HL Deb 23 March 1993 vol 544 cc199-322

5.2 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, we return to the Education Bill although, after the discussion on the Statement, it may be worth commenting that it comes before us at a time when, by accident or providence, there is anxiety about where our society is and where it is heading. The appalling murder of a young child in the North West crystallised a general fear that there is a breakdown in morality as well as a rise in juvenile crime.

We must not exaggerate the situation, still less be stampeded into a panic reaction. Yet there is anxiety about our society and therefore about what knowledge and values are being encouraged in our schools. In response to that, we need a consensus, a coming together, of interested groups to make common cause in pursuit of acknowledged goals in education. That is surely one of the key endeavours in the formation of young people.

The Church of England has been part of the education system of the country ever since a national pattern emerged. Today some three-quarters of a million children are in Church of England schools and there are almost as many in Roman Catholic schools. We are in partnership with the state and are concerned not just for church schools but for the whole system. We are concerned not just for religious education but for all education. The Church of England wants to work with others in laying foundations for the future pattern of education.

The Government have helped by setting in hand over recent years a number of reforms which have clarified our objectives in education. It is not for me to state the aims of the education policy of Her Majesty's Government; yet, as an interested participant, I perceive the steady opening up of the education system within a firm national framework.

There is a national curriculum while schools have greater autonomy in financial and staffing management. Schools are required to publish more information about both their aims and their achievements in order that parents can make a more informed choice. There is greater emphasis on moral and spiritual values and a recognition of the contribution of religious education. There is also firm movement towards encouraging more 16 to 19 year-olds to remain in full-time education. Surely those are some of the primary and commendable objectives of current educational policy.

It has been said that the Bill lays the foundations for the next 25 years just as the 1944 Act has served us for the past 50 years. The foundations of the 1944 Act were firmly laid over many years after painstaking debate. Today we need to work together for equally secure foundations for the future.

People come to education from different angles and in so doing indicate different perceptions. Those responsible for the national curriculum might see education as the imparting of knowledge. Local education authorities might see education as a community responsibility. Parents might see education as a means of achievement leading to qualifications. Teachers trained in the child-centred approach might see education as a way of developing the individual. Sponsored governors might see education as equipping young people for employment. In the present climate, governing bodies might see education as a financial enterprise where cost-effectiveness is a priority. Those approaches—of course, I have simplified and stylised them—are not necessarily right or wrong nor are they necessarily incompatible. They are indications of the diverse approaches which need to be held together, each making its contribution.

What concerns me is that the Government obviously have not worked for common agreement. In preparing the Education Bill they have set themselves a timescale which jeopardised consultation and fragmented opinion rather than consolidated it. They set a short and awkward consultation period. They failed signally to fulfil their own pledge given at the end of the White Paper: The Department for Education and the Welsh Office will take account of the views of interested parties in these proposals in preparing the legislation". In fact, the legislation was published at the end of the consultation period and all views and representations had to be worked in, if at all, on the hoof by amendment.

The way in which the Government handled the process has tragically worked against consultative agreement. Even now the Churches are awaiting sight of amendments which might or might not meet the anxieties which we expressed at the end of the consultation period. More explicitly, the White Paper tended to put teachers, parents and administrators at loggerheads. The White Paper stated: Parents know best the needs of their children—certainly better than educational theorists or administrators, better even than our mostly excellent teachers". However, parents, teachers and administrators should not be set against one another. They need each other and they look for encouragement to work together. Education without the good will and expertise of the teaching profession is a lost cause. Therefore, I shall support an amendment that will enable the setting up of a general teaching council. That could provide a forum for different groups to work together to improve quality in the teaching profession.

The General Synod of the Church of England recently debated the Education Bill. Amid anxieties about small schools, religious education and the shortage of governors of adequate calibre, the greatest apprehension centred around grant-maintained status, not just for church schools but for the pattern as a whole. I have to say that, as yet, I find no consensus in the Church of England for grant-maintained status. In due time, we in the Church shall have to decide whether we can recommend church schools to go grant-maintained. We await the final shape of the Bill and the extent of clarification and assurance offered by the Government. So far as we are concerned, on the particular matter of grant-maintained status the jury is still out.

