HL Deb 18 April 1988 vol 495 cc1211-349

3.2 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

May I first of all say what a pleasure it is that in taking this important Bill through your Lordships' House I shall be supported by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and by my noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Arran. The Lord Chancellor's participation is particularly appropriate because, although the main part of the Bill extends to England and Wales only, the provisions relating to universities extend also to Scotland, and the provisions on academic tenure may be extended to Northern Ireland by Order in Council.

Your Lordships will know that one of the foundation subjects of the national curriculum proposed in the Bill is history. It is right for a number of reasons that that should be so; but I think we shall find, over the next two days, that with or without history in the national curriculum the subject of education inevitably evokes historical comparisons and comment. Those closely involved in education have long memories, and I look forward to an instructive debate in which we shall learn much about the Education Act 1902, or the way in which this Education Reform Bill does or does not build on the foundation laid by the 1944 Education Act.

All of that is important, because the development of our education system has been a step-by-step process, each stage consolidating the gains made by previous generations. However, I should like to open this debate by reminding the House that it is now almost half a century since the great Butler Act. The time has come to lift our eyes and to look forward to the challenges of the next century. In doing so, we are not alone. Throughout the developed world, from the United States and through many of our European neighbours to Japan, national systems of education are undergoing unprecedented scrutiny and change.

I start from the proposition that, in a free country, education can be neither wholly a matter of meeting the requirements of society nor wholly about the personal development of the individual. In a responsible democracy there must be room for both: getting the balance right is central to the health of our society. It is becoming increasingly clear that, both as a trading nation and as a society of individuals, we need to improve the standards achieved in our schools. It is not that there is a dearth of excellence, but rather that the standards achieved in good schools have to become much more widespread. This legislation seeks to enable that that should happen. We want to ensure that schools and teachers are able to exercise to the full their professional responsibility within and supported by a framework of agreed national objectives. That means removing unnecessary shackles wherever we can while maintaining a framework with national currency, so that parents may be confident that, wherever they live, their children are being given a broad and balanced education and stretched to the maximum of their ability.

Perhaps at this point I could say a word about the role of teachers. The Government believe that their contribution is crucial to the success of the policies embodied in this legislation, for it is teachers who have the responsibility for promoting high standards of excellence in learning and personal development. I pay tribute to the professionalism and commitment of heads, teachers and others in the education service.

There is a welcome and growing realisation even among the teacher unions that they must work with the grain of public concern rather than opposing reform. Teachers have a tremendous contribution to make, but they must join with parents and local communities in achieving the excellence in the education service which is our common goal. Similar points apply also in further education and higher education. The Bill contains provisions in relation to every stage of education which are designed to set institutions free so far as possible to carry out their professional task in the way they think best.

Previous education legislation has concentrated largely on structural reform. This Bill is the first to deal extensively with the most important questions of all, concerning what is to be taught. But I want first to make a general point which relates to all phases of education. I believe passionately that all our young people should receive a properly balanced education which is broad and relevant to their needs. Yes, that means science and technology for all pupils, occupying a significant part of the curriculum and taught in a practical way. But it also means that the curriculum must give an important place to the liberal subjects which help individuals to make sense of themselves and the society in which they live. That is why, for example, history and geography, art and music are each specified as part of the national curriculum. We are setting our sights high. Our goal is nothing less than a better-educated country.

I referred earlier to the historical dimension of this debate. Not least of the achievements of the 1944 Act was the settlement which it represented between the Churches and the state. I believe that its place in the curriculum is fundamental and that the provisions now contained in the Bill, following valuable consultation with the Churches, represent an historic development of the existing settlement. That development includes the Bill's provisions for collective worship and the amendments to protect the ethos of Church schools, to which I shall refer later.

The Government have consistently emphasised the importance they attach to religious education, and a number of measures in the Bill as it stands will help to strengthen that position. The very first clause of the Bill, for example, places a duty on LEAs, governors and head teachers to ensure that schools promote the spiritual development of pupils throughout the curriculum. The Bill also introduces a duty to ensure that the legal requirement to provide RE is upheld, and introduces a complaints procedure to ensure necessary action where it is alleged that schools are failing to comply with the law.

But with the help of the Churches we have been able to go further. We have reached agreement on a package of additional measures to provide additional safeguards for the position of religious education in our schools. The Churches are at one with the Government in wishing to retain and improve the present arrangements for local determination of the content of religious education. That is why it would not be appropriate for RE to be a foundation subject in the national curriculum, with centrally determined programmes of study and attainment targets.

But the amendments now agreed with the Churches will make clear the fundamental importance of religious education in schools. Amendments will be brought forward to Clause 2 of the Bill which will identify RE as part of the basic curriculum to be provided for pupils in all maintained schools. We have also agreed that all LEAs will be obliged to establish a standing advisory council on religious education to advise them on matters relating to the subject. They will in addition be obliged in future to review their agreed syllabus for RE when required to do so by their advisory council. This strengthening of the local machinery for agreeing the content of religious education will increase the means available to the Churches, to teachers of RE and to others to improve the state of the subject in our schools. Taken together, these changes demonstrate very clearly, I believe, the importance we attach to religious education for all pupils in all maintained schools, except of course those whose parents exercise their right to withdraw their children.

I turn now to our proposals for the national curriculum. These are at the heart of our reforms. They will give the curriculum in our schools a nationally agreed structure and coherence; set clear and challenging objectives for all pupils; enable parents and teachers to assess the progress of children against these objectives; and guarantee the benefits of a broad and balanced education to pupils throughout the maintained system. Within this new framework, pupils, their parents and their teachers will have a much clearer idea of what is expected of them. They will be encouraged and helped to reach the highest standards of which they are capable; the standards that must be achieved both for the individual's personal satisfaction and if we are to compete effectively as a nation in years to come.

The general principles established in Chapter I of the Bill have not been seriously challenged from any quarter. The Opposition did not divide in another place on any of the key clauses. But I recognise that their concerns have been expressed both within and outside Parliament about the way in which these general provisions will work when implemented in detail subject by subject.

We have addressed these concerns in a number of ways. First, as the Bill has progressed we have taken every opportunity to clarify our intentions, and to give those concerned an opportunity to contribute to the thinking. We have already published the report of the task group on assessment and testing and the interim reports of the science and maths working groups. The final reports are due in early summer. These will be the subject of full statutory consultation before becoming the basis of the first attainment targets and programmes of study.

Secondly, we have where necessary amended the Bill to ensure that it fully reflects our intentions. Particularly important have been amendments to increase the flexibility available to schools in dealing with the special needs of pupils with particular difficulties or indeed exceptional talents. We believe that these amendments, which have been widely welcomed, offer an effective package of measures to deal with long and short-term needs of this sort, without sacrificing the overall benefits which the principles underlying the national curriculum can offer to all pupils.

Thirdly, we have made amendments to clarify how the powers conferred by the Bill can be used and how they will be circumscribed. These will ensure that the national curriculum will indeed be the framework we have promised, not constraining but supporting a vigorous and relevant curriculum for all our pupils.

Before leaving the curriculum, perhaps I may refer briefly to the question of charges, covered in Clauses 95 to 100. The Bill contains various provisions intended to clarify the statutory position in respect of charging for a variety of school activities. The Government's proposals have been the subject of thoroughgoing consultation and represent a clear consensus on the best way forward. Above all, they secure the fundamental principle of free school education while clarifying and thereby safeguarding the position of valuable provision at the margins.

As I have said, we want to encourage consistently high standards across our education system. But that does not mean uniformity—far from it. Indeed, we believe that a key factor in improving standards will be parents' ability to exercise choice in relation to their children's school. The provisions in Chapter II of the Bill on open enrolments are designed to extend parental choice, building on principles established by the Education Act 1980.

Many in the education service believed that the proposals in that 1980 Act could not work, yet within a few years they became an accepted part of the education scene. So concern about the provisions of Chapter II of the Bill should be seen against that background. When the noise has died down, the capacity of local education authorities to plan their provision will not have disappeared. LEAs will remain responsible for deciding how many schools there are in their area and where these should be. They will not be obliged to add buildings to some schools while others remain half empty. They will simply have to adapt to the principle that no school should be required to turn away eligible pupils while there is still space in its classrooms.

I have stressed the phrase "eligible pupils", knowing that some concern has been expressed about the ability of denominational schools to protect their particular ethos through their admissions policies. The Government are ready to give the Churches the reassurances they seek and to bring forward amendments which require LEAs to reach appropriate admissions arrangements with the governing bodies of aided schools, should this be asked for.

I have spoken about the enhanced responsibilities which will fall to our schools. The Government's proposals for financial delegation in Chapter III will give school governors and head teachers the powers to match those responsibilities. They will be able to target resources—including the most vital resource of all, the teachers—to meet the particular needs and priorities of their school. Better management means better education and the benefits of financial delegation have been widely recognised. After all, the Government's policy builds on and extends what has already been achieved in many places. About a quarter of all LEAs have pilot schemes of financial delegation that extend beyond the limited requirements of the 1986 Act. Their experience has shown that the benefits can be real and extensive.

The department is currently supporting a number of initiatives in recognition of the fact that both governors and heads will need support and training to perform their new role effectively. The LEA will again have a vital strategic role in establishing the basis for allocating resources between schools and supporting their efforts to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in delivering better education.

More open enrolment and financial delegation will encourage healthy competition between local authority schools. But we also need to encourage local authorities themselves to become more competitive. The provisions for city technology colleges in Clause 94 are one aspect of this. But above all the provisions for grant-maintained schools in Chapter IV offer parents and governors who are not satisfied with the service offered by their local authority an effective alternative at no extra cost to themselves. It will be their choice whether to initiate the process of application. Grant-maintained status will not be forced on anybody.

Though grant-maintained schools will be free from LEA interference, they will compete with local authority schools on equal terms. They will not have special privileges. They will not be funded any more generously than they would have been had they remained with the local authority. They will maintain the character which they had as local authority schools and will continue to form part of a local system serving local people.

Turning to Part II of the Bill, which deals with higher and further education, if I may I shall deal with these in reverse order, taking further education first. Clauses 121 to 140 are about further education colleges; the colleges which will be remaining in the local authority sector after the polytechnics and major higher education colleges have been transferred to the new PCFC sector.

Further education is a vital part of the education service. Across the United Kingdom nearly 4 million people take FE courses of one sort or another each year; but we all know that job satisfaction and continuing prosperity depend on the skills of our workforce. Many FE colleges do an excellent job, and provide a wide range of education and training. But there is always room for improvement.

The FE reforms in the Bill have two purposes. First, they require each LEA to prepare a scheme which will set out the procedures to be used each year to plan the pattern of further education, to set college budgets in the light of that planning, and to delegate greater control over the spending of budgets to college governing bodies. These provisions closely parallel financial delegation for schools.

The second purpose is to reform college governing bodies. This goes hand-in-hand with delegation. If governing bodies are to have greater power to determine how colleges are run, we must be sure that their size and composition are such that they can do the job effectively. In particular, the Government want to shift the balance of membership, to give a stronger voice to employers, because we all acknowledge that industry-education links are important at all levels; and because employers, after all, represent the main consumer.

I turn to higher education: last year's White Paper set out a range of policies to secure and develop further the distinctive strengths of our higher education system. Some of these policies—the transfer of polytechnics and colleges of higher education from local authority control and the new funding councils—require legislation and are covered in the Bill.

Clauses 105 to 108 enable the Secretary of State to establish the polytechnics and major colleges of higher education now maintained by local authorities as free-standing statutory corporations with charitable status. Clauses 115 to 117 deal with the new funding arrangements for higher education. The Universities Funding Council replaces the University Grants Committee in line with the main recommendation of the review of the noble Lord, Lord Croham, of that committee. The Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council introduces parallel arrangements for higher education in the polytechnics and colleges sector. Some misunderstandings of these funding provisions have already been clarified by the government amendments introduced in another place.

At this stage perhaps I shall do no more than remind the House of the provisions in Part IV of the Bill relating to academic tenure. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will be addressing this and related subjects more fully when he speaks in this debate tomorrow.

I am sure that a great many of your Lordships are impatient to speak, so I shall conclude shortly. Before I do so I must refer to the proposals in Part III of the Bill for the transfer of education responsibility from ILEA to the individual inner London boroughs in April 1990. The proposal that ILEA should cease to be the single education authority for inner London was in our manifesto last May. The reasons for our proposals are well known. Despite repeated urging that it set its house in order, ILEA has maintained a unique combination of excessively high expenditure with mediocre or poor results, particularly in the secondary schools. It is the secondary schools which are at the heart of our education system.

The Government are convinced that with proper planning the boroughs, as smaller, more truly local education authorities, are capable of responding to parental concern about standards. We share the view of those who argued that the transfer of responsibility would be less disruptive if all the boroughs were to become LEAs simultaneously—hence the amendments to this effect in another place. Parents naturally wish to be reassured about the implications of this important change for their children. I fear that there have been mischievous stories about which have suggested to parents that the schools or colleges which their children attend will be severely disrupted by the transfer. That is just not so. All the staff at every school and college will transfer to the new LEAs as a going concern. Parents need have no fears on that score.

There are wider concerns about the nature of the support services that will be available to schools and colleges after transfer, and no doubt some of your Lordships will raise these issues during this debate. For the present I would say only that the Department of Education and Science will later this week be issuing a draft of the guidance to the inner London boroughs which they will be required to follow in compiling the development plans which will set out their arrangements for assuming education responsibilities. In that draft we shall consider a wide range of issues of the kind that have caused some concern, including those in relation to the scope for co-operative arrangements, and we shall be looking to discuss them in the next few months with the inner London boroughs individually and collectively and with ILEA. I very much hope that noble Lords opposite will use their best endeavours to encourage their friends in the boroughs to co-operate in this process. Delay is in nobody's interest, least of all that of the children.

This is a weighty and most important Bill. It is certainly the most significant piece of education legislation for nearly half a century. Its introduction was preceded by one of the largest consultation exercises ever mounted in the field of education. Comments made have been listened to. Earlier in my speech I gave some important examples of the changes we have already made as a consequence. The Bill was allocated more time in the other place than almost any other legislation since the war. It is designed to take our education system into the 21st century and to provide a lasting framework for our schools, polytechnics, colleges and universities. I commend it to the House

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Hooper.)

3.24 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I must of course thank the noble Baroness for her explanation of the Bill, but to the Bill itself we give no welcome at all. We consider it to be one of the most controversial, most potentially damaging, most ill-considered and most ill-prepared Bills with which this House has had to deal. Perhaps only the Financial Services Bill could compete with it. In spite of what the noble Baroness said, only two months were allowed for consultation before the Bill was published, and that at a season when most of those most deeply concerned were likely to be on holiday. Of those who did respond, few were heeded. And yet, significantly, the Bill has grown in size by nearly 35 per cent., from 147 to 198 clauses, almost all resulting from government pentimenti, for only very minor amendments were accepted from the Opposition.

From the other place this patchwork, with criticism and even consideration limited by the guillotine, has emerged slightly scratched but hardly dented. Yet from the moment when it appeared last November before an incredulous education world it has been vigorously opposed. It has been opposed by the local authority associations; by the professionals; by the teaching unions; by Nalgo and the other unions whose members contribute to the education service; by the National Children's Bureau and those involved with children's special education needs; by the Churches and by the CVCP.

Some concessions have been made to the Churches and to the universities—I suspect because the Secretary of State was aware of the enormous pressure that could be exerted by the Bishops' Bench and by the university lobby in this House, and thought it wiser to concede than to be defeated. I would hardly say that the concessions to the Church amounted to "a new religious settlement", as Mr. Baker, comparing himself with Butler, has arrogantly claimed. The universities have succeeded only in modifying the Secretary of State's power over the UFC without seriously reducing it and are still denied a definition of academic freedom.

All these objectors might be said to have a vested interest, but the Bill has also been opposed by those whom it was meant to please. Mr. Baker has said: We are removing the balance of power from the producers and giving it to the consumers of education". But his "consumers" are not at all happy with what they are offered. I have had mountains of correspondence from parents, and petitions as well. Indeed, a petition from Bristol with 772 signatures was handed to me this morning by my noble friend Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. Parents are worried particularly about the national curriculum, testing and the opting-out provision. They are pleased with the excellent project work going on now in primary schools and the cross-curricula work in secondary schools, all of which could be at risk under an inflexible subject-based curriculum. They have serious misgivings over their children being subject to regular testing, especially at seven. Governors, parent-governors and chairmen of governors have written to express their concern over the much greater and very different responsibilities that they must assume under the scheme for local financial management and opting out. They are also anxious about the commitment of time that will be required of them.

The Government state that their aims are to raise the standards of education in this country and to encourage more young people to aim at higher qualifications and training. We would all go along with that. But will the provisions of the Bill achieve those aims? We are not convinced. What are the hidden aims; or perhaps the not so hidden aims: to reduce, as has been obvious from the 46 local government Bills that the Government have introduced, the powers of local government and to increase those of central government? As Sir Peter Newsam has said: What if one day this country were to find itself with a Secretary of State possessed of a narrow vision of what education in a democracy should aspire to be, coupled with a degree of self-regard and intolerance of the opinions of others that caused him or her to seek to impose that vision on others? This is a constitutional question. We may not have a written constitution but we have constitutional principles against which the laws and actions of government can be measured. Two of those principles are the sovereignty of Parliament and the separation of powers. In the Bill the Secretary of State is taking to himself 366 powers. Indeed, with growing ambition as the Bill has proceeded, he has more than doubled the number that were included at first publication. Perhaps the most significant is Clause 186. There the Secretary of State gives himself the power to make such modifications in any enactment relating to employment, especially any enactment conferring rights on employees, he considers necessary or expedient in consequence of the delegation to governors of schools and higher education corporations of powers to appoint and dismiss staff. His powers can be taken by order. And we know how little parliamentary scrutiny orders receive when they come before either House.

Equally extreme is the transfer of powers from the elected authorities to the Secretary of State. There are few safeguards. The advisory bodies are all to be appointed exclusively by him. The Secretary of State may say that while some powers are being reallocated upwards from local authorities to him, many others are being reallocated downwards to parents and to governors, and therefore the balance is maintained between central and local government. However, local authorities are elected, whereas parents and governors are not accountable to the electorate.

I turn now to the provisions of the Bill, first, the national curriculum and assessment. We do not object to the idea of a national curriculum, nor indeed to children being assessed at various stages of their career to discover whether they are progressing and what their weaknesses and strengths are. But we do object to the inflexibility—the prescriptive nature—of the curriculum as set out in Clauses 2 and 3.

Miss Sheila Browne, until recently the chief inspector of schools, said at the North of England conference: If only one could be sure that in the Bill the over-riding sub-clause 1(2) would dominate". That asks for a balanced and broadly based curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at school and of society. It also prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. However, Miss Brown continued: that is light years away from Clause 2 with its itemised requirements for attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements". She expressed herself most deeply shocked by Clause 9 which appears to say, "Thou shalt not experiment without permission". If she has not misunderstood Clause 9, she also said that it must, depress performance. We should be nowhere near as good as we are now without the unseen experiments later adopted as orthodoxy". Since that time we have had the Black Report on assessment in testing. We understand that Mr. Baker has accepted a good many of the recommendations. He indicated in another place that he did not mean what the Bill says and he gave some undertakings that were again expressed at the secondary heads' conference in Reading at the end of March. However, Clauses 1 to 3 are in no respect changed—Clause 9 is, marginally—from when the Bill was first published on 20th November. Therefore we shall be interested to know what amendments the Government introduce and we shall certainly propose many ourselves. My noble friend Lady Blackstone will be speaking in greater detail on that part of the Bill.

I move now to more controversial sections; that is, to open enrolment and grant-maintained schools. There are two aspects to be considered in that regard: the administrative and the educational. As a former member of a local education authority, I know how essential it is, especially at a time of falling or indeed of changing rolls, for the authority to plan the number of pupils each school can take each year in order to prevent one school being oversubscribed, perhaps necessitating the use of Portakabins due to overcrowding, while another, with fewer pupils and probably fewer staff, possibly faces added difficulty in attracting staff and is unable to offer the wider curriculum that, following enactment of the Bill, will be mandatory.

Authorities have been urged to take surplus places out of use. That task will be harder. Parental choice is already widely satisfied: 95 per cent. overall and, in some cases, 99 per cent. achieve what they want. There is no way by which 100 per cent. satisfaction can be guaranteed. Therefore, is it worth depriving education authorities of their power to manage for the benefit of all in order to give a few parents—no doubt the most articulate and pushing—what they want? We should remember that giving parents greater choice will not help those children whose parents are unable or unwilling to exercise that choice in the full interests of their children. Those children may well be the under-achievers that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, when Secretary of State, was so keen to help. A school is not an automated factory nor just an administrative unit: it is a community of people working together long term at a task that is both demanding and difficult.

Schools which have had their intake reduced since 1979 in a planned way have been able to improve their educational provision. I visited a secondary school at Forest Hill where two classrooms no longer needed as such had been converted for home economics and a business studies centre, with computers and all. What would happen to those amenities if the school had to return to the numbers it had in 1979? We shall move amendments proposing a return to the system under the 1980 Act whereby the LEA in consultation with a governing body can agree admission limits.

Many of the arguments against open enrolment and the creation of CTCs stand for grant-maintained schools as well. The planning function of the LEA would become infinitely harder to perform, especially in regard to schemes of reorganisation designed to remove surplus places and to provide a better education for 16 to 19 year-olds. The Audit Commission, the body created by government to keep a watch on local government spending, said that if an LEA wishes to have enough places for all pupils who may need them—its statutory duty—it will have to maintain a large surplus capacity in its schools and that provision will be extremely wasteful. According to the commission, opting out could prejudice potential savings of between £500 million and £700 million.

Grant-maintained schools are bound to be divisive both within their area and within themselves. Can one imagine the conflict among parents, children and teachers of differing views within the school when the proposal to opt out is under consideration? Incidentally, teachers are not to be consulted—apart from those who are governors. They would simply be transferred like luggage. Therefore, selection would inevitably come in by the back door. What real safeguards would there be for children with special educational needs and also for community education, largely ignored in the Bill?

The voting arrangements are quite intolerable. The fact that a small proportion of parents could decide so important a question is manifestly unjust as even some Conservative Members of the Standing Committee believed. It should at least be a majority of the parents elegible to vote. Again, it is ridiculous that a mere 20 per cent. of parents can trigger off the process. Further, the Bill does not define a parent. We shall aim to change those plans, if we do not succeed in taking Chapter IV out of the Bill.

There are several questions I should like to ask the Minister. Will there be a period when a school will have to prove itself capable of running a scheme of financial delegation before applying for grant-maintained status? Will LEAs be expected to provide welfare, careers advice, inspection and advisory services? If so, it will presumably be at full cost. Will the LEA have to take in suspended pupils? The LEA will be left with the responsibility for transport. Will that requirement apply even if the parent does not choose the nearest school? In effect, the LEA will be left with much responsibility and no power.

That situation is also the case with regard to local financial management. I must say at once that we are not opposed to financial delegation as such. It has worked successfully in some places, including my own county of Cambridgeshire. But there was a long preparatory stage for each school. Such time must be allowed. Some primary schools do not want the extra work or their heads and staff diverted from their prime educational purpose. We suggest that the move should be voluntary and not mandatory.

It is in relation to the appointment and dismissal of staff that the greatest doubts arise. The LEA would continue to be the employer. Is there any other sphere of employment in which the employer has no power to appoint or dismiss his own staff and yet is obliged by law to employ staff appointed by another body and to accept all the cost of redundancy or dismissal? The appointment of a head should be a joint appointment. LEA members have much experience in the matter, whereas a governing body is likely to have none. Moreover, Schedule 2 to the Bill makes the procedure tortuous. I hope that the Government listen to the Audit Commission, which commented that, establishing such a scheme of delgation can be a long-term process taking perhaps 5 to 7 years". The Government have been very silent on the cost of all these proposals. The Financial Memorandum states that the national curriculum will lead to an extra expenditure of £33 million in 1990–91. The president of the Secondary Heads Association has said that 25 per cent. more staff will be needed. Yet under the heading "Effects of the Bill on Public Service Manpower" I find the statement: Overall the provisions in the Bill should not entail a significant addition to the total public service manpower within the education service". This is cloud-cuckoo land. In addition, the training of governors and staff will require a large input of money, while the Audit Commission sees local financial management, open enrolment and grant-maintained schools as certainly increasing total expenditure rather than reducing it or breaking even, as the Government claim. The ACC's research suggests that an extra £400 million to £500 million per annum will be the minimum required. I hope that the Minister, in replying, will give the Government's present estimate and explain how the figure has been arrived at. I am not going to discuss the sections on further and higher education as my noble friend Lord Peston and doubtless other noble Lords will deal with these. All I should like to say is that we are unhappy at what seems likely to be sharpening of the binary line.

I turn to ILEA. It is entirely wrong that the abolition of that authority, announced in the middle of the Committee stage in another place, should be incorporated in this already lengthy Bill. There should have been a separate Bill. There should have been consultation with parents, with teachers, with the many adult users of ILEA's excellent further and adult education provisions and with the boroughs. There was none. There was no opportunity given for a review under Section 22(2) of the Local Government Act 1985. I suppose the Government were afraid that the results might have forced the same conclusion as that to which the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle (and I look forward to his maiden speech), came to in 1981: The overriding factors are educational and financial. The weight of educational opinion, including the voluntary bodies and the churches, is that the problems of inner London call for a single authority of adequate size and with adequate resources to administer its schools as well as further and higher education, and the careers service; and that responsibility for the schools should not be separated from the rest of education. The Government share that view. On 5th April 1984 the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, said: Those whom we consulted, in particular those Members of the House and others with a close understanding of the needs of education in inner London, were overwhelmingly in favour of a directly elected authority. We have been persuaded by their arguments. The nature, the scale and importance of the education service in inner London, taken together, justify a directly elected authority in this special case. As a sop, there was a power of review written into that Bill so that the authority could be abolished, by order, in about five years. But that decision, to abolish by order, was overturned by this House in 1985 and the Lords ruling was accepted in another place.

Recent evidence of ILEA's performance is in the leaked report of the Chief H.M.I., Eric Bolton, which is for the most part extremely complimentary, the exception being the section on seconday schools, where there are strong criticisms. Overall, however, Mr. Bolton sees an improving situation.

On 1st December last, at Second Reading, the Minister of State said (at col. 856) that the Government's aim, is to improve both the quality and the cost-effectiveness of education in inner London. That would not be achieved at this stage by imposing educational responsibilities on unwilling boroughs". And yet, my Lords, that is what the Government now intend to do.

Both this Bill and the 1986 Act (not yet fully implemented) place large new burdens on LEAs, and one just cannot imagine how boroughs inexperienced in running an education service can possibly cope by April 1990. They will be having to deal at the same time with the introduction of a new, complex and controversial system of local government finance, with changes to housing administration deriving from the Housing Bill now in another place, and with the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering. How can the Government's proclaimed aim of improving the quality of education in inner London, with all its many and huge inner city problems, be achieved in this way? What we have here is a vindictive political decision, made with no real consideration for over a quarter of a million school children in London and about half a million in further and adult education. Nine out of ten head teachers are against the change. Governing bodies are against it.

Last week we had the result of the parents' ballot, which has shown very clearly indeed that the parents are strongly opposed to the boroughs being handed the education service in inner London. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a body to which one would think this Government would listen, speaks highly of ILEA's business education initiative and industry school links, saying the financial management and budget procedures have been successfully extracted from those of the GLC and are conducted with high professional standards". In the face of all this opposition, how can the Government have the nerve to proceed with this ill-judged, hasty and dangerous plan? With the evidence mounting daily, could the Government have the good sense to think again? Would they at least have the review that was legislated for in 1985? We would be prepared to abide by the conclusions of that review.

As the plan to abolish ILEA is a purely political measure, so is this whole Bill. The solution of education problems is not the primary aim of this legislation; that aim is political. With the array of appointments that the Secretary of State can make, and can approve or disapprove, the Conservatives are going to be in untrammeled control. It is instructive to compare this Bill, so grandly named, with the two great Bills earlier in this century, the Fisher and the Butler Acts. Both were consensus measures, carried with the support of all parties and of the Churches. Both were passed after two years of consultation. Contrast this Bill and the massive opposition to it. It is most important that this revising chamber should give the most careful consideration to provisions that have been inadequately discussed, if at all, in another place. I am doubtful whether seven Committee days will be enough for the scrutiny of what should be three separate Bills. We will examine the Bill in all its detail. There are bound to be a very large number of amendments, all of which must be discussed.

I have spoken for longer than I should have liked, but the blame for that must rest with the Government for presenting us with such a long, obstinate and shoddily-constructed Bill. Its true shoddiness, however, lies not so much in its construction as in its central concept of the facile contrast between consumers and producers of education: on one side the goody parents, rescued by an all-wise Government, and on the other the wicked exploiters, the authorities and the professional educationists. In this soap-opera scenario there is little room for the real consumers of education, the children and other learners, except as goods to be handled—mere pigs-in-the-middle. There is little appreciation of the complex world, multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary and multi-motivated, in which education must operate in Britain today. There is less than proper respect for the teachers. Some of these are no doubt less than competent, but many are very good indeed and, if they are to give of their best, they deserve to be held in much higher esteem. I was glad to hear what the Minister said in her opening speech about the teachers, for they are the essential partners of the learners in an intricate and intimate process, of whose true nature the Government appear to have very little understanding.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I too should like to thank the Minister for her clear exposition of the Bill. I also express my appreciation of the fact that I have the great privilege of speaking early when there is a long list of illustrious names to follow me. I shall try to be as brief and relevant as I can, but where I fail I too will blame the Government for producing such a lengthy and compendious document. I shall confine myself to the question of schools and leave to other of my noble friends on these Benches who have much greater experience the subject of further and higher education.

We have already said, and I need not repeat it at length, that the Government's aims are to raise education standards and to increase choice. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, that those are what one might call the overt objectives of the Bill. There are also covert intentions about which the Government are perhaps less inclined to talk at the moment.

I shall take the Bill's provisions briefly in order: first, the national curriculum. I should like to make three comments about what we on these Benches feel in that connection. I shall not disagree with the core subjects, but it amazes me that for the so-called "other foundation subjects" we are presented by the department, for the last decade of the 20th century, with a list of subjects which one might have expected to have been presented for the first decade. Surely the department is aware that the whole trend of modern teaching is towards the breakdown of subject barriers; that all teaching is becoming integrated; and that the curriculum should have been expressed in areas of study—I am speaking of the so-called "other foundation subjects"—which allows much more flexibility than those named subjects, because pupils will apparently be tested in those subjects up to the age of 16. They will be tested in those isolated, discreet subjects. I do not see how that will be possible. I cannot wait to know how a 16-year-old tone deaf child will be tested in music.

Secondly, we are concerned that if those subjects are to be named those that are not named will be devalued. Apparently only the named subjects will be tested. As a head teacher said to me a short time ago, "Believe me, the subjects that are not on that list will not be taught, because we shall all want to attain high standards. We shall therefore want our children to pass the tests and get a good record, and so those other subjects will be left out". Thus may be seen the restrictive effect of naming subjects in that way. That appears on the page immediately following the one which refers to a broadly based curriculum.

Thirdly, to my mind the most serious omission from the list indicates a similar, although more glaring, failure to link with Clause 1. Clause 1 states, among other things, that the curriculum should provide for the moral development of pupils. Where, pray, comes the moral development bit in the proposed list of subjects? At a time of grievous social ills, with the crime rate continuing to rise, with family break-ups, which are a potent source of crime abounding, child abuse and child neglect proliferating and personal debt increasing, should we not nominate the teaching of what is in fact taught in nearly all schools under a heading such as life skills, personal and social development or home economics? How can those subjects be left out?

How can we leave out of the list, for example, the teaching of parenthood, child care, family responsibility, budget balancing, economic awareness and civic and social responsibility? Because moral and physical well-being are closely linked, how, with the threat of AIDS, drug abuse, smoking and bad diet, can we not nominate health education?. Those subjects are taught in schools, but if we have a list and they are not on it there is a grave danger that they will not be taught.

I shall not speak about testing, because although at first the education world had grave apprehensions that the plan was for a standard test to be administered to all children at a standard age and that results would be published and used to compare one school with another, the task group has produced a civilised report, and I understand that the Secretary of State will be civilised enough to consider it carefully. I hope that he will implement a great deal of it.

Open enrolment is to be offered to give greater parental choice. I believe that that is a delusion. I shall take a simple example which is the type of thing that I can understand. If one has three schools in a catchment area—school A, school B and school C (school A which is the good school, school B which is the not so good school and school C which is the bad school)—all parents will want to send their children to school A, the good school. School A will open its doors with the result that it will become oversubscribed and overcrowded. Its standard will then fall.

Meanwhile, the standard in schools B and C will also drop because the numbers will fall below the optimum economic level. So the only people who will be possibly satisfied will be a small number of parents who can send their children to school A at the expense of the other schools in the area. However, that scheme is under trial in Scotland. There are varying reports of the results. I hope that in due course the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, will tell us about it.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 19(9), which provides: For the purposes of section 6(3)(a) of the 1980 Act (which excludes the duty to comply witha parent's preference as to the school at which education is to be provided for his child if compliance with the preference would prejudice the provision of efficient education no such prejudice shall be taken to arise from the admission to a school in any school year of a number of pupils in any relevant age group which does not exceed— (a) the relevant standard number; or". It will have been difficult to follow that subsection. What I am pointing out is that, whereas the 1980 Act provided that the managing authority would have the right to close the numbers of a school if it was considered that that school's efficiency might suffer, that provision is to be waived.

On local financial management, varying degrees of delegated management are being tried out in about half the LEAs in the country, as has already been said. It has been largely done in my authority of East Sussex, which introduced its first pilot scheme in 1980. It has been doing some good work in that respect; for example it has devolved such things as energy costs, books, equipment, stationery and telephones.

In considering whether to go any further, the authority must be careful. As soon as one begins to delegate the hiring and firing of staff, one may run into great trouble. The aided schools already have that system right. They form about 20 per cent. of the total number of maintained schools. With only that number, management is still possible. If all schools could hire and fire their own staff, I do not see how local authorities could manage staff at all. I do not think that that proposal should be proceeded with in a hurry and certainly not without full consultation among all concerned bodies. I know that many of your Lordships are greatly concerned about the proposal to allow schools to opt out of local authority control.

I shall refer briefly to the three points which concern us. If the plan goes forward, it is most important that the proposed grant-maintained schools should not constitute an especially privileged tier of educational provision. The atmosphere is heavy with that suspicion. What otherwise is the point of the proposal when the scheme of local financial management will give so much administrative freedom to schools under LEA control? The Minister has said that the grant-maintained schools will not be more generously funded than the ordinary schools within local authority control. I cannot find this in the Bill as drafted, but I shall take her word for it.

Meanwhile, perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords briefly to some of the small print. Here I would ask noble Lords to turn to page 64 of the Bill where Clause 67(3) says: Grant regulations may also provide for the payment to the governing bodies of such schools— (a) of grants (to be known as special purpose grants) in respect of expenditure incurred or to be incurred by them". Then it sets out three ways in which it may be incurred. Paragraph (b) says: of grants (to be known as capital grants) in respect of expenditure of a capital nature incurred or to be incurred by them of any class or description so specified". Finally, it says in subsection (4): Grant regulations may provide for special purpose grants to be payable on a regular basis". If that is not additional funding, what is? Perhaps the Minister can explain this to me.

I shall not bother noble Lords to turn to any other of my references because time does not allow it. But your Lordships will find in other places in the Bill provision whereby the Secretary of State may allow the numbers in those schools to be less than the absolute maximum. Perhaps it would be better if noble Lords would turn to page 91 which concerns Clause 92(1)(d). This relates to the change in the character of the school which has opted out: references to a change in the character of a school include, in particular, changes in character resulting from education beginning or ceasing to be provided for pupils above or below a particular age, for boys as well as girls or for girls as well as boys, or from the making or alteration of arrangements for the admission of pupils by reference to ability or aptitude". So it is quite clear to me that the hidden intention of the grant-maintained schools is to provide another tier of privileged education.

I wonder also, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, was saying, whether account has really been taken of the heavy burden of work and responsibility that will fall on governing bodies and head teachers in the grant-maintained schools and on the locally managed ones. In the circumstances it seems highly doubtful whether enough men and women of the right calibre will be found to undertake the responsibility of governorship. The parent governors to whom I have spoken say things like, "We are more than ready to do everything we can for the school where our child is. We shall support it in any way we can, go to school functions, help in fund raising, sit on governing bodies, join the PTA, but we don't want to run the school. Other people are paid to do that". That is what the governing bodies are being asked to do in the locally financed schools and in the grant-maintained ones.

There is another danger which concerns us; namely if this is to constitute a heavy burden of responsibility, the people who are persuaded to do it may be the wrong ones. They may be the people whose interests are really political. Governing bodies are not assemblages of angels any more than local authorities; they too are susceptible to political manipulation. Some parents are very interested in seeing to it that the right kind of parents sit on the governing body in the school, by which they mean the politically acceptable ones. There will also be the phenomenon of "the pushy patent" who is determined to sit on the governing body and who then proceeds to consider school affairs entirely from the point of view of his or her own child or children. Anything else that affects the school is of no interest to such parents. I as a professional have suffered from the "pushy parent" and a sore burden they are to bear.

Clause 43 on page 38 makes it clear that the Secretary of State can add to the governing bodies of schools if he so wishes or replace any people who he thinks are incompetent. This looks very like packing. We would not be unduly concerned perhaps about that under the present urbane incumbent of the secretaryship, but in years to come it might fall into different hands.

I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, when she says that the procedure whereby a school can opt out of local authority control by a simple majority of voting parents is entirely unacceptable. I am sure that noble Lords will draw attention to the other clause in the proposed procedure here and will wish to make amendments.

