All ears and ayes

24th July 1998 at 01:00
As the Queen gives her assent to the education Bills even their critics believe they had a fair hearing. Frances Rafferty reports.

"We can't afford the hair gel, never mind the champagne," said retiring headteachers' leader John Sutton, referring to Labour's recent lobbyists debacle, "but in our own way we have had a lot of influence."

Mr Sutton, of the Secondary Heads Association, was pointing up his union's lobbying successes in relation to the School Standards and Framework Bill - one of the two education Bills that received Royal Assent this week.

The legislation, which covers all aspects of education from infant class sizes to student tuition fees, comes into force at varying times.

Bruce Douglas, SHA's president and hardly one of the Derek Drapers of the world, believes heads are in a better position now than in the early days of the Bill.

Sue Nicholson, assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, agrees. "It is definitely a different experience with the new Government. The door to ministers or official has always been open."

Mr Douglas said: "On the code of practice for education authorities we won an acknowledgment that intervention in schoools will be the exception, not the rule."

The churches are also satisfied. Early negotiations resulted in a redrafting of the Bill. Ministers know that it doesn't do to mess with the bishops. Margaret Smart, director of the Catholic Education Service, said: "The legislation . . . confirms our legal rights and in some cases strengthens them, for example on the employment and dismissal of staff."

The Campaign for State Education is disappointed. It had been lobbying, mainly through Liberal Democrat MP and peers' amendments, to make it a right for parents to form a group in the school and also to block the legal requirement for home-school agreements. CASE is also upset Labour has not ended selection.

David Gordon, CASE spokeman, said: "The Bill is good in parts, for example just three years ago we were told by all political parties that a statutory class size of 30 was a pipedream. But in other areas, while the Government has changed, the battles are the same."

Pauline Latham, chairman of the GM Schools Advisory Committee, said that given Labour's determination to abolish GM schools, her lobby has got the best deal in the circumstances. She said: "We were listened to and I hope ministers have been left with a positive view of the GM model."

Education authorities are putting on a brave face. "I'm sure councils will be ready to rise to the challenges," said Chris Waterman, education policy officer of the Association of London Government, who has been impressed by the level of consultation.

Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, believes access to ministers has won a number of concessions, for example, re-writing councils into the exclusion process.

While the tuition fees included in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill upset Labour backbenchers - and created the unholy alliance of left-wing firebrand Diane Abbott and Tory ex-minister Stephen Dorrell championing working-class black women - the legislation reforming student finance remained intact.

The universities' lobby may have heaved a sigh of relief - they see it as essential revenue. But ultimately the vice-chancellors did not get their way. The money raised will not go straight into their coffers. Education ministers have other plans, and the revenue will also benefit further education.

The 90 hours peers spent debating the Bill were most productive on strengthening the role of the General Teaching Council.

Most interesting was the appearance of Lord Dearing, taking his place on the red benches to hear the Government's novel interpretation of his higher education report. But even so, he still managed to be one of the few to stick up for Labour on that Scottish matter.

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