amendment is to obtain clarification about whether guidance will be given to governing bodies in exercising their freedoms and responsibilities under clause 15. In particular, what guidance will they be given about dealing with applications from certain groups in the wider community, when a school might have concerns about granting them access to its facilities? Those might include extremist political parties, or other groups that promote views that lead the governing body to think it inappropriate to welcome them on to school property.

The other issue that I want to raise, Mrs. Anderson, to avoid a stand part debate, is the intention behind the clause. I should also like to put it on the record how such freedoms are to be used. In paragraph 27 of a memorandum submitted to the Committee, the NASUWT said:

“Significant caution must be exercised in taking this proposal forward. The money delegated to governing bodies is intended to ensure that they are able to undertake their core responsibilities for the provision of high quality teaching and learning”.

In other words, it is concerned that money should not be diverted from educational purposes into community and other activities.

The impact assessment says that

“schools are limited to spending their budgets on the purposes of the school.”

It goes on to say:

“The objective of this clause is to include community facilities explicitly within the definition of purposes of the school, for spending purposes”.

Interestingly, it goes on to say:

“This is to support closer partnership working between schools and to enrich provision - and thus outcomes - within an area.”

That leaves me rather unclear whether the purpose of the clause is to allow partnership working between schools, or whether it is to facilitate groups outside education using the facilities of the school for community purposes. Those are two very different things, and it might be considered appropriate to spend money on one and not another. Subsection (2), which deals with the additional flexibility that the Government want to grant, says:

“Subject to regulations under paragraph (b), subsection (3)(a) has effect as if amounts spent on providing facilities or services under section 27 of the Education Act 2002...were spent for purposes of the school.”

I find that confusing, because it appears to redefine any expenditure on community facilities as school-related expenditure. My concern, and I expect that of the NASUWT, is whether it is possible for expenditure that has nothing to do with education or school provision to be hidden by this particular amendment, which seeks to redefine more or less anything that the school is spending money on, including in the community, as for a school and educational purpose. I hope that the Minister can clarify that point.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Good morning, Mrs. Anderson, and good morning to the Committee. It is nice to be back here; I felt a bit strange sitting on the Bench behind. The hon. Gentleman raised a couple of very important points, but the power for governing bodies to provide community facilities is not new. In the clause, we are asking governing bodies to consider each year whether they should use the power. So the clause does not provide a new power. It simply requires them to consider whether it is appropriate for them to use the power.

Alongside that, non-statutory guidance is given to governing bodies, advising them how to use that power. It deals with some of the important issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, such as what sorts of community groups can use school facilities. It is my understanding that very little concern has been expressed about the matter to the Department, and that governing bodies have felt confident about using that power when they feel that it is appropriate. Having said that, we can look at the non-statutory guidance to ensure that it is as it should be, but we do not think that it will be necessary to make any changes with respect to that, although the amendment raises an important point.

We are trying to focus on the way in which schools are becoming a bigger part of the community. We want to draw out that purpose and say that it might include working with parent groups and other youth groups outside the traditional school environment. There is still a school purpose in trying to build aspiration within a community. Another aspect may be schools work with other schools to provide a facility. Two secondary schools half a mile apart may work together to provide a joint opportunity for young people or parents in the area that would benefit both schools. That would fit the purpose. The hon. Gentleman raises some important points, but I hope that with that—

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful to the Minister. He has, I think, been helpful, but can he give an assurance, in relation to the NASUWT representations that we have received, that this measure does not ultimately mean the diversion of money for education to non-educational purposes?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My last point was to be that there are of course limits on the exercise of the power to provide community facilities and those limits are already set out in legislation. The governing body cannot do anything that detracts from its core purpose of ensuring the quality and standard of education in the school.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Llafur, Battersea

I am a governor of a nursery school and children’s centre and we have a budget covering both educational and community facilities, so many governors already have a budget for community facilities. Obviously, the children’s centre has to be opened up to general community use as well as the parents of pupils at the nursery school.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That is a helpful comment. Again, to reassure the hon. Member for Yeovil, there is a duty on the governing body to ensure that its primary function is the quality and standard of education in the school. It cannot do anything that detracts from that, so if it was spending money in a way that did, the legislation says that it should not be doing that.

We are saying that the governing body should consider whether it could use some of its budget to provide community facilities that in the broader sense of education and community, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea referred, could contribute to the quality and standard of education in the school by supporting activities outside the school that would impact on what happened inside the school. With those comments, I hope that the hon. Member for Yeovil will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful to the Minister for those reassurances and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.