HL Deb 10 May 1988 vol 496 cc971-1040

3 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Hooper.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 11 [Pupils with special educational needs]:

[Amendment No. 118 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 119 not moved.]

Clause 12 [Temporary exceptions for individual pupils]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 120: Page 8, line 8, after ("such") insert ("cases or").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 120, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 124 and 130. These three minor government amendments are consequential on earlier drafting changes. They are all intended to add to the flexibility of the national curriculum in ways which Members of the Committee have already welcomed.

Amendment No. 120 improves the wording of the provisions of Clause 12 so that the Secretary of State may make regulations allowing individual pupils temporary exemption from the national curriculum in specified cases or circumstances. This is a helpfully wide expression echoing the references to cases and circumstances in Clause 10, as already amended.

Amendments Nos. 124 and 130 to Clauses 13 and 14 are consequential to our earlier Amendment No. 115 to Clause 10. They adjust the cross-reference to that clause to make clear that regulations under Clause 10 could refer to the circumstances of a group of schools as well as the nature of a group of pupils. This gives additional scope for flexibility and will, I know, be generally welcomed.

I commend all three amendments to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 not moved.]

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 13 [Procedure for making certain orders: England]:

[Amendment No. 123 not moved.]

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 124: Page 10, line 1, after ("to") insert ("such schools or to").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 125 to 128 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Somers

I oppose the Motion that Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill because I believe that in respect of a Bill of such size it is our duty to remove the unnecessary paperwork that will be produced by this and several other clauses. We are making it far too difficult to understand what is and what is not to be done in the organisation of education. I believe too that we are giving far too much power to the Secretary of State. The present Secretary of State is a good and honourable man but Secretaries of State vary. We do not know who may hold that office in a year's time; there are after all such useless events as Cabinet reshuffles.

It is wrong that the Secretary of State should have so much say in what happens in education. Much more should be left to those who know about such matters and who are working in the system: in other words, head teachers and boards of governors. I believe that the clause is totally unnecessary.

Baroness Hooper

The clause describes the detailed checks and balances which will apply to the exercise of the powers of any Secretary of State to establish and amend the components of the national curriculum. The checks are in addition to parliamentary scrutiny which is secured by the provisions of Clause 192. Clause 13 also secures detailed public scrutiny of, and debate upon, the Secretary of State's proposals.

In many cases those proposals will already embody the results of discussion and consultation by subject working groups. The Secretary of State is then obliged to put the proposals, together with any initial comments, to the independent and statutory National Curriculum Council. That council will conduct a full round of consultations and must make public not only its conclusions but also a summary of the views expressed.

In the light of that the Secretary of State may proceed to draft his order but must then undertake a further round of consultations with all those included earlier. He must offer them reasons for his decision in cases where he fails to follow the advice given by the National Curriculum Council.

That extended and public process of consultation is clearly right for matters of such importance. I agree with the noble Lord in stressing that importance. We need to secure agreement and consensus to ensure effective implementation. It gives the lie to claims that the Secretary of State is being given unprecedented powers under these clauses of the Bill. Rather, he is establishing an unprecedented system of consultation about, and public scrutiny of, what is taught in our schools in order to establish a consensus as to how the detailed arrangements for the national curriculum shall be applied.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 14 [Procedure for making certain orders: Wales]:

[Amendment No. 129 not moved.]

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 130: Page 10, line 39, after ("to") insert ("such schools or to").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 131: After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:

("References to School Examinations and Assessment Council.

.—(1) This section applies where the Secretary of State proposes to make—

  1. (a) an order under section 4(2)(c) of this Act; or
  2. (b) regulations under section 10 of this Act.

(2) The Secretary of State shall refer the proposal to the School Examinations and Assessment Council (in this section referred to as "the Council") and give to it directions as to the time within which it is to report to him.

(3) The Council shall give notice of the proposal—

  1. (a) to such associations of local education authorities, bodies representing the interests of school governing bodies and organisations representing school teachers as appear to it to be concerned; and
  2. (b) to any other persons with whom consultation appears to it to be desirable,
and afford them a reasonable opportunity of submitting evidence and representations as to the issues arising.

(4) The report of the Council to the Secretary of State shall contain—

  1. (a) a summary of the views expressed during the consultations;
  2. (b) its recommendations as to the proposal; and
  3. (c) such other advice relating to the proposal as it thinks fit;
and the Council shall, after submitting its report to the Secretary of State, arrange for the report to be published.

(5) Where the Council has reported to the Secretary of State, he shall—

  1. (a) publish in such a manner as, in his opinion, is likely to bring them to the notice of persons having a special interest in education—
    1. (i) a draft of the proposed order or regulations and any associated document; and
    2. (ii) a statement explaining his reasons for any failure to give effect to the recommendations of the Council;
  2. (b) send copies of the documents mentioned in paragraph (a) above to the Council and to each of the persons consulted by the Council; and
  3. (c) allow a period of not less than one month of the submission of evidence and representations with respect to the issues arising.

(6) When the period so allowed has expired, the Secretary of State may make the order or regulations, with or without modifications.").

The noble Baroness said: I profess total puzzlement and bemusement as to why the Secretary of State intends to set up a system of consultation on the curriculum, as set out in Clause 14, but does not intend to do so in respect of the other half of his new deal on assessment. I wonder whether there has been an oversight and whether something has been omitted in error.

I should like to give the reasons why consultation is so important in this area. First, it means that the Secretary of State is required to consider views other than his own and those of a small group of officials who may be advising him. I believe that to be important from the point of view of establishing a more pluralistic approach with less concentration of power at the centre. It prevents particular whims of particular Secretaries of State being imposed without popular consideration.

Secondly, the system set out in the TGAT Report is completely untried. No other country has a system as elaborate as that proposed. In those circumstances it must be helpful to try out draft proposals on a wide range of expert opinion through a formal consultative process, which indeed is what the TGAT Report recommends. In the light of that recommendation it is very surprising to find that there is nothing in the Bill on that matter.

Thirdly, the costs of implementing the TGAT proposals will be enormous. There will be up to 10 subjects in the curriculum which will be tested at four different ages. For example, at the age of 16 there will be four separate profile components per subject, and even if art, music and physical education are excluded from that assessment process, that still involves seven subjects; in other words, 28 different assessments. Before we sink millions of pounds into this, the education world should have an opportunity of expressing a view, and expressing that view through proper formal machinery.

Fourthly, I believe that consultation is important in relation to GCSE. The relationship between GCSE and the new proposals for testing at 16 is still very unclear, even after the discussion we had in Committee last week. Surely this must be openly and properly discussed if all the work which has gone into GCSE is not to be jeopardised.

Fifthly, the implications of a new system of assessment for teacher education are absolutely enormous. We shall require a large new in-service training programme in order to get it off the ground and implement it properly. Again, those involved in teacher education, whether at the initial stage or later in in-service training, should be consulted on the impact of the new system and on other aspects of training before we rush down that route.

Sixthly, as I believe we discovered in Committee, there are a number of unresolved contradictions in what is proposed. Perhaps I may give one or two examples. In the TGAT Report it is suggested that there will be no requirement to publish the aggregated results with regard to 7 year-olds but results must be made available to parents, governors and providers. I believe that there is some conflict in the two halves of that argument.

Assessment must be the servant of the curriculum and not its master, and so to consult about one and not the other means that that most basic of principles may be lost. Those are the main reasons for having consultation.

This amendment aims to insist that, before the Secretary of State issues orders specifying testing arrangements for the national curriculum, there must be consultation through the School Examinations and Assessment Council. At present in the Bill there are obligations on the Secretary of State to consult before specifying attainment targets and courses of study under Clause 4 but testing arrangements which, as we have already heard, are not an uncontroversial part of the national curriculum plans are not subject to any consultation at all.

In those circumstances, the School Examinations and Assessment Council appears to be a largely redundant body in its present form. It is able to give advice or do research only at the command of the Secretary of State. The TGAT Report's proposals have been much more acceptable than the Government's original proposals to many of those who have expressed concern, but there is nothing in the Bill to oblige the Secretary of State to follow the TGAT proposals or to take any note of views expressed by outside bodies. Surely there should be symmetry between the arrangements on the curriculum and arrangements on testing, with a proper system of consultation for both. I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper

Perhaps I can assure the noble Baroness that there is no oversight in this case. Our main reasons for deciding not to consult on orders establishing assessment arrangements were rehearsed in the response to Amendment No. 80 last week, but I will briefly recap. In the first place, the main aspects of assessment which I would regard as controversial—its existence at all, the age points at which it should generally be applied, and the establishment of SEAC as the body charged with securing the quality control in this area—are all being debated on this, the primary legislation.

I would also remind the Committee that the TGAT Report, published last January, proposed a coherent national assessment system which has been the subject of wide public debate. The Government will be taking account of the views expressed in that debate before reaching their own conclusions on the report and on the task group's further advice, to which reference has been made.

However, it will be for the subject working groups—of which those for maths and science will be reporting soon, and others will soon be established—to make recommendations about attainment targets and programmes of study, and the assessment arrangements appropriate to them. Those recommendations will be the subject of formal public consultation undertaken by the National Curriculum Council before any decisions are made on them. After it has made its recommendations there will then be a further stage of formal consultation on the orders relating to attainment targets and programmes of study, from which the associated assessment arrangements must follow.

I think that I should also refer to another point I made in response to Amendment No. 80; namely, that only such purely mechanical aspects of assessment arrangements as the commissioning, trialing and storage of tests could be regarded as free-standing in the sense of not deriving directly from the attainment targets and programmes of study. These are technical matters, on which we must and shall rely on the work and advice of experts in the field, including practising teachers and educational administrators, before deciding on the detailed arrangements to be adopted.

I must therefore stress that we are not talking here about externally-imposed assessment tasks and tests which bear no relationship to the national curriculum arrangements. We have always said that the assessment arrangements form an integral part of teaching across the whole curriculum for each subject: attainment targets and programmes of study will be set first, and the appropriate assessment instruments will then be designed and tested in schools before use—not the other way round. Consultation on the attainment targets and programmes of study will therefore necessarily to a large extent also constitute consultation on the assessment arrangements to be employed. A further round of formal consultation on the assessment arrangements themselves would really be duplicating the process. I must therefore ask the Committee to reject the proposed new clause.

The Earl of Stockton

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps she can assure me that the consultation process will include the suppliers of testing and assessment materials. We should not be carried away by this. If the industry is to be ready to supply schools, teachers and training materials, we must be consulted and must be consulted at as early a date as possible.

Baroness Hooper

I recognise the special interest of my noble friend in this matter. I believe that I can give an assurance that suppliers will be made aware in good time.

Baroness David

Having listened to the noble Baroness, what my noble friend said about this being a rather redundant body seems to be true. I am not clear what its function will be.

Baroness Young

Perhaps I can be clear that I understand the position because where assessment fits into all this is an important matter. As I understand the Bill and what my noble friend has said, we shall have consultation by the working groups on the main aspects of what the curriculum will be and what is expected to be attained at the end. I assume it is agreed that we are not now debating the four ages at which the assessments will take place and that we are assessing the content of the curriculum. In a sense it is impossible to make an assessment until one knows what is in the curriculum and what should be attained. Therefore, there having been consultations on this and with the teachers who will carry it out, the assessment will follow from that. I hope that will act as a reassurance that the professionalism of the teachers is taken into account the whole way through this extremely important process.

Baroness Hooper

Yes. The effectiveness of assessment arrangements is something that the SEAC will be able to comment upon as it will be responsible for monitoring the overall progress. The major function of the School Examinations and Assessment Council is its role to approve GCSE syllabuses, as the SEC does now. This is provided for under Clause 5. I believe that to be hardly a negligible function.

Baroness Blackstone

I am perturbed at the position. I wonder whether the Committee understands how enormous is the process we are entering into with the system of assessment which is proposed in this Bill. We are building up a vast and costly new edifice. It is not simply an occasional little test that children may carry out once or twice in their school career; it is a vast, new and untried system.

In those circumstances it seems right and proper that we should set up a formal system of consultation for teachers and many other professionals, including those who are experts in this very tricky and complicated area, before the arrangements are established. In her reply the Minister said that we have already had a wide public debate on this matter. I dispute that because I do not believe that to be the case. Most people do not have a clue about what is being proposed. It is important that we should have a wide public discussion, and in any case it should not be a one-off event but a continuous one.

Surely the Government are not proposing to establish a system of assessment in 1988 which is not going to be changed over time. There will be new requirements, new methods, new means that are developed as a result of research and there will be many new factors. I do not accept that argument. Neither do I accept the argument that it is the subject working groups that can do the work. They will have their work cut out in establishing the programmes of study and the attainment targets.

It is the case that the system of assessment that we produce should relate closely to the attainment targets and the programmes of study. However, it seems right that the School Examinations and Assessment Council should have the same role as its counterpart on the curriculum unless we are going to make a whole series of costly mistakes that we will live to regret. I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply and therefore I must press this amendment.

3.24 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 131) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102; Not-Contents, 141.

Airedale, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Alexander of Potterhill, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Lockwood, B.
Alport, L. Longford, E.
Annan, L. McCarthy, L.
Ardwick, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Attlee, E. McNair, L.
Aylestone, L. Manchester, Bp.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Manchester, D.
Banks, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Basnett, L. Milford, L.
Birk, B. Milverton, L.
Blackstone, B. Mishcon, L.
Blease, L. Molloy, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Mulley, L.
Bottomley, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Briginshaw, L. Nicol, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Peston, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Burton of Coventry, B.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Congleton, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Rochester, L.
David, B. Sainsbury, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Scanlon, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Seear, B. [Teller.]
Diamond, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Serota, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Stallard, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Stedman, B.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Falkland, V. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Strabolgi, L.
Foot, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Gallacher, L. Thurlow, L.
Galpern, L. Tonypandy, V.
Glenamara, L. Tordoff, L.
Grimond, L. Underhill, L.
Hampton, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Hayter, L. Walston, L.
Hughes, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Hunt, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Whaddon, L.
Jay, L. White, B.
John-Mackie, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Kilbracken, L. Willis, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Kirkhill, L.
Lawrence, L. Winstanley, L.
Leatherland, L. Winterbottom, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Blyth, L.
Aldington, L. Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Allerton, L. Bruce-Gardyne, L.
Ampthill, L. Butterworth, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Caithness, E.
Bellwin, L. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Beloff, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Belstead, L. Campbell of Croy, L.
Bessborough, E. Carlisle, Bp.
Blatch, B. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L. Mottistone, L.
Chelwood, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Colnbrook, L. Moyne, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Nairne, Ly.
Cottesloe, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Cowley, E. Napier of Magdala, L.
Cox, B. Nelson, E.
Croft, L. Newall, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Norfolk, D.
De Freyne, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Derwent, L. Orkney, E.
Donegall, M. Oxfuird, V.
Eden of Winton, L. Pender, L.
Elibank, L. Pennock, L.
Ellenborough, L. Penrhyn, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Pym, L.
Ferrers, E. Quinton, L.
Ferrier, L. Radnor, E.
Fortescue, E. Reay, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Rees, L.
Gainford, L. Reigate, L.
Gisborough, L. Reilly, L.
Grantchester, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Greenhill of Harrow, L. Rochdale, V.
Gridley, L. Rodney, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
St. Davids, V.
Halsbury, E. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Harvey of Prestbury, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Harvington, L. Sandford, L.
Havers, L. Seebohm, L.
Henley, L. Sharpies, B.
Hereford, Bp. Slim, V.
Hesketh, L. Somers, L.
Hives, L. Stockton, E.
Hood, V. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Hooper, B. Strange, B.
Hunter of Newington, L. Strathcarron, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Strathspey, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Sudeley, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Swinton, E.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Teviot, L.
Lauderdale, E. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Layton, L. Thorneycroft, L.
London, Bp. Todd, L.
Long, V. Trafford, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Tranmire, L.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Trefgarne, L.
McFadzean, L. Trumpington, B.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Ullswater, V.
Malmesbury, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Margadale, L. Watkinson, V.
Marley, L. Whitelaw, V.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Windlesham, L.
Merrivale, L. Wise, L.
Mersey, V. Wolfson, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Young, B.
Morris, L. Young of Graffham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.32 p.m.

Clause 15 [Provision of information]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 132: Page 11, line 31, leave out ("and the results of their assessments under this Chapter") and insert ("(including the results of any assessments of those pupils, whether under this Chapter or otherwise, for the purpose of ascertaining those achievements).").

The noble Baroness said: I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 133 and 134. These are minor additions to Clause 15 of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 132 and 134 together provide, as was our original intention, that the information provisions of Clause 15 will extend to pupils' examination results as well as to the results of any national curriculum assessments they may undertake. These results are at present covered in the Schools Information Regulations 1981, and must be included in the school prospectus for a secondary school. But we hope that by including them here we can move towards some sensible harmonisation of information requirements, following the consultations which are required before regulations are made. It makes sense to look at these various types of curriculum and assessment information together so that information is collected with least effort and used to best effect.

Amendment No. 133 adds to the list of documents to which the information regulations may apply the annual report to parents which will be produced by the governing body of a grant-maintained school. Again, this was always our intention, but provision for the annual report was a later addition to Clause 48 of the Bill, and we could not therefore include the cross-references in the clause as drafted. I beg to move.

Baroness David

We are pleased with any widening of the information that is to be provided. However, perhaps the Minister can tell us what other assessments the Government have in mind. What will the further information be about?

Baroness Hooper

It is the assessment arrangements for the national curriculum assessment proposals together with the assessment which is already covered by the Schools Information Regulations 1981 on school-leaving arrangements.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendments Nos. 133 and 134: Page 11, line 44, at end insert ("or section 48(5)(j) of this Act"). Page 12, line 2, leave out ("under this Chapter") and insert ("(whether under this Chapter or otherwise)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 135 to 137 not moved.]