I shall not dwell on the question of the city technology colleges except to say that it was hoped that the city technology colleges, would not be any more selective than the grant-maintained schools. But I have to say from a press report about the intake of the Kingshurst City Technology College in Solihull that apparently the average IQ of the new intake is higher than the normal average so that it does not look very promising in that respect.

I now come to the most acutely contentious issue in the Bill, the proposed abolition of the ILEA. The manner of introduction of this proposal without notification in the Conservative manifesto, despite what the Minister said; without notice to Parliament, without review or consultation, in midstream at the Committee stage of the Bill seems to me to show what I should almost describe as an insolent disregard for democratic principles. I believe that the ancient Greek hubris is at work.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that London has had a strategically planned education service since 1870 when the London School Board was established. It was absorbed into the London County Council in 1903. In 1965 the GLC replaced the LCC, and the outer London boroughs became their own education authorities and the inner 12 formed the ILEA. I quote Sir Edward Boyle who was then Minister of Education. He said: In Inner London we shall have one single local authority…. The reason … is that as one gets towards the centre of London so the pattern of schools and technical colleges becomes less and less related to borough boundaries.". That is still true today. I have heard this mistake made in your Lordships' House. At no time ever have the Inner London boroughs run their own education service. It has always been central.

Let me remind noble Lords that it was this House which, at the time of the abolition of the GLC, insisted that the ILEA should continue to exist as a directly elected body. The first elections of the re-born ILEA took place in May 1986, not quite two years ago. I maintain that that is not time enough to judge whether or not its performance is satisfactory. Are we now to rubber-stamp a reversal of that decision without further consultation in your Lordships' House?

We all know something of the worst aspects of the work of the ILEA, but the newly formed ILEA has been trying to put its house in order. Noble Lords will all have heard recently of the many services that are offered to children, parents and adults in London. I shall not run through an entire list of them. We are particularly interested in the learning support services; the Learning Resource Centre in Kennington; the Research and Statistics Centre on which all the LEAs depend for guidance and for help; adult education; after school care; community education; and music. There are many, many more as your Lordships know. I have not mentioned the guaranteed access to schools across borough boundaries for children at any age. Where is the increased freedom when this is inhibited by borough control? By no means would the local boroughs be able to take over this enormous London-wide network of provision.

I have visited some London schools in recent months in south London and in Hackney. Everywhere I get the same response from teachers. They say that the ILEA provides a unique service and that that is one reason why they teach in London. There is in fact already a hemorrhage of teachers from London with the present threatened changes.

I was speaking to some parents in Hackney two or three weeks ago and advancing the Government's claim that the services which would no longer be provided by the ILEA would be provided by Hackney Council. The parents said, "Hand our children over to Hackney Council? You must be joking." They said that it had taken them 18 months to get the spikes removed from the community playground which were a danger to their children.

As noble Lords will know, Hackney is one of the councils which is in very deep financial trouble. Then came the result of the Parents' Ballot Campaign. There was more than a 94 per cent. majority and more than a 55 per cent. turn out. The poll is almost more remarkable than the final vote.

The abolition of the ILEA cannot improve standards of education. The disruption and reorganisation will create a blight in London education for years, certainly for the school life of many thousands of children who are now at school. They only have one chance and one education. This proposal cannot widen choice. The confinement to individual boroughs and the cuts in spending are bound to narrow choice. We do not believe that this proposal has anything to do with improved standards, wider choice, parental choice or the paramountcy of the child. We think it has everything to do with politics.

Throughout the Bill there runs the theme of centralisation. I thought that the Secretary of State had about 180 new powers but I am out of date. The noble Baroness, Lady David, said that he had over 300. At every turn the powers of the LEAs are diminished and the powers of the Secretary of State increased. As I have said, this may not matter at present, but it may matter in the future. If we had a Government of the far Right or the far Left we would be enabling the Secretary of State of such a Government by this Bill to have some very dangerous powers.

Good work in education has been done in the past by this Government—I am thinking of the GCSE and the TVI programmes—but I believe that the Bill in its centralising thrust, in its attempts to reintroduce selective schooling by the back door and in its threat to academic freedom presents a grave threat to the education service as we know it. We must be prepared to challenge it at every step.

4.13 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of London

My Lords, after 44 years it is right that the basic legislative framework of our education system should be reviewed. The Bill presently before the House—I too am grateful to the noble Baroness for her introduction—signifies the decision of the Government that the present situation demands a new, radical Act that will restructure the education system.

I must say that I too regret that, having taken such a decision, the Government did not recognise that it demanded far more time for consultation than was made available. I wish to express my gratitude to the Secretary of State for his accessibility and for his willingness to listen. I should not wish in any way to minimise my gratitude for that which I have much appreciated. But at the same time having to deal with this matter in a very short space of time as the Bill is going through Parliament has in my judgment seriously affected the possibility of a coherent Bill being produced.

It is not surprising that many who support the Bill's overall objectives, as I do, have serious concern about the method of its proposed implementation and the details of its administrative provisions. However, that is now in the past. Given the realities of the situation, we must concentrate on the future. This House must use its influence so that, depending on one's point of view, a potentially good Bill is made even better or the deficiencies of a basically flawed Bill are remedied.

As with many other pieces of legislation, only time will tell whether this is a good Bill: only time will tell because so much of the Bill leaves a great deal to be spelt out in subsequent orders and regulations. Only time will tell because as regards schools so much will depend on the satisfactory recruitment, training and retention of governors. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, for his remark about the difficulty of getting suitable people to serve as governors. That is a particular problem in some parts of my own diocese in London. Only time will tell whether this is a good Bill because of the as yet unforeseeable extent and impact of grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges. Only time will tell because, whatever merits there may be in the Bill—I believe that there are merits in it—so much will depend on the satisfactory recruitment, retention, motivation and co-operation of staff particularly of head teachers in schools and their teaching and non-teaching staffs.

Rumours have reached me and indeed articles in the press have intimated that the Church has somehow been "bought off" by agreed amendments regarding RE. I wish to take this opportunity to state unequivocally that, although we have our own institutional stake in the system which after all we did begin and although we have a special interest in religious education, the Church of England is concerned for education as a whole and therefore in the Bill as a whole, for county and controlled schools as well as aided, for further and higher education, for the youth service and for adult education.

I am sorry that the Bill which claims the title of "Reform Bill" with its very wide spectrum of educational activity covered in its 198 clauses is silent on the question of the youth service and the adult education service.

I said earlier that I saw merit in the Bill and indeed I do. I have been critical of the consultation process but I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his willingness to listen. Whatever reservations we may have about the means to be adopted, with many others I wish to welcome many of the aims behind the Bill and to acknowledge the part that it has played in focusing attention on important areas of education. I shall mention a few: raising standards, dispelling complacency, involving parents and keeping them better informed, enhancing the role of school governors, devolving more power to the local area, increasing choice, doing more for the 20 per cent. or so of children who for far too long have been getting all too little from their years of schooling, moving towards a national curriculum which is broad, relevant and differentiated, and forcing us to ask questions about the purpose of education.

I welcome the amendments which have already been made (as for example in Clause 12(4)(ii) and in Schedule 10) which means that we now have an additional mention of children with special education needs.

I believe that all children have certain needs today in relation to our pluralist society wherever they live. If it does not prove possible to include such a reference in the Act, I hope that any later guidance on the national curriculum will accommodate that area of concern. I could wish for some indication that the Government had taken heed of the Swann Report.

I warmly welcome Clause 1(2) which again seems to me to indicate that attention was indeed paid to responses to the consultative document on the national curriculum. I commend the reference to the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical elements for a balanced and broadly based curriculum. The importance of the spiritual area of experience is recognised by many who have no religious axe to grind. For example, it was recognised by Her Majesty's Inspectors in their admirable red book Curriculum 11–16, where it is listed as one of eight areas of experience.

Although the national curriculum proposals in the Bill are largely subject based, I note that the Secretary of State has often referred to cross-curricular approaches, and it is interesting to recall what the HMI document had to say about that in connection with the spiritual area of experience: the spiritual aspects of human experience can be explored for example, through art, music and drama, as well as in say, history, literature and religion, but those planning the exploration need to know where they are going, and those engaged in it need to be helped to recognise what they have discovered". I hope that those responsible for the national curriculum will bear those words in mind.

I should like to turn to the subject of religious education. I welcome, as do the Churches, the undertaking of the Secretary of State as regards religious education which was given during Report stage in another place and is now confirmed in greater detail by the Minister. One of our concerns was that, although there were references to religious and spiritual education in Clause 1, there was no subsequent reference to it. One had to turn up the old 1944 Act to discover matters to give it any substance. Now it has been put in the Bill as it now stands. It is given a higher profile as an essential part of the basic curriculum, and it is the first subject to be mentioned.

Although the amendments which are likely to be forthcoming will not go as far as some in the world of religious education would like, I am prepared to acknowledge the undertakings in that area as an acceptable and significant step forward. I need not repeat what is now proposed because it has been admirably stated by the Minister.

However, I should like to endorse what the Minister has said about the response of the Church. The provisions which are to be made present both opportunities and challenges to the Churches. I shall be taking all possible steps to ensure that those opportunities are taken and that the challenges are met by the Churches taking a vigorous and sensitive part in the production of the agreed syllabuses and by providing a supply of good men and women to train as teachers, especially in RE, whether in initial or in-service training. The Churches must not ask the Government to do their job for them. It is for the Churches to respond to the opportunities which those amendments will provide.

I welcome the Government's intention to reinforce the agreed syllabus machinery. Although it has been in operation for some time, it can still produce good syllabuses adapted to local situations. With very few exceptions, most agreed syllabuses accord a proper importance to the place of Christianity.

Perhaps I may give two examples. The first comes from Hampshire. The syllabus is very important because it has been adopted by about 20 LEAs—over one-quarter of those adopting new syllabuses in the last 10 years. It is said that the content of the syllabus, will be drawn largely from the study of Christianity in its many forms". The second example comes from Birmingham in 1975. It states: It is important that all pupils should study Christianity in some depth since it is the faith which has moulded and had the greatest influence on British life and character". Notwithstanding that and the fact that only two or three agreed syllabuses do not provide for teaching to be predominantly Christian, there are those who wish to press for an explicit requirement in the legislation that it should be. However, although I can understand their concern, I have grave doubts about the wisdom of such a proposal. I know that the other Churches share my doubts. There is nothing new about that. A similar suggestion was made in a debate in this House in 1944. The arguments against such an amendment then were set out on behalf of the Government by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who was a devoted Christian and churchman. Those arguments seem to me to be just as valid today. However, I shall listen carefully to the arguments of those pressing for that provision.

Perhaps in passing I may quote the head of a RE department who has just written to me. She says: The effect of GCSE must not be underestimated. In spite of the many criticisms directed against GCSE, it has one really great asset. Each of the boards offers a Christianity option in the religious studies syllabus. For the first time in my teaching career I can teach for examination purposes some Church history, Christian doctrine, the Sacraments, ways of worship and the ecumenical movement". She adds: Candidates are actually expected to know the Apostles' Creed". As regards school worship, I should like to welcome the Bill's relaxation of the requirement of the 1944 Act with the greater flexibility which will be given to schools. That is a flexibility which I advocated in giving evidence to a Select Committee of another place.

Turning to grant-maintained schools, as has been widely anticipated and predicted, without opposing them in principle, I have reservations about the procedure for schools to acquire that status, as well as having grave doubts about the particular means of procuring the laudable aims of increasing choice and giving people more local autonomy.

I understand that the Secretary of State has set his face against amending the clause which deals with voting by parents to set the wheels in motion for acquiring grant-maintained status. I hope that he will reconsider his stance on that matter. I understand that he believes that the simple majority of those voting formulae has served the country well and that he is out of sympathy with alternative "fancy franchises", as he has called them.

To my mind it is not a question of a simple, plain franchise or a fancy franchise but a question of what is an appropriate franchise, bearing in mind that parents whose children will be in the school once a decision on the school's status has been implemented will have no say, yet other parents whose children will have left by the implementation date will have a vote. Choice is a complex and complicated creature. The exercise and fulfilment of some people's choice with grant-maintained schools and the proposals for open enrolment may well have the effect of restricting the choice available to other people. It may have a deleterious effect on other schools and possibly lead to the creation of racially segregated schools.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, the interest of the Church of England in the Bill is not confined to Church schools, religious education and Church colleges. It is now, as it always has been, a concern for education and the philosophy which must inevitably underlie it as an indispensable element in the development of people both as individuals and as members of society. It is that overarching concern, with its respect for truth as such and not merely for productivity, which leads me to share the concern for academic freedom. I hope that your Lordships will hear later in the debate from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester on that point.

That same concern leads me to hope for an amendment to the clause relating to the polytechnics funding council to secure endorsement in legislation of the Church' commitment in higher education. That is a commitment which the Secretary of State has welcomed and which he says he wishes to see maintained.

Before I sit down. I must say somthing as the Bishop of London with regard to the proposal relating to the abolition of ILEA. Frankly, I view the future with dismay. Whatever the deficiencies or extravagances of ILEA, the prospect of a simple devolution to the boroughs and in a relatively short time is most alarming. If the necessary special and advisory services are to be provided to meet the extraordinary needs of inner London, that can only be done without unnecessary and very expensive duplication by some form of unitary authority to operate in those spheres.

There are different views about the abolition of ILEA, but in my experience I find on all sides the belief that simple devolution to the boroughs, some very small, will neither meet the needs of inner London nor serve to provide the stability which the Churches in inner London so desperately seek. The Churches have positive suggestions to meet this need which we shall be putting to the Secretary of State. If necessary, I shall seek to secure amendments in later stages. I shall look very carefully at the guidelines about which the Minister spoke, but I doubt whether they will allay our concern as they will presumably be based on direct devolution.

A Bill as wide-ranging as this cannot but arouse anxieties. The draft before your Lordships, with its 198 clauses, suggests that the education world is in for a considerable period of settling down, sorting out, trying to implement the requirements of the Act and I am sure coping with many unforeseen outcomes. This will make great demands on all involved in the education service when for so long so many have been crying out for a period of stability. Ensuring that the positive and constructive potential in this Bill is nurtured and brought to fruition will call for the highest standards of public service in all local institutions by those who teach and by those who administer at whatever level and from government great sensitivity towards and understanding of all those who will be carrying out their work in the context of a restructured service, the service which will in some form result from the Education Reform Act of 1988.

4.32 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Hooper on explaining so clearly this long, complicated but very important Bill before the House today, and by saying to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that we look forward to hearing what he has to say in opening tomorrow, as well as to the speeches by the two main speakers.

I support this Bill. At its heart is the importance of education standards—those concerned with proposals on the national curriculum, on assessment and testing, on financial delegation to schools and on the secondary principle, which is greater parental choice through open enrolment, through the development of the city technology colleges, and the opportunity for schools to opt out if they so wish.

Time is limited, and today I shall concentrate on one aspect only of the Bill. I shall not refer at all to special education, though I believe that to be a very important aspect of the Bill and I welcome the amendments already in it and the very helpful memorandum sent by my noble friend's department on that subject. Nor shall I comment on ILEA, important though that is, except to say that at the time of the election the Government went to the country on the principle that the boroughs could individually opt out. It was clear that three were going to do so and that two more were almost certainly going to. That would have left a very confused picture; and that would have been the alternative to what is in the Bill. I shall say nothing today about higher education, although I regard that as very important, although like many others I greatly welcome the amendments that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made to the original Bill to meet many of the real concerns that have been expressed by the universities.

All of us have seen enormous changes in education over the past 50 years, whether it be in the organisation of education, in teaching methods or in the whole development of the child-centred philosophy. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when I served on a local education authority, the authority operated the tripartite system, which had much to recommend it. One of the many reasons why that system came to be criticised was that it was said that the less able were labelled as failures and almost by definition failed. That was replaced by the comprehensive system, now in operation almost entirely throughout local education authorities. But after 20 years of comprehensive schools, particularly many in the inner cities, it has become clear that it is just those children in the middle range of ability and at the lower end of the ability scale who are not doing as well as they should. The evidence of Professor Price is that those children are at least two years behind their German and Japanese counterparts in mathematics. That is unacceptable.

It is not good enough to criticise that evidence, as some educationists have, on the grounds that reference to standards has relevance only to what is happening in competitor countries". That seems to me to be a most dangerous statement. It is particularly dangerous when one considers that only today my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my noble friend Lord Young are explaining about 1992. We have to face a highly competitive world, and it is unrealistic not to recognise that.

Furthermore, reports from the schools inspectorate indicate that far too many children throughout the ability range under-achieve. I saw much evidence of that when I was in the Department of Education and Science. The fact that there is such a wide variation in standards—of course there are some very good schools, but not all reach a high standard—is worrying for parents. We see that parents are in fact voting with their feet, and against all the expected evidence the fall in school rolls and the high level of fees—more children, a higher percentage than ever before, are going to independent schools. There is evidence that many more parents would choose independent schools if they could afford to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, has indicated that the education establishment is unhappy, and I do not believe it is good enough to suggest that we are now in the best of all possible worlds. Quite simply, we are not. Nor is it good enough for the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, to say that we are basing this Bill on political expediency. There is a very real concern about what is happening to the education of the children of this country. I expect there will be agreement throughout the whole House that as a country we require an increasingly skilful population. There will be fewer unskilled jobs in the future. It is not a kindness to anybody, least of all to the pupils themselves in school, to pretend that that is not so. They will need the greatest skills that they can acquire to face the rest of this century, let alone the 21st century.

This brings me to the proposals within the Bill, the most important aspect of which is the national curriculum, the three core subjects and the six foundation subjects, applied as far as the core subjects are concerned throughout the 11 years of compulsory education. That overcomes one current criticism of education; that is, that far too soon a great many children specialise and drop subjects. Under the foundation subjects all pupils will be obliged to keep up a range of subjects to the GCSE. That must be welcomed.

I also welcome what my noble friend said this afternoon, and what has become increasingly clear; that the Government now have a much more flexible approach to the national curriculum and the amount of time spent on subjects. Many teachers have stressed to me the importance of maintaining the ability to teach three sciences—biology, physics and chemistry—classics and a second modern language, as well as those many other subjects which have already been enumerated, including home economics and the subjects on life skills. I am sure we all welcomed and greatly appreciated the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I very much welcome what has been said about religious education.

I think we are going to need a much clearer definition of what is meant by "technology"; and no doubt we shall have a debate on what we mean by the whole range of subjects summed up by the description "personal qualities" which are undoubtedly important. I also hope that, in any testing and assessment, matters such as attendance records will be regarded as very important. After all, if you are not in school you are not learning.

At the end of the day it is the content of the subject which really matters. The success or failure of this legislation will hinge on that. We shall all need to be assured that the proposals made by the National Curriculum Council and the working parties will meet the criticisms that have been made. I welcome the statement made last week by the Secretary of State for Education and Science that the content of the curriculum for teachers in training is to be reviewed and revised.

The second principle is that the education system should be more responsive to the users and to those most concerned—the parents and the employers. Both have a very important role to play under this Bill, particularly as school governors. The proposals on open enrolment will build on success. The immensely imaginative scheme for city technology colleges will replace what were called the technical secondary schools, which fulfilled a very valuable aspect but which have long since disappeared—and, personally, I deeply regretted their demise.

Although I recognise that there is a great deal of concern about opting out, my reading of the Bill suggests that it will not be easy for a school to opt out; nor, indeed, should it be. But it provides flexibility and gives power and choice to parents who are dissatisfied with the local education authority and who feel that their children are trapped in a school about whose principles they feel deeply unhappy.

In preparing what I might say I asked two organisations with which I am concerned—the National Westminster Bank and Marks and Spencer, both of which take on thousands of school leavers each year—what they were looking for. It is interesting that both emphasised the personal qualities of reliability, of attendance records and of being able to work as a team and co-operatively, as important and as aspects which must not be lost sight of in the curriculum.

I shall conclude with a word about the teachers. I welcome very much the remarks made by my noble friend the Minister and by the noble Baroness, Lady David. If this Bill is to work the teachers' support is essential. They have had a bad press recently. I hope that we can now put the unhappy affair of last year's strike behind us. Yet the fact is that thousands of teachers did not strike. At this very moment, while we debate, there are thousands of conscientious and dedicated teachers who do not get into the columns of the press and on whom the education service depends.

We must recognise that teachers face a much more difficult world today than the one in which most of your Lordships were at school. They have to cope with innumerable changes, from the use of computers to the new examination systems such as GCSE and new courses like TVEI. They also have to deal with far more disruptive pupils. That is a statement which is made by every teacher to whom I have spoken. That problem has many causes, not least the ever-rising number of pupils who come from broken homes. But that is a subject for another debate. I think that we must recognise the importance of the teachers, we must recognise the problems which they have to face, and we must hope they will understand what we say.

Like all your Lordships I have been deluged with letters about this Bill. I have tried to read all of them. I have been struck by how many are based on inaccurate information. It is important that in the course of the Committee and later stages of this Bill we get across what the Bill actually says about the curriculum, about the subjects, about opting out and about testing and assessment. I trust that to those who are willing to listen—and I hope there will be many—we shall be able to give the assurances for which they look.

Those of us who are taking part in the debate on this Bill and those of us in the education service are in truth on the same side in wanting to see a better standard of education for all our children. I wish the Bill well. It is far too important to fail.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Bill before the House will do serious damage to our education system if it is enacted without substantial amendment. It is riddled with false assumptions about the existing system. It is a tragic missed opportunity as far as concerns remedying defects, and of course there are defects. It is a piece of social engineering based on the ideology of the market place. As such it is flawed in its conception because a free market can never operate in relation to a public good like education in the way that it can operate for consumer goods like television sets or motor cars.

A moral order based on the exercise of individual self-interest in a market society is not one to which many of us on this side of the House would in any case wish to aspire. Moreover, in the end it may be self-defeating because choice based on market principles in a public service such as education may well end up by eliminating some of the choice which already exists, as I shall try to show later. The Bill is full of internal inconsistencies with respect to one of its most important objectives—the provision of greater choice for parents.

Perhaps the most serious of the false assumptions on which it is based concerns the views of parents. The Government continually ascribe views to parents for which there is not a scrap of evidence. We are led to believe that parents are deeply dissatisfied with the nature of schooling in this country and in particular that they believe that the switch to comprehensive secondary education has been a failure. All the survey evidence suggests quite the reverse. Most polls show an extremely high level of satisfaction. Certainly during the long and damaging teachers' industrial action that satisfaction fell. That was the fault of the Government whose handling of the teachers' pay claim could not have been more inept.

The evidence also suggests that parents support the comprehensive principle. In authorities where there has been an attempt to swing back to selection parental opposition has been so strong that the authorities have been forced to change their minds. In spite of what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just said, parents are not fools. They know that bringing back grammar schools also means bringing back secondary modern schools. Does the noble Baroness believe that less able children did better in those schools? All the evidence suggests quite the contrary.

Nor is there too much evidence that parents want to take over the running of schools. While they nearly all want to be involved in the education of their own children as far as possible, that does not extend to running the schools completely. Few have either the time or inclination and most would prefer to leave it to others with more expertise.

Turning to the lost opportunities, where in this Bill are the clauses creating universal nursery education? Where are the clauses dealing with the failure of the system to retain more young people in full time education after the age of 16? Where are the clauses creating an entitlement to adult education so that those who missed out earlier can catch up later? It is now over 20 years since the Plowden Report recommended nursery education for all children whose parents wanted it. It is nearly 15 years since Mrs. Thatcher's White Paper accepted the Plowden proposals, yet we are still far short of the necessary number of places. The Government are fond of referring to the French so far as concerns the national curriculum. Why do they not follow the example of France on pre-school provision, where 90 per cent. of the age group benefit? Why do they not look to Sweden and Germany for ideas on how to keep young people in full-time education after the school leaving age? We are now close to the bottom of the OECD league in this respect and that is a disgrace.

In commenting on the Bill before us, I want to focus on those parts concerned with schools. The proposals for a national curriculum involve a quite terrifying concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State. We are told that he will seek advice. However, that is little consolation when we hear that he will hand pick all those who give him advice. No other education body has a right to nominate those advisers. Can it really be right to give so much control over the vital matter of the content of what children learn to one person? Is not the Institute of Economic Affairs—hardly known for its Left-wing tendencies—right to be worried when it says, not the school, not the teacher, not the parent, not the pupil but the Secretary of State shall decide … it is frightening to think that Chapter I will give enormous power over what 7 million children are to be taught to a very few people and ultimately to one man"? As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, has implied, this or any future Secretary of State will be able to impose his whims with virtually no safeguards. In a healthy constitution is this the kind of legislation that we want?

What I find puzzling is the about-turn that the Government have done since 1986 when the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, told this House: The Government like its predecessors has no intention of introducing central control and imposing a rigid framework in place of the healthy local diversity we now enjoy … The preference to make central priorities prescriptive would be to trespass on the ability of locally elected authorities and the schools themselves to respond to local priorities in setting their own curriculum policies within broad areas of agreement". What has happened to produce such an extraordinary volte-face? While no one would dissent from the need to develop a flexible core curriculum, the Government's proposals go far beyond this. They will deprofessionalise teachers and lead, I fear, to a further decline in their morale. In spite of all the populist talk about parents, they are not mentioned. Choice for pupils will be more restricted and there is a serious danger of ossification and an inadequate responsiveness to change.

Open enrolment and opting out are simply a massive "con" trick on suspecting parents. They also represent a more cynical and ruthless attempt to undermine local government than any we have seen so far even from this Government. They are not simply random ideas to deal with particular problems as perceived by the Government. They are part of a concerted effort both to destroy local education authorities as we know them and to operate the education system on the basis of a rather nasty version of the survival of the fittest.

Let me take open enrolment first. The 1980 Act set out a framework which made it possible through admission limits for local authorities to seek an orderly reduction in school rolls at a time of dramatic demographic decline. Above all, it has ensured that children are protected in under-subscribed schools. Since over 90 per cent. of parents are able to send their children to their first choice of schools—I repeat, my Lords over 90 per cent.—the introduction of open enrolment is in any case quite unnecessary. It will also have a number of unfortunate effects. Some schools will be overcrowded with over-large classes. Others will be uneconomically small. It will be hard to achieve high standards in both. It will be particularly difficult to maintain the curriculum in the unduly small schools except at extremely high cost. More children travelling to school from outside their own locality will lead to children living closer being denied places and therefore to increased transport costs.

However, the main problems are, first, that parents' expectations may be raised unrealistically. There can never be completely open enrolment because the practical issues of space prevent it. Secondly, the sensible managment of demographic change in the interests of all pupils will be impossible. Thirdly, the choice for parents in the end will be reduced as schools collapse and eventually have to be closed.

Even more controversial are the proposals for grant-maintained schools. The Government's purpose in inventing this creature is clearly to create a new tier of semi-selective schools. They have found that they cannot bring back grammar schools because public opinion is against them, so they have invented a new way of doing so by the back door. It is nonsense for the Secretary of State to claim that no school will be allowed to change its status, thus preventing the reintroduction of selection. Once head teachers no longer have to apply local authority guidelines, all the pressures on them will be to select the most disciplined, the most manipulable, brightest children; and to keep out the potentially disruptive children, those with difficult and unsupportive parents, and those with special needs. The schools will select the parents rather than the parents selecting the schools. Pressure will be exerted to keep up high test scores and high examination results and to keep down the extra costs associated with special needs, with remedial teaching, and with pastoral work for those with family problems. There can be little hope that grant-maintained schools will contribute to the much-needed integration of children with special needs into mainstream education.

The Bill fails to provide answers to many important questions about the creation and operation of these schools. How is a parent to be defined for the purpose of balloting on opting out? Can an application go to the Secretary of State even if a tiny minority of parents vote in the ballot? What will the Secretary of State do when schools opt out to avoid closure? Will he accept such applications and thus prevent sensible economies and rationalisation that he advocates for local authorities? How will grant-maintained schools provide all the back-up services currently available from LEAs? Who will take on the complex task of working out charges—assuming that they will have to pay for these services—and then for administering such a scheme? What will happen if a community school opts out? Will its facilities be lost to the community?

There are many more unanswered questions about the proposal, and we need the answers. However, the fundamental, unanswered question is this. Why create this new brand of school? The ostensible reason is to give at least some schools more freedom and autonomy and thereby to widen choice. There are other parts of this Bill—namely, financial delegation—that will provide just that freedom and autonomy. Therefore why also have maintained schools? As I have said before, in spite of all the rhetoric about choice for parents, it will be reduced in most cases because the schools will do the choosing rather than the parents.

Finally, I should like to say something about the proposals in the Bill to abolish the ILEA. As a parent, an ex-school governor and an ex-chief officer in this authority, I have some knowledge of its strengths and weaknesses—perhaps rather more than the Secretary of State, who has not sent his children to ILEA schools although he lives in London. Of course the authority has some weaknesses; most organisations do. However, the Government have chosen to dwell only on them and indeed greatly to exaggerate them and to give no credit for its many innovations which have now been adopted by the Government themselves. Who introduced parent governors first? Who pioneered graded assessment? Who introduced a measure of financial devolution to schools? Who was the first to grant independent status to its polytechnics? The answer to all those questions is the ILEA.

The Government's main complaint has been of high spending; but they have failed to acknowledge the far greater spending in London by the Metropolitan Police and by social services departments than elsewhere. Indeed the "London effect" in these areas is far greater than in education. Greater social need requires greater social spending. In any case, the Government do not need to abolish the ILEA to control spending on inner London education. They have invented rate-capping. As a result nearly £100 million is being cut from the ILEA's budget this very year.

The second main complaint is about its so-called poor standards. As my noble friend Baroness David has said, here the Government take a position that is out of line with what their most senior expert adviser, the senior chief inspector in the DES, believes to be the case. He has described primary provision as similar to that found in the country as a whole; provision for under-fives as among the best in the country; further education as generally good and in some cases excellent; and adult education as a first rate service in every respect. It is only the secondary stage on which he is critical. To my knowledge there is no senior responsible person in the ILEA who does not admit that major efforts have to be made to improve the overall quality of secondary education. Work is going on at this time to achieve that.

It should also be noted that an analysis of examination results carried out by the University of Sheffield indicates that the ILEA comes 56th in a league table of 96 authorities. What are the Government doing about the 40 authorities with lower scores? Are they intending to abolish all those also?

If a government decide to abolish a major organisation such as the ILEA they have some responsibility to ensure that the alternatives they are proposing will be an improvement. The Government have totally abrogated all responsibility in this respect in their pursuance of a disgraceful act of political spite. The boroughs are far too small to provide the range of support services needed, especially for an area as deprived as inner London. They will be unable to attract the high quality administrators and advisers needed. They will be unable to provide the range of specialist provision offered by the ILEA whether in special education, in music or in adult education. Their record in relation to their existing services cannot give confidence about their performance as education authorities. Finally, they have quite enough changes to contend with as a result of other legislation in housing, employment matters and especially in relation to local government finance.

London parents are aware of all those reasons. They fear for their children's education if the ILEA is abolished, which is why so many voted for its retention. Do the Government intend to ignore this overwhelming vote in favour of the ILEA and yet pretend that they take the views of parents seriously?

I speak as one of the beneficiaries of that great piece of education reform, the Butler Act 1944. The tragedy of the Bill before us is that it will undermine many of Rab Butler's great achievements by destroying his carefully constructed partnership between central and local government, by selling parents a phoney, cardboard cut-out version of choice and by reconstructing many of the inequalities in education provision which people in all parties have worked so hard to remove since 1944. We are only too well aware of the need to improve the skills and the understanding of all our people, not just the few who can fight their way into a segregated group of good schools. In this Bill the Government, far from creating opportunities for all our people, are letting down employers, parents, teachers and the children themselves on whom our future depends. The nation will suffer if the philosophy behind this Bill is allowed to prevail and its ill-thought out and destructive proposals are implemented.

5.2 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, it falls to me to outline briefly and broadly where I and my colleagues in the SDP stand on this Bill, particularly in relation to schools. Later today my noble friends Lord Flowers and Lord Perry of Walton will apply their great knowledge and experience to the provisions for higher and further education. Tomorrow my noble friends Lord Young of Dartington, Lord Hanworth and Lady Stedman will address various topics that fall within the Bill.

Recently there has undoubtedly been great concern in the country about the situation in schools, but the Government's response disappoints because this is not so much an education reform Bill as a reform of the machinery of education. The trouble is that the no doubt genuine desire of the Secretary of State to improve the quality of education is inextricably entwined with the Government's long-running institutional quarrel with local authorities. So the message of the Bill becomes blurred, and its thrust blunted, as vast tracts of it are not to do with education at all but with rearranging the bureaucratic boundaries. One must to some extent discount the outraged cries of the providers of education whose monopolies are threatened. It is hard to see how the standard of education will be improved speedily across the country, especially as very little additional money appears to be contemplated to fund the teacher recruitment and training on which the new curriculum must depend.

On the whole our attitude is one of some scepticism concerning what the Bill will achieve in schools, although there are aspects of it that we can support. I am quite unable to muster the degree of antipathy to the Bill expressed in some speeches so far. I shall endeavour to make my comments less condemnatory than practical. I shall deal first with those areas of the Bill which cause us least difficulty.

As regards the curriculum, we support the need for education on a broader and more balanced front up to the age of 16 years. None of us can now hope to be Renaissance man or even late 17th century Royal Society man—though no doubt some distinguished speakers this evening may approach that—with a grasp of virtually the whole realm of knowledge. But early specialisation and a lack of bridges across the science-humanities divide have bedevilled our system for too long. It is good that the Government have indicated more flexibility over the time to be allocated to core and foundation subjects both overall and separately.

However, there are serious worries about resource implications. There is a shortage of teachers and equipment in at least three of the areas that the Government want to promote: science, CDT and modern languages. What are the Government going to do about that? There is no mention of any allocation for this purpose in the financial memorandum at the beginning of the Bill. I also have some reservations about the prescriptive curricular mix. As a nation we are indeed weak linguists, but is it really sensible to force a modern language on pupils up to the age of 16 who show no aptitude? At the very least an expanded programme of intensive immersion in language laboratories and plenty of foreign trips will be required. Have the Government faced up to the costs implications of that?

I am extremely concerned about what will happen to that indeterminate and tricky area in which health and sex education meet. Will the AIDS threat be handled as part of biology if the governors are against sex education? What is the role of the HEA in relation to schools? Of course I do not expect the noble Baroness to answer these questions in detail after another 70 odd speeches, but I shall certainly be tabling amendments to try to get some answers.

Turning now to open enrolment—here I part company with some of the previous speakers—I do not myself see the need for such rigid control over admission numbers. It is said that only 4 or 5 per cent. do not get their first choice. But the fact is that there are over 10,000 annual appeals and those who appeal may only be the tip of the iceberg of dissatisfaction. However it does not seem sensible or feasible to pin the number to the baseline of 1979–80 in view of subsequent developments such as the new requirements regarding the integretation of pupils with special needs—of which I have been reminded by the Quaker Board of Social Responsibility and Education—the pressures of the GCSE and the fact that most of the Government's favourite subjects, notably science, languages and CDT, are big consumers of space. Surely we do not want Portakabin schools burgeoning like educational caravan sites all over the country. There must be a sensible balance to be struck here, whereby local authorities and governors in maintained schools can agree the limit but must show good cause for its retention when there are complaints. There may be some better mechanism, but this is something we ought to pursue in Committee.

On local financial management—the subject of Clauses 25 to 41—we have no difficulty in principle. As is well known, this pattern of financial devolution was pioneered successfully with all-party agreement in Cambridge so we have a good pilot scheme to go on, which cannot be said for some other proposals in the Bill. Obviously the scope of devolution is limited as 70 per cent. of a school's outgoings are accounted for by wages, but taking marginal decisions on priorities undoubtedly gives parents a more meaningful role. The main worries concern training for heads and deputies and the likely need for a finance director in larger schools. The fear is that blanket imposition could be chaotic if the way is not prepared. Paragraph 3 of that part of the memorandum dealing with the financial effects of the Bill does not seem to me very realistic when it says: Costs in individual authorities should be offset by the more effective use of resources as decision making is delegated to those directly responsible. Training programmes and the provision of specialist advice will need to be directed to support governors and head teachers in managing their budgets". There is no mention of any additional money there, though I believe there has been some talk of specific grants for training. I think the noble Baroness mentioned some initiative in this field and possibly she could expand on that when she winds up.

I now turn to the more contentious parts of the Bill. The provisions for opting-out, Clauses 49 to 92, have caused a great deal of controversy. The Secretary of State claimed on Sir Robin Day's "Question Time", last Thursday evening that he is merely trying to respond to parental concern about bad education. It must be accepted that this concern exists and that there is therefore an argument for giving dissatisfied parents an exit route from a bad or tyrannous authority. There is also attraction in the concept of a plurality of providers as a means of increasing variety and choice. But the Government's method has a number of serious drawbacks. One is that it can be taken as an escape route from an LEA's proposed reorganisation—for example, the creation of a sixth form college or a tertiary college which could be of great advantage to all the children in the area. The second is that privileged treatment for grants could be given to grant-maintained schools thus giving them an unfair advantage over LEA schools, as has already been mentioned. But perhaps the most serious of all is that, after the initial five years, it could and may well—and in fact probably will—lead to a reintroduction of selection which has already been mentioned. I should like to make quite clear our opposition to that.

In a recent speech my right honourable friend Dr. David Owen drew attention to the fact that, according to the evidence, over the past 20 years the performance of non-selective schools in the maintained sector has improved. A slightly higher proportion of pupils at 16 are now attaining five O-levels or CSE equivalents and, on the whole, comprehensive education has out-performed the old grammar school/secondary modern system. There can be no going back on that. That is our bottom line and it is largely why my colleagues in the other place voted against the Second Reading of the Bill.