Education surely is the responsibility of the community, both nationally and locally. The Government have to their credit liberated schools and given them greater freedom to manage their own affairs. Parents have more say, and more choice. Governors have more power and more scope. But what about the local community? Governing bodies may now have sponsored governors, and they may forge better links with the local community. Today's parents may have more say in the status of the school, although the decision of today's parents may limit the choice of tomorrow's parents. But the removal of the local authority from direct responsibility for schools weakens the link between school and community.

Local education authorities have not all been impeccable nor beyond criticism. But many of them (and I speak from local knowledge) have been imaginative, socially concerned and reliable. To run them down so that their staff will inevitably be of a lower calibre will diminish their support for schools in the less "successful" areas and will weaken links between school and community. A further concern is that reduction in the responsibility of LEAs could be the first step—deliberate or accidental, I do not know—in weakening local democracy. I listened with acute interest to the debate on the future of the police. I have heard it said that one Cabinet Minister sought to reassure critics by saying that we are "redefining local democracy". Well, if that be so, we need to see what the new definition is before we go much further. Parliamentary democracy is dependent upon a democratic infrastructure. If local democracy is weak, Parliament will be less secure and credible. So, on those general and far-reaching grounds, I am anxious about the diminution of local authorities. But more immediately, I am concerned about the direct impact on education of reducing the role of the local authority.

The gradual removal from the LEA of any strategic role in education means that education will increasingly be run by a centralised funding agency dealing direct with 23,000 schools. There is no provision for any intermediate body to co-ordinate hopes and concerns in each area. Co-operation is left to chance and to hope. That will not do, and I guess that it will not work.

Competition is healthy and necessary. It should be harnessed and used to help the system forward. But there is also the need for co-operation. Human beings, in the understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, are both competitive and interdependent—each person of infinite value and every one of us dependent on others. Any system which fails to do justice to those two interlocking aspects of humanity will falter. If LEAs are effectively to be cut out of strategic planning, then we shall have to create informal unofficial bodies to express the minds and aspirations of local communities. Otherwise the system will fracture and fragment. It is a risk to shrivel the local education authority without providing in its place any clear means for the expression of co-ordinated local aspirations, covering an area wider than each separate school.

There has long been a partnership between the voluntary sector and the state. Church and county schools have worked alongside one another. The Government have expressed their appreciation of the voluntary sector. I think that I can with justice say that most church schools are popular and successful. We are proud of that, as we are glad of the Government's appreciation. But I am anxious for the future.

The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church as providers of schools have representatives on every local education committee. As there is no longer to be a requirement to have such a committee, so the Churches' position in the structures will steadily disappear. Hitherto, we have been able to engage with others at the planning stage, before opinions and recommendations for schools have set firm. With the new arrangements, that begins to go. To ensure that the Churches continue to have a presence in the formal structures as providers of a significant proportion of schools, we have pressed that we should be represented on the funding agency and on SCAA. That has met with a response from the Government, but, I have to say, only a partial response.

At a late stage in the proceedings in another place a new clause, Clause 257, was inserted in the Bill which makes wholly discretionary the grants to the voluntary sector. Some of those grants have long been discretionary but others have been mandatory. The Government are now making all payments to the voluntary sector discretionary; in other words, a future Secretary of State, hostile to the Churches or to the voluntary system as a whole, could overnight cease payment to aided schools which could be forced for financial reasons to become controlled or grant-maintained. Parliament and the Churches will be powerless and the voluntary system wholly at the mercy of a future Secretary of State. Surely that is not right if we are to be sure that church schools are free to continue to make their contribution to the system.

Government officials were in discussion with Church officers about this probable change last summer. To my regret, I did not grasp the significance of the proposals until recently. As soon as I saw the text of the Government's amendment, I made clear my deep anxiety. I have been in touch with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds who tells me that the Roman Catholics are as anxious as we are. I cannot think that it is the nation's wish to put the whole future of the voluntary system so totally at the disposal of a future Secretary of State. Too much by this Bill is left in the unfettered hands of the Secretary of State. That is one instance, but a crucial one, of where that power should be circumscribed.