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Complaints and enforcement]:

[Amendments Nos. 138 and 139 not moved.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

If Amendment No. 139A is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 140 or 141.

Baroness Scrota moved Amendment No. 139A: Page 12, line 29, leave out ("discharging, or have failed to discharge, in relation to the school the duty imposed on them by section 6 or 15 of this Act;") and insert ("exercising any power conferred on them or in discharging any duty imposed on them by the Education Acts or have failed to discharge such a duty").

The noble Baroness said: To save the time of the Committee I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 142A, which is closely linked.

Before explaining the purpose of the two amendments, I must first say how much I welcome in principle Clause 16 of the Bill, which requires local education authorities to set up approved machinery for the consideration and resolution of complaints made in respect of county, voluntary and maintained special schools relating to the national curriculum, to the giving of certain information under Clause 15 and to the actions taken by governors under Clause 12. I also warmly welcome the provisions in subsection (2) of Clause 16 relating to the use of the Secretary of State's existing powers under Sections 68 and 99 of the Education Act 1944 whereby these provisions will not be used unless a complaint has first been made and dealt with locally.

All the experience of the past 14 years since the local ombudsman system was set up under Part III of the Local Government Act 1974 has confirmed the need for all authorities to have clear and well-publicised arrangements for dealing speedily and effectively with complaints at the local level across the whole range of services that they provide. This new statutory provision in the Bill for LEAs to make such arrangements is undoubtedly a significant and most welcome step in that direction.

The purpose of Amendment No. 139A is to make the new local complaints procedures apply to any power and duty exercised under the Education Acts, and not merely to the specific areas as at present stated in the clause, as it is difficult to see why the rights of parents should be restricted only to those aspects of the education service.

My second amendment, Amendment No. 142A, concerns the present restrictions imposed on the local ombudsman by Schedule 5 to the Local Government Act 1974, which prevents him from investigating complaints about internal school matters although he can of course deal with complaints about the choice of school, school transport, maintenance allowances, awards to students, youth clubs, adult education, and so on. This amendment would enable him to investigate how LEAs have carried out their duties in relation to the setting up and the operating of the new internal complaints procedures extended by my first amendment to include all their powers and duties and not merely those specified in the present Bill.

Much as I welcome the provision of the new internal complaints procedures at the local level, these are not a complete substitute for a fully independent impartial ombudsman system, quite separate from local education authorities themselves, to deal with complaints that cannot be satisfactorily settled at local level and about how the procedure itself has been operated.

I raised the issue of the jurisdiction of the local ombudsman over internal school matters in an amendment at Report stage on what became the Education Act 1986. The amendment would have enabled the local ombudsman to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints of maladministration causing injustice. I did not receive a very satisfactory reply from the then government spokesman on education matters, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. Admittedly, it was one o'clock in the morning, so I bear him no However, now that the hour is more reasonable I hope to receive an equally more reasonable reply from the noble Baroness. The noble Earl merely stated the usual arguments about the many complaints which might arise, and the difficulties of distinguishing between the professional judgments of teachers and the administrative acts of local authorities, which we have heard many times over the past 14 years.

As the local ombudsman has now been making those decisions daily—and quite successfully—in relation to judgments of all other professional local government staff, such as lawyers, planners and social workers, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, will not go over the same well-trodden ground once again. Indeed, now that the Government have accepted in the Bill, as presently drafted, the need for local complaints procedures for certain purposes, I hope that they will also agree to widen the provision to include all the powers and duties of local education authorities under the Education Acts. I further hope that they will make these new local complaints procedures subject to investigation by the local ombudsman where the matters complained of cannot be settled locally, as I have provided for in Amendment No. 142A. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees

I should mention to the Committee that there seems to be a printing error in the first line of the wording of Amendment No. 139A which should, I think, read, ("discharging, or have failed to discharge,".

Baroness Hooper

I must speak against Amendment No. 139A as proposed by the noble Baroness because it is very wide in its scope. It takes us beyond topics which are the subject of this Chapter and indeed of the Bill as a whole.

The provisions of the Education Acts include a number which have "built in" complaints machinery, such as appeals against admission to schools, or defined procedures for objecting to proposals on which the Secretary of State has to form a judgment, such as the reorganisation of schools.

It would not be right to ask the local authority to establish a complaints machinery to deal with all these items, which would be the effect of the amendment before us. But there is a case, which I recognise, for asking the complaints machinery to deal with all complaints about the school curriculum. Indeed, it may in practice be most difficult to disentangle those about duties under Clause 6 from those under Clause 1 of the Bill, and those in the Education (No. 2) Act 1986.

We should therefore like to consider further this aspect of the noble Baroness's amendment and to come back at a later stage to report our conclusions. I hope, in the light of that assurance, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 142A. When the Commission for Local Administration was set up, Parliament decided that it would not be appropriate to extend the powers of the commissioner to certain education functions relating to teaching, discipline, the curriculum or internal organisation in maintained schools and colleges. There were three main grounds for the decision: cost, practicability, and the existence of other means of redressing grievances. Those grounds are no less valid today.

I deal first with the question of cost. There are nearly 24,000 maintained primary and secondary schools in England with a pupil population approaching 7 million. Given those numbers, a substantial volume of complaints is bound to arise. To allow the commissioners to investigate complaints about the curriculum would add significantly to costs, both for the commissions themselves and for local education authorities.

I turn now to practicability. The Local Government Act 1974 makes it clear that the functions of local commissioners are concerned with "actions taken in the exercise of administrative functions". How would it be possible for the commissioners to draw a distinction between administrative and non-administrative matters relating to the curriculum in schools; and how would they draw the line between actions by LEAs and actions for which the school itself had responsibility? In practice, the distinctions are often blurred, and investigation by the commissioners is unlikely to be an effective means of pursuing many of the points of disagreement which might arise.

Finally, there is the question of alternative means of redress. Like the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the local commissioners are normally precluded from investigating matters in respect of which the person aggrieved has an alternative means of redress. Clause 16 itself establishes that new machinery will be available at local level to consider complaints about the school curriculum. Once that machinery has been exhausted the Secretary of State will be able to take action under Sections 68 and 99 of the Education Act 1944 where he believes that a local education authority has acted unreasonably or unlawfully. There is therefore no need to extend the powers of the local commissioners for administration in the way proposed in the amendment. I trust that I have not re-trodden too much old ground in what I have said. I invite the Committee to reject the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Serota

I must thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for her reply to my first amendment. As she rightly said, it widens the scope of the present provision in the Bill and that of course was my deliberate intention. I still maintain that the right for parents to be able to make such a complaint—whether it is justified or not is a matter for the new machinery to decide—is paramount. However, I appreciate that widening the scope of the provision in that way could cause certain complications which will need working out in rather greater detail. Therefore, I warmly welcome the noble Baroness's offer to reconsider the matter and hope that the Government will come back to us at the next stage of the Bill's proceedings with a proposal much in line with my amendment.

As regards my second amendment, I am afraid that, once again, the purpose behind it has been totally misunderstood. On this occasion I was not suggesting to the Committee that the local commissioners should have powers to investigate internal matters relating to schools from which they are at present precluded. In fact, I was proposing that the local commissioners should have powers to investigate the way in which the new complaints machinery has been operating. That is a process to which I consider they are admirably suited in that they are well used to distinguishing between administrative acts and professional judgments. Indeed, their task is to evaluate the way in which matters have been handled rather than the matters that have been decided. Maladministration is a term not defined in the Bill, but I think that experience these days in the Parliamentary Commissioner's office, the Health Service Commissioner's office and also the local ombudsman's office is sufficient to make that distinction, although I admit that at times it can be a blurred one.

It is not my intention to press the second amendment tabled in my name on this occasion in view of the pressures regarding time on the Committee. However, I must ask the noble Baroness to reconsider the amendment as it is worded and not in the terms in which she replied to it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee moved Amendment No. 140: Page 12, line 30, after ("section") insert ("1,").

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals further with Clause 16 relating to the enforcement of complaints. The clause proposes machinery to deal with a situation where a complaint is made that the local authority, or the governing body, is failing to comply with the delivery of the national curriculum or with the teaching of religious education in the school. It also deals with the procedure regarding complaints about the failure of such bodies to provide necessary information.

We feel that no opportunity should be missed of stating the Bill's basic aim, which is that there should be supplied a broadly-based curriculum which should provide the qualities that are needed when children go to school and are educated in preparation for adult life. We should like to include in line 30 on page 12 Clause 1 as well as Clauses 6 or 15 so that the duty imposed on the LEA Clause 1—that is, the basic aim of the Bill—should be borne in mind at all times, so that if it is considered that the local authority, or governing body, is failing to comply with that requirement, a parent has a justifiable complaint. It is only a small addition but it makes a considerable difference.

I must refer to what the Minister said about Section 60, something or other, of the 1944 Act which enables the Secretary of State to take local authorities to task for behaving unreasonably. For a long time I have said that if he had put that power into effect a great deal of the Bill would have been unnecessary. I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper

The amendment picks up one aspect of the matter that we discussed on Amendment No. 139A. The case for extending the complaints machinery to Clause 1 and to other curriculum provisions is one that we have agreed to consider further. On that basis, I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I thank the Minister for her kind words. This is the third time that I have had such kind words from the Government, so I hardly know my luck. We shall look forward to what comes next. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 141 to 142A not moved.]

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Extension of certain provisions]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 143: Page 12, line 42, leave out from ("to") to end of line 44 and insert ("—

  1. (i) senior pupils who are of or over the age; and
  2. (ii) persons in full-time further education who are of or over that age but have not attained the age of nineteen (referred to below in this section as "FE students");").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment was debated with Amendment No. 83. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 144: Page 13, line 3, leave out second ("and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendments Nos. 145 to 150:

Page 13, line 5, at end insert ("; and (d) any reference to a school year included a reference to an academic year.")

Page 13, line 9, leave out ("persons") and insert ("FE students"). Page 13, line 12, leave out from ("in") to end of line 14 and insert ("subsection (1)(b) and (c) above;"). Page 13, line 18, leave out from ("Act")") to end of line 21 and insert ("for which courses of study are to be provided by or on behalf of the institution concerned for such students;"). Page 13, line 26, leave out ("persons") and insert ("students"). Page 13, line 27, after ("qualifications") insert— ("(bb) as if in subsection (5)—

  1. (i) the reference to the results of an individual pupil's assessment (whether under this Chapter or otherwise) included a reference to the results of an individual student's assessment for the purposes of any such qualification; and
  2. (ii) the reference to the pupil concerned included a reference to the student concerned;").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 151: Page 13, line 29, leave out subsection (4).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 152 not moved.]

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 18 [Interpretation of Chapter 1]:

[Amendment No. 153 not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Admissions to county and voluntary schools]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 153A: Page 14, line 10, leave out from ("school") to end of line 13 and insert ("may determine, by agreement with the local education authority or governing body (as the case may be) the number of pupils in any relevant age group which the authority intends should be admitted to the school in any school year up to the amount of the Standard Number as determined under section 15 of the 1980 Act.

(1A) Where the authority is unable to reach agreement with the other party within three months from the date of submission to it of the proposed figure, the authority may submit the matter to the Secretary of State who shall make and publish a determination as to the appropriate number within two months of receipt of the request.")

The noble Baroness said: We now turn to Chapter II of the Bill. We have completed that part on the curriculum and testing. This chapter deals with admissions to schools. This important amendment gives the authorities responsible for determining arrangements for the admission of pupils the right to determine, in consultation with the LEA or the governing body, whichever is appropriate, the level of admissions. It allows the level of admissions to be below the standard number (the 1979 figure given in the 1980 Act). It does not restrict the reasons for deciding on a lower level than the standard number. Only when the authority cannot reach agreement with the LEA or governing body will it be necessary for the Secretary of State to intervene.

In the amendment we are trying to do what the Government are doing in Amendment No. 178, where they are giving to voluntary schools the concession where the ethos/character of the school might be affected, so that the LEA can make arrangements with the governors in respect of admissions of pupils to the school. That is all we are asking for in the amendment.

The Government claim that their aim in the Bill is to increase parental choice. That would be achieved by forcing LEAs to admit pupils to school up to their standard number. The standard number would be the number of pupils admitted to the school in the 1979–80 school year. That is the figure used in the 1980 Act. However, in that Act the LEA or governors are free to set the limit lower than the standard number by up to 20 per cent. without reference to the Secretary of State, and may seek his approval to set an even lower limit by making statutory proposals under Section 15 of the 1980 Act.

The 1980 Act therefore provides a degree of flexibility for the LEA or governors in setting limits for admissions to schools. In their consultation document the Government said: In this way artificial limits are placed on the ability of popular schools to recruit up to their available capacity. As school rolls have fallen there has been widespread use of the flexibility available under the 1980 Act to spread intakes among schools. This has often inhibited and delayed necessary rationalisation of schools provision, and at the same time acted as a barrier to the exercise of effective parental choice".

The Government have provided no evidence that parental choice is not currently being catered for. Indeed, the evidence all points to the fact that the vast majority of parents are given their first choice. Nationally, at the end of the admission process, a little over 1 per cent. of parents do not get their first choice. In its response to the Government's consultative document the Conservative Education Association noted: The vast majority of LEAs manage to meet the first choice of nearly all parents with a success rate of over 90 per cent. the norm. In many LEAs the figure is well over 90 per cent.". In Committee in the other place Mr. Ashdown reported the results of a small survey he had carried out. Having written to all LEAs in England and Wales, he had received replies from 50. Of those 50, 95 per cent. of parents received their first choice. That can be seen in Hansard of 14th January 1988 (Col. 470).

There are good reasons for an LEA to set its admission limits lower than the 1979 standard number. It may be important to do so in order to protect the quality of provision at a school in terms of sensible organisation, reasonable class size and access to specialist provision. Ironically, not only are the proposals in the Bill unlikely to increase parental choice, which is already at or near its maximum level, but they are likely to reduce it. An example of how that might occur was given in an article by Peter Wilby in the Independent of 11th June last year in which he said: Suppose you have School A and School B each with 200 first year places. School A is marginally more popular with 220 applicants leaving 20 disgruntled parents joining the 180 who have freely chosen School B. Now, raise A's admission limit to 220 and you will probably find you have 240 applicants because the word has got around that A is a popular, expanding school. Now raise A's limit to 240. Since rotten old B is losing morale, teachers and money, you may get 280 applicants. Now raise A to 280, its absolute physical limit even if you cram the playground with mobile classrooms, and knowledgeable parents who have read their HMI report will realise that B may now only get 120 pupils (below the level it needs to maintain a full curriculum). If they are the sort of smart, share-buying consumers that the Tories envisage all 400 will want to go to School A. You now have 120 dissatisfied customers where once you had 20". That is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

The Government's proposals in the Bill fail to acknowledge that the arrangements are, in part, a means of keeping a range of choices open so that parents can have reasonable scope for exercising preference. The admissions' limits allow LEAs to balance places on offer as between popular and less popular schools and to secure the best use of resources in staffing and equipping all their schools.

The other main purpose in the present arrangements is to allow LEAs sensibly to manage falling rolls and to achieve the kind of rationalisation which they and successive governments have regarded as essential to deal with the effects of demography and to respond to unavoidable expenditure constraints. Admissions limits have demonstrated their worth in the organisation of change, including reorganisation schemes approved by the Secretary of State for implementation phased over several years.

Then I turn to the matter of planning. The Government have constantly urged local authorities to plan their provision of education. In DES Circular 3/87, forward planning was urged in coping with the demands of falling rolls. A similar message was given in the Audit Commission Report, Towards Better Management of Secondary Education, in 1986. Circular 3/87 admits that LEAs collectively have already made substantial progress in removing surplus places.

It is not clear how setting rigid admission limits will enable LEAs to improve that planning process which the Government themselves admit has resulted in substantial progress, nor how it will improve parental choice.

Then I want to say a word about the Mitchell report. In October 1986 Mr. Mitchell, formerly of the Scottish Office, submitted his report on Scrutiny of Procedures for the Reorganisation of Schools in England, which was commissioned by the Secretary of State in 1986. His recommendations ran contrary to ministerial thinking on the involvement of the Secretary of State in such matters. Mr. Mitchell suggested a simplification of the arrangements for public notices, handling objections and determination by the Secretary of State. In short, he recommended that fewer cases should be put to the Secretary of State; that the DES should expedite its handling of proposals and that the Secretary of State should give his reasons for the approval or rejection of proposals.

On admission limits, Mr. Mitchell recommended legislation to: first, adopt 1985–86 as the new base line year for the standard numbers; secondly, enable LEAs to reduce admission limits by 20 per cent. plus 3 per cent. each year after 1985–86; thirdly, empower the Secretary of State to make regulations to alter the figures in the light of changing needs; fourthly, empower LEAs to reduce admissions limits in voluntary schools subject to DES approval, if the governors objected; fifthly, discontinue the requirement that any proposal shall be submitted to the Secretary of State if there are statutory objections. In other words, the proposals that Mr. Mitchell was making were designed to increase flexibility and reduce the role of the Secretary of State in the control of admission limits.

In contrast, the current Bill reduces flexibility and increases the role of the Secretary of State. In a Parliamentary Answer on 7th May, 1987, the Secretary of State rejected some—arguably the most important—of Mr. Mitchell's proposals as being out of line with Government policy. This seems to me to be very typical of what the Secretary of State does. He sets up a committee, it reports, he does not like what it reports so he either rejects it or sets up yet another committee.

As regards some other implications of the Bill's proposals, there is the question of class size. The present proposals could cause increases in class sizes in some schools. Everybody has been hoping very much that they would be reduced and stay reduced. Primary schools, for example, could be pushed back up to class sizes of 40 if successful appeals have created a high standard number and further appeals are successful in the following years, taking numbers beyond an already inflated intake.