On these grounds our support for opting out is conditional on strong safeguards against selectivity and a proper threshold for the parental ballot. A simple majority of voting parents on so important an issue is simply not enough, as has already been said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. A number of alternative and better formulae were proposed in Standing Committee in another place, ranging from 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote to two-thirds of those actually voting. No doubt similar amendments will be tabled here and we shall support them. They are backed not only by the Opposition parties but also by Conservative Back-Benchers. At Report stage in another place the honourable Member for Cambridge, for example, said that he strongly supported the principle of opting out but that he believed that the decision must be made by a majority of all parents. We agree with that belief. After all the fact that they have set such an artificially low trigger mechanism does not say very much for the Government's faith in the popularity of opting out.

Another idea is that there should be stronger requirements on the Secretary of State to take into account overall local conditions before permitting a school to opt out. We should also investigate that idea in Committee. It may be appropriate to add here that my noble friend Lord Young of Dartington has a different idea of how parental choice can be increased within the existing system. He is proposing to explain that idea to your Lordships tomorrow and I am taking this opportunity of flagging what I hope will be another interesting speech from this Bench.

Finally, I should like to turn to the proposals for the abolition of the ILEA, dealt with in Clauses 141 to 168. I should declare an interest as an ILEA parent who voted in the ballot, although I may appear to be rather old for that role. None the less, it is the case. In respect of this matter I believe that we must keep cool heads and not allow our judgment as a revising Chamber to be clouded by rhetoric, whether from the pro- or anti-abolitionist camps. The Government's original idea, which this replaces, was not very good. However, just because two prominent Back-Benchers in another place—neither of them Members for Inner London constituencies—have chosen this issue as a platform for their own political ends and forced their supposedly clean and simply solution on the Government, does not mean that we must also accept it without the most rigorous scrutiny.

Let us first take the case for the prosecution, which I believe must be admitted. I suspect that there may well have been a leakage of sympathy in your Lordships' House since the ILEA was set up in its present form. That is not only because of the much publicised errors of taste and judgment by the authority but also because of its failure under its previous leader to control the unions, redeploy teachers or manage the budget. I accept those criticisms. However, I cannot refrain from reminding your Lordships that, if the Government had accepted our proposals for a proportionally elected authority, for which the ILEA was tailor-made, we should not have had this highly-politicised, union-dominated leadership, or the resultant bad management. I expected the usual guffaw when I mentioned PR and I was glad not to hear it.

Those are the sins; now to the defence. The errors must be admitted and I believe that the present leader is much more aware of them than was his predecessor. Then come the incontrovertible facts, some of which have been rehearsed. The mixture of ethnic minorities and deprivation in London is unparalleled in the country. Many of the ILEA support, research and special services have won high praise. Its adult education is an absolute lifeline to so many people who have written to me and, no doubt, to other noble Lords. Some of them would willingly pay more for it if the authority would drop its ideological objection. The successful organisation of sixth form and tertiary colleges, of which there are a number of excellent examples, also requires cross-boundary flow and so forth. It can be seen that there are arguments on both sides and, no doubt, they will be exhaustively discussed. It is important to ask ourselves what form the discussion should take.

The parents' ballot cannot be dismissed. It delivered a much better popular majority than any government has enjoyed since the war and the turn out was unusually high for a local government issue. It cannot be brushed aside as a mere pressure-group gimmick. For Mr. Baker to belittle the whole issue, as he sought to do last Thursday on "Question Time", by asking flippantly, "Who on earth misses the GLC?" (or words to that effect) is totally to miss the point. The defunct GLC had very few important powers and that is why Mr. Livingstone branched out into foreign policy. On the other hand, the Inner London Education Authority deals on a day-to-day basis with our children, the life-blood of our capital.

I suggest that in these circumstances there is only one sensible and indeed honourable thing for the Government to do. They should withdraw these clauses which totally ignore the danger of turning over many of our children to a much more politically polarised authority than the ILEA. They should exercise the power that they already have under Section 22 of the Local Government Act 1985—already mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady David—to institute a review of the ILEA at any time before March, 1991. The Secretary of State is then obliged to lay that before Parliament. In my submission, that mechanism should be set in motion forthwith, allowing time for a thorough assessment well before the next ILEA elections due in March, 1990. On that basis we can then decide whether we still want a unitary authority for all London education or perhaps for only some aspects of it, and if so, whether it should be elected or appointed, and so forth. I strongly suggest to your Lordships, whether noble Lords are intuitively for or against such an authority, that this is now the only proper way to proceed; rather than the irresponsible and cavalier fashion proposed in the Bill. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will support that point of view.

There are many topics that I have not touched upon. They will be dealt with by my noble friends. Believers as we are in multi-party politics and democratic pluralism, we are fully prepared to enter into constructive co-operation with those of all parties or none to secure improvements to the Bill.

5.17 p.m.

Lord Swann

My Lords, a quartet of Cross-Bench Peers, all of us scientists, have felt most concerned with the issue of academic freedom raised in the Bill. A while ago we decided that there should be tabled a reasoned amendment on Second Reading. As only one Peer can put his name to an amendment under that procedure, I did so last week. We had not expected that the use of this procedure—set out in Standing Orders as a means of inviting the House to put on record a particular point of view in assenting to a Bill—would cause so much concern on all sides, but it did. I rapidly came to the conclusion that it would be counter-productive to persist, and regretfully I withdrew the amendment. Well-worn platitudes come to the rescue on such traumatic occasions, and what began as "nothing ventured, nothing gained" ended up as "discretion is the better part of valour". I comfort myself retrospectively by thinking that one lives and learns even at the age of 68.

Nevertheless, I intend to venture forth in a more conventional way. Academic freedom is not a very satisfactory phrase because it means different things to different people. To those who are critical of universities it conjures up quite unwarranted visions of irreponsible or extreme behaviour, or idleness. On the other hand, to academics it is shorthand for a noble concept, embracing what has long been seen as a duty and a responsibility to a free society.

By the phrase "academic freedom" academics mean independent inquiry and the pursuit of truth, wherever that may lead and in whatever area of knowledge. That is far from easy, because by definition new ideas and new knowledge upset the established order of things. In consequence they are often unpopular, on occasions even to other academics. From Socrates through Galileo, to Darwin and on to more abstruse modern concepts, in every area of learning, history is littered with examples of new discoveries and ideas being resisted, sometimes passionately. Yet it is those very advances that have ultimately affected our lives so profoundly, and nearly always for the better.

There have been innumerable advances in the physical sciences on which society and industry depend so profoundly; most recently and most dramatically, I suppose, the computer revolution. As a biologist I think especially of the discoveries that have led to modern medicine and agriculture; yet some of them were resisted or ignored initially and, in some instances, for a long time. I hardly need to remind your Lordships that were this 1850 most of us would be dead because since then, in fact, the expectation of human life has more than doubled.

I should also point out that there are many incapacitating ailments that can now be cured or alleviated where previously they could not. Perhaps the newly arrived spectre of AIDS ought to remind us of the innumerable spectres that hung over our forebears but which no longer hang over us.

I do not want to imply that it is only advances in science that matter. The advances in every corner of knowledge—from the arts to the often unjustly derided social sciences—have led to equally profound if less readily appreciated advances in the understanding of society and mankind. However, the study of human and social behaviour is more complex and more difficult in many ways than the study of natural sciences, and in consequence progress has not been so rapid.

I have referred to the resistance that so often greets new ideas and advances in knowledge. That can even come from within the academic world, and has regularly come from outside it. In past centuries it has come from the Church. Today it usually comes from some sector of society, and in particular from society's organs of government. As one example, let us take the dislike of most Governments for the social sciences. It is this tendency to resist advances in knowledge and understanding that has led the academic world to build up what I shall call an ethos that welcomes new ideas and which abhors attempts to constrain the freedom of inquiry and the subsequent dissemination of new knowledge. Academic freedom therefore has two strands, scholarship and research on the one hand and teaching on the other.

Academics do not themselves invariably live up to this ethos, powerful as it is, but they guard it jealously, whether the threat comes from within or, as nowadays, more often, from without. It is because this Bill looks set to weaken the safeguards that have been established over the years that the world of higher education, and universities in particular, are so concerned.

I want now to look at the perceived threats to academic freedom implicit in the Bill, both internal and external. The internal threat is often related to the proposed abolition of academic tenure. This is in fact fairly recent, and is by no means enjoyed by all universities. Nevertheless it has been a partial protection against staff being dismissed because a university wants to get rid of people whose ideas they do not like, infrequent as this may be. I am therefore glad that the Government intend to arrange for grievance procedures in the event of alleged unfair dismissal, and I think that that concession will go some way towards reassuring the university world.

There is a lot more that I could say about the internal injustices and the disincentives to recruitment and promotion to a poorly paid profession that the abolition of tenure will create, but I do not intend to argue the matter. My time is short, and I know that others mean to do just this.

The perceived external threat to academic freedom, however, is in my view, and in the view of many academics, a cause for considerably greater concern. Even the most enthusiastic supporter of this Bill can scarcely deny that it involves throughout a very marked increase in the centralised control of the whole education system by the Secretary of State.

Turning to universities, about which I know most, I welcome the Secretary of State's readiness to limit his powers a little over the proposed Universities Funding Council. But if there were not to be more central control over university funding, one has to ask why it was necessary to do away with the University Grants Committee, increasingly interventionist as it has become in recent years, and create a new body in its place. But—and it is a very important "but"—when one refers to the Secretary of State one actually means, in all but the most major matters of policy, the officials of the Department of Education and Science. It seems to me therefore that a look at their attitude to academic freedom, and that of other departments, is in order. That is not easily done, but their handling of research in universities by means of contracts is very revealing.

Since the Universities Funding Council is enabled to fund universities by means of contracts, and all the expectations are that they will indeed do so, one can hardly doubt that this will be done in the same sort of way, and by the same sort of people, as presently manage contracts for the Government. I suggest that a look at what happens to individual academics today must surely give one an idea of what might happen to universities tomorrow. Have any of your Lordships, I wonder, ever seen the sort of contract forms that the DES and the DHSS, and for all I know other departments, hand out when they are commissioning research from universities? I have acquired some. They make interesting reading and are all much the same.

One form that I have in my hand has 12 pages and something like 45 paragraphs or sub-paragraphs. Some of the conditions are I suppose acceptable, if pettifogging. Others are far from being acceptable, and I want to summarise a few of the worst. The Secretary of State, for instance, will set up a steering group of his own choice to oversee the research, to whom the researcher has to report whenever required to discuss his work and (I quote precisely) receive the guidance of the steering group". I am told that those groups have become increasingly interventionist. Moreover, the researcher has to have regard to guidance given by the Secretary of State through the steering group or otherwise.

Then, the researcher may not use any questionnaires unless the terms and use have been approved by the Secretary of State. Materials (meaning, it would seem research data collected in the course of work) may not be reproduced or disseminated in the UK or anywhere else without prior consultation with the Secretary of State, nor may they be used for later work without written permission of the Secretary of State. Further, the Secretary of State must be consulted before any written statement, paper or press notice is published, or press or other conference held. A draft of any of these things has to be sent to the Secretary of State well in advance, and publication is subject to his approval.

I can think of no better way of inhibiting good research, of slanting things in the desired direction or of suppressing uncomfortable findings and avoiding political embarrassment. I shudder to think of what will happen to our once proud university system if such thinking creeps into their funding contracts, as seems to me only too possible.

By way of a postscript I should tell your Lordships what the Lords Select Committee on Agriculture and Food Research learnt a few weeks ago; namely, that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's questionnaires and forms for contract funding primarily to the Agricultural Research Council are so immensely involved and complicated that the department is having to lay on training courses for research workers in how to fill them up. In the interests of historical accuracy it should have been recorded in the Minutes, but was not, that their Lordships collapsed in incredulous laughter.

Are your Lordships surprised that universities are apprehensive and mistrustful of the ministerial protestations that they care for academic freedom? I am not exactly mistrustful of Ministers: it is rather that I suspect that all this came about because Ministers once issued curt instructions from a high level about accountability and cost-effectiveness but had very little idea of what would actually happen as a result. If indeed Ministers ever had a sight of all the government-inspired forms and questionnaires that already deluge universities and the research world, wasting endless time and lowering morale yet further, I cannot help wondering if it was in the time-honoured circumstances so beloved by Sir Humphrey Appleby of "Yes, Minister" fame; that is to say, that the papers were tucked away in the pages of some vast report put at the bottom of the last Dispatch Box to be read by the Minister at the end of a particularly exhausting day.

In short, I am saying that government departments are poor managers of men in distant organisations, and especially in creative ones such as universities. It is not their fault. They are told to set up controlling mechanisms, and full-time staff set about it with a will, as is their duty. But I doubt if they have any idea of the mayhem they cause at the sharp end. So I suggest, not entirely with my tongue in my cheek, that a few Ministers and a few Permanent Secretaries should spend a while in some university departments on secondment attempting research, lecturing or examining, on tutorials, seminars or counselling on problem students, but above all on trying, incognito, to raise much needed research contract money from each other's departments. The effect could be dramatic.

I hope that I have made it a little clearer why our quartet of Cross-Bench scientists felt so anxious as to invoke a reasoned amendment at Second Reading, inviting the House to put on record a particular view in assenting to the Bill. I hope also that the Minister and your Lordships might reflect on what we believe are very serious issues.

5.32 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am fully aware of the anxieties which the noble Lord, Lord Swann, has expressed. As with other issues involved in the universities part of this Bill, it seems to me that the proper procedure is to continue the negotiations, putting forward constructive suggestions which allowed, as the noble Lord agreed, a considerable measure of improvement in another place. We hope when we come to Committee stage that these suggestions will enable some of these problems also to be solved. The difficulty is, as the noble Lord agrees, largely a question of finance. To what extent should the financial controls which central government operate elsewhere be applied? Can they be applied to institutions of higher education and particularly to research? I believe we may still have to face a total recasting of university finances and at that point perhaps some of these problems will seem less acute than they do to us in the universities today.

I should like to return to the main thrust of the Bill. This is a Second Reading debate and not a Committee stage. I refer to a point which has already been made by my noble friend Lady Young, and I put it even more brutally. When I read the correspondence that lands on my desk, whether from individuals claiming to be teachers, parents, concerned citizens or whatever, when I read the statements of the various pressure groups in the education world from which some of these personal letters apear to be derived, when, above all, I listened today with great attention, as I always do, to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady David, which incorporated roughly what I have had across my desk from all these opponents of the Bill, I am struck, as I believe my noble friend is, by the total complacency which appears to reign in the education world when it looks at the figures and the facts.

It is a fact that has not been denied that our school-leavers are two or three years behind the Germans and the Japanese. It was pointed out by the Director General of the CBI in a recent speech that our school-leavers, with no formal qualifications, expect incomes five times the size of what can be obtained in the third world by people with technical qualifications. As a society how can we survive and how can we do all these extra things that we were told should be in the Bill? These are excellent provisions such as nursery education, greater rights to adult education or further education. How can we achieve any of these measures in a totally uncompetitive economy? How do we expect an economy to thrive if its raw material, which is the skill of its workforce, is not on a par with that of its competitors? Unless noble Lords opposite can answer that, to my mind their claim to deal seriously with the Bill is a vain one.

I go further. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is not in her place because her speech provided an admirable illustration which I shall have to use in her absence. I believe it is historically correct. Over the past 30 years—this is said in my correspondence from people who oppose the Bill—we have had a high degree of consensus. They say we have had a system of which everybody approves. It gives all children opportunities, besides all the familiar points that we have heard. What they do not say is that it is a consensus based on a false educational philosophy about which the noble Baroness is perhaps the most eloquent but by no means the only exponent in your Lordships' House.

It was somewhat disingenuous of her to quote Lord Butler. It is true that in many respects the Butler Act was an important advance over our previous arrangements in the education world, particularly in generalising the provision of secondary education. However, she appears to have overlooked the fact that long before he died Lord Butler said—it is recorded in his biography written by a Socialist so I have to take it as being true—that the Act had been de-natured by the ideological insistence of the Labour Party on comprehensive education rather than the tripartite system which was the core of his beliefs. After 30 years of their kind of education noble Lords opposite have to explain why, if this consensus on Left-wing education theory is sustainable, Britain is not at the top of every education league, not only by the measurement of mathematical skills, important though that is, but linguistically where I think there is again a poor performance.

Above all, this level of achievement relates to some social aspects to which the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, referred. If the school system is so admirable, why do we have such high rates of truancy and a high degree of vandalism? At teachers' conferences when they get away from claiming more for themselves, why do they almost invariably ask, "What are you going to do to protect us from our pupils and in some cases from the parents of our pupils?".

A school system which produces that kind of social consequences and such poor educational results surely cannot claim to be beyond or above criticism. Noble Lords opposite have to face the fact that the reason for a major Bill is that we need a major revolution in our education provision and this must be underpinned by a new philosophy. This applies to curricula as well. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, produced an example of what I call this Left-wing consensus, the idea that subjects are bad things. Subjects are not bad things. It is a moral discipline for a child to learn the content and the methodology of a particular subject. To bury all this in some cross-cultural porridge is no service.

My final point is addressed to noble Lords on the Labour Benches. They often—and I think rightly—speak very movingly of the plight of the young who go out into the world we have built and fail to find a job. They are absolutely right never to let us forget it. However, I would say to noble Lords opposite that they must look at the reasons for the failure.

One reason is a lack of qualifications. At the moment there is no shortage of jobs for people with a whole range of qualifications. There is a total shortage of jobs for those whom the schools have left out. Noble Lords opposite are not prepared to face that fact and to say that perhaps they should not have listened to the intellectuals in their party, to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but should have taken a straightforward look and asked, "What do our children need, and in particular"—and I speak as the son of immigrants—"what do our immigrant children need?". Above all those children need an introduction to the life skills and techniques which will enable them to earn a living as respected members of our society.

Between the social aims of noble Lords opposite, which I applaud, and their educational aims, which I feel are deplorable, there is something which I hope they may find a way of resolving as this Bill proceeds, successfully, as I believe it will, through your Lordships' House.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, I hope to reply as I go along to one or two of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in his political diatribe. The noble Baroness started her speech by saying that she expected to hear some history. I shall begin by reminding her of a little history.

In the Autumn of 1943 I was on leave from the army and I went to see the principal of my old college in Durham. I sat with him in his study. He told me that Mr. R. A. Butler had spent the previous night there because he was going around the country discussing a new education Bill. Indeed Mr. Butler and Mr. Chuter Ede spent months going round the country discussing their Bill. I have before me a biography of Mr. Butler by Gerald Sparrow in which he talks about, and I quote: the great campaign undertaken by himself and Chuter Ede after the publication of their White Paper in 1943. This was in the nature of a crusade. By touring the country separately and together and addressing all the interested parties, school governors, teachers, the universities, local authorities and the general public, they paved the way for their Bill in Parliament". That was how they tackled it. And because they tackled it in that way, by an intensive period of personal consultation around the country, they produced an agreed measure. Some noble Lords have talked about consensus as though it were a dirty word, but when it comes to education that is what we ought to aim at.

Mr. Butler's Bill was agreed by the Churches and he himself on more than one occasion paid tribute to Archbishop Temple and to Cardinal Hinsley. It was agreed by all the local authority organisations, by all the teachers' organisations and by both sides in Parliament. Not only that but it took account of three major reports on education—the Hadow Report, the Spens Report and the Norwood Report. We have not had a major report on education in the past 10 years to take account of, but Mr. Butler's Bill had all that preparatory period. When it was produced it represented the broadest possible spectrum of consensus about the education system. Compared with that the consultation period for this Bill was a travesty. It was not even agreed in Government.

I have received a great many letters. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I highly respect these letters from the public. I have one before me from the governor of a large high school in the North of England. It says: It is a shame that the Secretary of State has rejected all requests to extend the consultation period. The break-neck speed that legislation is being introduced, together with the distasteful tactics being employed, makes one highly suspicious of the motives of this present Government … When asked to, by the Secretary of State, (in the very, very brief time allowed) many people and organisations gave their views in good faith, believing that the Secretary was genuine in the assertion that the Government wished to obtain broad agreement and it would only act with the agreement of all the partners in the education world". There was no agreement. Not one local authority organisation has agreed with the Bill. No party, apart from the Conservative Party in Parliament, agrees with it. The body representing school governors disagrees with it. Parents disagree with it. The whole education world is opposed to it.

Because of the trouble taken to secure agreement and consensus, the 1944 Act has endured for half a century. This Bill will endure until the next change of government. The Butler Bill endured, first, because it was a flexible Bill—flexible enough to permit enormous changes over the past half century in the methods, the context and the philosophy of education. Secondly, it has endured because it did not try to dot every "i" and cross every "t", as this Bill does. If noble Lords have read the schedules to the Bill they will see that the paternalistic attitude is quite ludicrous. Thirdly, and most importantly, the Butler Bill has endured because it is a masterpiece of how to distribute power in a public service among all the parties to it—to the Minister, the local authorities, the school governors, the parents and the universities. None had too much power and each could check the excesses of the others.

That was so because Mr. Butler believed, as every statesman since 1870 has believed, that of all the public services education should be characterised by the widest possible distribution of powers among all the parties to it away from central government. That is especially so in our democracy as it is today. I remember the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, talking about an elective dictatorship. He was absolutely right. Parliament has lost its ancient function of controlling the Government. The Government now control Parliament. So it is particularly important in our democracy as it is that in a service like education power should be widely distributed.

That view about the public education system has always been held for the obvious reason that the raw material of education, the raw material with which the service deals, is the immature minds of our children and young people. It is unique among the public services in that one unscrupulous partner with too much power and without the checks and balances of the other parties could use the service as a powerful instrument of social control. The older ones among us will remember the 1930s and the unscrupulous way in which the Nazis in Germany used the schools to capture the minds of young people. Because of that after World War II the Allies saw to it that education was kept as far away as possible from the federal government in Germany. It was put in the hands of Länder governments.

The overcentralisation of power in the educational system poses a real threat to the very heart of democracy. That danger, hitherto always avoided in Britain, is facing us with horrifying starkness in the Bill before us today. We are to have state schools for the first time since 1870. Hitherto we have always had county schools. Now we are to have some state schools because of the lunatic proposal for opting out.

My noble friend Lady David told us that over 360 new powers are being taken by the Secretary of State. I have been in one House of Parliament or the other for 37 years and this is by far the most comprehensive measure for the concentration of power in the hands of a Minister to come before Parliament during that time. Indeed, it is probably the biggest peacetime grabbing of power by a British Government in modern times. Apart from the democratic principle involved, which I believe is very important, we must look at the people who are grabbing the power.

I do not trust the Government—this increasingly Right-wing Government—with that amount of power over the minds of our children. I remind the noble Baroness that the Government do not have the support of the majority of the electorate. They received 42 per cent. of the votes in the last election. In the North-East they received in the region of 20 per cent. In Scotland they received 28 per cent., and in Wales they achieved 31 per cent. But they do not have a majority in England, with only 46 per cent. If I had a child in school at present I should be terrified at the prospect of this Government dictating what he or she had to learn during almost every minute of school life.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York made an extremely courageous speech when in Committee we discussed Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill. In opposing the Government's amendment he said: Of course like everybody else I want to protect children and young people, but what I object to in the Bill is the method proposed. I object to it because I believe it introduces a dangerous precedent in the control of ideas by central government … If we establish the principle that central government can say what ideas may or may not be promoted, I believe that we have increased the [danger to our democracy]. I believe … the powers of central government have been increased to a dangerous extent". The greatest damage that the Government have done in their nine years of office—it is only nine years but it seems like 90—is not in their war of attrition against the welfare state; it is not in the damage done to manufacturing industry and it is not in the conversion of public monopolies into private monopolies. All those measures can, and I hope will, be undone. However, the biggest damage that the Government have done is in the surreptitious change they have tried to make in every minute of every day of every week of every year in the values of the nation.

I do not agree with those values and nor do the majority of the electorate. I do not agree with Mrs. Thatcher's harsh values; I do not agree with the profit-at-any-price values of the noble Lord, Lord Young; and I do not agree with Mr. Baker's chromium-plated values, with their insistence that only self-interest brings out the best in people—in other words, the market mechanism. Further, I do not agree with their hatred of social provision of health or education, or in any other matters. One of the most telling remarks made by Mrs. Thatcher in recent years was when she said that there is, no such thing as society". I did not agree with their opposition to a more equitable distribution of wealth. As I have already said, I do not agree with the values of this Government at all. However, they are the people who will now determine what our children will and will not learn. If that does not amount to control of ideas, I do not know what does.

If noble Lords think I am exaggerating the point, I invite them to look at Clause 4, which says: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State so to exercise the powers conferred [on him] to establish a complete National Curriculum as soon as it is reasonably practicable (taking first the core subjects and then the other foundation subjects); and to revise that Curriculum whenever he considers it necessary or expedient to do so". It continues: The Secretary of State may by order specify in relation to each of the foundation subjects—

  1. (a) such attainment targets;
  2. (b) such programmes of study; and
  3. (c) such assessment arrangements,
as he considers appropriate for that subject". I believe that if those proposals were properly understood they would horrify the nation.

However, as awful as the Government are, who is to say what kind of government we shall have in the future? Indeed, I think one other noble Lord referred to that. Let us suppose that the Government continue to move to the Right at the speed with which they have moved to the Right in the past nine years, for say another 10 years. If by some mischance they are still in office, what kind of authoritarian government would we have in Britain then?

When the government of the day start to tell schools what they must teach in history, I believe that freedom and democracy are really in peril. One of the glories of our education system has been that it has always given freedom to our schools to devise their own curricula and their own methods. But—and this is not sufficiently appreciated by the Secretary of State or very few people outside the education service—it has been within broad tacit guidelines.

Those guidelines have been twofold: first, those provided by the inspectorate which visits each school nearly every year and keeps the curriculum generally on the agreed lines; and secondly, for older children by the examination system. If the Government required a third guideline for the curriculum they could have introduced a very good pre-war practice of publishing and revising from time to time a handbook of suggestions for teachers. That is one of the best books in the whole of the education literature in this country. Those two broad guidelines have created a broad consensus throughout England and Wales as to what should be taught, but they have left schools free to make the curriculum that they provided relevant to the school area and to the social, industrial and commercial life in the area, as well as being a curriculum which utilised the teaching ability of their staffs.

The Government preceded the introduction of the Bill by a campaign of a denigration of our schools and teachers. We constantly hear about bad schools and bad teachers. The process was not started by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle; it was started by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph—who is here today—and has been continued with enthusiasm by the present incumbent.

More recently that overambitious Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, has joined in. He lectured your Lordships on what he thinks is wrong with the education system. The remarks he made about schools being relevant to industry are almost precisely what Mr. Butler said in his 1943 White Paper. However, what the noble Lord did not say was what Mr. Butler often said and what he spelt out in a lecture in London in March 1962. He said: the rank and file of our young people must not be put out of all touch with liberal education until they are out of their teens". That is precisely what the noble Lord would like to do. But of course Mr. Butler was a statesman. Indeed the book from which I quoted is called Study of a Statesman. As I said, Mr. Butler was a statesman who understood what education is all about. Conversely, the noble Lord is a party politician who has no clue as to what education should be about.

The endless condemnation of our schools has even reached the bloodstream of our education press. Today I read an article in the Daily Telegraph written by someone called Michael Durham—whoever he is —which talks about sorting out the flops among teachers. It must be said that few inadequate teachers pass through the net of teacher training nowadays. I believe that our schools are as good as any schools in the Western world; our teachers are as good as, and better than most, teaching professions in the Western world. Our primary schools are quite superb and I do not think that they are excelled anywhere in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, let the cat out of the bag, because what the Government have really been doing in attacking the schools and the teachers is blaming them for the sleazy society that has been created in Britain by their misguided policies and warped values over the past nine years.

One of the most bizarre and divisive proposals in the Bill is that which provides for opting out where the decision to do so is taken by a ballot of parents. A small minority of parents could carry this proposal. I remind noble Lords that the parent body in a school is like the student body in a college. It is constantly changing; it changes every few years. Future generations of parents can be lumbered with something which was decided by parents who have long gone from the scene.

The other matter that I should like to remind your Lordships about in this respect is that parents necessarily cannot appreciate the benefits a school gets from being under a local authority umbrella, from the bulk purchase of toilet rolls to the services of highly skilled subject advisers. If the schools opt out in any number it will make nonsense of local authority provision for the area. It will lead to an increasingly uneconomic use of their resources, of administrative staff, buildings, ancillary staff etc. It is a foolish and potentially destructive proposal.

I shall say only one thing with regard to higher education—and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Swann, made this point. If noble Lords read through the provisions on higher education there is inherent in them a considerable threat to academic freedom. However one looks at it, that threat is there. Indeed, it is the most considerable threat to academic freedom ever levelled at the universities. The Bill amounts to a massive intervention by central government, a massive grabbing of power from the primary schools to the universities. I believe that it should be resisted at all costs. The only consolation so far as I am concerned is that the greater part of it will be swept away after the next election.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive yesterday's military man for presuming to enter this very important debate on current education reform. My detailed knowledge of this highly complex subject must inevitably pale in comparison with the depth of experience available elsewhere in your Lordships' House, as typified by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, who has just spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, who will speak after me. That is a formidable sandwich to be inside.

I can only plead a long held interest in the subject and a continuing opportunity both in my military days and more recently in my present appointment to keep in quite close contact with schools and teachers. As some noble Lords will appreciate, I have not been without fraternal advice. This has been of immense help to me, but I know that your Lordships will understand if I concentrate on the more general issues and somewhat reluctantly leave to others the particular and emotive problems of education in Greater London.

I think many noble Lords have recognised that the Bill bears some of the hallmarks of having been put together rather hurriedly without perhaps the depth of consultation it deserves. When I first studied the Bill I also thought of the late Lord Butler, who took, as we have heard, up to two years of close consultation before embarking on his historic Education Act, the spirit of which I still believe is very important.

I start in this somewhat critical vein not because, like a much earlier military man and commander-in-chief of the British Army in the 19th century, I am against all change on principle. That is far from the case. In this instance there is an honest divergence of views, as we have heard, as to how good or bad our state education system really is when set against realistic and obtainable standards and in the light of the financial and social pressures within which the system has had to work; and therefore how much necessity there is for sweeping reform as opposed to quieter, more positive leadership, the encouragement of good qualified teachers and the provision of more well-directed resources. Surely the truth is that there are some bad teachers among very many good ones, some bad schools as well as numerous excellent ones and some stupid and even disruptive local authorities as well as many sensible and conscientious ones. It might seem only prudent not to disrupt the many in an emotional, even doctrinaire, reaction to the abuses of the few. We have seen too much of that in the past.

Nothing in this world is perfect and in the highly competitive climate which exists today it would be wrong to be at all complacent. Let us assume that we could indeed do better. There are certainly schools which are achieving poor results and a few authorities doing silly and unhelpful things. It is only right that we should be looking vigorously at how we can make the system more efficient. Certainly in this context a national curriculum can do no harm. If sensibly and broadly interpreted it might do a great deal of good. Indeed many people may feel that it is overdue in order to get away from excessively early specialisation, to raise the basic standards particularly of maths and English, which are certainly too low for industry and commerce, and to give proper emphasis and weight to foreign languages, so essential to some in the modern world.

Good schools with little difficulty in meeting such a curriculum would of course need flexibility and discretion in order to cover the subjects they feel necessary to include in their syllabuses. But for bad schools it should prove a most essential discipline, although it is a consideration whether it should not also be seen to apply to independent schools, which also have their weaker brethren.

The question of monitoring progress would seem to go hand in glove with that curriculum if standards are to be maintained. I know that there are differences of opinion on this point. Some will say that successive tests at impressionable ages will put sensitive children under pressure and risk the stigma of failure. I respect that view, although I happen to believe that life is all about pressure and sometimes even about coming last. We do not necessarily do our children and grandchildren any great service by trying to cocoon them from such pressures. As with the curriculum, there must be discretion and latitude allowed to the head teacher as to how these tests of progress are run.

I am not suggesting that the Bill has no redeeming features, but when it deals with transferring power to the parents and to governing bodies of somewhat vague and transitory composition, it seems to me to be on more doubtful ground. The problem with parents, as I am sure most noble Lords will agree, is their transient nature and the limits of their motivation and commitment. In short, they are here today and gone tomorrow. Although they naturally can and should be interested in the progress of their children, they frequently and generally show no great interest in other people's. Of course there are exceptions. There will be a few parents, past and present, with the time, motivation and experience to continue to provide welcome reinforcement to important and useful governing bodies. However, in general most parents want their children well taught by professional, approachable teachers, working under good and impressive head teachers with real authority, rather than finding the time (which most of them do not have) to get too deeply involved in how their children's school is run.

Yet under this Bill, as has been pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady David, we could face the prospect that these very parents, or worse, an unrepresentative and politically motivated minority of them (although a marginal majority of those who have voted—and of course it could be politically motivated on either side), could set the school on a certain independent path from which subsequently there could be no turning back. Surely this House must try to ensure that there is a sounder basis for such an irrevocable and potentially damaging change.

If it was just a threat that a particular school might be considering opting out of local authority control to become a grant-maintained school—a warning shot across the bows—that might, I suppose, have some merit in making a wayward local authority pull its socks up; but were it to be carried through, let alone actively encouraged on a wide scale, as some seem to be suggesting, the repercussions could be immense.

Such a school, once it was largely cut off from the general advisory, financial, training and other support services provided by local authorities, would to all intents and purposes be in the position of an independent school, although presumably not allowed to charge any fees—or could I be wrong about that? Certainly a school which would now not only have to manage its own budget and administration with presently inadequate staff would then also, after the honeymoon period of per capita funding was over, have to negotiate independently with central government an enlarged budget to compensate for what it had forgone, and would find itself, I am convinced, even shorter on funds than it probably is at the moment.

Such a school would then seek those funds from parents or from the community in one guise or another, and money would pass. So perhaps the Minister will be able to explain exactly how those opted out schools will be funded. I doubt whether it would be convincing to suggest that they will be able to meet any extra expenses out of the money that they save by running their own affairs. In my not inconsiderable experience of Whitehall any such savings would be the first to be removed from future allocation.

As regards financial devolution generally, it is not, I stress, the principle that is wrong (in other areas many of us have fought for that for years) but without the proper staff and the money to pay them, the implementation of devolved management and financial control—total of course for those opting out—could become meaningless and even harmful.

But even if some individual schools were able to negotiate those not inconsiderable hurdles, and somewhat surreptitiously become some sort of voluntary aided link between the public and private sector, as I am sure some schools could, what in the world would happen to the remainder? The state system of education would then be fragmented and left in a constant state of uncertainty.

Local authorities would be denied the opportunity of a sensible and economical reorganisation in their areas as needs fluctuated and be left to cope with a disproportionate number of difficulties, families who have just moved, minority ethnic groups and children with physical and mental handicaps or behavioural or learning difficulties—a situation which would not only be inevitably and increasingly divisive but would, I submit, have a catastrophic effect on the confidence and morale of a high proportion of teachers. Some of the poorer local authorities would feel, and in London if ILEA went would probably be, quite unable to cope. Central government might then find themselves having to set up some national authority of their own to pick up the pieces as well as having to deal directly with the opted-out schools, a role for which since 1870 they have been considered unsuited to fill.

What was that observation on hasty reform, attributed, some would say erroneously, to a Roman public servant and observer of life in the first century? If I may remind your Lordships, it went: I was to learn too late in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising". He continued: and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation". The saddest thing of all about the Bill is the complete absence in it of any mention of attracting teachers and winning their hearts and minds once one has obtained them, although I was glad to hear the noble Baroness give some recognition to teachers' professionalism. Yet without that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has reminded us, all the organisational changes will at the best represent only an illusion of progress, with in the longer term the core curriculum becoming unworkable and even the freedom of choice emerging as a snare and a delusion.

I have always been brought up in my profession to believe that one cannot lead anyone or get their enthusiastic co-operation unless one respects them; and although sections of teachers have sometimes shown themselves to be their own worst enemies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, unless positive steps can be taken to establish a sympathetic dialogue with them and to build up their confidence and their self-respect—here proper pay is obviously a vital factor—this reform will achieve little and in some areas will make things considerably worse. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will once again reiterate the Government's concern for the teachers in their future plans.

I say all that with some sadness, because I recognise as much as anyone in the House what the Government have achieved to make Britain solvent, to improve its defences and to increase its international prestige; but in this instance I most sincerely believe that they have it wrong in certain important respects where they have put politics before common sense. I feel that much informed opinion would agree with me.

We should be proud of our education system and try to enhance it so that it caters increasingly satisfactorily for all those in this country who cannot afford, and wish to have the freedom of choice not to spend their own limited finances on, something as fundamental as primary and secondary education. We should not give the impression of being somehow somewhat rather ashamed of our education system.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Joseph

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, although I naturally did not agree with all that he said. I especially did not like being bracketed with the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. I hope that there will be ample time to discuss in Committee some of the critical points that he made. I should like to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on her introduction of the Bill and to say that I strongly support nearly all of its provisions.

We all ought to recognise with some humility that not under any government since the war have we done especially well with mass education. I agree with my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Beloff, in being absolutely astounded at the complacency of several speakers opposite, and their lack of eagerness to find a way forward. The paradox is that noble Lords opposite sincerely believe and take pride in their own concern for the least prosperous, and yet it is just the least prosperous who have been damaged for some years by the relative inadequacy of our schooling provision.

It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, said, that when in office I constantly referred to the need to raise standards, particularly for the least prosperous. If I am to be accused by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, of political motivation, I must remind him that I was not the first to raise those worries. It was his own leader, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who I think is to talk tomorrow, who raised the worry in many people's minds a full five years before I concentrated upon it.

In my view, we face a wholesale catastrophe, and have faced it for some time—the destruction of potential for a large percentage of children who are severely under-achieving. We compel children and young people to go to school. We keep them there by law for 11 years, and yet we all agree that a large minority—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London spoke of 20 per cent., but I believe that it is a much larger proportion than that—get from school little preparation for life, citizenship and work, little training in self-discipline and little grounding in basic educational tools.