We welcome the Government's concern to improve the provision of religious education. The Secretary of State recently approached the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal and the Chief Rabbi about forming at national level model agreed syllabuses for use by local standing advisory councils on religious education. We welcome that initiative. The religious education syllabus should be improved and more closely co-ordinated across the country while allowing freedom to different localities to make their own adjustments in the light of ethnic, cultural and religious factors in the area.

Local SACREs will still have a significant responsibility but our concern is that they will find it increasingly difficult to function effectively. As LEAs have less responsibilities and education committees probably disappear, there will be a reduction in the number and expertise of education staff and probably a decline in their calibre. Therefore the staffing of SACREs will decline. We already have information about LEAs cutting the financial provision for their SACRE. Model RE syllabuses at national level need to be supplemented by well resourced local SACREs; by ensuring a supply of qualified RE specialists; and by making sure that governing bodies employ them.

There are remaining matters of concern to the Churches: the arrangements for small schools; the more flexible use of Section 2 and Section 86 moneys from the sale of redundant schools; property provisions in relation to church schools going grant-maintained; and others. We have made our anxieties on these matters known to the Government. They have responded sympathetically and we await sight of their amendments. But until those are available and we have time to study them, we reserve our position.

There is much in recent legislation and in this Bill which we welcome. Whatever the final shape of the Bill, we shall continue to work in partnership with the state. My hope is that even at this late stage we can move towards greater consensus so that we work together, not anxiously and with reserve, but willingly and in firmer and lasting partnership.

5.21 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I warmly welcome this Bill and congratulate the Government on its principles and on its proposals. I wish to speak briefly today on three themes. First, I wish to identify aspects of previous legislation, on which the Bill builds, which have already begun to bear good fruit. Secondly, I wish to indicate why the measures in the Bill are necessary by highlighting some of the remaining problems in our schools which it seeks to address. Thirdly, I wish to flag up some issues on which it may be desirable to try to improve the Bill as it passes through your Lordships' House.

I must apologise most sincerely as I must leave almost immediately after I have spoken to take a consignment of medical aid to Armenia and to Nagorno-Karabakh, where the situation is still critical. I am sad that I will have to read the rest of the debate rather than hear the speeches. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for that.

I begin by commending the Bill wholeheartedly because I believe it is sound in basic principles and in the measures proposed to put those principles into practice. Every member of your Lordships' House must agree with the Bill's basic aim, which is to ensure that every child receives as good an education as possible. If our education system were already achieving this goal, the Bill would not be necessary. But evidence shows that, for many years, the system has been failing, and is still failing, far too many of our children.

I hasten to emphasise that there are many good schools and many dedicated, excellent teachers. They deserve recognition, appreciation and support. Many of them are now rejoicing in the opportunities provided by earlier legislation; for example they are benefiting from local financial management or working in the thriving new grant-maintained schools. Those are success stories because they have succeeded in devolving power to parents, teachers and governors, enabling key decisions to be made where they can be made most effectively, at the level of the individual school. Those are some of the achievements of recent legislation, as my noble friend the Minister emphasised in her opening speech.

Other provisions from earlier legislation have achieved some improvements in standards. The national curriculum should ensure that every child has a basic education spread across key subjects. The requirement for schools to publish more information about the quality of education they provide has given parents much better sources of information on which to base their choice of school. The policy of open enrolment has turned the principle of choice into a reality for many parents who were previously denied choice by local education authorities bent on protecting less popular and less good schools at the expense of children. There can never be complete freedom of choice but its significant extension has resulted in many more parents obtaining places at their preferred schools and in greater pressures for schools to be responsive to parents' wishes.

So this Government's commitment to fundamental principles has already been demonstrated. There is the principle of greater parental freedom of choice. That freedom has always been enjoyed by the well-off but is too often denied to parents dependent on LEA schools. There is the principle of diversity of provision in which schools can develop their own distinctive characteristics, providing education most appropriate for their pupils and their communities. There is the principle of commitment to quality and to a rounded education which enshrines the spiritual and moral aspects of education, and a curriculum for pupils whose interests may be academic or those with other kinds of abilities and enthusiasms. It was because of those educational principles, the values they represent, and the policies which began to implement them, that I changed my own political allegiance from Labour to Conservative. Many other people have made a similar move because the Labour Party's policies of enforced homogeneity, with the imposition of a monolithic LEA comprehensive system, simply do not work and have failed too many children.