Then there is community use. The admissions proposals will run the risk of jeopardising policies on joint and community use of school premises. Nominally, spare capacity has been put to all sorts of uses, some directly ancillary to the work of the schools themselves, but others in a much wider community context. For example, a school may have put a spare classroom to use by converting it into a library, perhaps into a home economics room or a business studies centre. Or a school may have made a classroom available for parents and other adults in the community to use for their own educational or recreational purposes. An inflexible application of proposals could mean that communities would be deprived of facilities which have been imaginatively opened up for their use by taking advantage of the overall decline in pupil numbers.

There are implications for rural areas. For many families in rural areas there is likely to be only one school within reasonable access and choice can only be exercised if the parents are willing and able to meet the cost of transport to a more distant school, as well as accepting disadvantages such as additional travelling for their children. It will not take many such choices to tip the balance towards closure of the rural school even though it is still supported by the majority of local parents. There will clearly be transport implications.

So I would say that the 1980 Act provided useful and valued machinery for setting admission limits, recognising that there will be a variety of local circumstances and priorities. The current proposals do nothing to improve on the 1980 Act, but they do a great deal to worsen the situation. If enacted in their present form, they will create a more rigid and less flexible system than currently operates. If parents are to have real opportunities to make choices, it is essential that they should be able to do so within a system which operates fairly, efficiently and openly and which can safeguard the features which led to a choice in the first place. These amendments would ensure that. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees

If this amendment is agreed to, then I cannot call Amendments Nos. 154, 155 or 156.

Baroness Cox

This amendment runs counter to the whole thrust of this part of the Bill. The whole essence of this part of the Bill is to give maximum parental choice within the constraints of the capacity of each school. I suggest to the Committee that the provision in this part of the Bill is necessary, given the tendency of many local education authorities to put artificially low limits on popular schools in order to discriminate in favour of unpopular schools.

The noble Baroness gave some hypothetical examples, but by way of illustration may I give a genuine example to the Committee from which many others could be drawn. In one local authority in Brent, the number of first choices for parents was 300. The local authority insisted on reducing that to 250, although another school in the same borough was running with a derisory intake of only 13 pupils out of an intended intake of 150. So artificial interference does not in any way achieve the kind of rationalisation which the noble Baroness was suggesting it might do.

However, what is much more important is the question of maximising parental choice. It was claimed by the noble Baroness that under the present dispensation very high percentages of parents get their first choice. But, as many parents would be able to tell the Committee, it is important to realise that very often the so-called choice is a guided choice, amounting in some places to quite considerable pressure. Many parents are given strong advice as to which schools would be available and they are warned that if they do not choose those schools they may be allocated a school which will be even less to their liking.

One parent whom I know had his form returned three times in the hope that he would make the correct choice. So I would suggest to the Committee that very often the first choice is not perhaps quite as free a choice as might be presumed from some of those surveys.

Of course it is important to realise that not all parents will inevitably be successful in achieving the school of their choice, even under the provisions of the present Bill. Choice can never be absent, but it is surely better to increase choice than to restrict it. The fact that it cannot be guaranteed is no reason for not maximising it.

Although the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David, suggests a shared decision between governors and the local authority rather than power resting in the local authority, it still denies the pre-eminence of the essential ingredient of individual parental choice. As such it seems to me to be contrary to the whole spirit of this part of the Bill and I hope that it will be strongly resisted.

Lord Somers

Perhaps it may be appropriate if I speak to my own amendment which follows. Anybody who has taught in a school, as I did for some years, will know that teaching a very large class makes it practically impossible to get over to the majority of the class what one is teaching. Classes ought to be kept down, certainly to a maximum of 30. Therefore it follows that the capacity of a school depends, first, on the number of its staff and, secondly, on the number of classrooms that it has. One cannot overcrowd a school and expect efficient teaching to result.

The Earl of Swinton

For a number of years I have argued with the noble Baroness, Lady David, across the Dispatch Box and debated with her over education and various other matters. I have always found her arguments, if not always convincing, at least to be justified and very sensible. However, for the first time in my life she completely threw me with one of her arguments this afternoon on the effect that the Government's proposals would have on rural areas.

The noble Baroness said—and in this I agree with her—that the trouble in rural areas is that parents very often do not have a choice of school. There is only the local secondary school or certainly the local primary school to which they can send their children. But if I understood the noble Baroness correctly, she was saying that if this Government's proposed legislation went through, all the parents would then somehow suddenly be able to opt for a school somewhere in the blue yonder. They would all take off there and then the local school would be shut because there would be no children left to go there. I do not understand that argument if the local school is so handy and such a good school to which parents can send their children.

Baroness David

That situation is quite possible. There may be several rural primary schools within not a huge area. One of them may suddenly become more popular for perhaps not an altogether good reason and many parents may perhaps decide that it is worth sending their children there. One or two small schools may therefore suffer. I think that that argument is quite possible.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I cannot really understand the Government's argument on this matter because I think the question of choice in this particular context at any rate is largely illusory. I know nothing about economics because such things were not taught when I was at school, but I think it is probably still true that if the supply exceeds the demand for anything, whether it is schools or bottles of milk, there is considerable choice, whereas if the demand exceeds the supply there is little or no choice. In the case of schools the demand and the supply have to be equal or very nearly equal. If that is the case I do not see how provisions such as the ones that the Government are proposing will make very much difference.

I refer again to what I described in my Second Reading speech as "pushy parents". It seems to me that it will be the parents with the sharpest and strongest elbows who will get their children into what are conceived to be the better schools, and everybody else will be in the same position as before except that if the worst comes to the worst some of the less good schools will become even less good because their numbers will go down and the provision will diminish. That is the story of the diminishing spiral. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, made reference to a certain authority discrimination in favour of certain people. I cannot remember her exact words but she did use the word "discriminate". Perhaps she meant the poorer schools. The word "discriminate" is in itself a tendentious word.

Baroness Cox

I was not referring to the poorer schools but to the more unpopular schools; those to which parents did not wish to send their children.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

In that case that leads immediately on to the next thing I wanted to say. Schools can become popular or unpopular very often for no good reason. I have had experience of that and I believe that the Committee may have had experience of that too. I shall not name the actual schools but in my nearby town there is one comprehensive school and in another town 12 miles away there is another comprehensive school. There has been a time during which the school in my nearby town has become unpopular for no great reason. I have heard children say that they were going to one of those schools because they thought it was a very good school and that it was a better school than the other. Parents and children are not always well informed; they are not always intelligent; and they very often follow one another like sheep just because a certain school suddenly acquires a good reputation. Sometimes for quite an incidental reason one school becomes the popular school.

I regard the question of popularity and unpopularity with extreme scepticism. The filling up of the so-called popular school in any given area may well be at the expense of quality. Surely the Government are interested in quality as it is the most important thing in education or in anything. The number of children at a particular school is not important. But what is important is what the school is offering in the way of education. If there are too many children in that school it will not be able to offer such a good quality of education; nor incidentally will those schools which have been deprived of children, where the numbers have gone down for rather different reasons. It is the old story of privilege and choice.

If a few people want to do something it is very nice for them, but if everybody does it, that spoils it for everyone. It is just the same as driving on the roads in this country. In the old days before the First World War driving used to be great fun because only a few people had cars. Nowadays everybody has cars so it is no fun at all. Perhaps that is a rather frivolous example, but it seems to me that that may happen in a so-called popular school which becomes too full. It will no longer have the quality that it had because small is beautiful.

Lord Trafford

Is the noble Lord truly arguing that if a large number of people are miserable and a few people are happy we should all be miserable because in those circumstances nobody should be happy? That is the basis of the noble Lord's argument at the moment.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

No, I certainly would not suggest that. I come back to the context of schools again and not motor cars and roads. In that context it is important that an authority—in this case the local education authority—should be able to exercise some judgment as to the numbers in the schools within its area in order that as many parents as possible—and if possible all parents—should be satisfied and all children should be well educated.

Lord Somers

Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that in any walk of life quantity and quality do not often go together.

Baroness Young

We should in a sense be quite grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, for explaining so fully his arguments against this part of the Bill. We all listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady David, had to say, although I am bound to say that in effect these amendments are wrecking amendments in relation to this particular part of the Bill.

I recall very clearly the passage of the Education Act 1980. It will certainly be engraved on my heart when I die. But I do not recall the general pleasure with which the proposals on parental choice were received on that occasion. Therefore I am particularly pleased to hear that with the passage of time they have come to be regarded as working very well. If it is indeed true, and I have read the figure myself, that 90 per cent. of parents get their first choice of school that is nevertheless a good statistic. I am quite sure that my noble friend Lady Cox is correct in saying that there is however a certain amount of parental guidance in this matter.

However, the truth of the matter is that it is not necessarily as good as it could be. I do think that we need to pay very close attention to the kind of situation that was described by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The cases which have come to our attention have not been those which the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, has described as "pushy parents", whoever they may be. They have been cases of parents who have been generally very anxious about the kind of education their children will receive.

If those parents feel anxious about a school, they are justified in making their point very clear. After all, one has to send one's child to school for a very long period of the day and for a very long period of the child's life. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, to say that parents are not capable of making a decision about what is a popular or an unpopular school because they do not know how to make a choice, seems to me to be one of the most patronising statements that I have heard for a very long time. After all, not everybody wants to buy the same thing at the shop but that does not mean to say that you should not have a free choice of what you are going to buy. When you are settling for something that really matters it is not unexpected to say that parents probably do know best and their reasons may be very good reasons, though not necessarily reasons that will be acceptable to all the educational establishment. I consider it, if I may say so, in political terms an exceptionally illiberal argument to say that choice is in some way illusory. I do not think it is at all illusory for the parents. Therefore, I hope that as a result of this we shall get more parents having first choice.

The noble Lord's economic analogy was not in fact true, because the whole point of this amendment is that supply is actually there and demand is there, but the supply under the present arrangements is frequently not available to those who want it. All this part of the Bill is saying is that where the supply is available—that is to say, the standard number as measured in 1979—the school should be able to admit up to that number if there is a demand for it; no more no less. It is not asking the school to put up new buildings or anything like that; it is simply to admit to the demand. As indeed the whole thrust of this Bill is to increase parental responsibility, to devolve responsibility to the school, to encourage high standards, to encourage the participation of parents, to get a good relationship between the parents and the school, this is a very important part of the Bill.

As a concluding general remark, I would say that, where parents believe in the school and support the children, those children will probably do a lot better than they will if they go to a school about which the parents are unhappy and therefore more likely, in general, to be less supportive of the school than they would have been in other circumstances.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

I should like to say a word in support of the amendment but, first, I recognise that we are faced with a very cruel dilemma behind this whole discussion, because the principle of greater parental choice is obviously a very good one from many points of view and is something which we should all like to encourage. The difficulty is that this comes hard up against another side, which is educational provision in general and adequate planning of education, especially in areas which are socially deprived, inner cities, council estates and so on.

I have had an enormous body of correspondence about this Bill, as indeed have all the Members of the Committee, and in particular about this aspect of the Bill, as well as about the opting out proposals, to which we shall come later on. But, so far as greater parental choice is concerned, the anxiety is really with general educational provision and planning, and the standards of schools in inner city areas and on council estates, many of which are already struggling with a great many circumstances which tend to damage educational provision.

There seems to be a feeling abroad that if a school is "bad" somebody is responsible for its badness: it must be the teachers, it must be those who are directly concerned with the school. But it is not necessarily like that at all, because surely the standard of education in some of these schools is deeply affected by the environment in which the schools are set. There are problems of vandalism such as in the area from which I come; there is the theft of equipment and innumerable items, as well as the problem of keeping the staff motivated in those schools. All these factors can easily tend to drive down the standards of schools.

The question which faces us is not simply how to give parents more choice so that they can quite naturally do what they want to do, which is best for their own children as they see it. The question is also how you can both protect and improve the standards of schools in some of these most difficult areas. That seems to me to be the cruel dilemma with which we are faced when we come up against a Bill of this kind. I am not happy when I hear people arguing wholeheartedly against parental choice, nor am I happy when I hear people who support the Bill seeming to exalt parental choice above these other aspects of proper educational planning and protecting and improving standards in those schools. So I myself feel inclined to vote for this amendment.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I want to look a little more deeply at the implications for parents and children of this clause, which allows much freer access to schools. Up till now we have, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, has made clear, been governed by the 1980 Act, which was passed by a Conservative administration. I think it is worth looking at the wording of Section 6 of that Act, which reads: Every local education authority shall make arrangements for enabling the parent of a child in the area of the authority to express a preference as to the school at which he wishes education to be provided for his child … it shall be the duty of a local education authority", etc. to comply with any preference expressed and the duty imposed does not apply, if compliance with the preference would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources". And, of course, there is the catch. But it corresponds with another key aspect of the present Government's thinking; namely, value for money. Where a local education authority can plan in this way, public money can be sensibly managed. Parents are ratepayers, too, and they have a right of appeal against the refusal of a place which they very frequently win.

So on one side of the equation we have efficiency and value for money; on the other side, but not always in conflict, we have parental choice. We all want that. Local administrators, of which I have been one, and county councillors are parents, too. How much choice does the 1980 Act provide in practice? We have heard the figures. It is well over 90 per cent. and where I come from it is approximately 99 per cent. Should we be trying to improve on that figure? That is the crux. A figure of 100 per cent. is unobtainable at Grange Hill, Eton or anywhere else. So where do we draw the line, because as measurable choice goes up so efficiency goes down?

Let me illustrate why, but first perhaps I may say a quick word about why schools lose numbers. Some of your Lordships believe that managing the present decline in overall pupil numbers is a matter of propping up bad schools. From years of experience in the field, I must say that this is a gross oversimplification and this point has been admirably made by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee. A school can lose pupils because of local housing occupancy; because it has an unattractive site—perhaps a split site in a gloomy part of town; because it is in an ethnically mixed area; because it was a secondary modern 12 years ago. This is a surprisingly common reason. When I taught in a Hertfordshire comprehensive about 10 years ago, people in the town said, "Ah, you are from the grammar school." But it had not been a grammar school since the 1960s.

A school can lose pupils because of some rumour that goes running around the supermarket queues, whether founded or unfounded; because of one year's bad exam results or because it is perfectly true that it is a bad school overall. But very few schools are bad for all pupils. Popularity is often a matter of fashion and rumour changing over a long timespan. I thought a very telling statistic was published in the current issue of Which?—and it is one that I would commend to the noble Baroness, Lady Young—that one-third of all parents in maintained schools do not visit their child's school before he or she goes there.

A typical example of an LEA using its powers under the 1980 Act to restrict intakes is where you have a market town with two or three secondary schools with an intake of about 150 a year, which is just about a viable size. One school begins to dip and in no time there is a snowball effect, which is a very common event. Through fashion, rumour or parents' fears of closure, because the educational arguments against small schools are pretty well known, there is a general attack of nerves. If the LEA takes no action, a school can fairly quickly slide past the point of no return. What happens then is that perhaps 100 families find themselves at another school with which they are quite content, while 300 families are not at all happy with having to travel elsewhere for their education to what they regard as a foreign school. What price parental choice in those circumstances? And what does the LEA do about accommodation when secondary numbers rise again with the birthrate through the 1990s? It seems to me that a modicum of planning makes sense and is in everyone's interests. Independent schools do it. They can plan for exact numbers and they know that German, history of art, a second A-level maths set and the chess club will be in place quite happily next September. Maintained schools find that difficult even under the present arrangements. Under Clause 19, unless it is amended, I fear that in two many cases that will be impossible and the children will suffer.

I have mentioned independent schools. I should like to say a brief and I hope not too tactless word or two on a delicate subject which I believe needs to be brought into the open. I have felt it rumbling in the background of a number of issues. Since I have had personal and professional experience on both sides of the divide, I feel that I am qualified to mention it. I believe that an exclusively public school background has an unsettling effect on judgment when dealing with the kinds of issues which are before us in the Bill. I know that when I moved across to the maintained sector, I had a great deal of relearning to do. The whole scene is very different.

I believe that the main factors are these. Public schools, at least as they were in pre-war days, were single-sex schools; they were usually boarding; and they were usually explicitly Christian. We had a good example of the effect of such schooling during our discussions on RE last week, when one noble Lord stated that he felt that more RE teaching would result in better behaviour. I dare say that it would at Eton, where the two-way selection process produces pupils of that kind. However, I can assure the noble Lord that it would not do so on the other side of the fence. More is the pity, perhaps.

That leads to my next point. Public schools select their pupils and vice versa; comprehensive schools have to take all corners. Most importantly, public schools deal with the top slice of the ability range. That makes an enormous difference to the way in which they view the education scene. Then there is the effect of the peculiarly intense ethos of the public school, with its undoubted force for good. However, that makes it extraordinarily difficult to question dispassionately the assumptions on which that education is based; they are often reacted against and not so often examined.

Lastly, there is a conceptual difficulty about the whole notion of planning for a system of schools. All schools deal with the top slice of the ability range. That makes an enormous difference to the way in which they view the education scene. Then there is the effect of the peculiarly intense ethos of the public school, with its undoubted force for good. However, that makes it extraordinarily difficult to question envisage that one's own unrestricted freedom can be another's serious disadvantage. That is at the core of what we are debating.

To sum up, the search for a yet higher degree of parental choice at schools than the praiseworthy level that we are already attaining will be conducted at too high a price and will probably, as often happens with legislation, achieve the opposite effect. I am unhappy with the accretion of more power to the Secretary of State. I shudder to think of desk-bound civil servants in London adjudicating on applications which ought to be handled at local level where they are fully understood. I feel sorry for the forests of Brazil which will have to yield yet more paper on which all the interested parties will be writing submissions to each other until the crack of doom. I foresee yet more delays and obstructions in the path of professional educators. I support the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Trafford

I agree with many of the comments made by the noble Earl who has just spoken with regard to the practical nature of the matter. However, I think that he is expressing in part (if I may use the expression with the greatest of respect) some of the arrogance of the education planners. The assumption always seems to be, from planners and from professionals in most public sector areas—I include doctors—that the professional always knows best, that teacher always knows best and that it is impossible for a parent to make intelligent choices.