I should have thought that it was common ground in the House that education standards are too low. Why are the standards low? In my view they are low because expectations are low—the expectations of many teachers, the expectations, alas, of many parents. I shall be crossing swords with some relish with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for when she quotes parental opinion as being decisively against this or that, I remember from my time at Elizabeth House how many schools which HMI and other less expert people, including myself, thought were rather inadequate, rallied, mobilised practically 100 per cent. of parents in order to keep them open, even when a better school was available. So I do not think we should rely too much always on the judgments that depend upon low expectations.

There is also the demotivation of our pupils. Demotivation is rife in our schools; there is some bad teaching; in my view there is some doubtful education philosophy in teacher-training colleges. I do not think a mainly dilute academic curriculum is likely to motivate many children. We have had examinations which have not stretched a large proportion of children and the culture of our time is pretty hostile to some of the purposes of education. What a list! The sad result is that nearly all our children go to primary school keen and eager, with bright, shining eyes, but far too large a proportion of them are bored and demotivated by the time they go to secondary school.

In the light of what I regard as a catastrophe, I turn now to the Bill. It seems to me that no one in this debate has produced a better way forward. I am sure that the methods in the Bill are not perfect, but where is a better way forward? I have one criticism, one worry about the school aspects of the Bill. I wish to maintain and argue that non-academic children deserve as good and effective an education and stretching as academic children. Not all children benefit from academic teaching, not even a curriculum that is dilute academic for their sake. In fact, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, although she teased me about the outcome, when she reminded us that parents flinch from introducing grammar schools. Why do they flinch?—because they fear the reintroduction of secondary modern schools. No government since the war have, in my view, made a success of most secondary modern schools. I remember many Ministers of both parties who spoke of securing equal respect for secondary schools, but we have not actually secured it. That is why there is a flinching from the alternative to grammar schools.

I believe that it is vital that the non-academic be properly catered for. If there is not to be selection between equally good and effective schools, academic and non-academic, then there must be selection within schools: streaming and setting, so that each child is stretched to his or her own limits. Of course, I agree strongly with the core, the tested core proposed in the Bill. I should like to suggest that perhaps British history might be added to the core. However, I wonder—and here I am not comfortable to be agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—whether the national curriculum might not impose too tight a straitjacket. I agree that this was not challenged much in the other place; I think it was perhaps a failure in the other place that it was not challenged.

Of course I want to see a broader range of subjects studied to the age of 16 by most pupils. Of course I envy the range of the baccalauréat in France. Of course I realise and agree that many of our children specialise too young. Yet I still worry at the way the Bill is drafted. Admittedly the Secretary of State has reduced the proportion of time from 90 per cent. through 80 per cent. and then to 70 per cent. for the core and the foundation subjects. But it is still too prescriptive. A national curriculum as tightly imposed as that may neglect non-academic children; it may impose, for non-academic children, a dilute academic curriculum and such children will not much benefit from it unless teaching standards improve enormously. It may inhibit some religious schools, it may inhibit the growth of the specialist schools and I have to add that if all the foundation subjects were tested, we would impose too large a testing industry upon our schools and squeeze out some relatively widespread non-academic, vocationally geared subjects. That does not mean that I have ventured to make up my mind. I hope that we shall debate this issue in Committee but I hoist a question-mark over the growth of the core curriculum into a national curriculum.

Perhaps before I sit down I may turn to another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who was joined by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. Both speakers were critical of opting out; they both referred, particularly the noble and gallant Lord, to the benefit which might come from, as he put it, sending a warning shot across the bow of a perverse local education authority. But surely that is not a consequence to be lightly dismissed. In the extreme case where a perverse local education authority does not react constructively, the state of the children might be better with opting out. It is possible to accept, as I do, that competition is not suitable for every part of life, but still to assert strongly that a bit of competition is jolly useful in most services.

I turn now to the question of the ILEA. I have to maintain that the abolition of the ILEA was always a strong option. I have also to point out to the House, after a rather effective speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that if the abolition were carried through by this House there would be several inner London boroughs who, judging by the performance of their other services, would do at least as well if not better for the children who go to their schools and who use other, and I think better, education services than ILEA. There will be other inner London boroughs who will do just as well and there are a few inner London boroughs as regards which I hope that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will use the consultation procedure, when their plans are discussed, to take decisions to encourage the cooperation or whatever is necessary to secure the good education of the children.

Finally, after a brief hurrah in the direction of the decision embodied in the Bill about polytechnics, I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Swann. I am very sympathetic to the case he made but I feel less than impressed by the civilised tolerance rightly expected in relation to dons, unless it is also extended to visiting speakers, provided they keep within the Public Order Act. A university is above all a place where there should be toleration for all opinions.

I am, as noble Lords will have appreciated, in general strongly in support of the Bill.

6.28 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, although there are many aspects of this Bill on which I should like to speak, I propose to restrict my remarks entirely to the effect of the Bill on children with special educational needs. I have to say at the outset that this Bill may have a very marked effect, unless it is amended, on children with special educational needs. It is a subject that was hardly mentioned at all when the Bill was first published and was referred to in just one or two sentences in the Minister's opening speech.

The need for special provision is well known; 2 per cent. of children have statements of special educational need and up to a further 18 to 20 per cent. of the school population requires some special help in one form or another at some time or another. Indeed, the Advisory Centre for Education says that just under one half of all the advice calls it receives concern special education problems.

The principles to be followed regarding special educational need are well recognised. The special needs of both children and young people range over a very wide extent of need. They should as far as possible be integrated into mainstream education for all or a part of their schooling. Their parents shoud have the right to share in decisions regarding the provision of special help for their children. I have to say that there is widespread concern among parents, teachers and all the organisations in the field of special education regarding what they see as the failure of the Bill adequately to address the problem of proper provision for special educational need. Indeed, unless the Bill is substantially amended it may undo much of the good work of the 1981 Act in securing the integration of handicapped children in ordinary schools.

All of us who are interested in this aspect of the Bill have received a number of letters from parents who are desperately worried about the effects of this Bill on their children. I quote from one such letter written by a mother about her son: Nicholas has Down's Syndrome, heart, lung and digestive problems, but first and foremost he is just a little boy with exactly the same needs as any other 4 year-old. … We are convinced that Nicholas has benefited from being exposed to normal situations. We firmly believe, supported by the experience gained from our youngest daughter who also has Down's Syndrome, that our son has a fundamental right to a normal pattern of life, and this includes attending his local mainstream school. We believe expectations should be placed upon him in the same way as any other child …. All of this is happening for Nicholas—he attends his local mainstream infant school where he is making excellent progress, is well liked and very much respected by his peers. Imagine our feeling of devastation on reading the Education Reform Bill—this Bill will radically alter the educational opportunities now available to Nicholas…. The new Bill is reputed to increase parental choice—we have made our choice—it is Nicholas' local mainstream school not a segregated special school. On considering the provisions for national testing and the core curriculum, as a number of your Lordships have said, it is the very detailed and prescriptive nature of the core curriculum which lies at the heart of the problem. The problems with the core curriculum for children with special education need are merely an exaggerated version of the problems which could well arise for all children.

As a result of pressure in another place there are now no less than four clauses which attempt to deal with the problems of children with special education need in this respect. Under attainment targets there are different orders for different cases. The Secretary of State has been given incredibly wide power by regulation to deal with groups of children to be opted-out or to modify the curriculum. There are some very complicated provisions for children with and without statements of special educational need.

But the problem is that the provisions in the Bill relating to special education need and the core curriculum are entirely negative. There is nothing positive about them. They are all about exclusion and the modification of the curriculum. The words "categories of children" appear, although we thought that that had been banished by the 1981 Act. Apart from Clause 12, which deals with children without statements of special education need, there are no rights of appeal for parents.

If any children are to be excluded from all or part of the core curriculum they should have a positive entitlement under the law with proper rights of appeal for the parents of all such children. Special education must be child-centred, flexible and sensitive. The Bill runs a serious risk of failing on all those counts. I quote again from a parent's letter: As my son is starting his school career so the Education Reform Bill is coming into being. How will this affect him? He can follow a modified curriculum but who will be responsible for carrying out his modified curriculum? Everyone else in his class will be following the national Core Curriculum: does this mean that he will have a segregated education within the class? Perhaps the village school will be unable to run this dual system and children like him will have to go to special schools. Surely this would be going against the whole philosophy of the 1981 Education Act? As regards the matter of testing it appears that there may be some in the higher reaches of government who seem to regard educational testing as roughly analogous to the compilation of a grocery list. A more informed description regarding testing and special education need was given by the Task Group on Assessment and Testing, which stated: Children with special educational needs make up a very diverse group. Indeed, it could be said that all children, at some time in their educational career, exhibit special teaching needs which have to be met. Children's learning difficulties may stem from physical and sensory disabilities, behavioural and medical problems, reading and communication difficulties or different degrees of mental handicap. They may be educated in special schools, special classes or units in ordinary schools, or may be integrated into ordinary classes. They may or may not be statemented: policies with regard to statementing differ from one LEA to another. Some children with physical disabilities may nevertheless be scholastically extremely able and it is likely that, in their case, parents would rightly press for their inclusion in the national assessment programme. I shall deal briefly with opting-out and financial delegation. If schools are to be allowed to opt-out it is essential that local education authorities are given the power to co-ordinate and to mobilise the special education support for all the schools in their area.

There is the problem of the small incidence handicaps. The LEAs have set up support units in selected schools to serve a wide area. These are centres of excellence which must be available to all the children who need the service.

In connection with opting-out and special education need, who is to pay for the speech therapists, the education psychologists, the peripatetic teachers, the central resource centres and all the other central services which the LEAs now provide for handicapped children?

As regards individual schools, the schemes of financial delegation must include specific provision for special education need. There must be earmarked or ring-fenced funding for the extra staffing, the teachers and the ancillary helpers, the modifications to buildings, the special equipment, the ramps, the handrails, the wheelchair access and the adapted toilets. Children with special education need are an expensive minority and proper financial provision has to be made for them.

I conclude with some remarks on the abolition of the ILEA. Here I should declare an interest. Both our children were born with handicaps of hearing and vision. Our home county of Wiltshire was not able to provide the resources that they needed so they both attended an ILEA special school. Whatever may be said about some aspects of ILEA activities, its provision for special education is outstanding. It provides no fewer than 111 special schools, 73 specialist units and all the centrally provided services.

I shall take the example of just one school which encapsulates the problem. It is the school which my children attended, and it is the only boarding school for the visually impaired in London. It has 61 children with visual impairment and other handicaps. The school is in Wandsworth. Of the 61 children, seven come from Wandsworth and eight come from the other ILEA boroughs, making 15 in total. Therefore a quarter of the children come from the ILEA area. The remainder are split roughly 50:50 between the outer London boroughs and eight counties from Suffolk to Hampshire. The fees are in the order of £15,000 to £17,000 per head for a boarding place.

Is Wandsworth to be made responsible for a school with a total budget approaching £1 million per annum which caters for seven Wandsworth children out of 61? Wandsworth is one of the more prosperous boroughs, but what of the special schools which for reasons of history are situated in the poorer boroughs? I quote here from the letter of the head of a special school, which states: …for example there are at least 3 educational psychologists working for the ILEA who have built up a wide range of expertise in dealing with visually impaired children; we will lose all those administrative contacts who know about the problems of running small, special schools, especially boarding schools. The proposed new authority will have none of this knowledge or expertise—it cannot hope to, it will be learning about running mainstream education; special schools are bound to be the 'also-rans'!". There is an overwhelming case for a unitary authority to co-ordinate special education in London. I have given an example of just one school, but examples that could be multiplied across the whole field of disability in London.

This House has a heavy responsibility. We have a Prime Minister and a Government whose policies can only be described as triumphalism run riot. We have the education of London's children treated as the residuum of some future contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party, with a major constitutional change affecting London education spatchcocked into the Bill halfway through its progress in another place. We have parents, the teachers, educationalists and all the organisations connected with special education expressing deep and well-informed concern about the effect of this Bill on children with special needs. We have the chance to ensure that the Bill does not result in the education and the lives of handicapped children being made even more difficult, and their parents being given even more worry. This is not a party matter. If we do not amend the Bill to deal with the fears and problems that I have described, we shall bear a very heavy responsibility indeed.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I should like to begin by saying that, being the 14th speaker in a field of 82, I thought that I would give the House a bit of a break and talk about something different. That does not mean that I do not agree with every word of attack which has come from this side of the House. The noble Baroness who opened the debate for us, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone (who got going the guns of the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Joseph, in the most effective way) have on the whole put the case as well as it needs to be put. Therefore, I shall talk about something else.

To begin, I feel guilty about not speaking about education. That is what the Bill is about. However, that has been well dealt with by other people. The noble lord, Lord Swann, who defended academic freedom with wit and accuracy, was absolutely splendid. I do not think that he needs any help and nor do the other academics.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, pleased me very much by his deep suspicion of opting out. I share that suspicion. I also share his apparent conviction that the Government are putting politics before common sense. That seems to me to be a very military point of view with which I am proud to be associated.

I was also pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, say that he did not think that the Government should rely too much on the wishes of parents. I am sure that he is right. However, that is not the impression we had, particularly when we heard the Secretary of State trying to laugh off the parents' ballot the other night. I was very sorry for him because it was not possible to do that. He put up a reasonable show, but no one could laugh that off.

I wish to concentrate on side issues, and the unplanned side effects of the abolition of the ILEA. Those issues are so numerous that I can only deal with one or two. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has dealt very well with one of the most important matters, which is special needs. I wish to speak about two small matters and then about the very important matter of music.

I must be allowed to say—even though I am leaving the topics of the general attack on the Bill and the defence of the Bill—that the last-minute decision to scrap the ILEA was an act of spiteful irresponsibility. There were things that were wrong. However, there were more things that were right. To make no effort to correct faults but simply to root up the good and the bad together was a wanton act. I looked up the word "wanton" in the dictionary because I thought I might be exaggerating.

I found several definitions which may or may not appeal to the House. One is: insolent in triumph or prosperity". The other is: unprovoked and reckless of justice and compassion". From my point of view, that fits the case exactly. There may be noble Lords opposite who will take a different view.

The first side issue to result from the abolition of ILEA—I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, will pass my comments on to the Minister, who is not present in the Chamber—concerns the unified language service of the ILEA which consists of 68 teachers of English as a second language working in both primary and secondary schools throughout the area. In addition, there are a thousand teachers based in schools. The bilingual under-fives team consists of eight teachers who also work throughout the area. The interpreter/translator service is based at County Hall and is made up of 10 to 12 staff members with an area-wide brief. There are 10 multi-ethnic co-ordinators, one in each division, working across the age range of five to 18 years. All that must be seen against the difficult background of 161 different languages spoken by pupils.

It takes no exceptional insight to realise that that type of problem needs central organisation over the whole wide area. The ILEA has such an organisation which seems to be working reasonably well. After its destruction, what is to replace it? Ability to use English is at the root of the problem of assimilating immigrants in this country. I ask the Minister to tell us in detail how that problem will be overcome after ILEA's decease. I was also going to talk about the Centre for the Deaf and Speech Therapy. However, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has handled that matter.

Thirdly, there are two excellent museums involved —the Horniman and the Geffrye. Some solution must be found to provide them with national funding. That can work perfectly well provided their financial support is not reduced. I think that it will be. This Government have never made a change of that kind to the arts without reducing, in one way or another, the subsidy in existence. I ask the Minister for a clear answer: will there be a replacement of the same amount of money in the next relevant year as those museums received before the abolition?

Lastly—I note that my speaking time does not seem to be shown on the Chamber Clock, which eases my problems somewhat!—I should like to deal with music. There are two aspects of education in music. One is finding and training children with special talents and giving them the opportunity to develop into first-class professional musicians. The other is just as important. That is the presentation of music during primary, secondary and further education so that children who are not going to be artists themselves may learn to appreciate the joys of listening. The ILEA has done exceptionally well on both heads, with some of the best arrangements for children's music which exists in this philistine country. I think that is generally admitted even by its most spiteful detractors.

As regards the selection and training of the talented, the record speaks for itself. There is the London Schools Symphony Orchestra in which I am proud to say one of my granddaughters is a second desk viola. There are 82 children drawn from 12 boroughs and ranging from 14 to 18 years of age. The London Schools Symphonic Band has 92 children aged 14 to 18, and drawn from the same 12 boroughs. The Centre for Young Musicians has 473 children aged 12 to 18 from the same 12 boroughs. I shall not read the names of the boroughs out. However, they range from Westminster to Tower Hamlets and from Wandsworth to Camden. The names are available if any noble Lord wishes to see them.

The teaching at the Centre for Young Musicians is very successful and it shows results considerably above national standards. Sir Michael Tippett and a number of leading musicians wrote to The Times on 17th February to emphasise how important it is to bring together talented students and pupils from different institutions across inner London. No single borough can achieve as much by itself. Those widespread opportunities stimulate the excellent results heard at public concerts. They also provide an efficient means of ensuring that pupils studying the same instrument are brought together with the best teachers. ILEA implements that through the centre, which meets every Saturday during school terms at Pimlico School, chiefly for instrumental teaching. I know about that because once again three of my children benefited from it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carter, we were beneficiaries. It does not take a great brain to see how difficult it would be for any borough to do this. The schools orchestra and the schools band are well known in London, and London is justly proud of them.

There is considerable infrastructure (if I may use such a cliche) behind their success. There are various courses laid on for different performing groups, including the orchestra itself. Only last year my 15 year-old went all round Italy with the orchestra playing under an Italian conductor, which was a wonderful experience. Parents pay for subsistence and accommodation, while the authority pays other expenses. There are regular public concerts. Of the 473 regular children attending the CYM, 57 are of primary school age and the rest of secondary school age. They study any of 22 different musical instruments and the best move into the schools orchestra or the schools band. Teaching is free and instruments are provided on loan. Teaching programmes include ensemble, choir and general musicianship as well as individual lessons.

In the debate on Report in the other place it was suggested by an opponent that good though all this might be, it was unreasonably expensive, costing as much as £2,000 per annum per child. I am glad to say that his facts were wrong and exaggerated by a factor of three. He had not understood that the costs cover not only the 473 regular pupils but also all sorts of out-of-school projects, holiday music courses, junior centres, the Pimlico special music course and a number of projects and courses arranged during school hours. The number of children catered for in one way or another comes to over 3,000. The unit cost is thus not a very meaningful figure but is certainly less than a third of the figure quoted.

So much for the first aspect of music in education, the selection and training of the talented. Pound for pound, this has been infinitely worthwhile, and the reputations of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, the London Schools Symphonic Band and their other groups amply demonstrate that.

I turn briefly to the second point, the presentation of music to all children to give them the opportunity to learn how to enjoy its pleasures. ILEA has already done a very great deal. It has pioneered schemes to collaborate with professional musicians. It has arranged opera attendances for more than 2,000 secondary school children at ENO, and the staff of ENO have come and given them advice. That has now run for 15 years. With the Arts Council they sent 1,200 children last year to hear modern music through the Contemporary Music Network, and 500 pupils took part in the young concertgoers' scheme. They are doing a great deal which will all disappear unless somebody does something.

The facts I have given make it clear that these opportunities presented to young children are really productive; but they depend wholly on an overall body which is being abolished. They cannot continue to prosper without some very definite action on the part of the Government. The figures I have given show that no single borough can achieve this. I ask the Minister to explain exactly how these good things are to be preserved and not be thrown out with the bath water.

It is no good saying that all these schemes can be carried on borough by borough on a voluntary basis. We have evidence from West Yorkshire to the contrary. After the abolition of the metropolitan bodies a number of schemes for the newly-formed authorities to collaborate with specific services was initiated; they have all since foundered.

It is vital that those with real musical talent should be brought up from their earliest years to give their talent scope to develop real excellence. It is even more important that ordinary non-specially-talented children should be given the opportunity to learn to enjoy even if they never learn worthily to perform. I was one of those. I was taught the violin from the age of seven, but have never gone further than a scratchy solo at the school concert, and I am further away from the skills of a good professional musician than I am from governing the country as a politician. But my whole life has been lined with music for 80 years. Put at its lowest, this has given me a steady stream of innocent pleasure, an awareness of beauty; and, I believe, the ability to be less discontented than many people. ILEA has in a remarkable way been able to give this tremendous advantage in life to a very large number of children in their care. It is that addition to the quality of their lives which is now at risk.

6.55 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I do not know whether there is a record number of speakers in this debate but there is certainly a record number of living and moribund vice-chancellors taking part in it.

I do not intend to start with higher education. I want to draw the attention of the House to the curious reception that the Bill has had. Its critics say how much they agree with the proposals to establish a national curriculum, to improve the performance of children, to give parents choice and involve them in the schools. But then they go on to rubbish every proposal and give no sign of what they would want to achieve were they putting forward a Bill.

I welcome many of the principles in the Bill. The principle I welcome most—some people will be shocked to hear me say this—is the extension of the powers of the Secretary of State. I know well the arguments which have been put forward this evening against such an extension and I shall not go over them again. But the inability of the Secretary of State to direct education is responsible more than anything else for our school-leavers being so far behind those of other European countries.

Why did Britain have to wait until 1870 for compulsory primary education? Why was the Balfour Act of 1902, which introduced compulsory secondary education, so flawed? Why was Augustine Birrell's Bill of 1906 voted down in your Lordships' House? I regret to say that the reason is that the Church of England and the Nonconformist Communion's controlled education and fought each other so bitterly. In 1944 Rab Butler spent his energies in getting peace between the Churches. That absorbed so much of his political capital that he had to leave the form of secondary education to his civil servants. The weakest of the three senior civil servants responsible for drafting that Bill was the one responsible for technical education. The other two defeated him. That is why we have such a low standard of technical education in our schools and why disastrously so few technical schools were founded under the Butler Act.

The Minister responsible for education has no control over the curriculum, nor the staffing of schools and their management. He has no control over the general certificate examinations or any school-leaving examinations. He has no control over something which has enormous influence for bad as well as for good in secondary education, the general certificate examinations.

I am glad to say that under this Bill he is at last in a position to take powers. The opponents of the Bill have said the Government left no time for consultation and reflection. I have watched for 25 years the attempts to change the sixth-form curriculum. I have seen the teachers' unions vote down every proposal. I have seen the NUT wreck Edward Boyle's Schools Council. There is no lack of advice from interested parties. Unfortunately they are usually self-interested parties. In other cases, such as the colleges that train teachers, the advice offered is in accordance with an ideology about teaching which has led to the lowering of achievement by school children. I was delighted to read in the press that the Secretary of State is now going to insist that intending teachers are taught how to teach the three Rs and not be indoctrinated with educational psychology.

Every government are loaded with advice about education, some of it excellent, from organisations which are quite independent, from conferences and from study groups.

In 1976 Mr. Callaghan (now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan) called for a great debate about education. What happened?—nothing. No single act of importance emanated from his government, from local authorities or from any quarter during those years. All the Government's critics say that they want parents and governors to be more involved. Then, like the parable of the great supper, when the feast is announced they all with one consent begin to make excuse.

And yet the proposal will bring about a massive change. I think that there are about 20,000 schools in our country. That means there will be 500,000 governors of schools. For the first time a vast number of citizens—half a million—will now be involved with the schools in their community. But they will no longer be told what the local authority has decided about their school; they will actually have some power over many matters.

The Scots and the Welsh have always known the value of education because for them it was the ladder for advancement as they had no connections within the Establishment. Not so the bovine English. Now at last there is a hope of ordinary English parents and citizens being involved in schools in the same way as the Scots and Welsh who have always known that schools are important.

There is one aspect of financial delegation to schools which worries me. One cannot expect 20,000 headmasters to become managers overnight. Their business is to teach, to supervise teaching in their schools and to care for the development of children. They must be given the equivalent of a bursar in an independent school. Show me a good school and I shall find there a good headmaster. Do not overburden heads, who are already overworked with the introduction of the GCSE, with duties that many of them will not perform efficiently without help.

When we turn to the proposals for testing we should not deceive ourselves. There is a large body of opinion among teachers and educationists which is opposed to any plan to raise academic standards. They do not want competition among children or any recognition that one child is brighter than another. Their ideal is that children should be happy at school and never humiliated or made to feel that they have failed. In a recent comparison between German and British children the Germans were far more geared to achievement and far more in awe of their teachers on whose assessment the children's careers depended. In consequence the German children were less happy, more anxious than the British children, less open, less free. But they were better taught and they were more skilled.

I respect the desire to make children happier at school. It was certainly an ideal of my generation. But we cannot neglect another objective, even if it conflicts with that of the quest of happiness—that is, intellectual achievement and the mastery of techniques needed to cope with the world of the future. The question is: are we prepared to see our children more driven and more stretched to realise their potential? Are we prepared to recognise that many children, not just the brightest, are bored with having to repeat endlessly the examples of the grammar in language and maths that they have already mastered? That is why we need tests.

I hope that the Secretary of State will not listen to those who want those tests to be diagnostic and not what their opponents call an artificial measure of achievement and failure. My fear is that in their compassion some teachers will want to fudge the tests. The tests and the national curriculum are matters which I am sure we will want to look at very carefully in Committee but the principle behind them is surely admirable.

I must leave other parts of the Bill, such as opting out, to Committee stage. I have not yet formed an opinion. I have listened with great interest this evening to the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Joseph. At this moment I feel like Reynolds's celebrated portrait of Garrick between the Muses of Tragedy and Comedy—I shall not say whether the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, or the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is Tragedy or Comedy.

What I cannot leave on one side is the matter of the Inner London Education Authority. I hold no brief for the political direction of ILEA. Mrs. Frances Morrell stands as high in the demonology of my scenario of educational hell as Mr. Fred Jarvis of the NUT. They are both fiends who have disregarded the children and wrecked their school days in order to indulge in their political whims. But to abolish ILEA without considering how its functions are to be carried out seems to me as irresponsible as any act of Mrs. Frances Morrell. There is not even a hint of setting up a body such as that which emerged after the death of the GLC. This is and has been characterised as spite—and I think justly. It is in the spirit of Clause 28. I think it despicable.

It may well be that ILEA should no longer be a political body subject to election. It may well be that like all bureaucracies it has enlarged its functions year by year. Because those functions are educational it is hard to say that any of them is wrong or extravagant. The question is how many of those functions can London afford when the conditions of so many of its schools are so bad? Listening to ILEA parents the other day made me realise what a multitude of services—highly desirable services—ILEA performs. It may perform too many but to abolish it and expect all the boroughs to sustain the present services across their boundaries is ludicrous. To abolish it when teachers in London are exhausted by preparations for the GCSE and when so many posts are vacant is deplorable too.

Perhaps I may press the noble Baroness about the future of arts colleges and of further education colleges in London. It is all very well to say: "We shall hand them over to the boroughs and we shall fund them and give the boroughs the equivalent of what they would get under ILEA". That is not good enough. If the boroughs find themselves pressed to make massive improvements in the schools, which will they opt for when they have that money in their control? Of course they will put it into the schools and we shall see institution after institution in adult and further education disbanded because the funds are no longer available. This needs considerably more thought than it appears to have been given.

No doubt there are some who are appalled that at this stage in my speech I have not even reached higher education. The fact is that I do not see much reason to do so. The vice-chancellors have said that their apprehensions have been quelled by the amendments which the Secretary of State introduced in another place. I am in fact more disturbed than the vice-chancellors by the abolition of tenure, but I shall return to that point in Committee. On the other hand I should like to put one question to the noble Baroness. It is said no British university will now be able to offer a post to an American scholar since he will not have tenure. Am I not right in thinking that under the Bill it is perfectly within the powers of a university to offer tenure to any member of staff it chooses? What is now to be the case is that all members of staff no longer have a right to tenure. Therefore that could lead to what in my mind is much needed in universities—greater differentiation in the terms of employment of the staff and of the salaries of the staff.

I am bound to say that I think that the head of steam that has been generated about academic freedom has been overdone. Everything that the UFC may do in the future is already being done by the UGC. If the opponents of the Bill ask why it is necessary to say so explicitly the answer is clear. When the UGC was set up it was designed to maintain or expand activities in universities. It was not intended to regulate them. But ever since the new universities were formed, before even the Robbins Committee reported, the UGC was regulating some matters in universities.

The only way in which the UGC can impose its will on universities is to refuse to fund them, as was done recently in the case of the University College of Cardiff. But it seems to me reasonable that in an education Bill of this kind the matter should be regularised. For years now the universities have told the UGC how they would like to develop and what new institutions they had in mind and the UGC has either blessed them or told the university that such a development would be unwelcome. Is this not what the UFC will do?

I very much take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Swann, made. He has hit the nail on the head. It is the effects of Treasury control filtering down to the individual ministries which produce the documents that he quoted. This is what I think universities justly fear. But that is not a facet of academic freedom. It is a facet of university finance and administration. Academic freedom means that no vice-chancellor or professor within the university, or individual or body outside the university, dares to stop academic staff researching, speaking or publishing what they believe to be true. In this matter the dons themselves are the arbiters, and so is their union, the Association of University Teachers.

Any vice-chancellor or head of department will bring a hornets' nest around his ears if he attempts to silence another don. If the Government tried to do so, the explosion would be greater than that which shook a former Home Secretary when he advised the governors of the BBC to ban a programme. A number of our most precious freedoms are guarded by custom and convention, not by statute; and I believe that academic freedom is one.

The University Funding Council may well have to go further. We need greater diversity among our universities. They should not all try to emulate Oxbridge and the top dozen. We need more universities that run sandwich courses. We badly need more universities that discard the present entry requirements and broaden their base of entry. We need universities that do not attempt to teach graduate students. We shall never get diversity unless we have a body such as the UFC to edge universities towards change.

We are dealing with a profession which, like all professions when their ways of life and methods of going about their jobs are called in question, is disturbed and worried and protests at the top of its voice. There is no more conservative profession than the education profession—unless it be the legal profession. Having said that, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, was right when he said that the first thing the Government have to do when this Bill is passed, however amended, is to restore the morale of teachers and to get them back on the side of all reasonable people who realise that education can never be confined and defined by education Bills. Education consists of the impact of the teacher's mind upon the children whom he teaches and whom he should love.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Blake

My Lords, I am afraid I am not a superannuated or moribund vice-chancellor. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that they constituted a large part of this House. However, I have had an academic career of some length and I should like to express at once my strong support for nearly all the measures in this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, made a great many good points, one of which was his welcome of the extension of the powers of the Secretary of State. I am sure that he is right, and I am sure that only some such extension will break through the log jam that we have. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and my noble friend (and my old friend) Lord Joseph, I was astonished at the complacency which seemed to be felt on Benches opposite about the condition of the British education system. I should have thought that there was ample incontrovertible evidence that things are not as they should be. In the 45 years since the Butler Act a great deal of fossilisation has taken place and matters have not been looked at again de novo.

I welcome a great many of the provisions of this Bill. The national curriculum is long overdue. Like my noble friend Lord Joseph I have a slight hankering for British history to be part of the core. But of course noble Lords may say that I have a slight vested interest in saying that—even an interest that I should declare.

I welcome testing and assessment; more open enrolment; and a greater financial freedom on the part of headmasters and governors—although I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is right that one cannot expect 20,000 headmasters to become financial managers overnight. The equivalent of the bursars in independent schools will prove to be a very necessary new feature under this reorganisation. I hope that that will be seriously considered.

I do not know how the grant-maintained schools will work, but I feel that the experiment is worth making. I welcome the city technology colleges and the transfer of polytechnics and institutions of higher education to an independent status. I have misgivings on three matters. The first is on the clauses concerning the universities. I am not quite as happy as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, seemed to be about that. I very much share some of the feelings expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Swann. However, it would be ungenerous not to recognise that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has made some very welcome modifications in the university clauses of this Bill. I shall not detail what they are because that would take far too long, but they would be generally recognised as being desirable in university circles.

Having said that, I feel that I ought to animadvert on the vexed question of academic freedom.

Academic freedom is difficult and perhaps almost impossible to define. Nevertheless, it has become something of a symbol. The academic world suffers at the moment from low morale. That low morale is due to underfunding and other reasons. But it takes the form of a certain resentment against the Government. I do not believe that the Government are popular in academic circles; I do not suppose they are under any delusion on that point. I cannot see why a reference to academic freedom cannot appear on the face of the Bill. It would relieve the resentment and the depression that is felt by a great many dons. I do not think that it would do any harm, and it might even do good.

I do not wish to go into very close detail but my suggestion is this. On page 159, at Clause 173, there is reference to academic tenure. A body called the University Commissioners is established. It is enjoined to exercise its functions having regard to the need…to apply the principles of justice and fairness". I cannot for the life of me see why one should not tag on to those two words the phrase "academic freedom". No doubt it will be said, especially by lawyers, that it would be very difficult to define academic freedom. However, it is extremely difficult to define fairness and justice. It cannot be much more difficult to define academic freedom than fairness and justice. I cannot for the life of me quite see why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State appears to have a great reluctance to see those two rather harmless words added to the Bill. Possibly there may be some move at a later stage towards some kind of amendment on those lines. I do not know.

I have just two other points to make. If I can make them I shall have managed to speak a great deal more briefly than any other of your Lordships. The second point was partly referred in relation to the core curriculum and foundation subjects. I wonder whether British history might not be a part of the core. But I also wonder—this is endorsing what my noble friend Lord Joseph said—whether there should not be more room for other subjects in addition to the core and foundation subjects. For example, I know that some school masters are seriously anxious about the possibility of the classics (I am sure that some noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, would strongly approve of the preservation of the classics as far as possible) and a second modern language being excluded. One will have to see how it works out in due course, but it seems to me that there is the possibility of one of those two important subjects being squeezed out, given the present timetables. It would be regrettable if that happened.

My third point is one which has been made by a good many noble Lords, though not from this side of the House. It concerns ILEA. I do not oppose the abolition of ILEA, and I know very little about ILEA, but on the most superficial appearances it seems to me that not enough thought has been given to all those various common services which ILEA performs. There are a great many of them. To take one example, what will happen to the Central London Careers Office with its computer base, which serves a most useful purpose and is very valuable indeed? It does a great deal to help find employment across borough frontiers in London as a whole. Can one seriously imagine 12, 13 or 14 different boroughs all trying to negotiate separately with employers' groups, with no body of that kind to operate as a conduit? That is but one example: many others could be chosen.

I hope that the Government have given close thought to all of this, and that the apparent lack of any clear provisions is only due possibly to the undue haste with which the Bill has been introduced. I hope my noble friend Lady Hooper will reply to that in due course. Having said that, and the minutes of my speech still being in single figures, I will sit down.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, the suggestion has been made that some of us on this side of the House are complacent about the state of British education. Despite that I shall repeat a fact that has already been mentioned. In the last 15 or 16 years, during which there has been a steady move away from selective to comprehensive secondary education, the standard of educational attainment in secondary school children as shown by examination results has steadily improved year after year.

Of course, we ought never to be complacent. We should always be asking ourselves what we can do to improve our education system, but we do not serve education or the people who work in it if we start by underestimating what they have been doing all these years. We must recognise that we have a system of education in which teachers, members of local authorities and governors have worked hard to give us a steadily improving service. If we are to achieve improvement on the lines that the Bill suggests or on any lines, we need the goodwill of the teachers and the goodwill of the local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, spoke particularly about the importance of having the goodwill of teachers. It is unfortunate that we have a Secretary of State who has made a declaration of war against teachers, who has deprived teachers of their right to ordinary negotiating machinery such as enjoyed by members of any other profession or occupation.

It is unfortunate that an element of hostility and malice is contained in the Government's proposals. I am afraid that it appears also in their attitude towards local authorities. If we want to know what the Government really think about the opting-out proposal, let us look at the words used in another place by the honourable lady, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science. She described opting out as breaking the shackles of the power brokers. "Power brokers" were the words she used to describe the people who serve on local education authorities. Throughout the country those people have been rendering a great service, and they have been very ill-rewarded for many years. That I am afraid is the kind of thing that is poisoning the Government's attempts to improve the education service. There is an element of malice partly towards teachers and partly towards local education authorities.

That is one reason, though only one, why some of us are very sceptical of the merits of what is called the opting-out proposal. To begin with it is a one-way traffic. One can opt out, but once opted out I see nothing in the Bill to enable one to opt back again, whatever may happen, despite the fact that the original decision will have been taken by parents who after a few years will have no further connection with the school. Yet the decision they have made when they were parents with children at the school is permanently binding on that school. That does not seem to me a good, fair or democratic arrangement or one likely to lead to good education administration.

It is not only hostility towards local education authorities in general. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, spoke of the way in which the Scots and the Welsh in the past surpassed the English in their zeal for education, but it is true that they also did it through elected local education authorities, not through the kind of device that is proposed in the Bill.

There is one local education authority that is particularly the target of the Government's hatred (I do not think "hatred" is too strong a word)—that is the Inner London Education Authority. Both the two noble Lords who have just spoken expressed some doubt, to say the least, about the wisdom of abolishing the ILEA and expressed some surprise that the Government were doing it. Perhaps I may suggest that there is no reason for surprise here. The ILEA is not being abolished because of any virtues or lack of virtues in the way it has behaved. It is being abolished because it usually has a Labour majority when the elections are held. That is what it is all about and has been for years, as noble Lords who are highly politically minded, or not even highly politically minded, are—and have been for years—quite well aware.

But why is it that it is such a wrong and disastrous decision? Before the ILEA there was the old London County Council. Before that there was the School Board for London. All three bodies covered almost exactly the same area though the population grew somewhat over the years. But it was always a large local education authority and there was always one authority for that large body. Why? I think the reason was that if a large number of people are to be catered for one is in a better position to deal adequately with those who have exceptional needs. That was brought out very well indeed by my noble friend Lord Carter who described the special schools for children with defects.

In a small local authority there will not be enough children with special needs to make it worth a local authority's while to provide the kind of service which a large local authority can provide for people with exceptional needs. That applies not only to those with exceptional defects but also to those who require unusual subjects. If one wishes to provide evening classes in Russian, for example, a large authority is more likely to have sufficient people wishing to join and therefore making it worthwhile to provide the service. Not only can it provide the services but it can back that up with expert staff.