We have heard from the right reverend Prelate that in a sense the parent in certain areas is almost certain to make the wrong choice. I do not think that that is a reason to give the parent only one choice—a bad choice. The amendment will preserve a series of bad choices. I am not questioning the validity of the figure of 90 per cent. of first choices, though there may be some variation in various areas. It seems to be accurate. But I should like to see that improved on. If we are to see improvement, change and a gingering up of this aspect of the service, one of the ways to do that is through the greater exercise of parental choice.

I believe in parental responsibility and I do not think that it is right to call parents who are concerned about their children's education, who worry about the matter and want to do what is best for their children, pushy parents. I do not think that that is fair. I should like—

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

Perhaps the noble Lord will very kindly give way. I made it clear that I appreciate the concern of parents for the education of their children. I did not imply that they made necessarily bad choices. I am concerned about the restriction of the freedom of parents where schools in inner city areas and on council estates suffer from great social pressure.

Lord Trafford

I understand that point. However, it seems to me that what the right reverend Prelate is actually saying is that we have a series of difficulties in socially deprived areas and in the schools in and around those areas, but we must make specific choices to force people to stay in certain schools simply for those reasons. It seems to me that that is trying, in such circumstances, to engineer a situation of no change by which one does not promote improvement. We can promote improvement by the involvement of parents. That is central to this part of the Bill. Despite what the noble Baroness has said rather politely, this is a wrecking amendment.

Baroness Seear

Perhaps I may intervene very briefly. My knowledge of parental choice is strictly theoretical. However, there is a point which has not been made and which I should have thought would appeal to noble Lords opposite.

As I understand it, one of the anxieties about unlimited choice and unlimited entry up to the maximum figure is that there are certain maintained schools which have pioneered a number of advances. That has involved the use of premises in certain ways—more computer space, language lab space—which are highly desirable. Those facilities are not available everywhere and have contributed to the justified popularity of those schools. They are a good reason why knowledgeable parents will wish their children to go to them. However, I am informed that those schools are afraid that if they have to admit up to the maximum number they will have to sacrifice their facilities because the space will not be available. Surely we do not want to reduce the standard in maintained schools where they are forging ahead with good experiments which prove to be worth while.

Baroness Cox

Perhaps I may respond to a point which was made twice by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester as regards the quality of schools in socially deprived areas. Is the right reverend Prelate aware that research dating back to the days of Rutter and recent research by Mortimere and his colleagues has shown that schools in the most socially deprived areas vary greatly in the quality of education they supply to their pupils? In other words, teachers and schools make a significant difference. Even when they draw pupils from the same catchment area, they can offer very different educational opportunities for the pupils.

Therefore, parents in those areas have a real need to discriminate in their choice of schools. Many of them understand very well the differences in the quality of schools made available. It is very important for parents living in socially deprived areas to have the maximum opportunity for choice because they are the ones who are trapped in the system. They cannot afford to buy their way out; they cannot afford to move house; they cannot afford to go to the independent sector; and they are the people to whom accountability of schools to parents is of primary importance.

Earl Russell

I should like to answer a few of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, about professional arrogance. I am aware of the danger. It is a real one. Perhaps the noble Lord underrates the determination of professionals to protect one another against this arrogance. I should like to know from the noble Lord whether the temptations of professional arrogance are ones from which the Secretary of State is immune.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

No one surely could wish to preserve bad schools. I am sure that the object of us all is to ensure that all schools are as good as they can be in the circumstances. I am worried about children whose parents are not concerned. They matter just as much as children whose parents are concerned.

Baroness Blackstone

I wish to query several of the statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Trafford. Like the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, I speak as an ex-education officer. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, has been rather unfair to local education authority administrators, many of whom are dedicated people working very hard and trying to do the best for children and young people in the areas they serve. The noble Lord was particularly unfair, I think, to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, who seemed to me quite the opposite of arrogant in the manner in which he put his arguments; he put them clearly, rationally and in a convincing way.

The point is whether the Bill as presently structured increases parental choice. I think that we all agree that we want to increase parental choice. The problem is how best to do it.

Lord Trafford

Perhaps I may say that I was pointing out the arrogance of professions; I certainly was not criticising the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, for arrogance in the way be spoke. I stand by that. I believe that professionals often put forward the suggestion that they, and only they, know, be it in medicine, the law or in educational establishments.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I should like to except myself from inclusion in that accusation. I do not think that I always know; I never did think that I always knew. When operating in local education authority administration, I tried not to take that view. Many of us speak as parents who have had children in the maintained system and who have been involved in exercising difficult choices about where to send our children.

The decision between one secondary school and another or indeed between one primary school and another is not clear cut. There has been a suggestion in arguments put forward from the Conservative Benches that this is a black and white matter in which it is perfectly obvious what is a good school and what is a bad school. Some schools are good in some respects and bad in others; others may be very strong in one area and weak in another. We cannot come to clear-cut conclusions about what constitutes a good school.

The amendment is designed to provide local education authorities and governing bodies with the opportunity to run a flexible admissions procedure that takes into account particular local needs and circumstances. I am afraid to say that the Bill's proposals do not achieve that. They build in rigidities that will make sensible management impossible and will have the effect in the end of reducing rather than increasing parental choice.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, talked about discriminating in favour of unpopular schools. I think that to some extent we have to discriminate in favour of unpopular schools. Perhaps I may explain why. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester put his finger on it: it is because a substantial number of children will be left in those schools. Are we just to ignore them and their needs? Moreover, they will often be the children who are the most disadvantaged in many other respects. We have heard much commitment in Committee to what has been called the bottom 20 per cent. It has been said that this is the group that the legislation is designed particularly to help. If that is so, we have to accept that sometimes we must set about doing things that will improve those unpopular schools.

Some unfair things have been said, not just today, but on other occasions, by the Government Front Bench on the question of admission limits. It is suggested that they are used by local authorities for administrative convenience. They are not used for administrative convenience; they are used for educational reasons. They are used to ensure that a reasonable curriculum range can be maintained in all schools, not a minority; that undue overcrowding can be avoided in others; and that staff can be sensibly distributed between a range of schools. Local authorities must do all that they possibly can to respect the wishes of parents and their choice of schools. As some noble Lords have already said, they have been successful. In spite of the anecdotes that we have heard about guidance, it is the case—I concede that the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, accepted this—that the great majority of parents at present get their first choice of school. Those who do not can appeal. After appeals have been heard, a further substantial number get their first choice. Only a very small number of appeals remain unsuccessful. As has already been said, a little over 1 per cent. of secondary transfers fall into this category.

I want to emphasise that I do not believe that this legislation will help such parents. Their appeals are turned down simply because the schools to which they wish to send their children do not have the physical capacity to take them: there is just no more room. Given that parental preferences are largely met, would it not be much better to allow local education authorities to vary the standard number in the interests of all children? I concede that slightly increasing admissions to popular schools will make a small number of parents more satisfied. Contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, it could ultimately make a greater number of parents more dissatisfied. I should like to spend a short time explaining why this is so and why choice will not be increased, despite what the noble Baroness said.

If numbers run down too much in some schools while others remain full to capacity, the quality of education in the under-subscribed schools will suffer. Incidentally, that was recognised by the Government in Better Schools and in the circular on providing for quality. I do not think that any good reasons have been put forward why the Government and the Secretary of State should change their minds. The decline in quality will lead to more prospective parents deciding against the under-subscribed schools. As their numbers grow, the likelihood of their getting into the so-called popular schools in turn will lessen so that too many parents will be competing for far too few additional places.

Therefore, there will be more disappointment and more dissatisfaction. In the remaining schools, the decline in quality will leave yet more parents dissatisfied. Thus we shall get into a vicious spiral of decline with no way out for the large numbers who are left in the so-called unpopular schools. We shall end up by being much worse off in terms of the overall quality of education and still more parents will have their hopes and expectations dashed. So the imbalance will lead to more and stronger preferences for the full schools and fewer for the unsubscribed schools. Because there is no more space at the full schools the children will have to be allocated to the others in spite of their parents' preferences.

I am sorry to take a little while to explain this point, but surely in those circumstances it is better to spread out the numbers more evenly and try to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number. That is in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, said.

The Government have rightly exhorted LEAs to make the best possible use of resources and obtain value for money. Current use of admission limits prevents the existence of a number of uneconomical schools which of course are impossible to close because it would mean either pupils travelling far too far or some pupils being left out altogether. It avoids some schools becoming packed to the seams and having to go on relying on temporary accommodation, which incidentally is usually both expensive and difficult to maintain.

Finally, we are now faced in this Bill with a quite arbitrary standard number which is related to 1979 figures. In many parts of the country there have been quite substantial changes which make this a totally inappropriate figure. A system of exceptions and exclusions will lead to more bureaucracy, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, has already said, especially in the DES. There will be inevitable delays because overpressed civil servants in the department will not be able to respond quickly and will have some difficulty, I suspect, in reaching the right decision because they will know far too little about local circumstances. This is a classic example of where those closer to the local situation should be left to get on with it within a broad framework laid down by the centre.

The answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is that I do not think schools are like items that you buy in a shop. They are a very long-term commitment for parents, as I am sure she agrees. Those parents who are left with the unpopular schools cannot simply get out, throw the item away or move to another school because there will not be space in the other school.

What are we going to do for those parents? That is the question that I should like to ask the Minister. What we all ought to be doing, as the right reverend Prelate said, is finding ways of improving those schools rather than leaving them to go on struggling and ways of turning those very unpopular schools into much more popular schools.

This clause needs amendation because it will not achieve its aims with respect to parents; it will damage many children's education and undermine local authorities' ability to plan their provisions sensibly in their own areas. I support the amendment.

Baroness Young

Let me say in response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that I spoke as I did because we need to encourage parents to take great responsibility about the education of their children. I think that giving them this choice will do it.

I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, is right in the statistic he gave and only a third of parents visit schools. I must look at that piece of evidence. I have not seen it. I hope that schools will encourage parents to come and visit. Of course we do not know but nevertheless it is a tragedy and not something about which any of us can feel pleased.

I am sure that my noble friend will answer the very important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about what is going to happen to schools which are less popular. A great many of the proposals in this Bill are designed exactly to help those least advantaged by the national curriculum and all the other proposals, attainments and assessments. At a very early age—seven years old—if it is a poor school we should begin to find out why it is poor and what to do to put it right.

Lord Annan

I wonder whether I could ask the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, to clear up two points for me. Was she arguing that when there is a really bad school in a deprived area, parents must be compelled to use it in order to make it better? I did not follow that point.

The second point, which I also did not quite understand, was the argument about the spiral; namely that as a school loses its pupils because it is bad, it will go further and further down hill. If a school is shown to be a bad school, lacking parental support, that surely is the point at which the local education authority will have to step in to do something about the school. It is that which is going to force bad schools perhaps to get out of the vicious spiral. The first step is to get a new headmaster. Headmasters hold the clue to whether schools are good or bad, though I totally take the point made by the noble Earl that there are lots of other factors as well.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may briefly have the opportunity of answering that. I should like as an aside to begin by correcting the sexist terminology used by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. Many schools have headmistresses and I think it is appropriate to use the neutral term "head teachers" rather than simply assuming that all schools are run by men, which is something that many educationists have been trying to change.

I come back to the point that the noble Lord raised. Allowing a school's numbers to run down raises problems about maintaining the curriculum across the board, because one has also to run down the numbers of teachers in the school. Increasingly you will be unable to provide children with a choice and a range of specialist help in a variety of areas—in particular for children who may need such specialist help. That is the reason I think we have to be concerned about simply allowing market forces to operate and these schools to collapse with large numbers of children still in them. I hope that that answers the question which the noble Lord posed.

Lord Annan

I entirely accept the point about headmasters. It is only headmasters who are bad, no headmistress could be.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I shall be quite brief. It upsets me intensely to hear somebody talking about "very bad schools" as though we have some very, very bad schools and we have some very, very good schools. I think HMI reports quite clearly show that the majority of schools in the country are good schools. Some are battling under worse conditions than others, but that does not make them bad schools. The premises in which they operate might be bad; lack of facilities such as not having playing fields might make a school one that is not readily accepted, but it is quite wrong for us to designate schools as "bad schools" because many of the schools that are under extreme difficulties have staff that are very, very dedicated to try to help in those areas.

I know of examples in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, where HMI has just reported on two schools and given absolutely first-class reports on them showing quite conclusively that in the conditions under which they operate, they are operating as the best schools. They have ethnic minorities with which they have to contend. They are bad schools because the buildings are inadequate and do not have all the modern conveniences or ability to handle sciences, but they are not "bad schools". I think it is important for us to understand that they are not "bad" because of what is given to them.

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness whether this legislation conflicts with the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, Section 33 of which requires authorities to strengthen the position of parents very firmly by the requirement that governors of schools should be consulted annually about admission arrangements, including the number of pupils to be admitted. That Act passed through both Houses of Parliament and is now on the statute book. Does this new legislation conflict with what is already on the statute book; namely, that parents have this firm right and it is represented to the governing bodies of the particular schools?

5 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

We make no claims that the policy embodied in Clauses 19 to 24 of the Bill represents a radical departure from the status quo. The purpose is to build on the provisions of the 1980 Act, now widely recognised to have been successful despite all the doubts cast upon its philosophy and practicality at the time, as my noble friend Lady Young has reminded us. Before 1980 local authorities and governors had considerable freedom to set whatever admission limits they saw fit for their schools, irrespective of the wishes of parents. Now parents have the right to obtain a place at the school of their choice provided only that this does not prejudice efficient education, or the efficient use of resources, or the criteria for admissions agreed for selective or aided schools.

The Government believe that the time is now right to introduce an even greater element of parental choice by removing the remaining artificial barriers to parents getting the school that they want for their children subject only again to preserving the particular character of voluntary or selective schools.

The Government's aim is thus a reasonable and modest one: that where demand exists, schools should be required to admit pupils up to their existing physical capacity. I stress the word "existing". Schools will not be required to expand in order to meet demand, but simply to admit as many pupils as they can reasonably accommodate. I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the article in the Independent to which she referred is quite wrong. The yardstick for measuring a school's physical capacity will be its standard number. But provision has been made in the Bill for the standard number to be varied where this is necessary to reflect the existing physical capacity of the school—a point that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

Guidance now in preparation in the department will set out a recommended method of assessing the capacity of secondary schools and the formula proposed will take account of particular accommodation uses and needs such as the greater space requirements of craft and technical courses and of children with special educational needs.

Under the provisions of Chapter II arrangements whereby parents express their preferences for a school for their child will continue just as before. Some may take more interest, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, has suggested, and others less. But it will no longer be possible for the local authority or school governors to refuse admission to a school with spare capacity on the ground that it would be a more efficient use of the resources to divert that pupil to a less popular school.

There are already some authorities which allow physical capacity to be the only factor determining admission limits. They appear to manage perfectly well. We see no reason why others should not now be expected to follow suit. If almost all parents are already getting their first choice of school, as has been suggested, the introduction of more open enrolment should in practice lead to only marginal shifts in the distribution of pupils. In that case, why is there the fuss? A few more parents will be satisfied who were not satisfied before; and those who were satisfied before should not feel in any way threatened by these provisions.

Informal trawls of local education authorities undertaken by the department in recent years have indicated—as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said—about 10,000 appeals each year to local independent appeal committees by parents who were not satisfied by the decisions taken in respect of the schools that their children should attend. The majority of appeals are in respect of transfer to secondary school. When these figures are deducted from the total age cohort, it would appear that about 90 per cent. of parents are satisfied with the school place offered to their child. This figure varies from local education authority to local education authority. Some already operate a more open form of enrolment while others make maximum use of the discretion allowed them to fix intakes or have had proposals approved under Section 15 of the 1980 Act to limit intakes in order to balance provision across the areas of the authorities.

However, a Harris poll carried out in the autumn indicated that 24 per cent. of parents in the South-East and 30 per cent. of parents in inner London would have liked their children to attend another school. We believe that the change will affect only those authorities which currently give too little emphasis to consumer preference.

The evidence of the Harris poll to which I referred suggests that a significant percentage probably accept the school to which their child is assigned, not as a positive act of choice but in a spirit of stoical resignation. When one reads some of the information booklets published by local authorities one can perhaps understand why. Some are frankly discouraging, tending to emphasise the role of the authority or governors in deciding school admissions and mentioning the right of parental preference only as a kind of unfortunate legal necessity. Of course that may make life easier for the planners. People exercising choice can get in the way of simple solutions. But local authorities and schools are there to serve the local community. It is simply not good enough to ignore popular demands because concessions may make planning that much more difficult.

I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, that the provisions of this Bill do not affect or conflict with Article 33 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester referred to certain low standard schools, as did the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. I believe that the system should not continue to protect a school which cannot cope with competition. It is a counsel of despair to say that more open enrolment will inevitably lead to sink schools. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone: the local authority should be prepared to work with the school that is having difficulty in recruiting in order to improve its attractiveness to pupils, and perhaps to teachers, because it is teachers about whom we are talking when we refer to bad schools—and to help it to overcome any disadvantages it may have as a result of its geographical situation.

There may be a case for providing some temporary additional resources for the school if it makes sense to keep it open; or the authority may need to consider mothballing the premises against future needs, or closure, with sale proceeds being used to contribute to any later capital spending which may become necessary. I am not pretending that any of these are easy answers, nor that the local authority would prefer not to have to face them. But local and central government are there to tackle problems in the interests of the populations they serve.

On Amendment No. 153A, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady David, the intention of more open enrolment is to give parents more opportunity of having their preferences met by requiring schools to admit up to their physical capacity where the demand exists. This will be achieved by requiring schools to admit at least up to their standard number. Every school already has a standard number, usually the number of pupils admitted in the 1979–80 school year. The standard number relates to physical capacity and is thus a convenient starting point. However—I emphasise this because many critics of the more open enrolment policy simply fail to acknowledge it—there are comprehensive provisions in the Bill which enable the existing standard number to be revised in order to ensure that admission limits reflect the school's correct current capacity.

If the level of admissions in the year immediately preceding implementation of more open enrolment is higher than a school's existing standard number, the figure will automatically become the new standard number. Where a local education authority and governors can agree between themselves that a school can admit pupils in excess of the standard number, they can do so without further ado. In the event of disagreement, the matter can be referred to the Secretary of State for determination. Where an admissions authority wishes to have an admissions limit lower than the standard number, a public procedure is laid down in the Bill. It is right that there should be a more formal procedure in such cases, allowing opportunities for objections and determination by the Secretary of State. Reduction in the standard number will have the effect of limiting parental choice, so all applications for reduction should be subject to careful scrutiny and only permitted where absolutely necessary.

Amendment No. 153A seeks to sweep all this away. In its place there would be an arrangement under which local education authorities and governors would be able to set the admissions limit which suited them—up to, and presumably not in excess of, the standard numbers currently defined—with provision to refer the matter to the Secretary of State only in the case of a dispute. That system is unsatisfactory because it does not provide sufficient guarantee that the level of admissions to the school concerned permitted by the local education authority and governors would reflect the school's actual physical capacity. It is far preferable to have the objective standard number system, we believe, with provision and appropriate procedures to vary it where necessary.

I believe that the Bill already achieves this and I therefore urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

Baroness David

I am just slightly surprised about the rejection, which has been so outright. As I said in my opening speech, by Amendment No. 178 the Government are doing exactly what we want for Church schools. I cannot think that the idea can be that bad if it is accepted in that situation.

The noble Baroness made much about standard numbers. The standard number is set at the 1979 figure. We object to the year chosen. We do not mind there being a standard number. We are quite happy for there to be a standard number. But 1979–80 was the year when the schools were full and before the numbers started to fall. That is why we object to the choice of that year.

Admittedly there is the possibility of changing the standard number. It is very much easier to increase it than to decrease it. There are then problems, and one has to go to the Secretary of State. I should like the Government to trust local education authorities a little more. It seems to me that they are being treated quite badly. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that an LEA does not wait until a school becomes really bad before it takes action. From having served on a local education authority for some time, I know that as soon as there is any sign of trouble the LEA will try to find out what is happening and why and will try to make changes. It may be the head; it may be one or two members of staff in some subject. But LEAs try to improve schools when things are going badly.

I should like to remind the Committee of what the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, said at Second Reading: I would say to the Minister that choice at the end of the day can never, sadly, be absolute in a state-provided service. … In 1980 I had to accept that, faced with a substantial drop in the number of children of school age, local authorities must be able to have a degree of control over admission policy so as to ensure that the policy of any individual school did not prejudice the provision of efficient education for children throughout … the area of the local education authority".—[Official Report, 19/4/1988; col. 1401.] "Throughout the area" is the phrase that we have to remember, and also what the right reverend Prelate mentioned.

May I also remind the Committee of something I said in my Second Reading speech. That was: giving parents greater choice [of school] will not help those children whose parents are unable or unwilling to exercise that choice in the full interests of their children".—[Official Report, 18/4/1988; col. 1200.] Those are just the children towards whom we have been so sympathetic. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, expressed his hope for care for the non-academic. This factor has been mentioned so often. These are the children we may be treating badly if we leave the Bill as it stands. I was very impressed by the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, and I noticed his particularly apt phrase "one's unrestricted freedom can be another's disadvantage". I hope that members of the Committee will think of that and pause again before they reject the amendment, which I shall press to a Division.

5.14 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 153A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 117; Not-Contents, 160.

Alexander of Potterhill, L. Chitnis, L.
Amherst, E. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Ardwick, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Attlee, E. David, B.
Aylestone, L. Davies of Penrhys, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Dean of Beswick, L.
Banks, L. Diamond, L.
Basnett, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Birk, B. Dormand of Easington, L.
Blackstone, B. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Blease, L. Ewart-Biggs, B.
Bottomley, L. Falkender, B.
Briginshaw, L. Falkland, V.
Bruce of Donington, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Flowers, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Foot, L.
Gallacher, L. Peston, L.
Galpern, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Glenamara, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Greenway, L.
Gregson, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Grimond, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L. [Teller.]
Hampton, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Hanworth, V. Rochester, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Russell, E.
Hart of South Lanark, B. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Hayter, L. Sainsbury, L.
Hereford, Bp. Scanlon, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Seear, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hughes, L. Serota, B.
Hunt, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Shepherd, L.
Jacques, L. Stallard, L.
Jay, L. Stedman, B.
Jeger, B. Stewart of Fulham, L.
John-Mackie, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Kennet, L. Strabolgi, L.
Kilbracken, L. Swann, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Kirkhill, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Leatherland, L. Thurlow, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Tordoff, L.
Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Underhill, L.
Lockwood, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
London, Bp. Walston, L.
Longford, E. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
McCarthy, L. Whaddon, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. White, B.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
McNair, L. Willis, L.
Manchester, Bp. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Milford, L.
Molloy, L. Winstanley, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Winterbottom, L.
Nicol, B. Wrenbury, L.
Paget of Northampton, L.
Abercorn, D. Cottesloe, L.
Abinger, L. Cowley, E.
Adrian, L. Cox, B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Craigavon, V.
Aldington, L. Cranbrook, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Croft, L.
Allerton, L. Davidson, V. [Teller.]
Ampthill, L. De Freyne, L.
Annan, L. Deedes, L.
Auckland, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Beaverbrook, L. Derwent, L.
Bellwin, L. Donegall, M.
Beloff, L. Eden of Winton, L.
Belstead, L. Elibank, L.
Bessborough, E. Ellenborough, L.
Blatch, B. Erroll of Hale, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Faithfull, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Ferrers, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Ferrier, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Fortescue, E.
Caithness, E. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Gainford, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Gisborough, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Gridley, L.
Carnock, L. Haig, E.
Carr of Hadley, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Cathcart, E.
Chelwood, L. Halsbury, E.
Clinton, L. Hanson, L.
Coleraine, L. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Colnbrook, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Colwyn, L. Harvington, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Havers, L.
Henley, L. Pym, L.
Hesketh, L. Quinton, L.
Hives, L. Radnor, E.
Hood, V. Rankeillour, L.
Hooper, B. Reay, L.
Hunter of Newington, L. Rees, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Reigate, L.
Ilchester, E. Renwick, L.
Ingrow, L. Ridley, V.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Rochdale, V.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Rodney, L.
Killearn, L. St. Davids, V.
Lauderdale, E. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Layton, L. Saint Levan, L.
Leathers, V. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Long, V. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Seebohm, L.
Lyell, L. Sempill, Ly.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Sharpies, B.
McFadzean, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Stockton, E.
Malmesbury, E. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Margadale, L. Strange, B.
Marley, L. Strathcarron, L.
Marshall of Leeds, L. Strathspey, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Sudeley, L.
Merrivale, L. Swinton, E.
Mersey, V. Terrington, L.
Milverton, L. Teynham, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Monson, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Mottistone, L. Todd, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Trafford, L.
Moyne, L. Tranmire, L.
Nelson, E. Trefgarne, L.
Newall, L. Trumpington, B.
Norfolk, D. Ullswater, V.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
O'Brien of Lothbury, L. Vinson, L.
Orkney, E. Watkinson, V.
Orr-Ewing, L. Whitelaw, V.
Oxfuird, V. Windlesham, L.
Pender, L. Wolfson, L.
Pennock, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Penrhyn, L. Young, B.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.23 p.m.

Lord Somers had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 154: Page 14, line 12, leave out ("less") and insert ("greater").

The noble Lord said: In view of the argument about the question of numbers I do not believe that there is any point in moving the amendment and shall not do so.

[Amendment No. 154 not moved.]

Lord Ritchie of Dundee moved Amendment No. 155: Page 14, line 13, at end insert ("except in accordance with the provisions of section Rights of governing body to fix a maximum number for admissions below.").

The noble Lord said: This is a paving amendment to Amendment No. 171. In speaking to it I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 159A, 168, 169 and 170A.

The subject of choice has been thoroughly debated this afternoon. Amendment No. 171 proposes that the governing body, which knows the school well, should have the right to set a maximum number of pupils in order to ensure that the national curriculum is efficiently delivered, and thereby fulfil its obligations under Clause 1. It must publish its reasons if it wishes to reduce the standard number of pupils to what it considers appropriate. If the local education authority disagrees, it may object to the Secretary of State who will become the final arbiter. In other words, the object of the amendment is to allow the school to have a choice, represented by the governing body, as regards the numbers which it believes to be appropriate for the school to function efficiently and deliver the national curriculum.

I should like to refer to Amendment No. 169 in particular. It refers to subsection (9) on page 15 and this matter has already been mentioned by the Minister. Under Section 6(3)(a) of the 1980 Act the local education authority is allowed to turn down a parent's preference if compliance with that preference would prejudice the efficient education or the efficient use of resources in any school. The provision in Clause 19(9) of the Bill overrides that. It states: For the purposes of section 6(3)(a) of the 1980 Act…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;". The number may be more than it is appropriate for the school to have because the standard number is the number of pupils who attended the school in 1979. Since then many changes may have taken place in the school whereby space has been taken up and is no longer available for accommodation. The space may have been used advantageously by the school for science and computers in particular. Many schools have given over rooms to computer studies and for recreational, artistic or creative purposes. It may well be disadvantageous for the schools to revert to the standard number. We are back to the question of quality. It may be that the quality of the school will suffer if it must take the numbers which it took in 1979. In the field of education eight years is a long time.

I should like the Committee to consider the proposal of handing over the admissions decision to the governing body which should consult with the local education authority. The governing body knows the school best and it knows its needs and requirements. I should like the Committee to consider the matter carefully. I beg to move.

Lord McNair

Amendment No. 168 is grouped with this amendment and I should now like to speak to it. We are talking about a situation in which either the LEA or the governing body wishes to admit more than the relevant standard number or even more than some other number greater than that proposed. The authority to which such a proposal is made has two months in which to reject it. If it does so the proponent body, if unwilling to take that rejection lying down, can apply within 28 days to the Secretary of State for an order under Clause 20(5) of the Bill.

Under Clause 20 (5), (6) and (7) the Secretary of State can refuse to make such an order, or he can agree to make it, or he can impose a compromise. The amendment seeks to confer on the proponents or applicants a duty to have some regard to the dictates of common sense. It directs that they should: have regard to the availability of accommodation, equipment, materials and qualified teachers suitable and sufficient to implement the National Curriculum and the overall curriculum of the school". Only the people on the spot can judge the availability of those obviously necessary things and people. It is clearly absurd to expect the Secretary of State or his officials to have such detailed knowledge about every school in the country. Therefore, the argument that we can safely leave that to his good judgment will not stand up. We should write these local obligations into the Bill. In doing so, as my noble friend said, we are trying to protect the quality of education. We know that equipment, materials and qualified teachers are in short supply. There are many thousands of school governors and to expect them to combine the wisdom of Solomon with the objectivity of a High Court judge is verging on the optimistic. There may be governing bodies dominated by one or two forceful personalities who will see the enlargement and aggrandisement of their school as some sort of status symbol. This amendment seeks to prevent that happening at the expense of the quality of education.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

I have explained in response to the previous amendment why the Government do not consider it proper to allow local education authorities and governors to fix a maximum admissions limit below a schools standard number. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, has explained, Amendments Nos. 155 and 171 would enable governors to fix a maximum limit to take account of curricular factors. If a school admits more pupils as a result of the implementation of more open enrolment the local authority will have to take account of those increased numbers in allocating resources to the schools and the schools' budgets will have to be deployed so as best to support the delivery of the curriculum.

We should not forget that more open enrolment will be implemented in the context of financial delegation. In future, local authorities will have to have open and rational arrangements for allocating resources between schools and a key determinant of an individual school's budget entitlement will be the number of pupils it recruits. In all but the smallest primary schools it will then be for the school governors to decide how the resources can best be used to the benefit of their pupils. They will be free to decide to vary the size of the teaching staff accordingly. The Government therefore believe that there are adequate safeguards for the school curriculum in the Bill and that these do not conflict with the greater degree of parental choice provided by more open enrolment. Therefore, I urge the Committee to reject Amendments Nos. 155 and 171 as well as the associated Amendment No. 169.

On Amendments Nos. 159A and 170A the Government fully accept that a school's capacity to accommodate pupils can be changed as a result of changes in the use of accommodation at the school. We have said as much in Clause 24(1) of the Bill as drafted. Furthermore, in guidance that the department is currently preparing on school admissions in the light of more open enrolment, a method will be recommended for calculating the capacity of secondary schools. This method, based on the department's so-called "workplace method", which will already be familiar to many authorities, takes account of the differing space requirements of different elements in the curriculum: the fact, for example, that practical subjects require more space than general academic subjects. The intention is that this guidance will be issued, as part of a new departmental circular on admissions, soon after Royal Assent.

I trust that what I have said will convince your Lordships that the Government are taking sensible and practical steps to ensure that full and timely account can be taken of changes in the use of a school's accommodation arising from curricular changes since its standard number was set. I hope therefore that the proposers of these amendments will feel able to withdraw them.

Turning to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, Amendment No. 168, the Government believe, as I hope I have explained in response to Amendments Nos. 155 and 171, that the more open enrolment provisions in the Bill do not prejudice delivery of the school curriculum. Where numbers increase in a school the maintaining local authority will have to take account of those increased numbers in allocating resources. If the authority responsible for admissions proposes a higher admissions limit under the provisions of Clause 19(4) then the availability of accommodation will obviously be a crucial factor in consideration of that proposal. However, the policy objective remains to ensure that the number of pupils whom the school is prepared to admit reflects the actual physical capacity of that school. Amendment No. 168 would compromise that objective, and I hope that the Committee will reject it.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I have listened as carefully as I could to the reply of the Minister but there are several amendments under discussion and I shall want to have a look at Hansard tomorrow to remind myself of what has been said.

The Minister referred to the Government's plan to issue guidelines for assessing the capacity of secondary schools. That puts one in mind, yet again, of possible unnecessary intervention on the part of central government. Why are the local authorities who have education within their charge not capable of assessing the capacity of the schools within their area? As I said, there are a number of issues here and they have all been discussed, debated and rehearsed rather thoroughly this afternoon. Therefore, I wish to read the Minister's reply and reconsider the matter before coming back to it. However, at present I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 156: Page 14, line 13, at end insert ("except where the authority considers that the effect of any such determination would be to restrict opportunities for the use of the school premises by members of the local community or would otherwise affect the use of the school by other bodies or for adult education").

The noble Baroness said: In speaking to Amendment No. 156 I should say that Amendment No. 163 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is also to be considered. The purpose of this amendment is to allow local authorities flexibility in setting admissions limits in order to ensure that the provisions for community education is preserved. Community education receives all too little notice in this Bill and we are extremely keen that it should not be worse off when this Bill is passed than it is now, because it is something which is increasing all over the country and we should like to encourage that.

In recent years falling rolls, especially in the secondary sector, have meant a reduction in school population and consequent spare capacity. In many cases LEAs have used that opportunity to improve facilities for community education and that has had a very important impact on adult education. It has opened up a far wider range of possibilities for educational and recreational activities for adults. At the same time it has opened schools to their local communities, which can be nothing but good. Not only parents but other adults have been welcomed into the schools. That has benefited not only the adults but also the children. It is generally accepted that there is a considerable educational value for children in mixing in the school environment with adults other than their teachers and the other school staff. In June 1987 Coopers & Lybrand produced for the DES a report on The Dual Use of School Support Facilities. One of its conclusions was: The findings highlighted in this section show that dual use has general support, can be introduced into a wide range of schools, need not be expensive, can attract non-education finance, has benefits in a wider context and could be further expanded. In view of these positive statements it may be found surprising that dual use has not been more widely introduced".

Ministers should certainly be concerned about the dangers of impairing the community use of schools as a result of the introduction of open enrolment. Yet unless an amendment is introduced to ensure flexibility for the community use of schools, the rigid admissions limit set out in the Bill will have a major impact on community use. Spare capacity will no longer be available for community use since schools will be required to fill space available up to the standard number. We very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept this amendment and in doing so show that the Government have a real commitment to the community and to adult education. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

I support this amendment and also Amendment No. 163, which is tabled in my name. There is no question but that the need for adult education provision increases, not decreases, and any change in the availability of accommodation in schools which has an adverse effect on the availability of adult education would be extremely unwise at present. We are constantly pressing the need for making provision for the less well educated and the less successful. As we understand it, that is what lies behind this Bill.

However, there are many people in our population who have been failed—let us not put too fine a point upon it—by the education system in the past. They are urgently in need of adult education. It does not figure very large in this Bill and we want to take the opportunity to stress the importance of maintaining and indeed increasing the provision through the availability of such accommodation in schools. It is also true that the availability of such accommodation in schools is a great help to voluntary bodies of one kind or another. I know that the Government are keen to encourage them and that they increasingly rely upon them with the idea of partnership between voluntary and statutory bodies and the private sector.

This is a very down-to-earth matter and there must be rooms in which to meet. These rooms in schools are at no cost or are extremely cheap. If they had to pay the full cost, many of these organisations would simply go out of business. It is an extremely practical point and I believe that it is very much in line with the Government's objectives. We wish to draw their attention to it so that the availability of this accommodation is preserved for those who so badly need it.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I wish to add a few words in support of the amendment. I feel very strongly that adult education is of the greatest possible importance to the health and happiness of so many people. Basically, I am thinking of the right that we have almost established, or which we are on the way to establishing, of an adult to be able to educate himself and to continue to educate himself from the cradle to the grave. That is the principle of community education. I am thinking of the number of adults who, as my noble friend Lady Seear said, feel that they failed at school and want a second chance. The fact that one has failed at school may not be entirely one's fault. One needs a second chance and adult education provides that.