One may ask, "In that case, why don't we have all our local education authorities large in size?" The answer is quite simple. If one draws on the map local education authorities with the population of Inner London, one will find that most are far too large in area to be feasibly run as one authority. The staff would not be able to travel around and members of the elected body would be unable to know the district properly. London has the peculiar advantage of having so dense a population on the ground that it is able to give a wide variety of services in a comparatively small area. Therefore it is possible for a member of ILEA to know the whole area as most do. That is the great advantage of London and for that reason it is criminal to throw it away.

The advantages have been developed and I can now strike out several pages of my notes because my noble friends have already dealt with the points. My noble friend Lord Carter spoke of schools for children with special disabilities. My noble friend Lord Donaldson spoke of the London Schools' Symphony Orchestra. We must realise that there is always a Jekyll and Hyde on the Benches opposite. While some will make what show they can for interfering with that orchestra, others will be saying privately to themselves, "What do these nasty people want? Most of them are working class with parents who usually vote Labour. What do they want with music anyway?" That is what we are up against, not from the smooth speeches that will come from the Front Bench but from some noble Lords who are not here at the moment and who will appear when required—

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, does the noble Lord not like music?

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, the noble Baroness knows perfectly well that I was not referring to her. Let me give one example of the special service that London can render—a service which is difficult for any other local authority to render. It is the amazing network of what used to be called "night schools", or more proudly "evening institutes", which provide almost every kind of education. They provide basic education for many people who come to this country with no knowledge of our language and who perhaps are not literate in any language but wish to acquire it. There are people seeking vocational education in order to obtain and keep jobs. There are older people who want cultural education to enrich their old age. Every kind of service is provided in the evening institute network which works with voluntary education bodies.

What will happen to that if ILEA is cut up into 13 pieces? It is no good saying that each local education authority will prepare a plan. Which of them will include in its plan responsibility for the Horniman and Geffrye Museums, to borrow again from my noble friend Lord Donaldson. The Horniman Museum provides unparalleled natural history and the Geffrye Museum provides social history. There are also the City Literary Institute and Morley College. I wonder how many members of the Government in the Department of Education and Science have visited any of those institutions and are aware of what is at stake.

What is the case urged against ILEA? First, it is that it is too expensive. What a discovery! Matthew Arnold made it when he was appointed an inspector of schools in the last century. I forget the exact figures but he pointed out that it was more expensive to educate a child in London than in the provinces. What does one expect? It is more expensive to do anything in London than in the provinces. Those to whom one pays wages and salaries will receive London weighting of some kind. If one buys or rents a piece of land it is bound to cost more in London than elsewhere. London education is bound to be more expensive and I am surprised that those who know something about the processes of government ever regarded it as a really serious argument.

Another argument is that the quality of London education is not what it should be. On examination of that the attackers must retreat from one sector after another. They know that that argument cannot be maintained about the primary schools which are unquestionably good, about the special schools, or about the provision of music and adult education. They are left with secondary education which is one of the most difficult parts of education. I believe it is true that the age at which people commit offences against the law is during the last year at school. That has been broadly true whatever has been the school leaving age over the years. That is so partly because they believe that liberty is coming and they jib at the restraints of school life rather more. In many ways looking after secondary school children is probably more difficult than any other part of the education process. If it can be shown that London secondary education can be improved we shall all be glad to see that. However, nobody has begun to suggest that it can be improved by carving up the London education service into 13 different sections.

That is the situation we are up against. Of course there are provisions in the Bill which one will approve. Indeed, it would be a triumph if in a Bill of this size there was nothing which one could approve. However, it is terribly flawed by the element of malice and ill will sometimes springing from ignorance but, I am afraid, sometimes springing from knowledge—knowledge of what is being done for the people of London and not wishing to see it done as well as it is at the present time. I am afraid that that is why, when we weigh the issue, we are bound to reach a conclusion unfavourable to the Bill.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Flowers

My Lords, I should like to make four limited points. First, I believe that I speak for all currently active Vice-Chancellors in welcoming the principle of a national core curriculum. I do so essentially for the reasons given by the Minister in her opening speech, and providing that it is flexible enough (which now appears to me to be more likely) to allow ample room for the expression of special interests and talents of both pupils and teachers. A coherent national curriculum is an essential concept towards broadening the academic basis of school education and of entrance to higher education for those so inclined. I also support regular pupil assessment provided that its main purpose is—contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Annan—to diagnose difficulties encountered by the pupils. I do not believe that raw assessment data can or should be used to rate the performance of schools without reference to many other relevant factors. I hope that that will not remain the intention behind Clause 15.

My second point concerns the Inner London Education Authority. I hold no particular brief for it as an organisation, and other noble Lords have dealt with it in any event. Like the noble Lords. Lord Carter and Lord Donaldson (with whose views I am much in sympathy) I wish to see maintained the many and various good things that it has done. Of special significance to me—and here I declare my interest—is the role of ILEA in the provision of and the preparation for degree-level adult education. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, has just referred to certain aspects of that. My university, the University of London, collaborates with ILEA in offering 250 courses each year to about 5,000 students at adult education centres throughout inner London. Many have a vocational value or make possible mature access to higher education. Across boroughs there is a great deal of sharing of experience, of facilities, equipment and students, without which the courses often could not be economic.

Wider access to higher education—now a national goal though still poorly funded and not much helped by this Bill as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has remarked—requires the systematic provision of courses and facilities for adult education which we enjoy in London thanks to ILEA. If this provision is to be maintained and developed, it will be necessary to construct some continuing or residuary mechanism for educational planning and co-ordination across London. In this matter I am at one with the noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Blake. I shall be interested to hear whether the Government are prepared to consider something along those lines.

My third point brings me to higher education. It seems clear that the Bill was originally based on some sound ministerial ideas on top of which DES draftsmen erected a preposterous structure of detailed powers over provisions and activities of all concerned which was so extreme that the Secretary of State largely disowned them. Vice-chancellors are grateful to Mr. Baker for being so ready to discuss his proposed powers with us and to reach an acceptable compromise. I refer to the duties and composition of the funding councils, his power to direct those councils and their powers to direct the institutions of higher education. What remains in the amended Bill now before the House in this respect is a much needed reform of the very unsatisfactory arrangements under which both we and the Government increasingly suffer at present.

My final point concerns academic freedom. I do not mean tenure, which I regard as an outmoded privilege; nor do I mean to imply that academics should do whatever they like irrespective of the cost or of their duty. Like the noble Lord, Lord Swann, I shall define my terms. I mean precisely the essential right of an academic to propose and test, by exposition and experiment within the law, unorthodox or unpopular views without fear of dismissal on that score or of direct and narrow political harassment. In that sense, academic freedom should be the concern of all of us and it should find an honourable place on the face of the Bill because it is of the essence of higher education and research. I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Blake, on that matter.

As regards the Government, harassment is now dealt with by curtailment of the powers of direction of the Secretary of State. However, I give warning that it could emerge again in terms of the contractual arrangements with institutions and individuals, to which the noble Lord, Lord Swann, referred, if these are drawn too narrowly.

There remains the question of dismissal where the Bill offers no protection in respect of academic freedom in the absence of tenure. So far the Government have given no ground, but both the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor have indicated a willingness to help. I understand that the noble and learned Lord has suggested that the commissioners who are to be entrusted with abolishing tenure by amending our charters and statutes in exercising their functions under Clause 173(2)(b) might explicitly be required, as the noble Lord, Lord Blake, wishes, to subsume within the concept of fairness the right to academic freedom more or less as I have defined it. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to say something on that subject tomorrow; but in any event, I thank him for his consideration.

Mr. Baker has suggested, alternatively, in his speech at Report in another place that Clause 174 paragraph (c) might be amplified so that the allegation of a breach of academic freedom would become a proper ground for grievance and appeal. Both suggestions offer hope that we shall be able to find a mutually acceptable solution; but, if not, there are several other possibilities being proposed by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford whose legal background has been of such immense value to us. Of course, we shall be pressing for amendments to one or both of these clauses in Committee.

Perhaps I may respectfully suggest that part of the Government's difficulty in legislating for academic freedom seems to me to derive from their desire to define it in terms which, for example, distinguish the unorthodox from the incompetent. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blake, I doubt whether too precise a definition is needed. One cannot readily define an elephant, but it is recognisable enough when encountered. More emphasis on the mechanisms of recognition—grievance procedures and appeals—and less on definitions would seem to me to be the way to tackle this admittedly difficult problem.

We have heard it said that this is all very well but the maintenance of academic freedom is a matter for management and not legislation. In a sense I agree: it is certainly a matter for management. However, I must ask Ministers to accept that it is they, together with some of their close supporters (such as Mr. Norman Tebbit in a recent interview), who have given the distinct impression that academic freedom is under attack by government. It is only by upholding it on the face of the Bill that a very real anxiety will be allayed; mere speeches will not suffice.

I hope your Lordships will support us on this point. Whether or not you do so however, there remains a great deal for management to do in protecting academic freedom under a multiplicity of threats, each less serious than dismissal but grave for all that, which may arise from within or without our various institutions. The management of universities will not shrink from that onerous duty.

7.48 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I shall limit my remarks to the subjects of academic freedom and children with special education needs. I cannot help reflecting that it is not so long ago that responsibility for universities was transferred to the Department of Education for the first time. If that had not happened we might have had two separate Bills before us instead of this massive and unmanageable document that we are considering today.

I am not going to comment on the much improved provisions relating to the Universities Funding Council except to say that I still have some underlying anxieties about the policies affecting the universities on which the Bill is silent. Listening to the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Swann, I could not help wondering what the state of play is on the proposals floated by the Government some time ago on contracts between the institutions and the funding council. We are talking about the universities against the background of steadily declining financial support in real terms. I fear too widespread a failure to appreciate what the universities have already done to bring themselves up to date.

My main cause for concern on the Bill relates to the section headed "Academic tenure" beginning at Clause 173. Incidentally, it seems a singularly inappropriate heading since the commissioners, I take it, will have to look at the statutes of all universities regardless of whether they provide for tenure. This will be necessary in order to check on the procedures for appeal against dismissal and also, presumably, on the procedures for dealing with grievances and discipline on which the Secretary of State has promised to introduce proposals to which we are all looking forward.

I have no wish to defend tenure as such though I note that the proposed route means that for some time to come the idle and the unpromotable have only to sit tight to avoid being caught. But I share the concern expressed by a number of speakers that though the commissioners, in revising university statutes, are to have regard to the principles of justice and fairness, they are put under no obligation to pay regard to academic freedom.

I read with interest an article on academic freedom in the highly regarded New Columbia Encyclopaedia which says that academic freedom is a civil right that is enjoyed, at least in statute, by all citizens of democratic countries, although not in the United Kingdom—not yet. By academic freedom the encyclopaedia makes it clear that it means much as we understand it and much as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, expanded a few moments ago. It was admirably set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, when she answered a Question about the Ruskin College report on 9th November last. It appears at col. 1283 of Hansard. She said: The Government takes the view that academic staff should have the freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions. I readily concede that the phrase "academic freedom" may fall short of perfection in conveying all the connotations of that definition, and it represents a concept which is not easy to define with particularity. But as the noble Lord, Lord Blake, pointed out, we already have in the Bill the abstract and undefined concepts of fairness and justice. It is not all that long ago that we were legislating about freedom of speech. The Government have made it clear that this is an aspect in respect of which they have some sympathy with the idea of providing that the commissioners should be called upon to cover it. We look forward to hearing what the noble and learned Lord will have to say on this tomorrow afternoon. Some of us may try to help at Committee stage with one or two suggestions of our own. It is certainly an aspect upon which strong feelings are held but which is pretty widely misunderstood.

There are one or two quite important points on procedure. I have some interest in the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. That college's statutes are set out in an Act of Parliament which was passed in 1985. That Act will have to be amended if these clauses go through. In the legislation of 1877 and 1923, which set up commissioners to revise the statutes of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, there was provision for a parliamentary stage. The orders had to be laid and they could be prayed against. There is nothing like that in this Bill. I wonder if it is right that the commissioners should be able to alter an Act of Parliament without Parliament even being told.

The position of the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College is not unique in this respect and there is something of an argument, if not for following the Oxford and Cambridge procedure completely then for at the very least requiring periodical reports to be made to Parliament. What do these provisions about Her Majesty in Council, which sound so splendid, mean in practice? Is there to be a universities committee of the Privy Council, as was provided for in the Oxford and Cambridge Act of 1877 and which was evidently still in existence in 1923? The Privy Council office is ably staffed but it is quite tiny. Am I right in assuming that when the amendments come rolling in from the commissioners they will at once be sent on to the DES for comment? If so, I wonder what plans have been made to ensure that those references are dealt with, if I may say so, a little more promptly than the occasional reference is dealt with now. It will be bad enough having differing provisions in various institutions over the three-year programme. It will be chaotic if the amendments are allowed to pile up.

There is just one other very short point. Am I right in reading the Bill as providing that redundancy can carry the somewhat novel interpretation that a senior academic can be sacked for redundancy and then immediately be replaced in the same job by someone who is junior and cheaper?

Leaving the universities on that slightly querulous note, I should like to say a few words about children with special education needs. I need not go into much detail in view of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and other speakers, but as chairman of MENCAP I am only too conscious of the anxieties felt by parents and teachers even after the amendments made in the other place to which the noble Baroness referred. I have in mind not just children with statements under the Education Act of 1981 but the much larger number who at some time during their school years have special education needs. One of the troubles is that the 1981 Act has itself been very patchy in its operation. There are widespread fears that this Bill will, if anything, make matters worse and result in more children being taken out of the mainstream and made to feel that they are in some kind of inferior position.

Perhaps I may take one or two points that illustrate why there is this concern. Clause 10 deals with exempting categories of children. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has pointed out, the word "categories" rings alarm bells when surely what we are all seeking is recognition of individual needs. Without entering into the dispute about ILEA, I should like to add my voice to those who have raised doubts about what happens to the special London schools, on which I fear the noble Baroness's comments were not totally reassuring. There is an absence of provision about higher education when so many of the 16 year-olds simply go back to living with their parents. When it comes to a school opting out the parents of those children with special needs will be in a small minority and there must be doubt if their voices will be heard.

Whatever the arrangements that are made when a school is opted out, can one be certain that it will keep up over the years its full share of educating those with special needs, with all the expense and inconvenience which that can involve? As time passes, will these parents really be left with a free choice?

I am conscious that here I am only touching the fringes of a difficult and complicated issue, but to deal with the needs for these children calls for funding and also for commitment and understanding. There are widely-held anxieties that these requirements will not necessarily be furthered by the provisions of this Bill.

8 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I strongly support the Bill for its provisions to enhance education standards, accountability and local democracy. For example, the national curriculum will help to ensure that virtually all pupils receive an education to equip them with the basic competencies needed for modern life, an appreciation of our cultural and spiritual heritage, some understanding of the world in which we live and opportunities to develop talents in fields as diverse as technology, music, art and PE.

The Bill will enhance democracy by giving parents more choice through open enrolment; by giving greater freedom to schools to decide how to spend their budgets; and by giving freedom to schools to opt out of LEA control where parents and schools are unhappy—perhaps because a school's existence is threatened, or because the LEA intends to close a good sixth-form, or is politically meddlesome, imposing policies on schools against their wishes. And the Bill will enhance the accountability of LEAs to schools and to the public and the accountability of schools to parents and pupils. Perhaps that is why measures such as testing and opting out are so fiercely resisted in some quarters.

The idea of testing has been virulently attacked, often on spurious grounds. Many parents have written to me expressing grave anxiety that the names of their children will be publicised. That is not true. The tests are diagnostic in the best sense. They are there to enable teachers to pick up learning difficulties at the ages of seven, 11 and 14, in order to help pupils before it is too late. Now, with no national tests before the age of 16, many pupils leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate. That is totally unacceptable. A system of tests, with aggregate scores for a school, will help teachers, parents and the public to assess a school. That accountability is needed because of evidence of widespread under-achievement and because research has shown wide variations between schools with pupils from similar catchment areas, suggesting that some schools are giving their pupils educational short change; and also because of international comparisons, to which other noble Lords have referred, which show British pupils doing less well than pupils in countries such as West Germany and Japan. Systematic testing can do nothing but good, and one wonders whether some of those who oppose it might have something to hide.

The other radical measure designed to enhance accountability has generated astonishing sound and fury. It is the provision for schools to opt out of LEA control. It is important to emphasise that opting out is optional. No school is compelled to opt out. In addition, the right of exit is a fundamental right in a free society. At present, many parents and pupils, especially those who are least well off financially, are trapped in LEAs where they are desperately unhappy and where they are often subjected to intolerable political interference in curricular or other matters. If parents and schools are happy, they will have no incentive to opt out; but if they are unhappy, they should be able to free themselves from unwanted control. There is evidence that even the prospect of opting out is already making some LEAs more responsive to the wishes of parents and schools. But if the provision to opt out is destroyed, or is made so difficult as to make opting out virtually impossible, such LEAs may immediately revert to their bullying tactics, imposing policies against the wishes of parents and teachers. So I believe that opting out is the most important provision of the Bill as it now stands. It will do more to enhance the accountability of LEAs than any other measure. It is essentially democratic. It is one of the most effective instruments for giving power to the people to have been devised in education for decades and I hope that your Lordships will make it easier, not harder, for schools to opt out.

I strongly support the proposals to abolish ILEA. Of course, all is not bad, especially in provision for children with special needs. There are some very good schools. But the overall track record in recent years is of profligacy, ideological interference and poor educational standards, especially in secondary education which is most important for pupils' futures. These failures—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, how does the noble Baroness deal with the fact that the vast majority of parents want ILEA to continue? She is strong on freedom of choice; but how does she deal with that point?

Baroness Cox

My Lords, perhaps I may suggest that the time for detailed discussion and evidence is the Committee stage and not now. Perhaps I may also suggest that many of those parents did not have the full facts put before them. They have been given a one-sided view of the situation. When the full facts of ILEA's track record become known during debates in Committee they will have a greater understanding of why it is quite justified and urgently necessary to abolish ILEA.

On higher and further education, I welcome the removal of polytechnics and comparable colleges from LEA control. Having studied for my first and higher degrees at a polytechnic, I have always appreciated the vision which Anthony Crosland had for the polytechnics. As they have achieved national status they deserve this recognition, while acknowledging the great debt that many of them owe to the civic support which enabled them to attain their well-earned reputations. The only concern I wish to mention now relates to the future composition of governing bodies of ILEA polytechnics, a point which my noble friend Lord Onslow will raise in Committee.

Finally, there are three areas where I believe the fundamental objectives of the Bill (which I wholeheartedly endorse) have perhaps not gone quite far enough. First, I am worried by an apparent monopoly over the public examinations for which a school may enter its pupils. Clauses 5 and 17 specify that the Secretary of State shall determine those examinations. However, in view of justified criticism of GCSE history by courageous teachers in Sussex, I fear that this power could prevent teachers from offering alternatives to syllabuses with which they are unhappy.

Secondly—and perhaps most important of all—I am concerned about religious education and worship. I welcome the alteration to the Bill which I understand will give RE the status of primus inter pares in the core curriculum. But developments since the 1944 Act show how the spirit and the letter of the law have been grossly violated. Many schools have no acts of worship; many pupils have no RE. And often what passes for worship and RE is either a shallow dabbling in a multi-faith pot-pourri, doing justice to no faith, and possibly destroying all faith; or a secularised message, sometimes amounting to little more than political indoctrination. What has happened under the present dispensation, despite the long-standing provision for Church involvement in local committees, is a betrayal of our spiritual heritage in many schools.

This is not the time for detailed evidence—that will be for the Committee stage—but many people believe that we should now rectify the omission of the 1944 Act which failed to specify the predominantly Christian or biblical nature of RE and worship. Of course the right to withdraw children must be safeguarded, and there must be an opportunity for all to learn about other major world religions. But we are still a predominantly Christian country and we need to ensure that our young people do not grow up ignorant of the faith of their forefathers or of the great Christian influence in our nation's spiritual heritage, culture and history. For those parents who have been so dismayed by the failure of many state schools to respect religion that they have set up their own schools at great sacrifice, it will be helpful to have some encouragement that those schools might receive fair and favourable consideration if they apply for voluntary aided status.

My final brief concern is in higher education. Many people are disappointed that the Bill does nothing to increase accountability and democracy in student unions. Those closed shops spend huge sums of public money on partisan political activity, and reform of the system is therefore long overdue.

Accountability and democracy are the essential features of this immensely important Bill. It is a charter for giving more power to the people, especially to those who are most vulnerable, who cannot buy themselves out of a system in which they are trapped and where many are desperately unhappy. There can be no more worthwhile justification for legislative change than to give greater freedom and good education to those who are now denied them.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, a million words or more have been written and spoken about the Government's proposals to reform our education system. Indeed, we ourselves will add a million more during the next few weeks—contentious and angry words. If there is anything in the classical belief that truth emerges out of a clash of opinions it should come forth in this House shining and strong.

I very much doubt that truth alone will have the slightest effect on the Secretary of State and his colleagues. What is also needed is for Members of the House boldly to follow the truth, as they see it, through the Division Lobby. However, as we have now seen in another place, even this Government, with their overweening majority and prideful leader, can be persuaded to modify their harsher decrees if some of their members dare even to threaten revolt.

Today's list of speakers is remarkable not only for its length but for the many professional educationists and politicians who have been closely concerned with education who are taking part. There are far more speaking today than tomorrow. However, I cannot claim to be one of them. I am a superannuated—I hope not moribund—journalist. However, I spent five sabbatical years at the Nuffield Foundation. I was then very much concerned with the academic world.

A few moments ago there were three people in the Chamber who were beneficiaries of the foundation. I was also concerned at that time with the primary schools because we were then preparing the ground for Nuffield French.

I have also learnt much about schools from my sister who was for many years the head of a junior school with mostly black pupils in the notorious Moss-side district of Manchester, working in conditions very similar to those of some of the inner London boroughs. Similarly I have learnt much from my daughter who was until recently a teacher in a junior school on the fringe of inner London.

However, to refresh my personal knowledge I visited an inner London primary school a week or two ago. I found that the headmistress was worried about the future of her school as it will be under the new and inexperienced authority. If we say that she like all teachers has a real and professional interest in the Bill we should of course be right. However, teaching is not only a profession; it is a vocation. Many, if not all, teachers care passionately about the task that they have chosen in life. They care also about their pay and conditions, for which of course they have a justified personal concern.

In my evidence a bad school—I have visited many—gives itself away in a few minutes to a discerning visitor. The school I visited was obviously a good one. I guessed that it had been built about seven or eight years ago, but I found that it had existed for 30 years. Its good architecture and I LEA's concern for maintenance had deceived me.

It is common to accuse the authority of prodigal expenditure, especially if one has just looked at the educational precept on one's rate demand and one's children are grown up or at a private school. Even ILEA's best friends would not defend it as a model of financial prudence and economy. However, one should also look behind the financial accounts to the authority's traditional generous and affectionate concern for young people in London. That is an inheritance of philanthropic Victorian values from the old London school board and the LCC.

Welfare provisions are needed as much today as ever in the current, much vaunted, successful economy. It is a time, as every teacher knows, when moral confusion presses on social problems. It is a time of unemployment, a time of homelessness for the least capable minority, a time of one-parent families and a time when four out of 10 children in the inner London area have mothers who were born in some other land and are trying to adjust to this one.

I return to the school which I visited. The children there were well behaved, well nourished, neatly groomed and dressed in school uniform. Indeed, one could have taken it for a middle-class school. But appearances deceive. Half the children qualified for free school dinners and clothing allowances. One-third were not white, but there is no colour problem as yet in that school. One-third—not the same third—are members of one-parent families. All in all it was a pretty typical inner London school.

I attended the assembly, which had the Christian element, although no child need attend if his parents wish otherwise. The headmistress had no complaints about lack of books; indeed, she showed me with pride the school library and the two computers that had been provided for pupils. Further, a girl who desperately required special tuition was sitting alone with a teacher. Another girl—a black girl of remarkable grace—has a rare talent for dancing and might be sent to a school where her talents can be developed; that is, if ILEA can find a place and, even more important, if one can be certain of her mother's agreement.

I read through the prospectus given to prospective parents and the head's annual report. It said: Class 4 visited Chapel Farm in Surrey … Police showed the video, 'Have Fun—Take Care'. School journey to Swanage … athletics meeting at Hurlingham … won a shield. First governors' meeting for parents … one parent and 10 governors attended". I thought the last entry was a tragic fact. If the authority that replaces ILEA turns out to be unsatisfactory—I do not think it will—the chances of a school with such a background opting out of local authority control are nil. Parents do not have the time, the energy, the will or the social and organisational skills to take on such a heavy responsibility.

The Government have taken the decision to abolish ILEA. It is a sudden, ill thought-out change of plan and a capitulation to political prejudice and ignorance. I shall briefly quote from the report of an education reform group which makes no attempt to underplay ILEA's shortcomings or the complications of necessary reform, but concludes: Of all the options open to the Government, those contained within the original Bill"— that is, when borough could apply for permission to opt out— were the least rational and the most likely to cause irreparable damage to the children and people of inner London. Those now agreed by Cabinet and to be inserted in the Bill can be regarded as the next worst. The real and serious charge against the Government is not that it wishes to abolish the ILEA but that it seems completely devoid of any viable conception of what might be put in its place. No Government should be so careless of people's futures". I shall resist the temptation to quote more from that document, which was compiled by educationists and two education journalists.

I should just like to say a word about my profession. During fairly recent years all the serious newspapers have cultivated first-class education correspondents. They give them a great deal of space to explain what is going on in the very difficult and complicated education world. Surely the Government must think through this problem. They still have time.

The Government should think of creating some unitary body above the boroughs to deal with planning and trans-border problems, special schools and further and adult education. One constructive suggestion flying around is that the boroughs should be deputed to look after the education of the under-16s and that a new unitary authority should have responsibility for the rest.

It would be sad indeed if the fears of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education were realised and that the existence of adult education and services in London were threatened. This would be a great deprivation, especially to those who had limited education at school and who at last, in the second half of life, with the children off their hands, can fulfil a lifetime's desire to learn more about their world, its history and its riches in literature and the arts.

We saw Mr. Baker here earlier this afternoon. He is a genial, well intentioned and, by nature a progressive man. He should be aware that, as in education history the name of Butler is blessed, the name of Baker may well be darkly remembered as the Minister who lowered the standards of London education. Does he realise the dangers? He has shown a certain flexibility as the Bill has progressed elsewhere. He can recognise a red danger signal if it goes on flashing long enough. He should show more flexibility now, and his friends on the opposite Benches should encourage him to do so.

8.22 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, it is almost inevitable that in this debate we should continually be referring back somewhat nostalgically to the 1944 EducationAct. I have no doubt that the present Secretary of State is as concerned as was his distinguished predecessor to achieve a creative partnership of the statutory and voluntary bodies in the service of education. I could wish, however, that, as in 1944, there had been a longer period of consultation before the Bill was published and that we were not left with the impression that much of the consultation is taking place, as it were, on a moving escalator as the public debate on the Bill proceeds.

I do not presume to speak as an academic but as a lay officer of a unversity who is concerned about the morale of its academic staff and who has an overwhelming desire to see that any new framework for relations between the universities and the Government should in no way seem to imperil that freedom of thought and speech in universities which successive governments of all parties have sought to uphold for so long. I share the views of the noble Lords, Lord Blake and Lord Flowers, that this should be referred to specifically in the Bill along with references to the principles of justice and fairness.

I am as grateful as any noble Lord who has already spoken for the concessions that the Secretary of State has made and for the willingness which I understand he and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have shown to have further discussions about possible amendments. Like many others, I am glad that the Secretary of State has told the representatives of the universities that he has an open mind as to how academic freedom should be protected in the Bill.

Universities must not be thought of as though they were departments of state subject to central control, nor as the different regiments of an army under the leadership of a commander-in-chief. Universities are distinct and independent institutions, no two of which are alike. They have come into being at different times. They each have their own history, traditions and statutes. What some of us look for before all else is that the individuality and the particular ethos of a university shall not be put at risk any more than the academic freedom of the teaching staff.

The noble Lord, Lord Swann, in explaining to your Lordships so eloquently the concerns which academics have about their freedom, made it clear that the universities do not wish to protect privilege or to secure a special status for their teaching staff. I hope that the future consultations, yet to take place on the moving escalator, will be concerned with three fundamental freedoms which, regardless of party, class or creed, many regard as being of lasting value to this country. These are the freedom to research in subjects of as yet unrecognised importance, the freedom to question received wisdom and the freedom to be protected from direct and narrow political interference by the government of the day. This is what Sir Mark Richmond, the Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, has said they mean by academic freedom. It is not, he says, a licence to brood comfortably in ivory towers.

I hope that the university commissioners to be appointed under the Bill will be encouraged to deal with each university as an institution in its own right and with its own distinctive character and ethos. If they are to do this they will need to have the maximum freedom possible to agree with individual institutions what procedures would work best in their particular circumstances. The commissioners' freedom to act must surely not be too tightly circumscribed by the Bill lest the universities slowly slide into becoming puppets of Whitehall.

I should like to make one suggestion which I hope the noble Baroness who is to reply to the debate tomorrow will be ready to explore. When further thought is given, as has been promised, to setting up a grievance procedure for academics who feel that they are being discriminated against because of their views, perhaps the Secretary of State will also consider setting up an independent court of appeal to which reference could be made in the event of a difference persisting between an individual and the university that he or she serves.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London made it clear earlier in the debate that we on these benches are concerned with the whole field of education, from nursery schools to universities, because we are concerned for the whole nation and all its people. It is for that reason that I have presumed to speak on an area of education for which the Church has no direct responsibility and in which those of us who serve as academic or lay officers do so as individuals and not in any representative capacity. As we look around the world today I believe that the future of our country and its place in the family of nations depends in no small measure on the quality and range of our research institutions and on the ability and the freedom of university teachers. I hope that this Bill in its final form will strengthen our universities as institutions of teaching and research comparable to any the world over.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, by tradition, Second Reading is an occasion for a procession of stately written speeches with many points covered, each brought to an elegant conclusion. I have many such speeches here. I have the 20-minute speech that I wrote at the beginning of last week; the 15-minute speech that I wrote in the middle of last week; and the 10-minute speech that I wrote over the weekend, but under the circumstances, I think that I should restrict myself to the notes that I have scribbled on a card this evening and to one subject only.

I have, during the discarding of those speeches, discarded every other matter of moment, but there is one that I am reluctant and unwilling to discard, and that is the question of the teaching of religious education in schools. I place it at the head of my list, but not only because I am a Christian and wish to share the joy that that can give with everyone else that it is possible to reach. This is not a spiritual debate; we are not making spiritual legislation. I therefore advance the secular arguments of which I think your Lordships should not lose sight. First, I remind your Lordships and, in particular, the Government, that it is a first duty of government to retain and strengthen the fabric of society. A principal instrument for that purpose is the law, not just statute law such as we are discussing this evening, but the law of England that has evolved down the centuries—the common law of England.

The function of the law is, above all, to see that right triumphs over wrong. Neither of those two words "right" or "wrong" has any meaning outside a system of morality, and the system of morality in this country is based upon the Christian religion and the Christian literature on which we have been brought up for 10 centuries.

If you remove religion, you remove the justification for morality. If you remove morality, you remove the justification for the law, and we must have a care when we start kicking at the legs of the stool on which all of us are standing in our society. That is a secular issue because without the law there would be no government; and that is a secular matter of concern to my noble friends on the Front Bench.

Another matter is, I suppose, best encapsulated by pointing out the grotesque absurdity there would be if the children of this country were expected to be required to read the works of Bernard Shaw, for instance, or even Shakespeare, or even Marx, and not required to be familiar with the greatest work of English literature—the Bible. That brings me to an important secular point.

We in this country have a good record for the protection of the cultures of our minority peoples, and the principal vehicles for the cultures of all of us have, down the centuries, been our religions. I applaud the way in which we, and the Government, have defended that particular aspect of a multi-racial society, but we must not, in our enthusiasm to protect the cultures of our minority societies, neglect the culture of our majority society. That also is carried on the vehicle of the Christian religion.

If our children are not brought up with a proper understanding of and respect for that, they will lack the sense of security which will enable them to provide a tolerant and friendly home for others of minority persuasions who have to live with them as a result of their histories.

Lord Alport

My Lords, does my noble friend consider that the real basis for the teaching of the Christian religion is by parents in the family and the Church itself, and that that should not be regarded as being the responsibility of an education system?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the danger of having an unscripted speech is that one is drawn rapidly away from one's theme. In this case, however, my noble friend has anticipated what I was about to say. I am, I suppose, in a slightly sardonic way grateful to him.

If my noble friend will allow me to bring that point in where it is relevant, I would say that as a result of all that I have said, I welcome with equal enthusiasm with those who have already welcomed it—notably the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London—the promotion of religious education from the bottom of the third division of subjects to its present position as a compulsory subject. That is to be welcomed, but I am anxious to know what it is that that subject will be now that it is going to have to be taught. Your Lordships can see how my syntax breaks down from the elegant Georgian prose of manuscript when I try to get across this sort of idea.

I am anxious that the syllabus that is taught shall be principally Christian, for the valid secular reasons that I have already given. I understand that as a result of the welcome advances made in the position of the Secretary of State—his agreement in conversation with the right reverend Prelate and others—what we have is machinery equivalent to the 1944 machinery as established in the 1944 Act. The right reverend Prelate was against the specific mention of "Christian" for reasons which he did not advance but which he attributed to the noble Lord on the Front Bench at the time of the debate on the 1944 Bill. He was kind enough to give me the reference, and I was prudent enough to look it up.

My eye fell in fact on the end of the preceding speech by the then right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and, in particular, on the last two striking sentences thereof, which were, first: If religious instruction is to be compulsory in all schools, we ought to ensure that it is given in the faith in which it is, I submit, intended that it should be given". The second sentence was: We have to think of the future, as well as of the present".—[Official Report, 21/6/44; col. 366.] The future about which the right reverend Prelate was talking is the present that we now have, and therefore I looked with particular interest at the argument put forward at that time by the noble Earl against the inclusion of specific references to Christianity. He said, in part: The Bill gives effect to it in the Seventh Schedule"— that is, the intention. It is there set forth that there must be a conference between four panels, of which one represents the Church of England, another the other denominations, the third the local authorities and the fourth the teachers. They have to agree unanimously on the syllabus, and that at any rate ensures that it will be a syllabus which the Church of England can accept, and the Church of England is not going to accept a syllabus which is not in accordance with the Christian faith".—[Official Report, 21/6/44; col. 366.] I recall the moving and telling paragraphs of the speech of my noble friend Lady Cox a few moments ago which suggested that in many classrooms what is taught is not the Christian faith, and indeed in many classrooms is not a religious faith at all. If that is so, then there is real reason for concern. I feel that that concern can only be met in a combination of two ways. The first way is a machinery that produces an agreed syllabus that is predominantly Christian in its matter. That is the responsibility of the churches, and if the existing machinery gave that responsibility to the churches, and if my noble friend Lady Cox is right— I believe that she will have further information to give to your Lordships later—then either there was something gravely wrong with the machinery or there was something gravely culpable in the conduct of the churches. I do not mean culpable; I mean deeply to be regretted.

If that is recognised, and if we have under a similar machinery, a syllabus or syllabuses produced which have the balance for which I ask, that in itself is not enough. It must be the case that that balance is delivered into the individual lessons in the classroom and that teachers of strange views cannot pick the fringe passages of the syllabus and teach a totally distorted and unchristian syllabus as a result. That is what I believe is being done. Secondly, if that is ensured then there must be a means of remedying the fact when it is not being done. If those conditions are met, I believe that many of us who are at present deeply concerned about what is proposed on this one aspect of the Bill—and I have left myself no time to expand on my approval of the rest of the Bill; your Lordships will have to take it as read—will be deeply reassured.

The Lord Bishop of London

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may raise a point with him. I think he said in his speech that I stated that with the amendments which are to come in the Bill, the situation will be as it was at the time of the 1944 Act. In fact that is not so. There were significant changes in that, as broadcast by the Minister, first, the standing conferences will be mandatory. Secondly, they will be subject to review which will be required. Thirdly, the complaints procedure will be extended in this sphere. I do not for a moment say that the Church has not done all it could but I believe that the provisions which are now being made will enable the Church to take a much more vigorous part than it has been able to take in the past.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as those remarks were before I sat down, I rise, first, to apologise to the right reverend Prelate for having misreported him. Secondly, I am very willing to be persuaded, but it is difficult because I believe this is a matter of deep conscience. I have been much encouraged by what the right reverend Prelate says and no doubt the job will be completed at the Committee stage.

8.41 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, if he had to discard most of his speech, at any rate did not deprive us of the views he holds about religious education. I think my sympathies are with him there, and for that matter with Lady Cox, as long as she sticks to religion. When she gets on to politics, of course, I find her views quite revolting, but as long as we are talking of religion my heart beats at one with hers.

I shall speak briefly, not in a sense from a lack of views but because my views about this Bill have been expressed so well by other speakers, beginning with the noble Baroness, Lady David, that there is no need for me at this time of night to begin to dwell further on them. I might have said something about academic freedom. I know that those who are much closer to the academic scene than I am, like the noble Lords, Lord Morton of Shuna and Lord Peston, will be dealing with that subject authoritatively tomorrow.

I am one of those who benefited from academic freedom in the old days. When I became what was called a student of Christchurch I was regarded as a promising conservative, but after I had been there a few years I turned into a socialist. No one interfered with me; we did not have some inspector coming along. Indeed, he would have had a fairly good case, because a young historian had been elected just before that—my old friend Lord Gordon-Walker, as he became. He started as a rugger-playing conservative when he was appointed and turned into a socialist. So if one had had any sort of planning system, if Mr. Baker had been allowed to come round and try to rationalise our place, to have had these two young dons both teaching socialism would have been against the Government's ideas of planning. I am bound to say that the college corrected it all later by appointing Lord Blake and Hugh TrevorRoper—Lord Dacre, as he is now. But at any rate at that time we were left in freedom, or academic freedom, which I certainly valued.