Many adults need the therapy that is provided by adult education, possibly in getting away from their families for one precious morning or evening in the week. Even more movingly, it may be in order to combat loneliness. I have had personal letters—no doubt other Members of the Committee have too—from people who say: "Do not take away our adult education in London because I depend upon it. I live alone and it is the only time that I get out and see anybody, quite apart from what I actually do".

I also feel that it is terribly important in schools that children should have adults around. The old days are over of the monastic type of school where one saw no one but one's school mates. More adults should appear in schools and be around the place. Best of all, they should share learning facilities with the children and perhaps sit side by side with them in class, studying the same subject; for example, in a French class where an adult wants to learn the language. I cannot help feeling that his influence, sitting in a class with the children, must have a beneficial effect upon them.

The mixture is very important. One hopes for at least some assurance from the Minister that the interests of community learning will not be adversely affected by this Bill, that the Government have it in mind and that they will make provision.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

The issue of community and adult education use of a school's facilities is important. We are aware of the concerns and I feel sure that local authorities will keep this very much in mind.

It is certainly not the Government's intention that the introduction of more open enrolment should prevent such use, but the primary purpose of school buildings during school hours must be the education of the full-time pupils enrolled at that school. However, having said that, we recognise that some schools have community or adult provision which serves a valuable educational purpose and we would not wish this to be lost.

We have not ignored the point. The guidance to which I previously referred that the department intends to issue to local education authorities and others will demonstrate how such use should be taken into account when calculating the physical capacity of secondary schools. In the light of that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I have listened carefully to what my noble friend said. I hope she realises that this amendment is not just about what is traditionally called adult education, as I believe it seemed when the noble Baroness was speaking, although I may be mistaken. It is also about the use of schools by all kinds of groups; for example, youth groups, the Girl Guides Association, the Scouts, the Women's Institute and other such groups.

We need to consider this in the context not so much of the capacity of schools but the effect of financial delegation upon them. In this Bill we are altering the way in which schools will relate to community education. I believe that the way it will change could be very healthy, but the Government need to look very carefully at what the effect is likely to be.

I take the point as regards these amendments and I dare say that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord do as well. As we go through the Bill we need to keep this matter very much in mind because it is a very important point indeed.

Baroness Seear

I believe the noble Baroness said the draft notes being drawn up by the department will deal with this matter. We are getting that answer rather often. It would be very much more reassuring if the legislation made it clear that the department was expected to draft something along those lines. We are being asked to take on trust that the department will do the right thing. We should much prefer to have a general indication in the Bill that required it to do so. After all, it is still Parliament and not the Civil Service which decides what should be done in this country.

Baroness Hooper

I recognise the argument of the noble Baroness. Nevertheless, I hope that she will accept my reassurance on this point.

Baroness David

I am disappointed with the answer. I thought that my Amendment No. 156 was very straightforward and could not possibly do any harm to the Bill. It would give reassurance to all those who are so involved in local communities and community education. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I feel that we want something on the face of the Bill. Reassurances and draft guidance, whatever they may be, are not good enough. We shall read what the noble Baroness said, but I may come back on Report with something similar, if not exactly the same, because I am not satisfied with that response. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Stewart of Fulham moved Amendment No. 157:

Page 14, line 13, at end insert— ("( ) The authority may fix a number lower than the standard number in respect of any school (the admitting school) where either—

  1. (a) the governing body; or
  2. (b) more than 40 per cent. of the parents of registered pupils, at a neighbouring school (the neighbouring school) where intake is likely to be affected by the fixing of an admission limit at the admitting school equal to the standard number, request it to do so on the grounds that the neighbouring school could otherwise reasonably be expected to experience an undesirable imbalance in its racial composition in relation to the composition of the area as a whole, and this could reasonably be expected to prejudice racial harmony within the school or the local community.").

The noble Lord said: Some years ago, before we were as familiar as we are now with the sight of our black fellow citizens in this country, an anxious mother asked her little girl, "Are there any coloured children at your school?" She was surprised to receive the reply, "No, mummy, there are no coloured; they are all either black or white". That was quite a natural answer for a child to give because children know the words "black", "white" and "coloured" primarily in the context of the picture books from which they learn to read. In those books the illustrations are either black and white or, if one's school afforded a more expensive kind of reading book, coloured. That was the child's answer.

We see there the mother anxious and a little worried about her child mixing at school with people of different race and origin. The child—a child, one hopes, of its generation—regarded it as quite natural that black children and white children should be together in school. We must hope that that is the way the world will go.

I raise this matter now because we have heard so much in recent debates about the right of parental choice. I invite all Members of the Committee who have spoken or thought about parental choice to consider this point. What about the white parents who want their children to go to a school that has, if possible, only white children in it, or, if that is not possible, has as few blacks as can be managed? What about the black parents who take a similarly harsh and narrow view of what their choice will be? Do those who support parental choice regard that kind of choice as desirable or as something to be encouraged? If that is the kind of choice many parents make it will be extremely unfortunate for the public welfare.

I confess that I see no way—at least in simple legislative terms—of preventing people from making that kind of choice if they really want to. To cure people of that kind of view is a longer process to undertake; and not only for politicians. But at least it must be clear that the state apparatus does not do anything to encourage that kind of choice.That is the point of this quite modest amendment.

Perhaps I may give an example. Let us suppose that as a result of this provision the number of children which a particular school can accommodate is increased, and more children are admitted to it. More white children then go to that school, leaving the balance of races in a neighbouring school tilted decidely towards the black section of the population. I should have thought that if in a particular local authority area the total proportion of ethnic minorities to the whole population is 30 per cent. it would be admirable if in each school there was that proportion also. However, one cannot expect that to come about. One merely wants it not to be farther away from that than can be avoided. Above all, we do not want one school being known and thought of as the white school and another being known and thought of as the black school.

My amendment would apply if that danger appeared to be arising. The amendment could not operate rashly or rapidly and could operate only if either the governing body or more than 40 per cent. of the parents of registered pupils felt that there was going to be an imbalance of ethnic communities in their school. They could then request the local authority to fix a number lower than the standard number, so that the imbalance would not occur.

This is a modest attempt to deal with what could be a serious problem. I think that the noble Baroness who is to reply will agree with that. The general trend of the Bill is to stimulate what is regarded as the competitive spirit. However, if it produces competition between the black school and the white school, the result will be disastrous. In their concern for parental choice and for variety of schools the Government should be aware of the danger they are in here. I hope they will give the matter some attention. I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper

The Government believe that the provision for more open enrolment will offer to all parents, of whatever ethnic origin, a better chance of having their preferences met, and existing safeguards against illegal discrimination will continue to apply. As now, no schools will be able to refuse admission to a pupil on racial grounds. Nor will they be able to set criteria for admissions priorities, in the event that there are more potential pupils than places available, that discriminate between applicants on racial grounds.

In Amendment No. 157 the noble Lord proposes that some parents should have the opportunity of wider choice denied to them, not because there is no room in the school they want for their children but essentially in order to try to dictate some kind of racial balance in schools. The Government yield to none in their opposition to racial discrimination, but experience has shown that it is probably well-nigh impossible to try to achieve such a balance.

Attempts to do so in the past, through busing, have failed. Demographic patterns vary considerably across the country and naturally schools to a large extent reflect these patterns. Many schools already have a high proportion of ethnic minority pupils and many such schools are very good indeed. The Government's aim is to improve the quality of schools overall, whatever their ethnic composition, and we believe that more open enrolment will help towards that aim by demonstrating which schools parents prefer and meeting those preferences as far as is physically possible.

I should like to make it clear, however, that the Government are in no way complacent about the problems of a multi-ethnic society. We remain committed to promoting mutual respect and understanding among all the citizens of this country. In the current financial year, we are supporting expenditure of £1.4 million under the education support grant programme for pilot projects related to educational needs in a multi-ethnic society. We are also supporting a total of £2 million of expenditure on training in the planning and delivery of the curriculum in a multi-ethnic society. This expenditure will cover costs of training school teachers and further education teachers.

In the light of these observations and assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

6 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that if parents make choices on racial grounds there is a case for removing those choices. If the Government are serious about the importance they attach to removing racial prejudice and racial discrimination, they will agree that certain basic principles and moral values must come before mere choice. One of the most dangerous developments that can take place in a multi-racial society is a growth in racial prejudice, intolerance and discrimination. If that happens, the likelihood of racial conflict and violence between racial groups is greatly increased.

Learning to live with people from different racial backgrounds and learning to be aware of differences without assuming that one group is somehow superior to another is part of growing up in a multiracial society. In order to create an environment in which this can be learnt by children and by young people, they need to go to school together and need to do so from the earliest possible age so that they mix with children from different ethnic groups from the beginning. Segregating children according to the colour of their skins must—I am sure the Minister will agree—be avoided wherever possible. Respect for other cultures can be more easily developed when children are made familiar with other cultures, rather than the cultures seeming strange and, as a result, possibly threatening.

The segregation of children from different religious backgrounds in Northern Ireland can hardly have helped to foster better understanding between the two communities which live there. Worse than that, it may even have directly contributed to the hostility and fear that exist in the Province. Therefore would it not be a good idea if we were to try to learn from those lessons as regards relationships between the black and Asian community and the white community in the rest of Britain? Should we not try to avoid the type of segregation that has existed in Northern Ireland among religious groups as regards school children? It is for that reason that it was sad to hear the Minister remark that if open enrolment provisions led to more all-black, all-Asian or all-white schools in areas where the population is racially mixed, then so be it.

The open enrolment proposals could mean that parents not only expect to be able to choose but that they also have the right to do so. Further, perhaps some of them may start to exercise what they see as their right to choose on racial grounds, and on racial grounds alone. Events which recently took place in Dewsbury demonstrate the potential danger in this respect.

The amendment is designed to introduce a safeguard. It would give a neighbouring school the right to request the LEA to fix a lower number than the standard number on the grounds that otherwise there might be an undesirable imbalance in the racial composition of the neighbouring school. It would allow LEAs to respond by planning admissions in a rational way, employing non-discriminatory approaches. Thus it would be a great pity if the Bill had the unintended effect of undermining existing legislation on race relations, especially Section 1 of the Race Relations Act 1976. For that reason I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Stewart.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I should like to say a general word or two. I too support the amendment. I hope that the Government will take seriously the unfortunate events which recently took place. The first was in Dewsbury, and the other was the unfortunate occurrence in Manchester. Such matters must be taken seriously and not treated lightly. Two basic facts should be borne in mind about the whole issue. One is that the handling of the problem within one school depends more than anything else on the quality of the head teacher. If he knows how to handle the difficult question of a multi-ethnic population within his school, everyone will be happy together. However, if he does not, disasters can happen—examples of which we have heard about.

The other matter which must be borne in mind is that children know not the evil of discrimination; it is taught to them by their parents. Normally happy children accept each other completely. For example, not so long ago I visited a primary school in London where I sat down with the children at lunch time. They were all mixing together without thought; that is, black, white, yellow and everything else. However, I was told that there was another school—again a primary school—just down the road where there was a most unhappy atmosphere. I am saying that children only learn from adults about discrimination. Therefore the adults around them must be wise and sensitive, especially the head teacher himself or herself.

Lord Trafford

I think that for once I perhaps agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said. I say this especially after our earlier disagreements this afternoon. My anxiety about this type of amendment is not that I disagree with the aims to which she and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, have referred; it is the sheer complication of the application of such matters.

For example, as I mentioned earlier in connection with another amendment—when I spoke about the area of social deprivation, whether it was a good school or not so good a school and its difficulties—such amendments can be used as an excuse by education authorities or parents to manipulate the system, in just the same way as if one introduced many other restrictions. I think one either has a situation of choice and numbers or one has not. There are many other ways in which that concept could be concealed. I say "concealed" because I think the word "manipulation" might be somewhat strong in this context.

The example of Northern Ireland given by the noble Baroness is just one such situation. That is another sphere in which it is extremely difficult to implement this proposal in practical terms. That would be one of my major objections to implementation. If one has decided to have parental choice—for good or for evil—and then one starts qualifying it with many other types of restriction, one might just as well abolish the whole thing in the first place. Therefore I would stick to this concept. It is in the context of the family and the child growing up in its own home environment that a situation such as that to which the noble Baroness referred—which no doubt was the reason for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart—should apply. However, it should not interfere with the central theme of the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone

I should like the opportunity to respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, has just said. Once again, he has shown his rather attractive suspicion of the motives of local authorities. He suggested that they would use the amendment as an excuse to find other ways around the legislation. I do not believe that they would do so in this case. However, I accept that there are always practical difficulties in trying to qualify a basic principle. Nevertheless, basic principles sometimes need to be qualified in the interest of other perhaps bigger and broader ones. That is what I think the amendment is seeking to do.

Lord Beloff

I am puzzled about whether the amendment, which relates to the most important question of open enrolment, in a way goes too far in this sense. If the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, is right there is a danger that in choosing a school parents will take their ethnic or indeed their religious convictions into account. For example, Moslem parents would prefer their children to attend school where they would be surrounded by other young Moslems, and the same situation would apply to white and black children.

Surely that would be the case even if open enrolment had not been introduced. That would be so even if we had a system in which the intake would be limited by the local authority. As long as one has the option of choice—I understand the principle of choice is not questioned by the noble Lord—the same type of problem would arise. The situation might be made more difficult if the prospective numbers in the relevant schools were changed by preventing the total in the larger school being increased still further. However, it does not affect the principle.

Therefore, there is a great deal to be said about whether one objective of education policy should be to give priority to good race relations over other aspects of education policy; and whether—this is the other point—one believes that better relations would be assisted most compulsively by the integration of children at the earliest possible age, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, suggested.

That seems to be an important issue but, in a way, too big a one to take on board when we are dealing with possible limits or non-limits—whether the 1979 figure or some later figure be adopted for the size of school. In that sense, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, will give us the benefit of his reflections and proposals on relations between the education system and the betterment of race relations. I totally share the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, but on a less technical point than the one we are at present discussing.

Baroness Hooper

Perhaps I may add another word to what I previously said. I understand that at present there are at least 12 maintained schools in England whose pupils are all from an ethnic minority, and about 50 schools with 90 per cent. or more ethnic minority pupils. A large number have 75 per cent. of ethnic minority pupils. Those developments are dictated largely by patterns of settlement. There will be many reasons for parents' choice of school. Convenience and geography will figure high. Schools will therefore continue to reflect that pattern. Segregation is no part of the Bill, and in not accepting the amendment we are merely underlining the fact that in giving parents choice in this matter we do not wish to circumscribe that choice in any way.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

When we wish to move amendments this side of the Chamber is always told that they are either too big, in which case they are wrecking, or too small, in which case they are not worth proposing. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, aright, he felt that I had not gone far enough and that logically I should go further. The matter of good race relations is a considerable problem. It cannot be solved solely by educational policy. I never supposed that it could. I was not attempting to do that this time.

In the course of the implementation of the policy of open enrolment it may well happen that in a particular locality there will be an imbalance of the ethnic composition in certain schools. That may be injurious to good race relations. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that if that should happen, or should appear to happen, the governors of the school, the parents and the local authority can take steps to prevent it. That is all that the amendment proposes. I am not suggesting that we try to provide a universal panacea or a pattern of how children of different races should be put into different schools. All I am saying is that in the course of the open enrolment policy which the Government are urging we may make the racial problem worse in a particular authority's area. If that happens there should be a remedy. That, and nothing more than that, is what I am proposing. I should have thought that the Minister could have gone that far.

On Question, amendment disagreed to.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 158:

Page 14, line 13, at end insert— ("( ) In fixing the standard number for any school, the authority shall determine, in accordance with guidelines issued by the Secretary of State, a formula for the accommodation requirements of pupils with different types of special needs, and guidelines shall be issued by the Secretary of State after consultation with the local authority associations, and such organisations representative of parents, staff and professionals and specialists as appear to him to be concerned.").

6.15 p.m.

The noble Baroness said: My moving of the amendment is based on experience and deep feeling. During the years of the thalidomide children, a number were sent to the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital in Oxford, Subsequently, a proportion of the parents felt that they could not care for their thalidomide children. Other parents felt that they wanted to care for them. The trouble was that if the schools did not have the facilities parents could not care for the children and they had to go away to residential establishments. It was right that the parents should have the choice of whether or not they cared for those children. That applies to the whole spectrum of handicapped children—to spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, Down's syndrome and so on. Right across the board, there are a number of parents who want to care for their children and a number who feel that they do not have the capacity to do so.

Since the passsing of the 1980 Act, so ably introduced in this place by my noble friend Lady Young, many schools have developed facilities for all types of handicapped children. I know of a number of schools with classes for deaf children. They have all the apparatus to teach them. There are other schools that are so constructed that they may take children suffering from spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and other physical handicaps. But the development of such facilities is uneven throughout the country. Therefore in some areas parents do not have a choice. That is partly because introducing facilities for handicapped children in terms of buildings, equipment and staff is expensive. In schools one needs to have ramps, specialised types of cloakrooms, lavatories, wash basins and baths, visual aids for blind children and, as I said, special equipment for deaf children. Many schools do not have all that equipment. A number of schools do not know what equipment they should have.

Not so very long ago I visited a school to which a mother had asked whether her spina bifida son could be admitted. The school wanted to show compassion and sympathy to the parents and admitted the child. The school had not realised what facilities would be needed to deal with such a child. There was therefore a terrible sadness in that family; the child was admitted and after a while had to leave because of a lack of facilities. That is a situation in regard to which there needs to be consultation.

The amendment proposes that, guidelines shall be issued by the Secretary of State after consultation with the local authority associations, and such organisations representative of parents, staff and professionals and specialists". As regards professionals, the National Association of Voluntary Organisations for Handicapped Children is a good organisation, There are specialists, such as physiotherapists, who can recommend what sort of apparatus should be used.

In the amendment it is suggested that the Secretary of State should consult all those people and that they together should decide what apparatus, buildings and facilities there should be within a school so that children can be admitted if the parents so wish and if they can otherwise look after their children at home. I beg to move.

Lady Kinloss

I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in this amendment. In deciding how many pupils a school should take, account should be taken of children with special needs in the school. Special provision made for children with physical disabilities may affect the capacity of a school. Admitting more pupils to a school could prejudice the education which the school can provide for children with different types of special need. The amendment is seeking guidelines from the Secretary of State which local authorities must follow before they decide how many children a school should take.

Baroness Hooper

I understand the concern that has prompted this amendment to safeguard the position of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools. The Government share this concern. I have already mentioned in a different context the guidance which the department will be issuing to local education authorities and others, after Royal Assent, which will recommend a formula for calculating the physical capacity of secondary schools and which will make allowance for the space requirements of pupils with special educational needs.

Local authority associations and others with special knowledge and interests will be consulted on the circular prior to its publication, and I think they will then be able to make any comments they think are applicable. But I also believe that they will be reasssured by what we suggest in those guidelines. I hope that in the light of this assurance the amendment may be withdrawn.

Baroness Faithfull

I am very grateful to the Minister for her encouraging words. I am bound to say two things. First, it is eight years since the Education Act 1980 was passed. It is very sad that we have progressed so little over those eight years in helping children with special educational needs in our schools, that being the intention of the Act.

It is reassuring to hear that the department will issue guidelines, but I think the situation calls for more than guidelines. It needs encouragement, help and very deep consultation with, I suppose, the HMIs. I think that it needs a much more concerted effort than we have made hitherto. However, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 159:

Page 14, line 13, at end insert— ("1A) No school shall have its admissions total increased by more than 10 per cent. in the age group of admission in any one year, and where the operation of this section would otherwise be likely to produce an increase in the total of admissions greater than that number in respect of any school (or a decrease greater than that number in respect of any other school in the area of the local education authority), the authority shall make an interim standard number or numbers for such number of years as would enable the school to reach its standard number over the shortest practical period consistent with the need to retain the orderly provision of education services across the area of the authority").

The noble Baroness said: This is a fallback amendment in the light of the fact that we were unable to get the restrictions on admissions which we had hoped for in the interests of maintaining standards in schools and to restrict the numbers of certain cases where it seems proper to the local authorities and the governors to do so. Given that that is not permitted, we are now asking that the increases should be of a modest kind, limited to 10 per cent. in each age group each year. The schools will thus find it much easier to accommodate the increase in numbers which they may well be forced to take than would be the case if they had to take an unlimited number.

Of course, this conflicts with the sacred doctrine of free choice of parents under all circumstances whatsoever. But what we are asking in this amendment, as we have asked in other amendments, is this: while fully recognising the importance of parental choice, we feel the question is much more complicated than merely the rights of parents to choose, and that should not be the unlimited rule. In the interests of maintaining the standards in the schools so that they are not overwhelmed by an increase in numbers, we ask that this amendment be accepted. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

I should like briefly to support the amendment, although quite obviously the same arguments which we had earlier on in the afternoon could also be introduced on this amendment. The point seems to me to be that it will make it easier for educational planning. I plead that there should be some consideration given to the task which faces those who have to implement educational policies locally. I hope very much that the noble Baroness will give some encouragement here so that the process of increased parental choice does not go to extremes in any given area.

Baroness Hooper

This amendment seeks to retain what it terms the orderly provision of education services across the area of an authority. But it amounts to a rejection of the whole principle of more open enrolment, that where parents want to send their children to a school they should be able to do so if the school has room. If a school is popular with parents, then in the Government's view it should be allowed to admit pupils up to its real capacity. There is no reason to hold it back by means of the kind of expedient set out in Amendment No. 159. Some local authorities already offer maximum choice to parents without upsetting their overall provision, as I have already mentioned. We see no reason why others should not be able to follow suit. Authorities have a fairly accurate idea of total numbers coming into their schools and should be able to predict at an early stage what the distribution among schools is likely to be, taking account of the preferences expressed by parents. If admissions processes are set in train in good time it should be possible to plan the distribution of resources in advance and without too much difficulty. I therefore urge noble Lords to reject the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

May I ask the Minister whether she has the figures of how many local authorities do not comply with this policy?

Baroness Hooper

I am sorry that I do not have the precise figures at this moment but I shall let the noble Lord know.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Can the noble Baroness tell us how this affects schools with falling numbers? In them the local authorities are having to use their best knowledge, considering the finance of keeping certain schools open and of closing others for a variety of reasons. What happens under this legislation if the school which the local authority is going to close is considered to be one of those to which all the parents want to send their children but there are not enough children to keep the school filled? What happens then if the parents appeal to the Secretary of State on closure grounds? Does the local authority consider the cost effectiveness of closing the school, or do the parents have priority rights in keeping a school open?

Baroness Hooper

I believe that this policy will help local authorities by giving parents the choice. It will underline which schools are the popular schools and those which, because of falling school rolls, have to be closed and which are the most suitable for closure.

Lord Glenamara

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness one question. She said in her reply that local authorities are planning this in advance. How on earth can they do that? If I were a parent I might wish my child to be enrolled in a certain school. I discuss this with my wife overnight and go along the next morning to the school. This could happen within a few hours. Supposing the numbers wishing to go into the school were, say, 15 or 17 per cent., increasing the numbers by that percentage would make nonsense of the planning of the school. How can the local authority or the schools plan for this in advance?

I also entirely reject the statement of the noble Baroness that this is attacking the whole principle of open enrolment. It is no such thing. It is helping it; it is making an orderly changeover to the system which the Government want. I ask the noble Baroness to think about this and about her reply.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Young

While my noble friend is contemplating her reply on this, she might consider what I have seen as the way in which this might well work out. After all, let us take the moment of transfer from primary to secondary school where this is most likely to occur. Most parents will be contemplating where their children are going in the last year of primary school. It will not be absolutely the case, but I think for most parents this would be the big decision. I have no doubt that under the 1980 arrangements they will be invited to express a preference. They will have the appeals procedure and this opportunity to apply for entry to a school up to what would have been its 1979 limit. In the course of all that there will be exactly the cases that the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, has identified.

Some parents will make up their mind in November and others no doubt in March, but clearly there will be a time in which all these pieces of information are collected together and the local authority will have to make its decision in the light of the information it receives, as it has to make its decision in the light of the information which it receives under the 1980 Act.

What we are actually talking about is not the bulk of the decisions; it is the ones which are in a sense at the margin but which matter a very great deal. I should have thought that the way that this provision will work out will enable local authorities to make their decisions. They will know the upper limits on the most popular schools because they are defined under the Act, and they will have a very clear indication as a result of all of this as to which schools are more popular than others.

I think it is very important—this point has not really come out—that the provisions under the 1980 Act on providing information about schools so that parents can make a sensible choice really do need to be looked at. That is a task both for schools and for local education authorities. Parents deserve sensible information about schools' intentions. That is something which needs to be weighed in the balance in order to answer some of the anxieties of those who feel that parents are unlikely to be able to make a sensible choice. If parents can have the chance to compare information and visit different schools they are in a better position to make a choice.

Baroness Hooper

I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving us the benefit of her knowledge in this matter. I of course fully agree with her explanations. If admission processes are set in train in good time it should be possible to plan the situation, even taking into account the odd last minute arrival. Quite possibly the introduction of open enrolment will cause local authorities and indeed schools to revise their admission policies and to further promote them, which should help.

Again I think that we can turn to the experience of those authorities which have a more open enrolment policy. I am now in a better position to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, as regards his question and I can say that Kent is the local education authority best known for having a form of open enrolment. However, I understand that Bradford, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Solihull and possibly even Birmingham would also be likely to claim that they offer a degree of parental choice where admissions are restricted only by school capacities. Those are some examples of authorities which already carry out that policy. They are examples of experience from which other authorities which may feel that they have problems can benefit.

Lord Glenamara

I shall reply to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I am very much in favour of open enrolment and not against it at all. I am not sure whether as the law stands now we do not already have open enrolment, if only parents realised it. My noble friend Lord Dormand is nodding, and he was a chief education officer. The law as it stands gives parents the right to send their children to any school.

The changeover from primary school to secondary school is fairly simple and of course parents would plan in advance for that. But this provision, as I understand it, would apply to parents who wished to change the primary school or the secondary school of their child. I imagine that in a typical local area with four or five primary schools word gets round quite suddenly, for instance, that one school is doing very well in the tests that the Government are going to initiate. I imagine that word would be passed round at the local women's institute, at the towns women's guilds or after church on a Sunday morning, and a large number of parents would wish to change the primary school of their child. That is what I mean when I say that choice is unpredictable. I am quite sure that no one can plan for that. So a school could conceivably get an influx of a very large number of pupils in a very short time. That would make a nonsense of this Bill. I think that the Minister should look at the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, because I think it is eminently sensible.

Lord Dormand of Easington

As my noble friend referred to me nodding my head, perhaps I had better say that the open enrolment to which he refers is of course governed by such things as staffing and by physical facilities. But having said that, what my noble friend has said is correct.

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Lord sits down I wish to say that there is a significant difference between the system as it is at the moment and the system proposed in the Bill. The difference is that local authorities at the moment do have the power to restrict admissions to schools. They have the power to agree admission limits to schools. I can give the Committee a very real example of a school in Cambridgeshire which has had up to two forms of entry restricted in order to prop up another school which is failing to attract pupils.

Baroness Seear

The Committee will not be surprised to hear that I find the Minister's answer very unsatisfactory. She is committed to this total support of parental choice regardless, as if there were only one consideration to take into account. She repeats that with every amendment that is put forward. The matter is much more complicated than that. The Minister supports those assertions by stating again and again that the Government's decisions are right. She does not tell us why they are right; there is no argument behind that. It is a constant assertion of a faith that she holds. We really are wasting our time in most of the amendments that we are putting forward because we are up against a brick wall. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 159A not moved.]

Lord Somers had given notice of his intention to move Amendments Nos. 160 and 161.

Page 14, line 20, at end insert ("unless the school can furnish evidence that it has made alterations (to buildings or otherwise) to cater for a larger number"). Page 14, line 20, at end insert— ("( ) The number admitted to any school shall not be larger than will enable the average class size to be not greater than 30.").

The noble Lord said: We have talked enough about numbers this evening and I have no intention of moving either of these two amendments.

[Amendments Nos. 160 and 161 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 162:

Page 14. line 20, at end insert— ("( ) Subsection (1) above shall not apply where the permanent buildings at the school cannot in the view of the authority responsible for the school provide adequate accommodation for the total number of pupils.").

The noble Baroness said: In speaking to Amendment No. 162 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 166 and 178A. The aim of this group of amendments standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, is to ensure that only permanent buildings are taken account of when the standard number for a school is being decided. Temporary buildings would be disregarded.

The proposal that admissions can be based on the standard number defined by reference to 1979 intakes assumes that the relationship between pupil numbers and accommodation as it was in 1979 is still appropriate for 1989. That is very far from being the case. A range of curricular developments in this period have important implications for class sizes and therefore for accommodation. The introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education, the GCSE, the Certificate of Prevocational Education, the CPVE, and the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, the TVEI, are just some of the more significant changes. There are many schools which have been able to cope with these developments within their 1979 accommodation by taking advantage of having smaller pupil numbers. If they were obliged to return to the same numbers as 1979 there would be either overcrowding or a need for considerable capital investment in additional accommodation.

Many schools accepted a higher than normal intake in 1979 by virtue of using temporary accommodation which has since been removed with a consequent improvement to the overall standard of accommodation. A return to 1979 numbers would put the clock back by reversing this process. There are other schools which as part of a LEA's drive to reduce surplus places abandoned the use of unsatisfactory temporary accommodation and adjusted numbers accordingly.

It may possibly be argued that it is the Government's intention in such cases that the effect of temporary accommodation should indeed be disregarded. However, statements made so far have not been fully reassuring, and it would put the matter beyond doubt and reduce the potential for bureaucratic and timewasting wrangling if a simple statement such as is set out in one or other of the suggested amendments above could be included in the Bill. I would suggest the wording in Amendment No. 178A.

There are other cases, moreover, involving temporary accommodation where a statement such as the one suggested would be even more necessary. For example, at some schools temporary accommodation is still in use but is nearing the end of of its useful life, and since there are sufficient places in the area in permanent accommodation it would be sensible to abandon the temporary accommodation and to adjust the numbers accordingly.

LEAs are striving to arrive at a position where all pupils all the time are educated in accommodation of a good standard, and that objective will be frustrated if LEAs are obliged to continue to maintain temporary accommodation when it would be possible and helpful to remove it. Temporary accommodation is very expensive to maintain. A DES study published in 1977, A Study of School Buildings, stated that the cost of maintaining temporary accommodation could be up to nine times greater than the cost of maintaining permanent accommodation. It does not represent value for money and effective use of resources if LEAs are obliged to maintain temporary accommodation unnecessarily, at the same time as they have spare places available in permanent accommodation.

It is no answer to suggest that schools with spare places should be closed. That may be the right and feasible answer in some cases, but in many others it is not because the number of spare places is marginal and it would not be possible to take a whole school out of commission without leaving hundreds of children with no school place to go to.

The proposal in Clause 20 that admissions are to be determined by reference to numbers admitted in the year prior to implementation of the new Act if higher than the 1979 numbers is also relevant. There will be any number of reasons why the admissions of that year are abnormally high. But a typical example—I take Hertfordshire—would relate to the use of temporary accommodation to cater for a temporary bulge in numbers as a result of another school closing. That is a real possibility. The fact that such exceptional measures are taken for a short period to assist the rationalisation provision certainly does not mean that it is sensible, feasible or efficient for the school to be expected to retain the temporary accommodation and admit on a continuing basis higher numbers than are justified by the permanent accommodation.

Altogether it would be sensible if the Bill could enshrine the principle that calculations of school capacity should have regard only to permanent accommodation and that temporary accommodation should be disregarded. This would promote efficiency, effectiveness and quality education, better standards of accommodation for all, the removal of surplus places, a reduction in unnecessary and wasteful public expenditure, the concentration of available resources where they could be used most effectively and for the benefit of all pupils and the avoidance of lengthy, costly and unproductive wrangles between the partners in the education service. I hope that the Minister will see the point of these amendments and, if the wording of none of them is totally acceptable, that she will take them away and perhaps come back with her own suggestion at Report stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper

The Government believe that existing temporary accommodation should count towards a school's physical capacity. To disregard it would be to underestimate that capacity. So Amendment No. 162 would make matters worse. It would not only appear to disregard temporary accommodation, but would also allow admission authorities if they saw fit to set an admissions limit lower than the capacity of the school's permanent buildings.

Amendments Nos. 165 and 166, which are, as I understand it, alternatives would also appear to mean that temporary accommodation would be disregarded where an admission authority wishes to set an admissions limit higher than the existing standard number. Restrictive provisions of this kind are, we believe, an unnecessary limitation on the greater parental choice that the Government aim to achieve through their policy of more open enrolment. The Bill already lays down procedures enabling admission authorities to apply for lower standard numbers where the accommodation available can be demonstrated to be inadequate in the light of the existing numbers. The standard number represents admissions over a whole school year and so is a good guide to total capacity.

Since the aim of more open enrolment is that schools should admit pupils up to their existing physical capacity if the demand is there, where temporary accommodation forms part of that existing capacity it is only right that it should be taken into account. Parents will presumably be aware of the type of accommodation available at the school and they should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want their child to go there notwithstanding.

If an authority or governors consider that temporary accommodation is unsatisfactory and should be removed, they would be free to do this under the new arrangements provided that the school can still admit up to its minimum admissions limit—the standard number. If such removal would mean reducing the school's physical capacity to below its standard number and there is demand for all the available places, the school will have to retain or replace the temporary accommodation. If there appears to be no demand requiring the use of such accommodation, then of course the local authority or governors could risk removing it on the understanding that they could replace it should demand revive.

I am aware that many schools have taken the opportunity provided by falling pupil numbers in recent years to remove temporary accommodation and may therefore no longer be able physically to accommodate the number of pupils that they could in 1979–80. This would be one set of circumstances on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would have to reflect in considering an application by the local education authority or governors for the standard numbers to be reduced.

I believe I have emphasised that the 1979 standard number provides a starting point for the assessment of capacity. If that number no longer reflects true capacity, perhaps because the temporary buildings have been removed or because of curriculum developments, then there are, as I have said, procedures for applying to have that standard number adjusted. For those reasons we do not believe that the amendments can be accepted.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness David

I forgot to make one point in relation to Amendment No. 165. In fact, I think it is a mistake that Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 are both down. I suspect that one was put down in my name and one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, but the names have been amalgamated. There is a point about the numbers in each group over the five-year period, and we are presumably thinking of an 11 to 16 school. Are the Government really going to take into account the numbers in each age group when they are thinking of the standard number and the accommodation provided for each age group, because it can very often be that the numbers vary considerably?

Baroness Hooper

I understand that it is the overall capacity of the school and, therefore, all age groups which are involved in terms of establishing the standard number.

Earl Russell

I should like to speak to what I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me for describing as the prefabricated amendment. I speak to it with some feeling as coming from a college where many of the teachers are still in the temporary accommodation where they were placed for a few short months in 1945! I found the Minister's reply wholly unsatisfactory and it seems to me to raise big questions which are central to a good many of the debates that we have had on this Bill.