However, I want to deal with another topic very briefly. I want to speak on a Catholic point of view. I would not say "the" Catholic point of view, for the Duke of Norfolk places before us the Catholic view in this House and in his presence I should not dream of saying more than that mine is "a" Catholic view. The Minister is a Catholic, and I hope she is a better Catholic than I am. It would be terrible to think that we had a Minister in charge of education who was not a better Catholic than I, so I am ready to assume that she is. At any rate, all sorts of views have been expressed by Catholics. I am expressing a point of view which is that of the Catholic bishops. I suppose that most people would agree that if they cannot be represented in this House it is just as well that somebody should inform the House of what they are saying.

It is rather important here to disabuse the right honourable gentleman Mr. Baker of the idea that he has reached a settlement. I cannot, of course, speak for the Church of England, from which I lapsed about 48 years ago. I am thoroughly out-of-date there, and the right reverend Prelate has already explained the point of view of that Church this afternoon. But I can speak (not that anyone has asked me to do so, but no one has forbidden me to) in informing the House of what the Catholic bishops think. If there is any doubt about what they think, there is a long press statement which was summarised in some of the newspapers over the weekend. Therefore we know, or we have a very good idea, what the Catholic bishops think.

The right honourable gentleman is under the impression that he has reached a settlement; he boasts about it. I think the noble Baroness was rather sceptical about the settlement which the right honourable gentleman has reached—and he went so far as to use the word "settlement". I have not come across any passage in which he compares himself with Mr. Butler, but I gather that he has done so and said that he is a latter-day Mr. Butler. In fact, that is all codswallop. There is no settlement with the Catholic bishops at all, and I think that should be fully understood before we proceed. Progress has been made in certain directions but, as anybody can see if they look at the statement of the bishops, there are a great many discussions still to come.

On some of the points on the very important issue of the status of religion, I think that a settlement—and I am talking at the moment only of the Roman Catholics—is in sight. As regards opting out, a settlement is in no way in sight. It may be reached or it may not be reached, but at the moment Mr. Baker must not delude himself at all in to thinking that he has reached a settlement.

I shall just read one short passage from the statement of the Catholic bishops and then sit down: The concern of the Bishops on this point arises from the fact that Catholic schools are part of the life of the Church and an expression of its faith. The bishop has clear and specific responsibilities in the life of the Church. The proposals contained in the Bill deny the bishop the means needed to fulfil these responsibilities". That is a statement issued by the Catholic bishops last Saturday, so there is a great deal of argument to come. At the moment one cannot see a way forward to a settlement. That is all I want to say. I think it is very important that the Minister and her right honourable friend should not imagine that they have a settlement in the bag.

The Lord Bishop of London

My Lords, I apologise for intervening again but before the noble Earl sits down perhaps I could say, in fairness to the Secretary of State, that I was at the meeting after which the statement was made. In that context it was quite clear that, in the words he used, "settlement" referred to what we were talking about earlier; that is, religious education in schools. I think I am right in saying that at the time there was no suggestion that a settlement had been reached over opting out, or anything else like that. I think that should be said in fairness to the Secretary of State, because it is not accurate to apply his term "settlement" to the whole range of voluntary schools within the context of the Bill.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am very sorry to disturb the religious front in any way at all, but the Secretary of State has made more than one misstatement. One of the statements in his Third Reading speech related to that issue. Another statement did not refer to it at all. He actually said that there was a settlement with the Churches and the universities. With due respect, if the right reverend Prelate wishes I will show him the passage. Mr. Baker has managed to mislead himself up to now, but perhaps assisted always by the noble Baroness he will clear his mind and, I hope, propose a settlement.

8.49 p.m.

Lord Butterworth

My Lords, noble Lords will notice that I am 25th on the list of speakers and therefore when I sit down more than half of the day's business will have been discharged. Therefore at this hour I shall confine myself to one subject only: academic freedom. Your Lordships will notice that those words have been used today in two senses—first referring to individual members of staff, and secondly referring to the institution.

The new dispensation under the Education Reform Bill could affect academic freedom in both those senses. We have heard that the Government have already agreed to a number of amendments in the Bill to meet the views of universities. There remains between them one unfinished piece of business, which is academic freedom. As I understand it universities are not opposed to the abolition of tenure but are asking for some provision to be inserted in the Bill to protect it. I believe here that there is a difficulty. No one is prepared to define "academic freedom", and even the Committee of Vice-Chancellors has failed or has not at any rate produced a definition.

It was because of this difficulty that my friend Alex Kwapong who was the former vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana said—I do not think that this would be suitable as a definition but it was the nearest that he could get to it: Academic freedom consists in being comfortable in one's harness. I suspect that academic freedom can only be defined as that freedom accorded to a member of academic staff when his contract of service does not give contractual power to the employer to give him notice. In other words, tenure is the outwork of academic freedom. Academic freedom and tenure are really the opposite sides of the same concept. If we really are concerned about academic freedom, we should give some thought as to whether tenure should be abolished.

The inspectors who were appointed to inquire into the problem at Ruskin College ran into the same difficulty. They decided not to define academic freedom but rather to describe it. The description in Part I of their report was quite useful. The last paragraph of that description is I think relevant to what has been said today. It states: whether or not academic freedom is threatened and in the event of a threat the effectiveness of the action taken will depend less upon any statement of principle or upon the procedures laid down essential though they are than upon the nature of the institution. The most effective safeguard of academic freedom and the first line of defence is the cultivation within the institution by tradition and by leadership of an ethos of openness and mutual tolerance of the measured exchange of opinions and of civilised behaviour.

There are two factors which should be considered when one is thinking about abolition of tenure and academic freedom. The first is that in practice only about one half of the academic staff of this country have legal tenure, for many institutions have always had contracts of service allowing the institution to terminate the contract on six months' notice. The truth is that that power is simply not used, for a convention has developed that such staff are treated usually as though they had a contract giving them legal tenure. Hence we have in the country at the moment the situation where half of the academic staff enjoy legal tenure and the other half have no legal protection but are treated as though they have. The second point is that the statutes of most universities lay down that apart from the contract a member of staff can only be dismissed for good cause. So a member of staff can be dismissed for good cause or by reason of the contract. The statutes indicate the procedures by which such cases are to be investigated.

The practices which have grown up around these provisions have in practice made it extremely difficult to dismiss anyone. It takes an enormous amount of time, effort and expense and the chances of failure are often so great that some institutions are increasingly reluctant to put the case to the test. That is a test which has become much greater in my view because of the wide interpretation which the judiciary has given to the requirements of natural justice. Dismissal should be a matter of administration but the smaller the institution, the greater the difficulties when procedures are categorised as judicial.

One question that I should like to put to the Minister (although I realise that it may not be capable of being answered within the time of this debate) is the following: do we need the Byzantine procedures of the commissioners? Could we not get rid of all that procedure and have a simple provision in the statute? We could achieve what we want in the Bill if all universities and other institutions were required to have a contract of service which was subject to six months' notice on either side.

I now mention another point which again could be dealt with briefly in the Bill if we had the will to do it. I have some sympathy with those academic staff who if changes are to be made would wish to see tenure abolished for all. They would wish tenure to be abolished at the same time at a given date for all staff. Why not, for instance, take a date, say 1st January 1993, and provide that from that date forward all contracts of service would be subject to six months' notice on either side? The fear is of course that without compensation such action might be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore there would be a successful challenge before the European Court.

It is in fact the case that the European Convention on Human Rights provides for an exception when what is done is done in the public interest. I suspect that the widespread view in this country is that the contract of tenure of academic staff should be brought to an end as an anachronism.

I shall briefly deal with the second meaning of academic freedom—that is to say, the freedom enjoyed by institutions. It has been argued today that that may be threatened by the concept of the contract between the institution and government or more precisely between the institution and the funding council. That piece of machinery—the contract—is quite crucial to the working of the procedures laid down by the Bill. However, the contract as such is nowhere referred to in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Swann, drew attention to some inelegant contracts which had been issued, as I understand it, from the Department of Education. He hoped that the autonomy of universities would not be impeded by contracts which entered into such detail. The Secretary of State, in speaking to the vice-chancellors in October of last year, went out of his way to assure them that the Department of Education did not have contracts of that kind in mind. In view of what has been said, it might be useful to quote a few sentences from the Secretary of State concerning what he has in mind regarding the contractual arrangements. He said: I fully recognise … that contracting arrangements must not be excessively bureaucratic; nor must they be insensitive to the distinctive characteristics of higher education. Indeed, I would put this positively by saying that contract-based funding must accommodate the distinctive nature of our higher education institutions. In particular, contracting must not jeopardise the pursuit of research and scholarship. Nor should it be of a kind that deprives universities of the margin of flexibility they need to seize new opportunities for teaching or research. The Government does not want a system in which institutions have to come cap in hand to the centre whenever they see a chance to provide a new service. But I am equally sure that they will be ready to be accountable after the event for the use to which you have put public funds". I am sure that if those principles are observed in practice, we will have a contract between the institution and the funding council which will help the relationship of both parties. Indeed, the Croham Committee, when it reported on the funding council, had foreseen that a broad contract of that kind might enable the university and therefore the polytechnic to state what its major plans and objectives were and would enable the funding council in the years ahead to monitor the performance of the institution to see that the plans were being properly brought to fruition. I submit that if the contract is developed in that way it will not impede the autonomy of the institutions concerned.

9.5 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I wish that I could emulate the unscripted eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. However, I am afraid that your Lordships will have to bear with my attempts to decipher a rather scrappy and savaged script. First, I should like to say on behalf of my noble friend Lady Masham, who is not speaking because of the number of noble Lords doing so, that she plans to put down an amendment on health education. That matter was also of interest to our late colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox. I should like to say how very much we shall miss her.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

Perhaps I may say a word or two from the bottom of the noble Earl's league table on religious education. I welcome the amendments promised by the Secretary of State and by the Minister. However, the main worry of the Catholic Church remains that opting out could be deleterious for Catholic education. The policy is that Catholic schools should be open to all Catholic children of whatever class, race or intellectual ability. The Church's fear is that the grant-maintained school could end up with all the elite pupils and that ordinary, run-of-the-mill kids might miss out.

I echo all that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said concerning special educational needs. He spoke from personal experience and he has said much of what I feel and what the numerous individuals and groups of parents who have contacted me feel. There is deep concern that progress towards integration may not continue. I also agree with what the noble Lord said about the merits of a flexible curriculum to include rather than exclude pupils with SEN.

If we cannot achieve a more flexible curriculum, I welcome the amendments introduced in another place as an attempt to deal with the problem. However, there appears to be no obligation to consult parents about modifications to or exemptions from the curriculum. Furthermore, it is essential if the curriculum is withdrawn that a modified one be applied with the approval of parents.

As regards testing, I am encouraged by what a paper, kindly sent to me by the Minister, had to say about assessment not being on a pass-fail basis and its welcome of the broad framework of the TGAT report. The report recommends that assessment instruments should be made sufficiently flexible to accommodate SEN pupils.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that parents of children with special educational needs have great reason to be worried about the proposed abolition of ILEA. He spoke from experience. As he said, the provision in ILEA in special mainstream schools is very much a trans-boundary affair and it is a sphere in which ILEA has been acknowledged to excel. That was said not only by the noble Lord tonight but also by the Secretary of State when he made the Statement on the abolition of ILEA on 4th February (at col. 1187 of the Official Report of another place). He stated: The great bulk of special education provision in inner London is good—some of it is very good". The worries about the future of the crucial central support services of ILEA and whether they will continue have already been mentioned. However, I should like to ask the Minister about the ILEA boarding schools which are situated outside the area. For example, Dromenagh at Ivor Heath is the only ILEA primary boarding school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Fernhirst, which is just down the road from me at Maidenhead, is one of two ILEA boarding schools for girls with EBD. Who is to take responsibilty for these schools whose work is very impressive and much needed.

The tremendous range of adult education within ILEA will surely diminish after abolition. The Fish Report acknowledged that this was an area where integration had been achieved very effectively. It can be particularly important for the adult with SEN who may have missed out on education earlier in life. If the Government are determined to abolish ILEA, I beg the Minister to consider the need for an overall body to provide for the education of all those with SEN in the London area. I echo the concern about children with SEN being the losers if schools opt out over grant-maintained status.

I therefore warmly welcome the amendments introduced in another place which refer to provision for pupils with SEN in the clauses on the acquisition of grant-maintained status and the change of character or enlargement of grant maintained schools. I feel that Clause 78 also needs amending so that particulars about the premises or proposed premises include a reference to the extent to which they will meet requirements of Design Note 18.

Perhaps I may briefly signal where else in the Bill it is important to make specific reference to special educational needs. In Clause 30 the number and ages of pupils with SEN will need to be taken into account when determining the budget share. In Clause 108 higher education corporations should have to have regard to meeting the needs of students with SEN.

The curriculum and assessment councils, the funding councils for higher education and the governing bodies of maintained FE and HE institutes should each have a member with knowledge of SEN or who himself has a disability or some special educational need. It is vital to ensure that students with special educational needs have the opportunity to benefit fully from further and higher education.

The paper that I referred to before which the Minister kindly sent me reads on page 1: It is as important for SEN children as any others that teachers, parents and the children themselves should have their expectations raised". I think we would all agree with that wholeheartedly, and I am very glad that that is the Government's aim. My concern, and I think that of many parents, is that those raised expectations may not be fulfilled. I hope we can steer clear of exclusion and segregation by amending the Bill to ensure raised standards, enhanced opportunities and full participation for all pupils, including those with special educational needs.

9.10 p.m.

Lord Wolfson

My Lords, the Education Reform Bill is a welcome measure to remedy some of the deficiencies in the existing system and should in time enhance the results which are currently being achieved for the nation and the pupils. To paraphrase a well-known expression, the Bill seeks to refresh those parts that the present arrangements do not reach.

The Bill's emphasis on a flexible and well-balanced national curriculum to train the mind and cater for special needs, its encouragement of parental choice and preparing pupils for the practical requirements of a competitive word are well conceived aims and look to the future. At the same time the setting up of a committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Elton to look into the regrettable decline of school discipline is equally important. Clearly meaningful education and anarchy are incompatible. It is unfair to the teaching profession on whom we rely, as my noble friend the Minister pointed out in her excellent presentation.

The amendments put down by the Government in another place to strengthen long-established academic freedoms and to which the noble Lord, Lord Swann, referred are very welcome and go a long way to allay legitimate concerns. I hope that an acceptable definition of academic freedom can be devised on the lines recommended by my noble friend Lord Blake and by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, for incorporation into the legislation, including the same rights for visiting speakers, as my noble friend Lord Joseph pointed out from experience.

In a similar context, greater financial independence is another vital ingredient and is best served by recourse to both public and private funding, particularly for expanding investment in scientific and technological research, the seed corn of the future to which your Lordships' Select Committee made many references in its admirable report.

In addition to the priorities stated in the Bill, which I support, I should like to refer briefly to five other relevant matters which I think should be given greater prominence. The first is the encouragement of basic business education in schools, in particular highlighting the major role of business and individuals in the creation of wealth, the overall economic benefits it brings and its direct relationship with providing sustainable improvements to health care and other social welfare services.

Secondly, pupils should be made aware of the need for more tasteful planning, human scale architecture and better building standards. The inner city environmental failures of the past 25 years make the timing of such a programme appropriate. Thirdly, further provision should be made in the education budget for matching grants to encourage private participation in capital projects, research programmes and the establishment of chairs in higher education. Matching grants would have an important multiplier effect in attracting home and overseas funds for investment in education projects, as the CTC funding scheme has shown.

In the context of funding I understand that universities are not eager to dispose of surplus assets for reinvestment because they are not permitted to retain the profits. If that is so, the policy should be modified at least to the extent of fifty-fifty, because, as has been demonstrated, a more reasonable take produce a higher yield in the long run.

The proceeds can be put towards better maintenance of buildings and ancillary fixed assets, at present, an under-funded area.

Fourthly, overall co-ordinated buying policies with product specifications for buildings, equipment, supplies and services should be established. The prudent management of limited financial resources, saving overhead expense and using central buying methods to obtain advantageous value are in themselves a science which the academic world has yet to master fully in order to secure the maximum benefits for the system. There are also opportunities for relatively modest investment to give meaningful economies in energy consumption, particularly in the case of older buildings. I have experience in all of those matters. Such arrangements have to be commercially supervised to ensure competitive performance, and any saving achieved can be reinvested in mainstream education.

Finally, the welcome reference to a modern language as a core subject should be extended to include better facilities for teaching Japanese, Chinese and Russian. Breaking down language barriers will lead to closer trading and human relationships, as we know from experience.

Investment in a well balanced education system, one that caters for all talents and beliefs, is fundamental to the nation's well-being and progressive entry into the world of tomorrow. I believe that as we approach the end of the 20th century the aims and purposes of the Bill advance those objectives.

9.16 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, more than six hours ago, at the very beginning of her speech of introduction, the noble Baroness referred to the fact that inevitably a great deal of history would be introduced into this debate and sought to stem its tide. She also said that the contribution of teachers is crucial to the developments that will follow from the implementation of this Act, if it is so implemented. I thank her for that.

So far as the history goes, I should like to say one or two things. The first is that the teachers who implemented the 1944 Act (which she referred to as the great Butler Act) were for the most part in the schools of Britain as scholars themselves immediately before the war; they were in college during the war, and they went into the teaching services in the staff rooms and classrooms of Britain immediately thereafter. In a sense they were the generation of the Butler Act. It is an interesting point which is not often made that the subsequent careers of those teachers and of the teachers who welcomed them into the classrooms in 1945 and thereafter span almost the total range of public education in Britain. The teachers then have been crucial to the development of public education in Britain for a very long time. I totally support the Minister when she emphasises the nature of the teacher and his role in education and in democracy.

I want to tackle two points which have been made from the other side of the House. I hope to do that constructively but nevertheless to point out that there is no point in anyone saying from the opposite side of the House that this side of the House, in all its ranges of colour, in any way believes that everything is well in the educational structure of Great Britain. It has not been well for a very long time. Indeed, there were aspects of its sickness that the Butler Act itself failed to eradicate. I should like to talk about that for a moment.

The other point that I want to make is that if the noble Baroness and her noble friend Lady Young were attempting to suggest to the House that in some way this side of the House was encouraging a recalcitrant attitude in the classroom, that cannot be justified either. We take the view that it is essential to the health of this democracy that the education system should be in good heart and that the teachers in the classroom should not be disillusioned.

It is part of the charge that I make—as a teacher with more than 32 years' service in the classroom—that there is a great deal of disillusionment in the education service. Part of that disillusionment is justified and has historical reasons that go back even beyond the debate that we are having tonight. We do not have time to deal too specifically with them but I shall make that point.

As concerns the attitude of the teacher in the classroom, it stemmed from the very early realisation that bands of underprivilege existed within even the best of state schools. Those bands arise from staffing problems—those are habitual—and from difficulties that arise from the situation in schools in places where there is urban decay. Within our good schools those cause bands of underprivilege at almost every level.

Having said that, I want to move to something quite specific and to pick up a point that was made in the later stages of the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He said that our record for protecting the cultures of our minority peoples is good. That leads me very neatly to Wales and the Welsh language. The noble Lord's thesis leads me into reminding the House that in Wales we have recently magnified the Welsh language by the production of a Bible which commemorates the 400 years of the Bible in Welsh.

Local education authorities, supported by parents, teachers and successive Secretaries of State at the Welsh Office over the last 30 years have developed a Welsh language policy for the schools of Wales which is beginning to show signs of success. I am concerned that this education Bill in its general provisions now puts that policy at risk. My concern, which is reflected elsewhere in Wales, is that the definition of a Welsh-speaking school contained in Clause 3 of the Bill will lead to a lowering of the status of the Welsh language to that simply of a foundation subject. We do not know the criteria, the set of principles, by which the Secretary of State will decide whether schools are to be exempted from teaching Welsh.

I ask the Minister and her friends this specific question. Is the matter solely to be at the discretion of the Secretary of State? Should the Bill not present us with some criteria from which we can make a judgment? Would it not be reasonable to prescribe, for example, that the majority of parents should support the opt-out in the case of a Welsh school if that would threaten the teaching of the Welsh language?

I wish to continue a little further with this point. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer it tonight. She has a great deal to take on board, as she will also have tomorrow. However, she will be interested to know that the new president of the National Association of Head Teachers in Wales at the association's annual conference in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, this very weekend warned that the plans to allow schools and local education authorities to opt out of teaching Welsh could become a real threat to the language. Mr. John Lloyd Davies is the head of the bilingual Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera in West Glamorgan, a school that teaches through the medium of Welsh. He said: There is a danger that if there is a growth of the opportunity to opt out the Welsh language would lose its hold. If that happens it could have disastrous consequences for the Welsh language … There has been a tremendous growth in support for bilingual education which is something the Government should be encouraging". Welsh will be a core subject in the national curriculum only in schools which teach more than half the foundation subjects in Welsh. It will be a foundation subject in other schools, although governing bodies and LEAs will have the power to apply to the Secretary of State for exemptions from teaching the language. I wish to reiterate that the president of the head teachers' union said: The national curriculum is too proscriptive and there is a danger that many very worthwhile activities will go by the board because there won't be enough time for them". I wish to turn from the National Association of Head Teachers to the National Union of Teachers and to what might have been a joking reference to the general secretary of the NUT. Perhaps I can refer to him in terms of the criticism as one of my best fiends. He has made a massive contribution to British education in his position as general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. I have been proud over the years to have been in association with him as a member of that organisation. However, I wish to take noble Lords from Mr. Fred Jarvis and the specifics to this fact.

I accept that the teacher is central and crucial to education. That is recognised by the Government and all of us tonight. During my life in teaching I have served during the time of all the ex-Ministers, some of them my noble friends who are here tonight—and what a brilliant speech we had from one of them, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. I have sometimes felt like the lady who had an issue of blood: in these changing Secretaries of State we had suffered many things of many physicians and been nothing bettered but rather made worse. But they are here now and they are able to contribute to this debate. When they contribute to it let them remember that, important though they are, important though governments are, important though teachers are and crucial to the system, the biggest influence on the education of children is the attitude of parents to the schools in which they are taught.

If that parental confidence is undermined, as it has been seriously undermined by the political in-fighting that has gone on in this country over education for a considerable time, my goodness it will take a great deal of restoration. However dissatisfied we may be with the system, however critical of current administrations we might be, and properly, the fact remains that, more than any other system of government, democracy requires a force of teachers and a body of parents who accept the basic tenets of democracy itself. If we weaken that, if our education system is so constructed as to make it appear that it is giving greater privilege to certain sections than it does to others, that undermines the democracy of which we are a part.

When we come to grips with this Bill we know that there are good general principles of education that we might all support but we know too that there are very bad weaknesses in the Bill and it has to be amended. If the impression is gained in the country that only a majority in the House of Commons—of the 42.3 per cent. or whatever it is who voted Conservative at the last election—and a majority in this House, which cannot for one moment pretend to be democratic in structure, have brought about an education system that yet again will repeat the flaws that warped the good systems that we tried to construct after the war, again democracy will suffer and no political party will gain.

9.27 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, as the 29th speaker out of a total of about 85 it will be very difficult to say anything original. I was tempted to scratch from the list of speakers, but I understood that if I did there would be a lemming-like activity and we should all have a day off tomorrow.

As I have listened to the debate I have agreed with many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. I am astounded by the level of complacency and satisfaction with the status quo. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Parry, has just said, almost all the comments that have come from the other side have been very negative about the Bill. Without assessment, without testing, without objectives against which to test, there is no way of knowing whether an individual is making progress, whether a school is making progress or whether the system is a good system. I argue that we do not really know whether we are performing well as a service. There is just an intuitive feeling and a high level of dissatisfaction despite what the polls that have been produced today are saying. There has been no forward thinking and no alternative suggestions, other than "leave things as they are", and that perhaps we should tinker just a little with secondary education in London.

As the Bill progresses through the House I shall be particularly interested in the distinction between genuine argument about the Bill and areas of concern and those arguments which I believe will be mainly territorial. LEAs do not exist for themselves: they are there to serve the children through the schools and through the head teachers. Any argument about perpetuating LEAs simply because they are there will not be an argument that will impress me.

I rise to support the Bill in the main. There will be details upon which I shall reserve my position and on which I shall await the debate as it unfolds. Second Reading is a time for an overview of the Bill before its more detailed consideration. Therefore, I shall touch on just a few areas of the Bill.

I support wholeheartedly the aims of the Bill: the attempt to raise standards, the extension of choice, however limited, and the improvement of operational management at school and classroom level. I should like to say a word about consultation. Again, much criticism has been levelled at the Government about consultation. Indeed, there was an initial period of two months for consultation. Nobody has mentioned that the time was extended. Nobody has mentioned the enormous amount of peripatetic work done by the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the team going out and about, in and out of schools, in all of the counties in our country. Nobody has mentioned the fact that, publicly, many times the Secretary of State has welcomed written submissions which have continued to come in and which have continued to be considered. Nobody has mentioned the considerable changes that have already taken place in the initial draft Bill in areas such as the percentage of time for subjects in the national curriculum, the changes in the university sector of the Bill (although one would argue for more), the special needs for children, the concession to the bishops on religious education—

Baroness David

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will give way I should like to point out that I specifically mentioned the concessions to the Churches and the universities and my noble friend mentioned the changes in special education.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that interruption but I am referring to approximately 26 speakers who have been fairly derogatory in their comments about the Secretary of State and the consultation process. As a parent of children in the state system, I do not remember Mrs. Shirley Williams engaging in a long consultation process when, as Secretary of State, she dramatically changed from a dual system to a comprehensive system.

As regards the national curriculum, my noble friend Lord Joseph, who is no longer in the Chamber, gave your Lordships something to think about on the issue of flexibility, or the lack of it, in the national curriculum, and its higher prescriptive element. Again, I shall reserve my position on that but I believe that future debates will be interesting. I am particularly interested in flexibility for diversification at the top end of the secondary schools. We shall see to what extent that can be accommodated.

I am very disappointed by what has so far been said about religious education in schools, even with regard to the limited changes that have been made. There is no specific mention in the Bill about a commitment to Christianity forming the core of religious education in schools in this country. I believe that it is right to make that a stated aim. I agree that one does not wish to see testing; nor does one wish to see it made a core subject. However, I believe that Christianity as part of the core should be a stated aim in the Bill.

A right reverend Prelate earlier remarked on the wonderful mechanism for deciding and determining religious education syllabuses, and that is true. However, I am not so concerned with the mechanism; I am more concerned with the content. It is possible to use the mechanism and to have a syllabus approved and agreed by everyone without Christianity forming any part of it.

As regards assessment and testing, I do not take the rather narrow and negative view that has been mentioned by most noble Lords opposite. The best schools —and there are hundreds of thousands—are constantly assessing, testing and recording the work of children. They do so for daignostic purposes and also have "passed" and "failed" testing, of which I approve. The Bill requires that children are tested only four times in their school life. It is at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16. Sixteen is the age at which they would take the GCSE in any event. I believe that to be required by law to be tested only four times is very modest. There are those in the education world who would advocate no testing, no examination and open access to our universities. I believe that many of them are behind much of the criticism of the proposals in the Bill.

In my maiden speech in this House I made a reference to learning how to fail or, putting it another way, learning how to come to terms with one's limitations. I passionately believe that learning to come to terms with one's limitations is as much a part of the education process as learning how to succeed. High expectations yield greater achievements. I hope that in Committee I shall be able to produce the piece of research. However, some time ago research was carried out on EPA schools. Those noble Lords in the education world will know that that is a priority area school. It is a school determined by the Government to have special needs and it was given more resources for its children.

The research was carried out with a group of children in an EPA school and a similar group of children who were not designated EPA in the same way. Their progress was measured and it was found that the children who were not diagnosed or labelled EPA did better. The determining factor was that the expectations of the children who did not have the label were greater than the children who had that label and for whom the teachers had lower expectations.

The other aspect of assessment and testing is the context in which parents receive the information. It is absolutely essential that when we, as parents, receive information about how our children are performing, we understand the context in which the information is passed to us. How often a young child arrives home to say rather proudly, "I got 59 per cent. in geography today". The parent will say, "Well, was that good? What did the top person get? What did the bottom person get? What were the results of the rest of the class"? The child will say, "We are not allowed to know". If the child is not allowed to know, the class does not know and the parent does not know, and the context is lost.

As regards open enrolment, much reference has been made this afternoon to 90 per cent. or more of satisfaction for parents choosing schools. I want to argue not only for that particular point but also for the poll of parents in London who have said that everything in the garden is all right. For too long parents have felt a measure of impotency and have adopted the attitude: why should we bother to make a fuss because nothing changes anyway? I believe that as parents realise that they have an influence and some power and that they are able to use it, we shall see a liberating of parents and their choices. We shall see some very different results when those same questions are posed.

After open enrolment we shall no longer have artificial limits to prop up unpopular schools. There will be an end to administrative tidiness for its own sake. There will be a spur for schools to be more positive in attracting pupils; and there will be a general all-round improvement as schools wish to gain pupils rather than lose them.

I take two views on opting out. First, I support it. There is a negative and positive side to opting out and I shall give the positive side first. Why should a school that feels able to go it alone and stand independent but within the state sector not be able to do so? It does not have to have a bad relationship with its LEA or to opt out of all the extra-curricular activities such as teachers' training courses and so on that go on outside the classroom. It can still do those things and have a healthy independence but within the state sector. Of course, the negative side was that touched on by my noble friend Lady Cox. Whether or not we like it, for some children and some parents in this country opting out is a lifeline. We must not deny that lifeline to those children who are trapped within the system. Of course, that is backed by the most important feature in this part of the Bill; namely, that it is not compulsory.

There is concern—and there is concern in my county—about the process which leads to a school opting out. The most important point to remember is that the vote by parents is the first part of that process. That is followed by a long period where the Secretary of State—and all interested parties have a right to make representations—will take all of those into account before making his decision. As was touched on earlier, if a school is up for closure and decides to take up opting out as a method of preventing its closure, the Secretary of State will take that into consideration at the same time as the opting-out proposals. If it is found that that school has the wherewithal to go independent within the state sector without doing any harm to its pupils, the Secretary of State can make a positive decision.

On local financial management (as I prefer to call it and as it is called in my county) I believe that that is the most educationally liberating piece of legislation. I have been a governor of two secondary schools where they have had control over their budgets for over five years. As governors we find ourselves more involved with curricular debate than ever before. We find that liberating resources in order to do something educational is a very worthwhile activity. I believe that governors will rise to the challenge. I am pretty irritated by those members of this House who say "We cannot find the governors, so why bother". It seems to me that being unable to find the governors, or assuming that to be so, is a very defeatist attitude.

My view is that governors will rise to the challenge. They will achieve much greater satisfaction and they will enjoy making better use of resources when they know that the benefits will go to the children. Above all, local financial management marries together power and responsibility at the point where it matters most and that is at the operational delivery of the service. It is less bureaucratic and it is very democratic. Around the same table there is a committee of parents, teachers, staff, the head and the governors. They discuss how they are going to allocate the resources to their school, which releases enormous enterprise.

I wish to tell only one true story that illustrates how this works. A school in the Fenland area decided that on 1st October when the heating was due to be turned on that it would not turn it on. The suggestion from the head was that they would not turn it on on 1st October, but that they would leave it off for a month. He had a gathering of all the parents and the staff in the school hall where this proposal was discussed.

To start with he was very tentative about it because he realised that he was treading on eggshells by mentioning it. Before the end of the evening, the entire gathering comprising the parents, the staff and the senior pupils, decided that they would not put on the heating. The head had said that if it became cold the heating would be put on. It was decided that if Hell froze over for that month they would not put on the heating.

They determined how the savings were to be spent. In a normal week it cost £2,000 to heat the school and the school knew that if it did not switch on the heating for the month of October it would be able to save £8,000 to purchase some educational equipment. The end of the story is that the heating was not switched on and the school saved £8,000. God smiled on them during that month of October because the weather was rather mild. Come 1st November, it was still unnecessary to switch on the heating, the most obvious thing happened, in that the school suddenly realised that it could manage that side of the school's bursarial activities itself. The school succeeded in putting approximately £15,000 into the coffers. That was all spent on equipment.

The significance of that story—I say this as a member of a local education authority in Cambridgeshire—is that if we had decided that at Shire Hall those very same parents and staff would have taken to the streets with banners with the word "Cuts, cuts, cuts" written all over them. The whole exercise would have been absolutely catastrophic. In all probability the money would have been put away somewhere centrally. The school benefited from its own management decision, and that is what this piece of legislation is about.

I shall be more involved with this subject at Committee stage but recently I thought it was important that as a non-Londoner I should visit London schools. I went to visit an ILEA school and I was much impressed with what I saw. I enjoyed meeting the staff and we had a most interesting and constructive discussion. The factor that struck me most of all was the enormous dependence that London schools have on ILEA. I believe this to be a very unhealthy sign and that we should be doing all that we can to encourage independence. This was a school that could easily have lived without ILEA but at this moment in time it is so brain-washed with the belief that unless ILEA is there, somehow the whole world will fall apart. I believe that we should be encouraging a healthy independence.

The advice that I would proffer to the London boroughs at this moment is for them to become involved in development plans. It is really no good their burying their heads in the sand. Early preparation is absolutely essential in order to make sure that they properly provide for their young people should this Bill succeed. One must remember that the abolition of ILEA needs to be seen in the context of all of this legislation; namely, the framework of a national curriculum, open enrolment, local financial management and opting out. In my book, when it is properly thought through this will prove to be a much better deal for London children.

It has been said a number of times today that parents do not want to become involved in the running of their schools. That is absolutely right. An involvement in policy-making is what this is about. The governors and parents will have more of an influence and more of an involvement in policy-making. However, it is the professionals who run the schools, and it is the professionals who should run them.

Unlike noble Lords opposite who have today been critical and have used all their education jargonese to criticise the national curriculum, assessment and testing, open enrolment, the expansion of choice, opting out and financial management at school level, I see the Bill as a liberator for parents who will have greater choice and real involvement and to whom schools will be more accountable, for governors who will have a much more purposeful and challenging job, for teachers who will have an enormous and rewarding professional challenge, and for the children, who are the most important people, who are being prepared for a more complex, demanding and competitive life beyond school. This Bill provides for children of all abilities, including those with special needs.

My last word is about those children for whom there is no family support and for whom school is the only anchor. To offer a sound, moral, spiritual, social and academic framework is not only a responsibility for your Lordships but a duty. It is to that end that I shall support the Bill.

9.46 p.m.

Lord Charteris of Amisfield

My Lords, I hope that it will not be considered entirely inappropriate if as Provost of Eton I say a few words in this debate. I promise to be extremely brief. As Provost I am as completely embedded in the private sector of education as, to use P. G. Wodehouse's immortal phrase, a prawn in aspic. The private sector is not concerned in the Bill at all. However, certain lessons from the experience of the private sector may be of value.

I hope it will not be going too far back into history to quote from a statement from the report of the Clarendon Commission on Public Schools, written in 1870. The statement was: The greatest schoolmasters are those that are least interfered with". There is a great deal of truth in that statement today, and it is absolutely certain that great schoolmasters, and in particular great headmasters, make great schools.

One of the advantages enjoyed by schools in the private sector is that they have been free from interference in the way they run their affairs. I give my support in general to this Bill because I believe that it will tend to allow schools in the maintained sector to enjoy some of the advantages of being able to run their own affairs more fully, advantages which are and have been for many years enjoyed by schools in the private sector.

I also support the proposals that will allow schools to opt out of the control of local authorities, though I do not expect this to happen very often. This power is a useful sanction against any LEA that does not fulfil its functions properly or attempts improper political manipulation of the schools concerned. In my opinion it is worth having the power on the statute book even if it is never used, as I hope it will not be.

I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said about any school which opts out. It jolly well has to have a bursar. Nowadays headmasters spend much too much time on administration and not enough on teaching. If they have to run the money side, they will not do much good.

I hope that the Government, while giving more freedom with one hand to schools to run their own affairs, will not with the other hand put them in the straitjacket of a too inflexible curriculum. I believe that there ought to be a national core curriculum and that it should include religious education. However, I hope that much freedom will be allowed outside the central core.

All good schools in the private sector do in fact—though they are not forced to by law—teach a curriculum that is not at all unlike what is proposed in the Bill. If they did not do so, they would not attract enough fee-paying pupils to be viable.

Finally, I do not think that anyone need get in too much of a lather over the testing process. Pupils in the private sector are tested at least three times a year in one way or another and it does not do them any harm. If that was not done parents would not know how their children were progressing and, to put it vulgarly and bluntly, they would not know whether they were receiving good value for money.

The Earl of Longford

M y Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he considers that parent power plays an important part at Eton?

Lord Charteris of Amisfield

My Lords, I am glad to say that there is no such thing as a parent association at the college and that is the greatest good fortune and a boon. They exercise a certain amount of power but in a subtle "My dear boy" way, rather than anything in the nature of public meetings—thank God.

9.50 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, apart from the clauses covering universities, the Bill is about England and Wales. I should like briefly to mention one or two points where I believe the Scottish experience is perhaps helpful in the consideration of a Bill which concerns England and Wales.

First, on the question of the national curriculum people in Scotland are frankly wondering what the fuss is all about. In Scotland we already have in effect a common curriculum. We have a central committee on the curriculum which is appointed by the Secretary of State. We are entirely accustomed to that body setting up specialist groups and as a result of its deliberations the Scottish Education Department sending out circulars to local authorities implementing curricular changes Scotland-wide.