What is being said on this side of the Committee—and I should like to think that the point has been taken on board opposite—is that there is some connection between freedom of choice and provision of resources. You may in theory provide freedom of choice for all sorts of things, but if those things are not sufficiently there, what you are providing is something very like free elections without opposition candidates.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I thought my noble friend had dealt with that in her answer. The parents would know that the temporary accommodation was there, and in making their choice would take that into account. It is not as though they were asked to buy a pig in a poke. If they recognise that the quality that will come out of the school justifies what is now called temporary accommodation, they will make their choice. If they do not, they do not. But I thought my noble friend dealt with that point in advance.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Will the noble Baroness clarify a point? I may not have correctly understood her. Let us suppose that a school has got rid of its temporary buildings and therefore its figures now are not the figures that it would have been admitting in 1979. The local authority has decided that there is provision in other schools and the temporary buildings have been pulled down. Am I correct in thinking that the noble Baroness said that if a school wished to go back to the 1979 figure, it could ask the Secretary of State to reconsider the matter so that provision could be made?

Baroness Hooper

There are procedures in the Bill to enable schools and local authorities to revise standard numbers. If that revision is agreed to and if it is reasonable to remove the temporary accommodation, that will be taken into consideration. If it proves unreasonable in the circumstances to remove the temporary accommodation, it may be that the school will have to reinstate it.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Is that cost effective? If there are already places for pupils in a school and that school has got rid of its temporary buildings, surely it is a waste of public money to rebuild when there are places available in other schools simply because the arbitrary figure of 1979 is used.

Lord Trafford

Perhaps I may take up a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady David. Surely that matter is largely covered in Clause 24(1)(a) which states: as a result of changes in availability or use of accommodation at the school, there is any change in the amount". Apart from the use of "temporary"—a word that is open to interpretation because, as has been pointed out, "temporary" can be of very long duration—that surely covers 95 per cent. of the pointers of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady David.

Baroness Hooper

I hope that I have explained that there are procedures to revise the standard number. It is not a case of sticking to the standard number through thick or thin. The standard number equates to the number of pupils which a school can admit in the year or years when pupils are normally admitted. However, the department's guidance on the assessment of capacity will advise schools to look at their total capacity. In the case of an 11 to 16 year-old school, there would be a capacity for five age groups. The admissions limit would then be calculated by dividing that total by five.

Baroness David

To answer the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, one of my amendments, Amendment No. 178A, is to Clause 24. I know that local authorities are very worried about that matter and wanted the amendment to be put down.

Educationally speaking, surely it is better not to have temporary accommodation. If that has been counted for 1979, it seems to me a great pity that it should be counted now. It is much better not to have it. It is not perfect for educational purposes. I am sorry that there has been no better response to the series of amendments than to all the others concerned with open enrolment. I shall withdraw the amendment. However, like the noble Baroness. Lady Seear, I am profoundly disappointed and dismayed by the answers we are getting to this series of amendments. 1 beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 163 to 169A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 170 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 170A and 171 not moved.]

Clause 20 [Standard numbers for admissions]:

Lord Stewart of Fulham moved Amendment No. 172: Page 15, line 37, after ("and") insert ("subject to paragraph (22A) of Schedule 10").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 282, which refers to Schedule 10 of the Bill. The effect of the two amendments is to make the relevant year the year before the arrangement comes into force rather than 1979, because 1979 was a year when accommodation was at its height. If we are to require schools to provide up to the standard number that was available in 1979, that will have a number of effects which have been described in discussing other amendments. It will mean that temporary accommodation which has been abandoned or put to other uses will have to be brought back into use for ordinary educational purposes. It will mean that accommodation which has been made available for community uses and which may now be very much treasured for such uses by the community will be taken away.

It will also mean that although the actual places will be available, they will not come up to the standards of educational accommodation which will be required in 1991. We ought to look at the number of places that would be available if the standards were to be enforced now. I believe that those reasons suggest that a date later than 1979 would be preferable. I suggest that the date should be the year before the provisions come into force.

Perhaps I may add one other point which is not completely relevant to the amendment but which underlies a great part of our debates. We have been told over and over that we should not interfere with parents' choice of school and that a choice should be made available if it is physically possible to do so. Perhaps Members of the Committee who have advocated such a course have noticed that that makes a complete nonsense of all the arguments advanced in favour of 11-plus exams and selective education. If it is true that it is the parents' choice that matters, that means that whether a child goes to one school or another should be determined by parents and not by the hocus-pocus of the 11-plus examination. I leave that point for the consideration of noble Lords opposite who sometimes try to defend parents' choice and selective education at the same time. That cannot be done.

Baroness Hooper

I was somewhat mystified as to the purpose of the amendments. If I have understood the noble Lord correctly, his general aim is to replace the standard number of schools as defined in Clause 20 by reference to Section 15 of the 1980 Act with a later admission figure.

There are no grounds for doing that. All schools have standard numbers which are related to the physical capacity of schools more closely than the later admissions figure in most cases would be. In recent years falling school rolls have affected first primary and then secondary schools, while since the 1980 Act came into effect, school admission limits have in many cases been set at a level lower than the relevant standard number. The existing standard number is thus a reasonable yardstick if, as is the intention, schools are to be enabled to admit pupils up to their actual physical capacity rather than to some later figure which does not reflect capacity. If, for whatever reason, the existing standard number no longer does that, the Bill as drafted deals with the matter.

Where the level of admissions in the school year immediately preceding commencement of more open enrolment is higher than the existing standard number, that higher level of admissions will automatically become the new standard number. Provision is made for admissions in excess of the existing standard number and for this to be increased or reduced by means of the prescribed procedures. In short, the Bill's existing provisions provide a solid basis on which to assess a school's real physical capacity. I ask the Committee to reject the amendments.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

It is my instinct that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, let the cat out of the bag about what was behind all the amendments that have been withdrawn and with which we have not had to proceed. He was wanting to suggest some kind of inconsistency in regard to our wish to enlarge parents' choice and how it would fit in with the testing period. How he presented the argument showed the real feeling behind all the amendments. As I detected it from Opposition speeches, they want to whittle down parents' choice.

Noble Lords


Lord Harmar-Nicholls

That is the impression that the arguments gave. Noble Lords on the Opposition Benches must present their arguments differently if they want to present a different impression. I hope that my noble friend will not allow them to whittle down the tendency to give parents a real say in where their children should be educated.

Baroness David

What we want to do is to give more parents real choice, not some parents.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Earl Cathcart)

Before calling Amendment No. 173, I advise the Committee that, if it is agreed, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 173A to 174.

[Amendments Nos. 173, 173A, 173B, 173C, 173D and 173E not moved.]

7 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 174: Page 16, line 38, after ("pupils") insert ("(including nursery pupils) and the resources and curricular use to which space is allocated in the school and its present capacity").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of the amendment is to require the admissions authority for a school when reviewing a school standard number, to have regard not only to any change in the school's capacity to accommodate pupils but also to the resources and curricular use to which space is allocated in the school—I emphasise "curricular use".

As the Bill stands at present, when the admissions authority—the local education authority for a county school and the governing body for a primary school—reviews a school's standard number, the only factor that it can take into account is the change in the school's capacity to accommodate pupils. The Notes on Clauses indicate that a change in capacity can occur in two ways: first, a change in the availability or use of accommodation of a school, and, secondly, a change in the school premises regulations. It is not clear whether the change in availability or use of accommodation at a school can be caused through a deliberate decision of the local education authority or governing body to develop a new curricular use such as a requirement for more use of space for special educational needs or TVEI, or through an unexpected circumstance like a building being destroyed by fire.

The general effect of the clauses relating to standard number is that governors will have the power to increase the standard number of admissions level to what they see fit, and to go to the Secretary of State to seek to raise it as he sees fit. We wish to ensure that due account is taken by the governing body in reviewing the standard number of admission levels of, first, the capacity of the school, bearing in mind that nursery classes may now be using classes formerly used for other primary classes, and pupils' particular requirements; and secondly, the capacity of the school, bearing in mind the use of space for new curriculum developments, for example, microtechnology, craft and design, primary science, home economics, drama and physical education and the admission of pupils with special educational needs.

As a general point, this chapter of the legislation ignores the growing practice of having nursery classes incorporated in or attached to primary schools. We fear that unless there is some reference to this in the Bill the provision could disappear as a result of nursery pupils under the age of four years and six months not being counted in the standard number because their education is non-statutory. We fear also that conditions could be worsened for those children admitted to reception classes if due account is not taken of their particular needs in terms of space, equipment, resources and staffing.

I hope that the Minister will accept that there is an important point here and that clarification is needed. I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper

Clause 24(1) already establishes that for the purposes of this chapter a school's capacity to accommodate pupils is changed if the premises regulations change or if there are changes in the availability or use of accommodation at the school.

I am not entirely sure why the noble Baroness thinks that the amendment is necessary. I assume that her concern is to allow for the possibility that space will be required to house new curriculum initiatives—indeed, she mentioned some. We share that concern and are providing for it. The guidance to be issued by the department will suggest a formula for calculating physical capacity that enables account to be taken of different space requirements arising from the differing needs of particular subjects, as I have already mentioned once or twice.

The reference in the amendment to nursery pupils is inappropriate. Nursery pupils do not at present count in the determination of standard numbers. The Bill does not propose that they should do so in future. Pupils in primary schools will count for the purpose of standard numbers when they are first admitted to a reception class at whatever age that may occur.

A school that has a nursery class or unit on the premises makes appropriate accommodation available for that provision in accordance with the different space standards for such pupils. The existence of that provision will be taken into account in determining the capacity of the school to accommodate other pupils.

If the noble Baroness is concerned that the more open enrolment requirements might squeeze nursery provision out of primary schools, I can assure her that the provision is safeguarded by the Education Act 1980. If a local education authority or governors wish to discontinue or add a nursery class, they must publish proposals under Section 12 or Section 13 of the Act, to which parents and others may object. I therefore think that the amendment is not necessary.

Baroness David

If a nursery class has been put into a primary school because numbers have fallen and the classroom is not needed for the purpose for which it was previously used for primary school children, would that classroom be counted in the standard number? Would the nursery class be disregarded and the standard number bolstered when, so to speak, there was no nursery class there?

Baroness Hooper

I regret at this stage of the proceedings it is a little difficult to be clear about that. I said that a school that has a nursery class or unit on the premises makes appropriate accommodation available for that provision in accordance with the different space standards for such pupils. The existence of that provision will be taken into account in determining the capacity of the school to accommodate other pupils. It seems to me that accommodation is part of a standard number.

Baroness Seear

We want to be told, in quite plain English—because that is what we are concerned with—that the nursery classes will not get pushed out. Let us not use the language of the Bill. We want to be sure that nursery classes will remain whatever is done with standard numbers, and in particular that they will be there when the primary numbers start rising again, which they will.

There is a danger that if there is a popular primary school with a new influx of little chaps coming along to be educated and the parents want them at that school, they will be brought in and the nursery children will be pushed out. We want to keep our nursery classes and long, long ago, I would remind the Committee, so did the Prime Minister.

Baroness Hooper

I recognise the importance of nursery education and I believe that the guidance to be issued, which will be helpful in so many areas, will also be helpful in this area. It is not the intention to push out existing nursery provision in schools where it has proved successful.

Baroness Young

I suggest to my noble friend that this is a very important point which crosses all sides of the Committee. I hear myself arguing very much in favour of nursery education and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has asked for an answer in plain terms and we should all like to know. I fully appreciate the complexity of all the arguments about space, standards, numbers, classes, those who are pupils and those who are below age and so on. If it is not possible to get an answer at the Committee stage, which may well be the case, perhaps my noble friend will be good enough to write to me and to the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Seear, before the next stage of the Bill. To have it set out would be very helpful. In fact no one wants the nursery classes squeezed out where they are now playing a very important role.

Baroness Seear

I thank the noble Baroness for putting the matter in a much more conciliatory way than I did. I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper: please do not tell us that it will all be in the regulations. In this particular matter we need something on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Hooper

There is nothing on the face of the Bill to push out nursery classes, and so nursery provision will remain.

Baroness Blackstone

Will it be possible for the Minister to give a clear answer to my noble friend Lady David's question? We are still left a little confused as to the answer.

Baroness Hooper

The question put by the noble Baroness is similar in terms to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, which I have just answered by saying that there is nothing in the Bill to push out nursery classes and therefore nursery classes will remain.

Baroness David

After all this discussion, in the morning I shall certainly have to read with the greatest possible care everything that has been said. Having done that, I shall know whether to come back at Report stage, because I must confess I am not absolutely clear about this matter even now. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Procedure for reduction of standard number]:

[Amendments Nos. 175 to 177 not moved.]

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 178: After Clause 22 insert the following new clause:

("Special arrangements in respect of admissions to aided or special agreement schools

.—(1) Section 6 of the 1980 Act shall be amended as follows. (2) In subsection (3)(b) (which excludes the duty to comply with a parent's preference for an aided or special agreement school if compliance with the preference would be incompatible with arrangements between the governors and the local education authority), for the words "in respect of the admission of pupils to the school" there shall be substituted the words "made under subsection (6) below".

(3) After subsection (5) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (6) A local education authority shall, if so requested by the governors of an aided or special agreement school maintained by the authority, make arrangements with the governors in respect of the admission of pupils to the school for preserving the character of the school; and the terms of any such arrangements shall, in default of agreement between the authority and the governors, be determined by the Secretary of State." ").

The noble Baroness said: The new clause introduced by this amendment fulfils an undertaking given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place on 23rd March and reiterated by me during the course of the Second Reading debate on 18th April. Its purpose is to meet concerns expressed by the Churches about the effect that more open enrolment might have on the particular ethos of voluntary aided and special agreement schools.

There is of course already provision, in Section 6(3)(b) of the 1980 Act, for governors of such schools to refuse to admit a child if admission would be incompatible with arrangements they have with the maintaining local education authority, even if there are places available in the school. However, concern has been expressed that some local authorities might not always be willing to agree to such arrangements. I should just say here that the Government are not aware of any widespread problem in this regard, but the amendment we propose will strengthen the existing provision, by requiring local education authorities to make arrangements with the governors of these schools in order to preserve their particular character, where they are requested to do so by the governors. In the event of the two sides being unable to reach agreement, the Secretary of State will be able to determine what would be reasonable arrangements in the circumstances.

It has been suggested that arrangements of the kind provided for in this new clause should remove the need for governors to consult local education authorities annually about the suitability of their admissions arrangements, as required by Section 33 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. I would certainly hope that arrangements designed to protect the character of these schools would be long-term, and certainly, once the Secretary of State has laid down reasonable terms for arrangements, he would not expect to have those same arrangements referred to him subsequently. Appropriate reference to this will be made in the new circular of guidance on admission arrangements now in preparation. However, the new provision cannot replace the annual consultation requirement laid down in the 1986 Act, since this relates to all aspects of the admissions arrangements, and not just to the question of the school's character.

The Government believe that this new clause, building as it does on existing safeguards, is a sensible and balanced way of meeting the Churches' concerns to preserve the particular character of their aided schools. I therefore commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of London

I should like to welcome this amendment on behalf of the Churches, and also to welcome the eagerness with which the noble Baroness sought to put it forward. It seems to me that this amendment is not only right in the letter, but also reflects the spirit of the dual system which we wish to see continued and which we have been at such pains to maintain. I hope this amendment will be accepted. It has the support of the Churches with whom we have discussed it.

The Duke of Norfolk

I too would like to welcome this amendment. It stengthens the willingness of the Government to make quite certain that voluntary schools are not changed by open enrolment. There is one slight point that might be the cause of some worry, which is that even if there is only a small number coming into a voluntary school—say, a Church of England school or a Catholic school—the financial consequences might be considerable. I understand, however, that they are unlikely to be very considerable and that the Minister is going to watch this point and make certain the voluntary school does not suffer by suddenly having to find a lot of extra money. I think the Government have underlined this amendment very well and I am most grateful for it.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

I do not intend to oppose this amendment, but I am interested in the situation that occurs in certain parts of Lancashire and of the Blackburn diocese where some schools now have 75 per cent. ethnic minority children. What is the situation there? Does this change the ethos of the school or not?

The Lord Bishop of London

I speak only as one who has been occupied in working the dual system that we have had over the years in the Church of England. The Church of England has always sought to maintain the principle that we are not there purely for our own denomination but as part of the overall provision of education by the community. We have therefore never sought to restrict our admissions in any narrow way. Certainly we have experienced in recent years the pressure to admit those of other faiths—as was mentioned—very often on the ground that a Church of England school provides certain religious characteristics which cannot always be found in county schools.

In operating this policy we have clearly had to take account of the local situation. We seek to solve each case in question. I believe that as a result we are shown to care for our own ethos and characteristics while at the same time taking our part in the life of the community as a whole.

One can always argue where the balance is to be struck, and so on. That sometimes presents problems. However, by and large the system works very well. One of the characteristics of the school—that it is explicitly committed to a religious standpoint—is maintained. The teaching that is given takes account of that. Possibly parents will seek to withdraw their children, as they are entitled to do, from specifically Christian teaching. But I do not believe that our policy of trying to keep the balance between a school that is specifically for one Church and a school which is there for the community is a bad policy. I believe that it has worked out. I believe that such a policy can be carried out without losing the characteristic of a school. If that is to be done, we need exactly the kind of amendment that we have here which gives us the flexibility to work out satisfactory arrangements with the local authority.

Baroness David

I am very glad that the Churches have what they want. As I said when I moved Amendment No. 153A earlier, the Churches have precisely what we wanted for every school. That is somehow ironic. I do not wish to be a spoilsport. I am glad that somebody has what they want.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Interpretation of Chapter II]:

[Amendment No. 178A not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Viscount Long

It is time for some light refreshment for those speaking on the Education Reform Bill. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, before we take the next business, will the noble Viscount say that we shall not resume our consideration of the Education Reform Bill until half-past eight?

Viscount Long

My Lords, yes. I agree with the noble Lord. I apologise.

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