There does not seem to us to be anything threatening about that arrangement. Surely with more devolution of decision-making to schools a common curriculum becomes absolutely essential. In addition, matched as is proposed with the right testing, those aspects taken together provide for a shift in balance towards the better quality and standards and more precise monitoring that are so greatly needed. Clearly that shift has to be made. But at the same time when discussing that part of the Bill, I hope that we shall not succumb to the notion that if the content of the formal curriculum is right and the testing is right, that is the total answer. The way subjects are taught and conveyed also matter. The medium is the message as well as the message itself.

In Scotland we place high value not only on the formal curriculum and its precise objectives but also on what we call the informal curriculum; that is, the clubs, societies, expeditions, sport and the like in which pupils and teachers are involved and which can also have precise measurable objectives. We also value highly what we call the hidden curriculum; namely, the ethos, the atmosphere and values of the school. The examples set by teachers and the objectives of the hidden curriculum can be precise and measurable too. Much of what religious education and assemblies aspire to convey is often picked up as well, or better, through the informal and hidden curricula. When discussing the Bill we must not forget that point.

I agree with a number of noble Lords who have said that with regard to the proposals for the devolution of management to schools, there is at issue something far more important than the decentralisation of mechanical arrangements or what present-day parents and teachers think of the immediate advantages of parent power. I believe that the proposals in the longer term hold the key to the most important issue of all, an issue to which a number of noble Lords have referred. They hold the key to making teaching in the state system an enjoyable and satisfying profession once more.

My noble friend Lady Blatch told a story which illustrated that point. As a result of this would come the reduction of many discipline problems and the growing desire by parents to back what teachers are doing. As the noble Lord, Lord Parry, said, that is the key to success for teachers.

Much is being made of parents' apparent commitment to the status quo and their lack of desire to become too involved in schools. This is nothing new and not at all surprising. During eight years on three Scottish school councils, knowing as I did that parents were not always satisfied with what schools were doing, I hardly ever heard a parent member stand up to teacher members. They waited until the teachers expressed their view and on the whole went quietly along with it. The reason for this I think is that parents feel that the teachers are the professionals and should give the lead and they are diffident about interfering. They are also reluctant to alienate their children's teachers.

However, we cannot go on as we are. The increasing politicisation of the state education system and of relationships between central and local government, politicisation within local authorities themselves, whatever their political hue, and politicisation of teachers' organisations, which have become industry-type trade unions, have made it increasingly difficult and often impossible for schools simply to run themselves for the best benefit of their customers in the way they used to in less politicised local authorities and in less politicised times and in the way the private sector does all the time.

Devolution of management will be more expensive. There are a number of problems. To begin with attempts will be made to politicise it, but it will be infinitely worth while in the long run if it enables teachers to enjoy their work again and if it releases their commitment and that of parents to work in partnership with them.

I turn to the universities, because the Bill also covers Scottish universities. There is an anxiety in Scottish universities, as elsewhere, about academic freedom. But Scottish universities are also anxious to know how precisely it is intended that the University Funding Council Scottish Advisory Committee will operate. It is not on the face of the Bill. Attempts have been made to persuade the other place to shunt the Scottish universities out of the mainstream of university funding. These I am happy to see have been resisted, but we need a system within the arrangements in the Bill that will work for the funding of Scottish universities and we shall be probing this at the Committee stage.

Finally, there is a concern in the Church of Scotland about which the Moderator took the trouble to make representations to this House. It is that the posts which are funded at the moment within the universities and which relate to the Church are not allowed for within the law under the Bill. It is a concern. It is something about which we must find out and which I hope will be clarified before the Bill leaves the House. In general, and on most points, I back the Bill wholeheartedly.

10 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, at this stage in a debate like this one is lucky if one can make one point. The point that I wish to make is that the Bill poses a deadly threat to Latin and the classics as school subjects, and that they must be saved. I was grateful for the implicit support on that point that I received earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Blake. The threat that hangs over all minority subjects, not just the classics, comes not from the idea of a national curriculum as such. Properly framed, after real consultation with real teachers that could have been something we could all support. The threat comes from the inflexible national curriculum, as we see it in the Bill.

I shall, if I may, leave Welsh until the Committee stage. The trouble is that the Secretary of State has decided to choose 10 subjects, and to name them in the Bill as either core or foundation subjects. Religious education is dealt with separately. Ten subjects are to be exalted above all others by being mentioned in a solemn Act of Parliament. Ten subjects must be either far too many or far too few, according to the interpretation of the words "core" and "foundation" neither of which is defined.

If we make the frightening assumption that the Bill means what it says, then every child or at least every unhandicapped child must study every one of the 10 subjects until the age of 16. But there is as wide a variation in the nature of our schools as there is in the abilities of our children. There are village schools, schools in market towns, schools in "yuppified" suburbs and schools in derelict city centres. And the children? Some—all too many—will have done damned well if by the age of 16 they can just about read an editorial in the Sun. There are other children who can romp away with nine or ten O-level equivalents and ask for more: and yet all those different schools and different types of children must conform to this so-called national curriculum.

We know that that is nonsense. It is like the bed of Procrustes, if your Lordships remember him. If you asked him for a night's lodging he put you in a bed. If you were too short for it he stretched you until you fitted. If you were a bit on the long side he lopped off your extremities. In either case, you tended to wake up dead. That is the national curriculum as written in Clause 3.

Shall we look in for a moment on a school staffroom and watch it in action? The head teacher is addressing the staff: "Right—we have to teach these 10 subjects to the whole school right up to the age of 16. What's more, the children will be tested in those 10 subjects. We shall be pilloried in the local paper if we do not do as well as St. Ermyntrude's down the road. In these days of open enrolment, you know what that means—no pupils, no school, no jobs. So for sheer survival, we have to rearrange ourselves and rejig the timetable in such a way that we can deliver the national curriculum. Now dismiss from your minds any thought of fresh money for employing more staff. It is up to us. Shall we go through these 10 subjects one by one? Music: how on earth can we cover that? Music for all, even the tone deaf. Boris, you play the piano. Yes, you do, I heard you in the pub. You can keep on with your history, and of course the chess club out of hours, but there won't be any time for all that Russian. Could you bone up on a little classical musical theory and take the lower sets? Splendid. Now, French: Fiona, what's your French like? Semi-non-existent? It can't be, I don't believe it. After all, you know Latin and there's no future in that. No, we'll send you on a course, it will be all right. Now—ouch!—technology."

My Lords, I think we can leave the head teacher at that point to wrestle with her own problems in her own way. That is how it will be, with only the minimum amount of poetic licence. It will lead to the ultimate tragic absurdity: all over England and Wales there will be teachers teaching subjects which they never wanted to teach to children who never wanted to learn. All this, we are told, is an attempt to raise standards and improve choice.

I come now to the second part of my speech. Up to now I have been talking about minority subjects in general. I come to the question of why does it matter if Latin—and of course, a fortiori Greek—are squeezed out of our schools? I shall restrict myself to three of many reasons in ascending order of importance.

First, if we are not too proud we can learn something from recent American experience. The flight of the first Sputnik in 1957, shocking the American people into the recognition that the Russians were ahead of them, set off a full-scale panic in education circles. Everything must be subordinated to technology, and it was. Inevitably, the humanities suffered and Latin suffered most of all. In about 14 years, Latin enrolments in state high schools fell by about 80 per cent. But before the end of that period a new panic had set in—standards of literacy had taken a nose-dive. In the year of Watergate, 1973, it was found that 11 per cent. of 17 year-olds were quite unable to read, let alone fill in a job application form.

It was at this time that a few imaginative classicists, working in slum schools, started to devise courses in extremely basic Latin as part of their campaign against illiteracy. They made it fun, with attractive textbooks, playing around with the more common root words, seeing how the meaning changes according to the prefix or suffix, how words are built—"linguistic Lego," one could aptly call it. Above all, they were stimulating in those slum children an interest in language itself. The results were astonishing. In Indianapolis, for example, it was found that the children who had done this course in basic Latin were in a very short time a whole year of age level ahead of the control group who had not. Today in the United States enrolments in classics are increasing. There is an acute shortage of classical teachers. Do we have to re-learn that lesson for ourselves, or could we take it as a warning?

The second reason why I believe it would be to our great benefit to teach Latin to as large a minority of our children as possible stems from the very nature of our English language. It is derived, as you all know, from Anglo-Saxon, from Latin and from Greek. But it would appear from the way in which our language has developed that our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were not very much given to abstract thought. So it happens that the higher one climbs up the education ladder the more one encounters and needs to familiarise oneself with words of classical derivation. This is known to people more learned than I as the lexical bar, but I think that even I can understand what they are getting at.

Consider the language of mathematics, of science, of medicine, of philosophy, of the law and (heaven help us!) of legislation. One could almost cut out all the words of Anglo-Saxon derivation and it would make no difference. I exaggerate a little, of course, and I would not dream of suggesting that if one has no classical grounding one has no chance of success in those fields. We all know people who by their achievements could refute such an assertion if anyone were foolish enough to make it.

But it would be equally foolish to deny that those children who have a basic knowledge of Latin enjoy a huge advantage over those who lack it. Suddenly in adolescence, when there is so much else to think about, to find oneself confronted with all those long and strange-looking words, if one has no way of working out what they ought to mean, must be like trying to dance in galoshes. All too many children at that point decide that education is not for them, and they switch off.

I come now (and I must hurry) to the most important reason why we simply cannot allow the classics to vanish from our classrooms for ever. Can anybody dispute that practically everything that is contained in the term "Western civilisation" has come down to us across the centuries on a broadening stream which had three main sources—Athens, Rome and Bethlehem? I shall leave it to others to talk about Christianity. At least religious education gets several mentions in the Bill, unlike Latin or the classics.

Can it be right, can it be healthy, to cut ourselves off completely from our roots? Do we not believe that our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren have a right to know where it all began, where democracy was born and where the idea of constitutional government arose, and the idea of empire and colonies, and how those empires crumbled and those colonies seceded? Do they not deserve to know that sculpture, architecture, drama, music, philosophy and mathematics are not modern inventions coming presumably, like everything else, from California, but have been growing over here in the old world for thousands of years? Without a sense of the past one cannot intelligently plan for the future.

Some of us have but a limited interest in the future. But our children and their children have got to live in it. That is what this Bill is all about, so let us try to get it right.

10.13 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I start with the advice given by Sir Peter Scott, who said that nothing was more important than teaching the next generation about the value to people of the natural world around us—a world that is so gravely threatened by human ignorance and apathy.

I fear that this Bill as published cannot meet this need and I shall tell your Lordships why. The Secretary of State provides the curriculum, which is to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of society, as well of course as that of the pupils. But which society?

Is it England and Wales? Does it include Scotland and Ulster? Does it include the Common Market? It can and does according to the Oxford English Dictionary, Volume 9, which defines society as the state of living in association with others of the same species; or association with one's fellow men, especially in a friendly or intimate manner; or the mode of life adopted by a body of individuals for harmonious coexistence; or the aggregate of persons living together in a more or less ordered community; or, finally, a collection of individuals comprising a community or living under the same organisation or government.

But the needs of today and tomorrow, which must be dealt with by some of the pupils to which this Bill will apply, are spread over the whole earth, which contains countless societies for which this Bill is not appropriate. Should not our pupils be made aware of those world problems, not necessarily vital or important to our society, however interpreted, though they may be directly affected by some of our actions and policies?

I refer to the actions of other societies which affect us and our society as well as their own; pollution of the air and of the sea and the loss, sometimes even before they are discovered, of plant and animal life that could benefit man. The list is long and getting longer still. But the Brundtland Report at page 8 says it all: Most of today's decision-makers will be dead before the planet feels the heavier effects of acid precipitation, global warming, ozone depletion, widespread desertification and species loss but most of the young voters of today will still be alive and most will base their understanding on traditional beliefs provided by conventional education". With this sure knowledge of dangers ahead, our obligation to our children is surely to prepare them not only to be good members of society, as the Bill does, but also, as the Bill does not do specifically, to be good inhabitants of Planet Earth. After Second Reading I shall put down an amendment to that effect.

That is not breaking new ground. Much is already happening and the Bill should keep up with it. The DES has a specialist inspector for environmental education. The Council for Environmental Education has for years existed only for that purpose. The WWF spends hundreds of thousands of pounds to provide ideas and information to teachers to help them to include environmental education in their classroom work. Overseas the WWF Environmental Education Programme has over 300 projects, including projects in Belize, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Greece, Madagascar, Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Rwanda, Zambia and Kenya.

By referring to "society" and not also to the rest of the planet, this Bill fails to acknowledge, except by default, all the environmental considerations that are now known to be essential to the survival of mankind.

10.18 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I begin by saying that I agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Blackstone said this afternoon. I shall use my few minutes to comment on three aspects of the Bill. I wish to comment on one error of omission and two errors of commission.

The error of omission is the failure to require the national curriculum to prepare pupils for life in a multiracial and a multicultural community. This country is now, whether Members of the House like it or not, a multiracial and a multicultural community. There is evidence of much racial prejudice and racial discrimination. Racially prejudiced behaviour can be controlled by law and by example. Attitudes are more difficult to influence. It is in this context that education is so important. From their earliest days children can be influenced in their attitudes to other people and to society as a whole.

In its report entitled Education for All the Swann Committee asserted that Britain is a multi-racial, multi-cultural society, and all pupils must be enabled to understand what this means. The committee recommended that a syllabus recognising the multi-ethnic character of Britain should be used in all schools, not just those with a multi-ethnic population. It said that ignorance breeds prejudice, especially where there is no opportunity for recognising shared interests.

In evidence to the Swann Committee one teacher said: School is one institution that everyone between the ages of five and 16 in Britain has to attend, and while it cannot alone compensate for the inequalities of society it does nevertheless constitute one major area of influence, and one which is susceptible to change". No balanced and broadly-based curriculum should fail to include a commitment to the principles of education for all, to the development of a pluralist approach to the curriculum, and to containing the influence of racism. The failure to include such a commitment in Clause 1 of the Bill is a serious omission.

The first error of commission on which I wish to comment is the proposal to require county and voluntary schools to admit pupils to the limits of their available capacity. If there is a limited number of children and one school admits more than another, the other must admit less. If schools are to be grant-aided according to their numbers, then the school with the larger number will have the larger share of resources. That can result in the smaller school being under-resourced and therefore unsatisfactory. This can go on until the smaller school is no longer viable. Population varies. If this policy is followed during the period when there is a small number of pupils the small school can be destroyed. Later, when there is need for a larger intake, the school will not be available. Moreover, Dewsbury warned us—if we are willing to heed the warning—that this development can he along racial lines, with all white schools being well resourced and all black schools—the small ones—being under-resourced, with very serious consequences.

That is the problem that plagued the United States in the 'fifties and 'sixties, and fuelled the civil rights movement. We are very anxious to learn from the United States and to accept its enterprise culture. There are other things to be learnt from the United States, and I beg your Lordships to learn them.

The biggest error of commission is the proposal to abolish the Inner London Education Authority. That is a terrible decision. Inner London has had a unitary education authority for 117 years. The distribution of schools, colleges and other education services, including their catchment areas, has no regard for borough boundaries. It has been based on strategic planning to meet both London-wide and local needs. The borough boundaries, which were created in 1965, are quite irrelevant.

Twenty thousand pupils currently attend inner London secondary schools outside their boroughs. Three-quarters of all students in inner London do not live in the borough in which their college is based. I think I should try to get your Lordships to appreciate that point—20,000 pupils. That is greater than the number of pupils in primary and secondary schools in the London Borough of Islington; greater than the number of primary and secondary school pupils in Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and in the City of Westminster. All of those boroughs will become education authorities if the Bill becomes law.

What is worse, the Bill will create the smallest education authorities in the country. The largest will have no more than 30,000 primary and secondary pupils. The City of London will have no more than 206. The average size of a local education authority in England and Wales is 71,350 primary and secondary pupils. We therefore have these very small authorities in the most densely populated area in the country. Inner London has a density of population of 79 persons per hectare. The next most densely populated area is Liverpool which has 46 persons per hectare. England and Wales have a density of three persons per hectare. Moreover, the boroughs that are required during the next two years to prepare development plans for education, and to run education services from 1st April 1990, include seven of the 10 most deprived local authority areas in Britain. These authorities are not able to do what they are being asked to do.

Education services in inner London have always been planned for the whole of inner London and not for individual boroughs. For example, Kensington and Chelsea has only one county secondary school within its boundary. Secondary schools have always been constructed in the expectation that they will be used by many pupils from boroughs other than the borough in which they are situated.

I shall give your Lordships an example. Pimlico is a school close to us. Pimlico school is in the City of Westminster. Only 32.95 per cent. of its pupils live in the City of Westminster. A larger percentage, 36.93, live in Lambeth; 11.93 per cent. in Wandsworth; 6.25 per cent. in Kensington and Chelsea; and 5.68 per cent. in Southwark. The remainder—which I think is 6.26 per cent.—live in other boroughs. The school was built in order to deal with all those areas. It was not built as a school for the City of Westminster.

A number of cross-border issues are involved. There is complexity as regards the consultative process and there are financial problems involved in recoupment. If one agrees that the boroughs will take over schools in the area, one has to recoup from the other boroughs. It makes the mind boggle. I wonder really to what extent the Government have thought through the problem. I do not believe they have. The Government have made great play of the scope which will exist under their proposals for inner London boroughs to join together to continue to provide services on a London-wide basis. But they have never demonstrated any real understanding of the scope and extent of such services and the size of the task in inner London boroughs that will confront them.

Not only will the boroughs have to take on education authority functions: they will also have to implement the other major changes in the Education Reform Bill which we are passing through Parliament. Moreover, their finances are already very stretched. I pointed out to your Lordships earlier that they include seven of the most deprived boroughs in Britain. Yet the Secretary of State implies that it will be child's play for them to introduce at the same time a series of joint arrangements so that London-wide services will continue without any break or disruption. They will, at the same time, he implementing the poll tax, which again will have its largest influence on these poor areas in inner London. This is in 1990—the same time.

I mention some of the services that they will be expected to take on. There is the careers service. The careers service in London has never been on a borough basis. It cannot be, because employment is on a London-wide basis and the careers service has to deal with the needs of the people who leave school looking for work. The employers in London are London-wide. So that is nonsense.

Then there is the inspectorate. No, there is no time.

Noble Lords

Twenty minutes!

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

I am sorry. I will stop. It is all right by me. I merely say that really and truly I find the whole performance terrible. The Government clearly did not work through this process. They have not thought through what they are doing. I appeal to your Lordships that when the Bill comes before us in Committee we should give careful thought to what we are doing and amend the Bill so that it will not do the harm that I envisage it will in fact do if it is not amended.

10.39 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, coming late towards the end of today's debate I hope only to detain your Lordships for a short time. However, there are some specific matters that I wish to mention. In Clause 3(3) the key stages of testing children at seven, 11, 14 and 16, which have already been mentioned by several noble Lords, are a cause of concern for parents and particularly for parents with disabled children. The stages at which they are tested should be flexible, especially for those children who may have been out of school for short periods due to illness or to any treatment that they may need. Such disabled children may take longer than usual to reach the same level of learning as children who have no such special needs but that does not always mean that they cannot reach the necessary target. However, I believe that flexibility is essential.

Clause 7(2) mentions the appointment of members of a National Curriculum Council. The members so appointed shall include persons having relevant knowledge or experience in education. Is there not also a need to specify that at least one member should have knowledge of teaching in special educational needs? That would also apply in respect of the appointment of members to the national curriculum councils for further education.

Under Clause 12 it appears that a head teacher may apply such modifications as may be necessary to the curriculum for a child who appears to have a special need, while a statement under Clause 11 is awaited. If I understand the clause correctly that will be for no longer than six months. Is that what is meant in regard to assessing the needs of physically disabled children and also those with poor sight or partial hearing?

The Government have agreed that in some cases there is a need for modifications to the national curriculum. In Clauses 19 and 20 are there any safeguards for schools which are much sought after particularly in rural areas in order to ensure that they can admit children with special needs from their immediate area before those from further afield? Will parental choice allow for choosing a school that is not within their LEA but is suitable for a child with special needs?

The Education Committee of the North Yorkshire County Council finds considerable convergence between its views and those of the general public in the county. It appears to support the broad aspirations of the legislation but has significant reservations about some of the detailed proposals. That applies especially to those connected with testing and opting out. As regards testing, it is felt that Professor Black's report offers reassurance, so long as its proposals are ultimately reflected in either primary legislation or regulations. Testing at the age of seven seems to be the greatest worry. Is it the Secretary of State's intention to confine the information to discussions with individual children and their parents and legal guardians and to treat any information as confidential within the Ministry or LEAs? A statement of this kind would have a very calming effect and would allay many fears and misgivings.

In rural areas where nursery schools are not numerous—that is no one's fault but is merely a result of geographical distances—unless a child has a good play group to which he or she has been able to go they may find it harder to reach the goal at seven, although that is not always so. There is a fear that free choice on the part of parents may raise false hopes if the school of their choice is over-subscribed and the only alternative is further away and no transport is necessarily available. What will happen in those circumstances?

If parents in those cases wish to exercise their choice of school and opt for a school within the borders of a nearby LEA, has that LEA the obligation to accept financial responsibility for that pupil under the Bill? I understand that there is to be no change in transport to schools. The organisation of transport in rural areas is difficult, especially in North Yorkshire where considerable distances must be covered. Public transport is becoming increasingly rare in such areas and it is not geared to school needs.

A further anxiety is caused by the fact that schools are finding that they can accommodate fewer children. September 1987 is the criterion that they would like and not 1979 as proposed. The reasons are clear. The capacity of many schools has changed and more space-consuming methods required by the GCSE have supervened. A standard number for 1979 may well bear little relation either to the current capacity or operating requirements of the school. How can the situation in 1989 be the same as in 1979?

I should now like to turn to one of the most contentious subjects of all which is known as "opting out". The Roman Catholic hierarchy, the disabled and the LEAs are greatly concerned. In North Yorkshire some misgivings arise from the very scattered nature of the population in parts of what is the largest county in England. It has been suggested to me that the voting should be a majority of 50 per cent. plus one of the governors and a majority of all the parents concerned. As it stands at the moment, it appears that the arrangements for initiating applications of grant maintained status would give undue weight to what could be a minority of parents and governors voting.

The parents of younger children in the locality would have no say in the matter although they have a strong interest in the senior school to which they imagine their children will go. The governors should be required to consult the parents of children in the contributory primary schools. If not, because of the time taken for the due process of law in opting out, many parents of children in the opting out school will no longer have children in that school; but the effect on the primary school children who will, by then, be passing into the senior school need not necessarily reflect their parents' wishes. Why should those parents be denied a vote?

If, in rural areas, a school opts out, it could cause very great difficulty for the LEA to supply enough places for children who are not able, for one reason or another, to go to the opted out school. Perhaps the Minister can say whether a school which has opted out would, within a reasonable time—perhaps five years—be able to reverse the decision and opt in again.

As a Roman Catholic, I am aware of the anxieties felt by the Roman Catholic hierarchy at the procedure for opting out. It appears that a school could be overturned by minority voting and change the character of the school. To do that on a minority vote is unsatisfactory from every possible point of view.

I look forward to welcoming the Government's amendments on religious education and their agreement to strengthen the safeguards of the religious ethos of denominational schools. There are several points which I believe should be raised in Committee rather than on Second Reading of a Bill.

10.47 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I support this Bill but perhaps I may, at this late hour, speak briefly on five aspects where I believe amendments are required.

My first point concerns home economics or, as I believe it may be renamed in schools, personal and social education. Others have called it education in life skills. The Government's policy in recent years has been to look to local education authorities to provide education which will respond to the needs of the labour market; thus enabling the young to obtain jobs. That is surely right. The Equal Opportunities Commission presses for women to be in a position to obtain jobs equal to men. However, to be either a good employee or employer a satisfactory worker needs to lead a balanced life as between home and work. The domestic skills, business and personal life and the setting up of a home need training. That can be received both at home but also in the school. It is necessary for training to be available in child rearing—the life skills of creating an emotionally secure, stable and happy home. Therefore, home economics (or as I prefer to call it personal social education), needs to figure in the school curriculum for both boys and girls.

How is it that last year the NSPCC allocated £4 million for the training of parents: who have never known how to care"; that is, how to care for their homes and children? As boys and girls, all those parents have been through our schools. How is it that they are so uneducated in the home and life skills?

I ask the Secretary of State for Education to review the position with regard to training for life skills and parenthood, and the possibility of this subject figuring in the curriculum. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, suggest that the teaching of home economics will inevitably be devalued unless it is in the curriculum.

My second point concerns children with special education needs, and many noble Lords have spoken on this subject, including the Minister, my noble friend Lady Young, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who spoke most movingly of his personal experiences, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). The Warnock Report and the Education Bill of 1981 laid down that choice should be available to the parents of such children: the choice of living at home and receiving education in their community or of attending a boarding school—for instance, the Worcester School for the Blind or the Royal College for the Deaf; or a boarding school for children with emotional, behavioural difficulties; or, indeed, children attending a special day school for autistic or dyslexic children.

I fully agree with my noble friend Lord Joseph and many others who in this debate have called for flexibility in the curriculum to meet the needs of individual children. I gave away the prizes at the Royal School for Blind Children at Worcester. One boy has got to Cambridge and other boys are doing practical and computer work. It seems to me that it is impossible for children with special education needs not to have great flexibility within the curriculum.

I also ask what is to happen to children with special education needs attending an opted-out school. Will that school receive finance provided for the special equipment that is required? I believe that this question has been asked before. If an opted-out school, or indeed any school, finds itself unable to deal with a child with special education needs, will the parents have the option of applying to the governors for their child to be considered to be kept at that school and for that school to receive the necessary financial help? Will parents be able to appeal to the governors, or to whom should they appeal if they feel that their children are not receiving the help that they should get? As regards the assessment tests at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16, will there be special consideration given to children with special education needs?

My third point concerns adult education, which includes the many and various classes provided for adults which mean so much to those who have not had the opportunity to receive such education as they would have wished during their childhood. This point also includes those of the ethnic groups wanting to fill in what they have missed and those wanting to learn a skill which they did not learn at school. I cannot speak too highly of the education and social value of further education and adult education. There is also the youth service, which is of inestimable value. At one time in my life I was a club leader and I know what this means to many young people particularly in the prevention of crime.

Bearing in mind the time, perhaps I may speak for one moment on the question of ILEA. I have worked in an authority serving a population of only 110,000. We were our own education authority and we were therefore smaller than practically any London borough. I say that our services were as good in our area as such services were anywhere. I do not believe that the disbandment of ILEA is going to damage or needs to damage education if people have the goodwill, the expertise and the skill. However, in respect of certain aspects outside the school curriculum—the youth service, the adult service, further education and perhaps some of the residential schools outside the area, schools to which the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, and others have referred—perhaps we might consider the setting up of a council to cover the inner London boroughs.

At a later stage I propose to move an amendment on truancy. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that it must be tackled. What is the point of us talking about education if the children are not there to take advantage of it? We have not tackled truancy in this country. I have read up some research on truancy. The problem concerns not only the children who stay out of school all day but those who register and then disappear, who reappear in the afternoon, register and then disappear again. Usually they do so according to the subject. The subjects from which they mostly disappear are maths and French. We must take note of this point, considering that maths is part of the core curriculum.

I support the Bill. I have made a very short speech. I think I have even beaten the noble Lord, Lord Blake. However, I feel very strongly on these few subjects and I hope that we may make amendments during the next stages of the Bill.

10.57 p.m.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, at this late hour I shall speak solely about the proposed Universities Funding Council, the UFC as the Bill calls it. It is not often that as corporate bodies our ancient universities leave their dreaming spires and dedication to research and teaching to involve themselves in front-line politics. When they do so some notice should be taken.

I know that I am not alone in receiving such a letter from a head of house, but on 15th February the right honourable Sir Patrick Nairne, master of my college, St. Catherine's, Oxford, sent me a letter of extreme concern about the provisions of the Bill which affect universities. He enclosed a special supplement to the Oxford University Gazette, bearing the imprimatur "published by authority", of 22nd January 1988 and headed: The Education Reform Bill: Statement by Hebdomadal Council", the latter being the governing body of the university. Being both the home of the great dictionary and of a leading faculty of English, I will before I lapse into my own awful prose quote the first three short paragraphs: 1. Council views with deep concern those provisions in the Education Reform Bill now before Parliament which affect the universities. As drafted, the clauses in the Bill represent a major threat to the independence of the universities. That independence is crucial to academic freedom and so to freedom of thought in the country as a whole. 2. Under the Bill Government is to be given statutory powers, exercisable through a new agency called the Universities Funding Council ('UFC'), by which control could be exercised over every activity carried on within a university. Even if, as is professed by Ministers, no intrusive use is made of these sweeping powers during the lifetime of the present administration, the powers will remain on the statute book and be available to any subsequent Government determined to impose its will on the university system or any part of it. 3. The Bill heralds a wholly undesirable change in the relations between Government and the universities. Not only is the University Grants Committee ('UGC') to be abolished after nearly seventy years of existence, but with it will be destroyed the non-statutory regime based on established convention and customary law which guaranteed the independence of the UGC. It may well be that the UGC as at present functioning is in need of reform. The Croham Committee, which reported in February 1987, certainly thought so. It wanted an authoritative and vigilant body. But the report also insisted that the new council which is recommended should be 'visibly its own creature, enjoying the confidence of the Government, the universities and the community at large' and that its independence 'ought to be given formal recognition with appropriate safeguards included in a founding instrument'. Before I move on from the general to the particular, I wish to draw attention to the first very brief paragraph of an article written by Sir Richard Southwood, acting vice-chancellor of Oxford University, which was published in The Times on 3rd February: It is a matter for deep concern that the Government appears reluctant to recognise either the sincerity or the strength of the feelings aroused by the provisions of the Education Reform Bill affecting universities". Universities are concerned that the insistence of the Croham Report (Cmnd. 81, February 1987) that the new council, the UFC, should be, visibly its own creature enjoying the confidence of the Government, the universities and the community at large", and that its independence, ought to be given formal recognition with appropriate safeguards included in a founding instrument", is not being followed.

Not only are there no such safeguards, but the Bill as amended in another place still expressly provides in Clause 117(6) that the UFC shall comply with "any directions" given to it by the Secretary of State. The subsection reads: In exercising their functions under this Part of this Act each of the Funding Councils shall comply with any directions given to them by the Secretary of State". Closely linked to this subsection, in Clause 117(4) the Bill further provides that sums paid to the UFC for distribution to universities may be paid, subject to such conditions as he may determine". He may impose additional functions on the UFC by delegated legislation. Clause 117(1) places no limit on that power in that he may, by order confer or impose on either of the Funding Councils such supplementary functions as he thinks fit". The subservient position of the new UFC compared to the old UGC is further underlined by the decision to omit from its terms of reference any duty to advise government as to the needs of the university system—and I stress the word "duty"—because Clause 115(7)(b) reads: The Council shall also have power … to provide the Secretary of State, in such manner as he may from time to time determine, with such information and advice relating to activities eligible for funding under this section as they think fit". I submit to your Lordships that having power to submit such information and advice as the council thinks fit is a very different obligation to having a duty to advise. Indeed, it is not an obligation at all; it is something that the UFC can do if the fancy takes it. It appears to run directly contrary to an assurance given to your Lordships' House on 6th May 1987 by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and reported in Hansard, col. 207.

I feel that for the foregoing reasons the universities are entirely justified in their reading of the Bill as it now stands that the UFC will be the lap-dog of the Secretary of State and in a position to dictate to universities what activities they must, or indeed, what they must not, carry out. As Sir Richard Southwood further said in The Times article already referred to: The universities believe that they can best do their job of teaching and reaearch, and thus best serve the nation, if in their academic operations they are free from state control; at the same time they have never claimed exemption from the need to demonstrate good use of public funds. Putting this another way, there is a problem of reconciling independence with accountability. In the past this problem was resolved by the existence of a strong and independent body interposed between government and the universities—the University Grants Committee. Lord Croham's committee, although it found the UGC in need of substantial reform, saw this clearly enough, but the Bill does not follow Lord Croham's lead. The UGC is indeed to have strong powers over the universities. But instead of being independent it will itself be vulnerable to direct state control. The change is fundamental. The direct state control to which Sir Richard refers is particularly achieved by Clause 115(6) which states that the UFC is empowered to pay money to universities "subject to such terms and conditions as it thinks fit". Remarkably (the word used by Oxford Univeristy) there is a clause which accords to the UFC the right to require repayment of the grant "in whole or in part" if "any other condition subject to which the sums were paid is not complied with", with interest payable in the case of any delay.

The Government have adopted several lines of defence and/or justification to criticisms of the new powers proposed to be conferred on the Secretary of State. The principal line of defence is that the powers would only be exercised as a "last resort" and that every notice would be taken of the views of the UFC and the universities. While I do not doubt the sincerity of the present occupant of the post of Secretary of State, he can hardly bind a successor who thought otherwise and supported his or her actions by reciting the statutory clauses of the present Bill if it were to become law unamended. It would also be naive not to imagine that a threat to use his or her statutory powers might be made for persuasive purposes. As the article says, "it can be enough to brandish a weapon without using it".

Another anodyne given to critics by the Government is a rather technical one. The Government state that the UFC will have greater independence as a statutory body than the present UGC because the latter can technically be abolished at any moment by the simple administrative act of revoking the minute which established its terms of reference. It seems to me that what is far more important is a comparison of the relative freedoms to act of the old and the new body, the former by fact drawn from nearly 70 years of existence and the latter from the Bill before your Lordships.

I hope that I have made my views plain about the implications of the Bill. With regard to the argument of the technical status of the present UGC, in relation to conventions Halsbury's Laws of England states: Today, as in the past, much of the practical working of the constitution depends less upon substantive Law enforced by the courts than upon conventional usages founded partly upon the precedents afforded by history and partly upon the needs of the time, which may be said for practical purposes of government to have acquired the force of customary law. Finally, I should like to make a point about simple majorities. Clause 115(2), dealing with the setting up of the UFC, proposes that the UFC shall have 15 members and that not less than six and not more than nine of the members shall be persons with a knowledge of university affairs. I feel strongly that the latter should form a clear majority, which would be achieved if "not less than eight" were substituted for "not less than six". Give the universities the rope. If they hang themselves, that is another matter; but they have failed to do so through the stresses and strains of over 700 years of existence, during which one has even played host to a King and his Parliament, and I fail to see why they should do so now.

I am not convinced by the Government's answers to their critics that all is well—indeed better—and that the universities are merely "crying wolf". The fact is that the universities are severely discomfited and apprehensive of the Bill's provisions and have been subject to successive departmental doses of tranquilliser. The Bill should be amended to maintain universities' obligations to demonstrate good stewardship of the public funds entrusted to them and to maintain their autonomy.

11.9 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, your Lordships will be relieved to know that at this late hour I shall cut most of what I was going to say. The Bill is a fairly major measure. Nearly 45 years after the Rab Butler Bill, with which I grew up, we are now laying the foundations for the next 45 years. It will take us right into the first third of the next century. We must get it right.

With touching faith, the defence of ILEA has come up. I shall seek to put the other point of view. I shall also try to touch on the religious education side of the matter, which I believe is deeply important. It is also appropriate to this House, because we are more free to talk, with all our affinities and loyalties.

Let us take ILEA's results, which are deplorable by any measure one likes to take. As regards secondary education, its costs per pupil, under every heading, are much higher compared with the costs of Manchester and Birmingham, or wherever one looks. They are nearly 20 per cent. up on teaching staff and twice as high on support staff. I have its budget, which shows 40,000 teachers (some of them part-time) and 45,000 support staff. That is not a good ratio, and it is much larger than that of any other area. Its premises-related costs are 50 per cent. higher. There is a great deal of room for economy there.

ILEA's overall cost per pupil is £2,043 per year, whereas the cost in all other metropolitan districts is £1,200. The difference between £2,000 and £1,200 is substantial. If the results were good one would say, "Right—the problems in London are special, but you have produced good results"; but the results are also deplorable. There are some good sides to ILEA. I am picking on the bad points only, but they are important points. In ILEA schools 20.6 per cent. of the pupils leave without a graded result. On too many occasions that means no jobs for that important 20 per cent. The figures for the rest of England as a whole are half that figure.

It is argued—and I understand the point—that the social deprivation in London is more serious, and the racial minorities are larger, than anywhere else. Sheffield University has studied the examination results for socially deprived areas. It divided them into 96 areas and gave points for the various examination achievements. Liverpool was fourth, which was surprising to some of us; Manchester was 10th; Birmingham was 17th—they all have considerable problems—but ILEA was 56th. It is in the bottom half despite its enormous expenditure. As I said, ILEA employs two and a half times as many administrators as the average area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London felt that it would be a disaster if we abolished ILEA. I cannot help feeling that the same phrases were used when we were talking about the abolition of the GLC. It was said to be terrible, and yet two years later it is not mourned; it is forgotten.

As other speakers have said, we must measure absence from school. It is alarming that last week 30 per cent. of ILEA pupils aged 15 and 16, who are coming up to the end of their school careers, were absent. That is an important figure. How anyone can praise an organisation which achieves such a result after 20 years is beyond my ken.

I turn now to the feeling that was referred to and to the poll of 145,000 people that was taken. By the way, if one had six children one had six votes. I suppose one has six times as much interest if one has six children, but it gives a slight advantage to the Roman Catholics. So it was not a normal one man, one vote by any means. But in the 12 London boroughs there are 250,000 pupils within the precincts of ILEA. Therefore, in each of the 12 there is an average of about 20,000 pupils. Some have as many as 30,000 pupils, and the boroughs will take over the responsibility. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that good results can be achieved when there are as many as 20,000 or 30,000 pupils to cope with. Remember that they will inherit the staff from ILEA. It is not as if they are starting afresh; they are already making arrangements to recruit the heads of education. There are the deputy heads of education and they are quite rightly talking to them, making plans for the future.

So I feel confident that ILEA should go. I think it is grossly overpopulated. The figure of two and a half times is very alarming. Its results are very poor when measured by any other competitive areas like the LEAs, the local education authorities. Also today 30 per cent. of the people are absent.

I should like to talk briefly on religious teaching. I have been in touch with teachers who want to see Christian teaching restored as the predominant faith. This Bill gives us a golden opportunity to make ground, to restore some of the position which has been lost over recent years in particular. I welcome the improvements in the Bill which have taken place in the House of Commons. The Archbishop of Canterbury's commission report which noble Lords will have read was called Faith in the City. That drew stark attention to the deplorable state of religious education, particularly in urban priority areas. There is no religious teaching in over 90 per cent. of the schools. The 1944 Act has been much quoted. Lord Selborne made it quite clear, when the commission was talking about religious education, that it was talking about Christian teaching, and I shall not therefore repeat it.

Now we find the Government and churches using the 1944 Education Act as a justification for multi-faith religious education. This is a change of law without public debate and without public consent. It is argued that racial minorities make it inappropriate. In a small percentage of schools, and sometimes in certain areas, it may even be a majority are non-Christian. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of man so to organise things that where that happens, special arrangements are made. Now 85 per cent. of the nation claim, in all the surveys of the Bible Society and other organisations, that they are Christians; something between 4 and 5 per cent. equally claim that they wish to follow another denomination or religion. Why should we be bullied; why should we be so influenced, so reticent? One of my predecessors was a missionary in China, in the middle of the last century. He did not go to China because people there were already Christians; he went to China to convert them to the Christian faith. I should have thought that it was the task of our Church here to try and convert those who follow no religion, first and foremost, but even those who follow an alternative religion. It is the Christian religion which we in this country support.

Noble Lords are so well informed that they will not make this mistake; but others do; people somehow think that the Afro-Caribbean communities are not Christians. They are strong Christians. I make visits to the Caribbean in the winter and every time I go to church I am uplifted by their faith. They ought to be proselytising us and carrying the Christian faith to us. In fact, the fastest growing churches in all parts of Britain are the ones attended by the Afro-Caribbean communities. So we must not say that minority racial groups are not Christian; in many cases they are. And they are very staunch Christians indeed.

I know that it would be opposed by some people; but I cannot help feeling that we need to have something a little more definite than the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London seems currently satisfied with. The ILEA 1984 syllabus at secondary level requires the religious education teachers to cover at least six religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Humanism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. Other agreed syllabuses include Marxism. Really, Marxism is not a religion. If one had to include Marxism then one should also have to include capitalism. It is no good saying that the system has been bad in the past because the Churches could have taken a lead in this matter. But they did not do it. The present situation has arisen through lack of leadership. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London seemed confident that all would be better in the future, but I wonder whether he is not overconfident.

I hope that perhaps some of us will put down an amendment to ask that in future religious teaching should be predominantly Christian. Perhaps we could vote on that. That would be a chance to examine in depth with the bishops the pros and cons of defining whether religious teaching should be written into the Bill as being predominantly Christian. I would hope that the majority of the bishops will be present on that occasion and also the Roman Catholic Peers, of whom there are many. We should hear the views of all denominations.

I suggest that this is exactly the kind of subject which we should be discussing in this House, and that it is better discussed here than it is in another place. I think this is the place where this subject could be discussed without any Whips. We should be able to have a free vote of conscience on a matter of such supreme importance. We should have an opportunity of hearing the pros and cons. I hope that on balance we shall find it to the advantage of the future of our children and of our grandchildren that the teaching of religious education in our schools should henceforward be predominantly Christian.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I support this Bill. In view of the lateness of the hour I shall try not to make a long, obstinate and shoddily constructed speech, but there are just two points on which I would beg your Lordships' indulgence.

Parents and teachers both bear a heavy responsibility for the future of our country. It is vital that the traditions and ideals which we cherish and which our parents cherished should continue into the next generation.

I support my noble friend Lord Joseph and the noble Lord, Lord McNair, in their idea that British history should be included in the curriculum. I also agree with my noble friend Lady Faithfull about the inclusion of what she calls home economics and what I used to call domestic science. I think that that subject should be included in the curriculum. Although I learned how to scrub a floor, how to blacklead a grate and how to polish brass, I never graduated to the finer points of cooking. When I was first married my husband had to make do with a diet of scones and scrambled egg, tins and tablet.

In 1854 my great grandparents and the local minister founded an industrial school for girls in Errol. It was largely built and funded as the result of a fete which was held at home. The purpose of this school was to teach not only the three Rs and the Christian religion but also all the subjects which would be really useful in their future life, such as how to cook, how to dressmake, how to budget and how to deal with sickness in the home. Colonel Gordon Drummond, who was fighting in the Crimea at the time, was a personal friend of Florence Nightingale. I believe that there should be some provision in the Bill for home economics so that future generations should not be more ignorant than their ancestors were but should be as able to deal with things.

My second point concerns the installation of daily prayers and Christian religious teaching in schools. My noble friends Lady Cox, Lord Elton and Lord Orr-Ewing have already spoken most strongly on this matter. Our children and grandchildren will, I hope, start their day with prayers, as your Lordships do, so that they can put their hand in the hand of God through the bright day and right on until the shadows and evening come.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I shall be brief. This is an important Bill and in general I welcome its proposals. There are many points on which I should perhaps have liked to comment. At this late hour I shall only touch briefly on three.

The first point relates to religion. Like many noble Lords and like the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, who has just spoken, I welcome the Government's commitment to a daily act of worship. In the vast majority of cases I think that it should be a specifically Christian act of worship. Only when a child's parents particularly ask for the child to be withdrawn should that be done. Where numbers permit, some alternative facility for worship should then be made available for such children.

I am less happy about the provisions for religious education. The trouble with religious education is that unless it is extremely well done it is worse than useless. I do not believe that a child can be given a real idea of the religious view of life by being taught comparative religion. Religion is about commitment. As has been said, it is betting your life that there is a God. I cannot accept that religion can be adequately taught by an atheist or a teacher who has no religious commitment. Which of your Lordships would condone the teaching of swimming by someone who has never put a toe in the water?

On my second point, I believe that I go further than the noble Baronesses, Lady Faithfull and Lady Strange. The majority of us spend the middle years of our lives rearing a family. To some extent the Churches have now abrogated their responsibility to give moral guidance. In some areas of our cities, over 30 per cent. of children are growing up in single parent families. It is of the greatest importance that schools should do as much as possible to help prepare young people for the responsibilities of homemaking and raising a family. It seems strange to have to spell it out. However, in my view that means a stable, heterosexual, two-parent family wherever that is possible. In saying that, I do not for a moment detract from the importance of the extended family or from the marvellous work which is being done by many single parents who are having to look after their children on their own.

A stable environment for children while they are growing up is not only of the utmost importance to the children themselves in giving them security. It also has major implications in the context of law and order and the general welfare of our society. I shall hope to probe that matter further at Committee stage.

Finally, I should like to turn to the question of the independent sector. Approximately 6 per cent. of the children in this country are educated in the independent sector, yet the Bill does not make any mention of it. In a fairly recent debate on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, many of your Lordships testified to the importance and excellence of the contribution made by the independent sector to our national education. Most, though not all, schools in the independent sector are of a very high standard. Some are the envy of the world and widely copied. The independent sector represents a national resource in our education which should not be ignored or downgraded. It should be used as a coherent part of our total educational system.

Speakers on the Opposition Benches are fond of representing the independent system as a hotbed of elitism and privilege. I believe that that is a caricature. I know that many parents make very great sacrifices to send their children to independent schools, not for reasons of snobbishness or elitism but because they want, at whatever cost to themselves, to provide what they perceive to be the best education for their children. Let us therefore use the independent system not to nurture privilege but to help to further the great object of giving all our children a better education.

First, the independent system should be subject to the same curriculum and testing requirements as are imposed by the Bill on the maintained sector. Secondly, there should be an opportunity for opting in. If the Government's proposals for opting out are successful, as I very much hope they will be, there is a real possibility that some good independent schools will be subjected to totally unfair competition from opted out schools in the same neighbourhood, the latter receiving 100 per cent. government subsidy. It occurs to me to wonder what attitude the Directorate of Fair Trading might take on this situation.

It seems only fair that the independent schools should have the countervailing option of opting in. Opting in would provide a valuable and positive complement to the Government's proposals and one which would be entirely consistent with their policies.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, it is difficult in a debate like this to avoid being repetitive. I shall not deal with generalities; I shall limit myself to three points that I should like to make.

Before doing so I declare an interest as a governor of four schools: a public school founded in 1553 as a grammar school, which it still is, two voluntary-aided schools and a grammar school. I have gained much experience through this, and I am a foundation member of one of ILEA's girls' schools about which I shall be speaking. I am also on the council of the City University and on the court of Essex University. I must admit to a public school education but not to a university education.

There are many side-effects to education reform, but I support the measures being taken by the Government. We must ensure that they go forward into the statute book amended, as certainly they will be, but I hope very much improved.

Starting with the national curriculum, I agree that it is an important stepping stone for the general run of students, but in my view it does not offer the breadth of education which for the sake of example is offered at the Skinners School, Tunbridge Wells, a voluntary-aided school of which I am a governor, to certain types of student who are early developers: for example, to the budding medic to study additionally two foreign languages or to the language specialist to take two science subjects. It does not allow a boy to keep open his choice between some of the high-powered courses or mainstream courses until the sixth form because it insists on too much time being spent on general basic subjects. This slows down preparation and impedes the brighter students. The aim should be to have a system which teaches the brighter pupils in class with the majority to their mutual advantage and not to prefer a system which leaves the brighter pupil to look after himself on the theory that he will probably succeed however the system is supposed to work.

In Kent the local education authority's view is that the national curriculum must be interpreted with flexibility. The Government say that it can be, but I wonder whether there is sufficient flexibility and whether we ought to go further, not only to bring weaker schools and pupils up to standard but to have the flexibility of the curriculum officially validated and approved for schools such as the Skinners School, Tunbridge Wells, aiming at very much higher standards. That would allow such a school to compete on fair terms with leading public schools. Boys from such schools are just as much entitled to desirable openings in life as any other pupils from the independent sector, and we should not try to hamper them by legislation designed to standardise on the lowest common denominator.

I would suggest that an amendment to Clause 1 should include a rider in respect of able children that their interests are not restricted. This would ensure that the National Curriculum Council can be seen to have the flexibility that it should have to make variations in respect of the more popular schools aspiring to higher standards.

I shall now turn to another matter which concerns the governors of one of the ILEA girls' schools in the Borough of Hackney, which is the Skinners School for Girls and which has a voluntary-aided foundation. There are 730 girls at the school, 60 per cent. of whom are coloured. All the principal faiths are represented. I shall not list them because I cannot remember them as well as my noble friend who can list them so easily. Twenty-seven different languages are spoken in the homes of the girls. In due course, in another generation, that will be down to one—it will be English only, presumably.

Hackney borough has no experience of educational management. It is virtually in disarray, it is burdened by a housing calamity and is criticised by the Audit Commission, apart from being pre-occupied with issues of political philosophy. It has not come forward with proposals or plans for the future. It is a member of the ALA (the Association of London Authorities). The school governors fear that it will fall short of providing the services which the school currently receives from ILEA. Schools have become very dependent on ILEA, as my noble friend Lady Blatch has said, and it is also said to have economies of scale; but, as my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said, it has not shown that it can take advantage of those economies of scale. By definition there will be less spending. The governors want to know what assurances the Government can give that Hackney borough will provide the services for the school to allow it to deliver sound education and improved standards within the borough.

At the moment under the equalisation arrangements Hackney puts in £33 million and takes out £93 million from ILEA. The borough is deprived and has special needs. A lot of thought will have to be given to ways of providing the services needed to make up the £60 million shortfall. No doubt the Government will say that the school governors can opt out. However, the foundation's association with the borough goes back 100 years, and such a decision would probably be taken only in the last resort. Assurances are needed now that the school will not lose out under Hackney borough, and I very much hope that the borough is capable of responding.

Finally, I come to university education. The main issue is academic freedom, about which we have heard so much. Perhaps I should not speak on this subject as I have never been to a university; but the vice-chancellors argue that they do not have to be pushed around and are responding to the challenge of change. I believe that the Secretary of State's powers are powers of the last resort and must be available. I support them in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has supported them. I do not regard them as oppressive, and I shall say no more on that subject. What I shall say is that when it comes to research, universities are businesses whose products are ideas. They must make a better attempt to sell themselves to their potential customers.

Industry, by and large, is suspicious of the university mind and of the academic dislike of working to a timescale. But if universities are to serve the nation best, then the professor of the moment is the one who sets himself a target. I think that most of them are beginning to see that commissioned work will not be brought to a university on a plate. The university has to sell itself. The science park helps here, as we have seen at Cambridge. Unfortunately, 60 per cent. of the companies on the Cambridge site are foreign; but it has encouraged other universities to attract British industry to their own versions of the science park.

I am always told that there is a lack of staff to do the marketing. Maybe therefore there is a case for the Universities Funding Council to look at ways of helping the universities to market their ideas as products.

I have mentioned three points; but I think that when this Bill is enacted it will bring quality assurance to education. We have it in design and production and we now want it in education.

11.40 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, perhaps I may deal briefly with one aspect of religious education: the importance of regarding religious studies as a subject requiring intellectual effort. I am aware that spiritual truth may be discerned in many ways and that the possession of a brilliant intellect is not a necessary requirement for experiencing Christian truth. Nevertheless, the whole weight of Christian tradition shows that religious experience must involve the mind as well as the heart. For this reason I am thankful that religious education is to be statutorily identified as part of the basic curriculum for all pupils in all maintained schools and that it takes its place before the core and foundation subjects.

At the moment religious education is too often regarded as a Cinderella subject suffering from a lack of qualified teachers. One hears such remarks as, "X is a churchgoer, so he or she can take religious education"; or, "Y has some free periods which can be filled with religious education teaching". Churchgoing or good will are no substitutes for professional skill. It would be of little comfort to be assured before having a tooth pulled that the dentist, although unqualified, was a good Christian! Christian religious education is a subject which demands teachers who are inspired by their Christian faith and who possess well-informed and well-trained minds.

Piety is no substitute for academic learning. Nor is faith a prop for inadequacy of understanding. Faith enriches and interprets the discoveries of the mind, and intellectual integrity can be an important source of spiritual insight. In religious education every challenge must be examined and every question explored. In this way the minds and imaginations of pupils will be enriched and boredom and indiscipline will be inapplicable. There are many well-trained teachers in religious education who combine joy and enthusiasm with the knowledge of their subject, but there is a most urgent necessity for more to be found.

I should like to end by stressing one or two practical points in connection with this issue. The first is to urge that there may be a more considered approach to the initial training of religious education teachers. I have it on hand that in some departments when a teacher of theology leaves no effort is made to replace that teacher. Theology departments in universities and religious education departments in polytechnics need continued support if they are to maintain their work of training religious education specialists, who in their turn will be engaged in the recruitment of the religious education specialists of the future.

Finally, if religious education is to be seen generally as one of the foundation subjects, some provision must be made for assessment of progress in religious education at the same time as the other foundation subjects are assessed or the Secretary of State's concession will have been a hollow one indeed and the position of religious education seen to be only nominal after all.

We know that religious education in schools is part of a life-long process to maturity. Her Majesty's Government have listened to the church leaders and those engaged in religious education teaching. Now it is for the churches to use the opportunities made available to them. Perhaps I may humbly say that in the parishes we can also try to do better than we have done.

If there is good will and readiness by all to show the quality of being swift to hear and slow to speak—which is the characteristic, on the whole, of this House—it should be possible for all the concerns of all people to be worked out so that this Bill can be even more digestible and also considerably improved during the Committee and Report stages. Basically I believe that this had to be done. May it be done really well at the Committee and Report stages.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, like most of your Lordships, I shall confine myself to one aspect of the Bill, or rather of the Bills, because this is a measure which surely contains two or three separate Bills which should indeed have been introduced as separate measures.

Before passing to that aspect of the measure I wish, however, to associate myself with my noble friends and other noble Lords who have spoken about the irresponsible part of the Bill which proposes the abolition of that authority that deals with the education of 280,000 children in London—the Inner London Education Authority. As a Londoner I join them in resenting, opposing and hoping to change the provision for the abolition of ILEA.

The aspect on which I choose to speak is that of higher and further education. I do so by declaring an interest of having spent some 36 years in teaching in research. To adapt a phrase which has been used this evening rather a lot, I am not yet superannuated nor moribund—though I am not yet a vice-chancellor, nor likely to be, The noble Lord, Lord Swann, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester have put the essential case, it seems to me, that in changing the relationship between the state and the universities there is in this Bill a threat to that area of academic life which is sometimes called academic freedom and which I prefer to call scholarly freedom.

I do not believe that this is a party issue and in many ways on this issue we find ourselves in unusual company. The Government succeeded in the six weeks following the publication of the Bill in uniting the most extraordinary spectrum of opinion, not merely the presidents of the British Academy, the Royal Society and the Association of University Teachers, but the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who spoke about the total centralisation of control now proposed for universities and the Warden of St. Antony's College, Oxford, Professor Ralf Dahrendorf, whose phrase I should like to quote because I believe it sums up the central point and makes a point about looking abroad as well as in this country.

Ralf Dahrendorf wrote on 2nd December: The Bill must be regarded as threatening by many academics, not least because it removes safeguards of freedom which exist in all other countries of the free world". He is joined by the Chancellor of Manchester University, Professor John Griffith, by Professor Elie Kedowrie—I believe it is the first time that that spectrum of writers has ever been on the same side —and also by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford whom we all know, because the Minister told us that discussions had been going on with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who is to speak tomorrow.

In parenthesis I must say that I find it very frustrating to come into bat at No. 48 when No. 50, who is to make major pronouncements on this matter, the noble and learned Lord himself, is divided from me by what is left of the night. But the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Sir Patrick Neal, said that these proposals: will, if implemented, create a machinery whereby the UFC (described as the agent of Government by no less an authority than Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer)"— the chairman of the UGC of course— will be able to determine what is taught and in which universities with the aid of public funds". He went on to quote the well-known statement by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mr. Robert Jackson, who said a month or so earlier: We (the Government) want rationalisation of provision in just about every discipline, and we would expect the UFC to take forward the work begun by the UGC. This will mean greater concentration. And … will often mean departmental closures". That is the atmosphere which the Government created before the publication of the Bill and to which the Bill has contributed greatly. It is as though the Butler Act of 1944, to which the Government often look back, had been opposed by a spectrum of opinion which included Professor Hayek and Professor Laski, Lord Beveridge and the youthful Lord Robbins, and Ellen Wilkinson. In that circumstance the great statesman Mr. Butler would have withdrawn the proposals for further consultation. That is what the Government should do in respect of this Bill.

I do not take the view that has been taken by some noble Lords who have spoken—and here I put a new point to the Government. I do not believe that the threat to academic or scholarly freedom comes primarily or simply through the abolition of tenure: it comes through a tripod of measures. First, there is the structure and status of the University Funding Council which is different from the UGC. Secondly, there is the specific financial arrangements, which are not in the Bill. They are in the consultative document dated May 1987, and to my knowledge have never been retracted. Thirdly, in that context, there is the abolition of tenure. I find it strange that some of the noble Lords who have spoken, and who wrote most persuasively about some of the Bill's centralising and controlling machinery, have been satisfied by the amendments so far made in respect of the first two points in that three-point programme. I hope to hear good news and better news on academic freedom from the noble and learned Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Butterworth, has probably managed to depress university morale in the classroom by his intervention, which was in a different direction. He thought that tenure was an anachronism and that universities should be empowered to dismiss at six months' notice anyone on the staff in any circumstance. I do not know whether the six months' notice would apply to vice-chancellors, but even then I would not be in favour of it. I believe that it has the most extraordinary flavour which now seems to take control of some people when they approach universities. It seems that it must be made terribly easy to dismiss people; and there is surprise when that flavour rubs off on to the staff, with a lowering of morale.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester quoted the speech made in January of this year by Sir Mark Richmond, chairman of the CVCP. Summarising, he said that they were not seeking any kind or privilege but the freedom to research, the freedom to question received wisdom and the freedom to be protected from political interference. He said that it was not a licence to brood comfortably in ivory towers. I believe that it is important to place on record once again the fact that anyone who believes that over the last 20 years academic tenure has allowed people to brood comfortably anywhere either does not know what academic salaries are or has never been near a classroom or a laboratory, and probably both. It is absurd to believe that universities are full of idling people with licences to do anything. Surely Sir Mark Richmond was right in saying: In fighting for this freedom we are certainly not arguing against the need for change. We are, however, arguing that the provisions of the Education Reform Bill are not necessary to produce change. Change is already happening That change is a result of congeries of pressures which are always present in universities in any free democratic society however they are organised. There are pressures from government, from other autonomous areas of society and from students. For many universities one of the most worrying aspects of government policy is the fact that in April 1987 student preference was sharply down-graded in place of the major determinant in planning higher education. It must be the demands for highly qualified manpower, stimulated in part by the success of the Government's economic and social policies. One noble Lord spoke of the Government being sensitive in their approach to universities. That passage shows that the Government have a lot to learn.

That congeries of pressure has, throughout many years, changed universities as it has changed other parts of society. However, the question at stake always, especially when it comes to state money—and it is true in France and other western European countries—is how far the Government try to plan research and teaching down into the classroom and in a dirigiste manner. I have no hesitation in saying that if a Government of my own party proposed to do that, I would oppose it as fiercely as I propose to oppose it here.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals is undoubtedly to be congratulated on the concessions which the Secretary of State has made. However, I want to assess how far those concessions have gone. First, the changes permit the UFC to give advice to government; that is excellent. However, the Secretary of State decides whether that is to be in private and I find that rather odd. Secondly, funds are excluded which are privately used by universities from UFC control or mainly so. That is good but the pressure upon universities to raise more and more private money is not necessarily good. University finance is now down to 55 per cent. from public sources compared with 77 per cent. in 1974. There is a point at which pressure to go out and become a client of industry or other sources for money is not a proper policy for a government which believe in public financing of a public higher education service. I believe that point has been reached.

The last change was a concession by the Secretary of State to limit the conferment of extra functions on the UFC and also that he would make directions to the UFC only by order before this House and another place. I believe that should be by affirmative resolution, but that point can be argued in Committee.

It seems to me that this is shadow boxing. Anyone who studies the history of the nationalised industries knows perfectly well that the express direction power of the Minister has never been the main way in which Ministers have influenced nationalised industries. I know the Government have only a few left but they know that from experience. In January 1969 Professor Robson wrote perceptively: The Government can almost always influence a public enterprise to do what it wants whatever the legal text may say. National universities, to use Professor Kedourie's phrase, will be no different.

The UFC is not like the UGC. The UGC was set up in 1948 to be a buffer betwen the state and universities knowing that that was a state of tension which brought about many changes. It was only by the 1980s that the UGC came to be spoken of as the "agent of Government." One of the matters that has greatly worried our universities is the way in which government Ministers have spoken about both the UFC and the UGC. For example, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary wrote in The Times on 23rd January: Constitutionally the University Grants Committee is the creature of the executive… While the UGC is the creature of the executive the UFC will have a statutory basis. The tenor of the argument was that the two are much the same but the UFC is rather better because it is in a statute. However, as Peter Swinnerton-Dyer said, that was the agent of government. Perhaps I may quote the chairman of the UGC: Ministers are no longer thinking in terms of grants, however calculated, but in terms of buying certain services from universities… The Government is here a single purchaser… It will use the power which this situation gives it to press for higher quality and greater efficiency just as Marks and Spencer (for example) does in similar circumstances. I find it rather extraordinary that that approach to universities has been accepted so easily. I wish to ask the Government specific points on the three areas very quickly, if I may. First, they are the three areas of the UFC, of the funding arrangements and academic freedom or academic tenure. As regards the UFC specifically, why should the UFC, as the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, said, not have a majority drawn from the academic profession? Surely, that is a very simple change. There is a very good argument for making it selected or elected from the universities themselves, but that might be too democratic for the centralising tendencies of the Government which are very plain here as they are elsewhere. I cannot see any argument at all why that should not be so.

What is much more important—and this is not a Committee point but a serious structural issue—is that there is one person on the UFC who will be the power. He is the chief officer and he is to be the general manager of higher education. He is the only person with a full-time, renewable contract. He will have the contact with the DES and with the Government and the assessor on the UFC from the Government. Why should it not be required that his approval has the approval of the academic members of the UFC whether they be in a majority or in a minority? That is an issue which I hope will be pressed in Committee.

Second, as to funding, there has been no convincing reason ever given why some system of grants should not be continued. The Government rely on the Croham Report; but it proposed triennial grants, it is true, with rather different conditions possibly attached, though with far greater discretion than the proposal for funding that the Government have suggested. The proposals are not actually in the Bill, but are in the consultative documents which have to be read with the Bill. There must be some system of grants quite different from the proposed system of contracts if university discretion is to be maintained of a kind than can be the basis of free scholarship as we have known it. I quote Professor Griffiths again. He said, Free and critical inquiry requires that universities and other institutions of higher education are entrusted with grants which they may use as they think fit. My only amendment to that would be at any rate for substantial grants that they can use in that way. As regards contracts, the consultative document on funding of May 1987 which is plainly envisaged in the structure of the schedule of the Bill, proposes a system which, even for annual contracts for specific projects of research and teaching, has already been laughed out of court for two reasons. I have never heard the reply of the Government to those reasons. Perhaps we shall hear it tomorrow.

First, the name itself is absurd because the terms are set unilaterally by one side and the decisions about performance and whether they have been broken are also taken by the other side. This can be called a contract and I suspect that the Government will drop the label. I do not think the Government like the semantics of contracts now. But whether they do or not, what matters is whether they intend to go on with the intention to produce funds for universities on a commercial basis with regular, annual monitoring which will kill off a large number of people's interest in research. In one speech the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has taken the example of whether the Government would try to fund Mr. Newton's research at Cambridge on apples. I thought that perhaps one should ask what answer Watson and Crick would have given to the annual auditor as they puzzled away after the double helix. I am perfectly certain that Francis Crick would have given a very short reply.

The position on auditing I wish to put specifically to the Government. In 1967, when the Comptroller and Auditor General—if the noble Lord wishes to interrupt me I shall give way.

A noble Lord

It is a long speech!

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, the noble Lord has interrupted me and I have to reply to him. The Government are about to legislate on one of the most important subjects in this country. Is the noble Lord coming in here at midnight to tell me that points cannot be made at Second Reading? If the Government had had the sense to deal with the matter in a separate Bill we could have discussed it at a civilised hour. I shall give way to him if he wants to make that point.

On auditing, the Comptroller and Auditor General was allowed further access to university books in 1967. It was quite right and proper that that should have been done. This is public money. There must be an audit. The National Audit Office must properly audit university accounts. However, the Secretary of State, Mr. Anthony Crosland, said on 26th July 1967 that although it was part of the Comptroller and Auditor General's duty to question expenditure, it was no part of his duty to question policy decisions or decisions reached on academic grounds.

I want to know whether the Government still abide by the pronouncement which has stood for 20 years. If they abide by it, why have they not disclosed the terms of the National Audit Office's investigations which were put on paper in October 1987 and which include questions that trample over the whole area of academic objectives as well as normal accounting provisions?

Lastly, I come to tenure, and I come to tenure in that context. Tenure is a worry only by reason of the other arrangements for universities made in the Bill. If the only issue were that university tenure should be renegotiated, that would seem a perfectly proper item on the agenda. However, the grounds that are given for tenure in the context of the new funding and in the context of the UFC really make one fearful in the way that Professor Dahrendorf suggested.

The reason for tenure is that it is the job of academics to be sceptical, to follow ideas where they lead and to apply scepticism to the established order. That is true in all areas. The argument that tenure is of no importance because a large number of university staff do not have it was surely answered by the noble Lord, Lord Butterworth. He said that as there is tenure over a large part of university staff that convention rubs off on to the rest.

I ask this question of those who argue that there is no tenure in polytechnics and that there are some non-tenured staff in universities—and I do not believe that this point has been put to the Government. Do they really think that we would have free scholarship today in those areas and the growth of free scholarship in the polytechnics, which is very important, if there had never been tenure? Do they really believe that? The Government do not believe anything like it.

What areas should this House examine when trying to amend the Bill? I suggest that three areas should be looked at. First, the definition of redundancy itself is wider than that applying under normal employment law, and no grounds have been given to satisfy me for that being so. The guidance that is coming through from government to the UFC will cut off funds and allow the dismissal of staff on grounds that are nothing like the normal grounds under the definition in the Bill but simply because of lack of money.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he is not playing the game, and that I think he knows that he is not playing the game? He is making the longest speech in the debate at this hour in the morning when all other speakers have confined themselves to the length of time that was suggested would be reasonable and proper. I suggest to the noble Lord that many of the points he is making are Committee and Report stage points. He is not playing the game.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, I do not regard this as a game. The noble Lord has made his point, but I should like to make mine in my own way. The Government have spoken of grievance procedures as a possible protection. I agree. But surely grievance procedures—this point has never been made, and it is a Second Reading point—must lead not to compensation but to reinstatement. That is a fundamental structural issue.

Lastly, the commissioners in rewriting the university statutes are told to take account of principles of justice and fairness. It is essential that there be added to this not necessarily some phrase as vague as "academic freedom" but one which protects staff from discrimination and disadvantage or penalty by reasons of their opinions, their beliefs and their intellectual position.

It is not impossible to draft such a formula. When it is drafted the Government will be on to an area which has been totally undiscussed in another place; they will be on to the area of unfair selective redundancy, which is dealt with in ordinary employment legislation but it is not dealt with in the Bill. By drafting a formula which protects academic staff against discrimination for political, personal or intellectual belief the Government will be enabled to amend the redundancy provisions and thereby improve the Bill. However, if they cannot do that—

Noble Lords

Order, order!

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, in summing up what I have to say—it would have been much shorter had it not been interrupted—I say that if that is not done it will be a responsibility of this House if we see grave damage to the universities in perhaps the near future.

12.12 a.m.

Lord Renwick

My Lords, I shall try my best to put my few points as fast as possible. In offering a general welcome to the Education Reform Bill I should like to support the Minister on the importance of improving standards for all children and also standards for students in further and higher education. Included in those children and students, however, are many with special education needs. It is on their particular difficulties that I wish to address the House in relation to this Bill.

The report on special education needs of the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, drew our attention to the fact that one in five of all children at some time in their school life, or one in six of children at any one time, have special education needs. Those needs do not disappear when children reach 16 and leave school. Many young people in further education also have special education needs.

By far the largest category of children with special education needs are those who have problems with basic skills. The National Child Development Study, which was a longitudinal study of all the children who were born in England, Scotland and Wales between 3rd and 9th March 1958, interviewed all those people at the age of 23. No fewer than 13 per cent. of them had difficulties with basic skills. One in 10 had had problems with reading, writing and spelling since leaving school. It will therefore come as no surpise to your Lordships to hear that those young people were twice as likely to be unemployed as people without such difficulties; half of them had had no training since leaving school.

While no noble Lord seems satisfied with today's education standards we would surely acknowledge that there have been substantial improvements in the past 75 years. It is all the more startling, then, to discover that the proportion of young people with difficulties in basic skills is almost exactly the same as the proportion of conscripts in the first world war—some 75 years ago—who were reported as having those difficulties. Why should this be so? It is because we have made far too little progress in applying the knowledge that we have in how to educate children with specific learning difficulties and in teaching them reading, writing and spelling.

I am a former chairman of the British Dyslexia Association and am currently chairman of the Dyslexia Educational Trust. In 1984 the British Dyslexia Association introduced a specialist diploma in teaching children with specific learning difficulties. The Royal Society of Arts has also developed a diploma. The Dyslexia Educational Trust has helped by paying bursaries of up to half the fees of teachers attending those courses who cannot obtain help from other sources.

Even so there are probably no more than 500 teachers trained to teach children with specific learning difficulties in the whole of the United Kingdom. Many of those teachers work in the private sector. Post-school, the position is much worse. Only one authority—the Inner London Education Authority—has employed a specialist full time on specific learning difficulties in adult education. That post is now vacant and frozen. An excellent project in ILEA in this field funded by the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit has now come to an end. There is almost no provision anywhere else except that made by committed and dedicated people, often on a voluntary basis.

I should like to turn to some aspects of the Bill which, good though it is, require further consideration if the full benefits are to be delivered to children with special needs. I welcome the introduction of the national curriculum and in particular the intention to introduce diagnostic tests at the ages of seven and 11. The tragedy now is that so many of the children could be helped and are not identified until late in their secondary schooling. The help that could have been given to them so easily early on becomes much more difficult in later years. We know that remedial provision in the final years of secondary schooling is virtually non-existent.

If we are to take advantage of these new opportunities it is essential that the great majority of teachers should have some understanding and knowledge of the fact that they will be faced with classes in which three out of every 30 children have specific learning difficulties. Teachers of reading must be able to diagnose and assess these children and must have the knowledge to deal with their particular problems. For those with the most severe problems we must have a body of trained specialist teachers. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister is aware of this and of the efforts being made, largely in a voluntary capacity in the private sector, to increase these numbers dramatically.

I also welcome the decision to abolish the Inner London Education Authority. No institution, however, not even ILEA, is wholly bad. I have already referred to the fact that only ILEA of all the 104 education authorities in England and Wales has a post, a single post, to help adults with specific learning difficulties. Clearly to divide such a post between each of the London boroughs would be nonsense. ILEA also provides the Ebury Centre for Children with Specific Learning Difficulties. I should not wish to see that centre disappear. It is very important that provision is made for the maintenance of certain joint services by the London boroughs collectively after 1990; and I hope that my noble friend will reassure us on these points.

I am very grateful to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for listening to those people who have raised with him the problems of applying the national curriculum to children with special needs. Clauses 10, 11 and 12 go a very long way indeed towards meeting our concerns. I hope it will not be regarded as carping if I say that a little more is still required. Clause 12 assumes that children will either be exempted temporarily from the requirements of the national curriculum (though I know the temporary periods can be renewed) or should have statements of the special education provision they need made under the 1981 Act. There is still, however, a category of children who will need extra help over a period of two or three years but who should be helped from within the school and will not, therefore, require statements. These children still seem to be excluded—and here I would welcome guidance from my noble friend.

The other problem is that a head teacher can impose, or refuse, a modification against the wishes of parents whose only effective appeal is to the governing body. We are talking about a minority of parents and we know that the governing body is more likely to be representative of the majority whose children do not have special needs. I strongly suspect that such governing bodies in matters of this sort are likely to be guided almost exclusively by the head teacher. There seems to be needed a further right of appeal to an appeal committee.

Local authority maintained schools are in future to be financed through a scheme to be drawn up by the local authority. This will have as its major determinants the numbers and ages of the pupils in the school. The proposal is another that I welcome warmly. It is a well-known principle of management that decisions should be delegated to the lowest possible level and there can be no doubt that decisions about the financing of schools should be taken by the governors and the head teacher. There is, however, a danger. If schools are to be evaluated primarily by their academic results there will be a temptation for head teachers to concentrate on those who are most likely to produce the results and to ignore the needs of those whose learning difficulties may preclude academic success and who therefore are the most expensive to educate.

It is crucial that the scheme of financial delegation includes extra help for children with special needs. I am not here talking only about that minority of children who have statements under the 1981 Act. I am talking about those many children with special educational needs whose education is the responsibility of the school and who will not have statements. Any scheme of financial delegation must give extra funding for the education of such children and a requirement for such premium funding should be written into the Bill. Ministers gave assurances in Standing Committee in another place that the Secretary of State would not approve schemes for financial delegation which do not include such premium funding. Secretaries of State though change. If the principle is conceded, that principle should be written into the Bill. Again I should welcome reassurance on this point from my noble friend. The detail can of course be left to regulations and to advice from the Secretary of State.

I have no doubt that allowing schools to opt out of the local education authority maintained system and become grant maintained will be very successful for many schools. The way in which parents have joined together to form organisations such as the British Dyslexia Association shows how capable they are of running their own affairs, including running the schools that their children attend. But there is a danger that children with special educational needs will lose some of the gains that they have secured under the Education Act 1981. Governing bodies of schools do not in our experience pay nearly enough attention to their duties in respect of special education.

A survey in its area by one local dyslexia association showed that only a tiny minority of governing bodies were even aware that they had duties under that Act. The duties to make the provision specified in a statement of special educational needs are imposed upon the local education authority. There are no equivalent duties imposed upon the governors or the head teacher of a school.

It was, I suppose, assumed in 1981 that LEAs and the governors of the schools that they maintained would have no problems in reaching agreement. That has now changed and I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister agrees that it has become important to prohibit the governors of grant maintained (or any other) schools from excluding or refusing to admit a child solely because of that child's special educational needs and to impose upon them the duty of implementing the provisions of a statement.

I have already said that specific learning difficulties are scarcely recognised post-16. Because of this young people who should be able to secure the vocational training that is so important both for them and for the country fail to do so. The British Dyslexia Association knows of only one institution of higher education, Kingston Polytechnic, which makes any special effort to help students who are dyslexic. Outside London there are likewise scarcely any further education colleges that offer such help. The Bill amends Section 41 of the Education Act 1944 to impose a duty upon every local education authority to provide adequate facilities for further education. It then offers some definition of the word "adequate".

The Education Act 1981 amended the 1944 Act to impose upon local education authorities a duty to have regard in relation to primary and secondary education to the need for securing that special educational provision is made for pupils who have special educational needs. If that was required in relation to schools where local education authorities already made substantial provision, how much more is it necessary for further education, where provision is negligible? Similarly—I shall not argue the case, your Lordships will be glad to hear, because I have already argued it in respect of schools—it is of the greatest importance that schemes for financial delegation include premium funding in further education for students with special educational needs.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, your Lordships may feel that it would be wise for me to postpone the privilege of addressing the House in the debate until tomorrow. Therefore, I move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past midnight.