Recent examples of such failure abound. Noble Lords may have read about the profound disillusionment experienced by many parents at the school which was the flagship of Left-wing education policies; namely, the famous Holland Park Comprehensive. In an article entitled "An English education has penalised my son" in the Evening Standard of 9th March, a parent from Eastern Europe described how the school had failed his son. The parent said that he, would be embarrassed to return him to a school in Eastern Europe". The child's dismayed parents blame lax attitudes such as the failure to set and mark homework, the refusal to set regular tests to assess progress and the failure to teach moral or social values.

Another former pupil, from Bangladesh, who attended the same school described how her parents had removed her from that famous comprehensive after four years and sent her back to Bangladesh for a "proper British education." Those specific examples of the failures of one school, which has embodied progressive. Left-wing education ideology for decades, illustrate wider, very disturbing trends in parts of' our state system. They have been proven by systematic research; for example the decline in reading standards and literacy which have stunted the educational progress of many children, documented by Martin Turner, inter alia; the serious underachievement in maths of many British children, compared to youngsters in Germany and Japan demonstrated by Professor Prais; and disturbing increases in truancy shown by Dr. O'Keeffe and Patricia Stoll.

Those are the continuing problems which prove the need for the measures in this Bill. Some of them are already being remedied by previous legislation. But there are still schools giving pupils educational short shrift. There is a need for further measures to bring them to account or to close them down. Hence the provisions in the Bill designed to tackle the problem of failing schools. We cannot allow schools to continue to deprive children of the best education possible. Every child depends on school to provide a precious, once-off opportunity for a good start in life. And, too often, the schools which fail their children are those serving the least well-off communities, with parents least able to articulate their requirements as many do not speak English, who cannot take options available to the better off financially, and who therefore rely on the schools to give their children a good start in life. So, I believe we should welcome the provisions in the Bill which will help to avoid pupils getting the kind of raw deal I have already illustrated.

More positively, the Bill's provisions will help good schools to enjoy greater freedom and autonomy to provide even better education for their pupils. The schools which have already attained grant-maintained status are generally huge success stories and they are thriving with their new-found autonomy. Virtually all are oversubscribed; they are providing excellent education and responding to parents' and pupils' requirements with all the accountability which their freedom to run themselves gives to them. Therefore, the provisions in this Bill which will make it easier for schools to become grant-maintained, and which will limit the amount of money which LEAs can spend on campaigns designed to prevent or hinder processes enabling parents to opt out, are warmly to be welcomed. The amount of money spent by some LEAs in producing propaganda against opting out has been very disturbing.

That brings me to the question of the role and future of LEAs. I must pay tribute to the invaluable contribution which our local authorities have made to the development of education in this country. They have played an historic role in extending education to every child and in fostering local schools to meet local needs. However, times change. In recent years some LEAs have put political ideology before educational excellence. Even though many LEAs are still carrying out their responsibilities extremely well, the time has come for our education system to become more decentralised, with more power devolved to those who provide that education directly in the schools and to parents and pupils who are the prime beneficiaries. That is where accountability should be enshrined. That is what the Bill promotes.

Mention of the decentralisation of power leads me to my final theme: identifying some of the areas where I believe the Bill as it stands is problematic and could be improved. First, there is general concern about Clause 1. It appears to give general powers to the Secretary of State, extending over the entire provision of education, including higher and further education. I welcome my noble friend's reassurances on that point because clearly it is not the purpose of the Bill, which follows a White Paper focusing entirely on school education. It may be desirable to consider an amendment which clarifies that issue.

However, I must dissociate myself from those who argue that the Bill's powers relating to schools are unacceptable in their centralising tendencies. In so far as such tendencies exist, the Bill is designed to enable such powers subsequently to be decentralised. That is the entire thrust of the provisions enabling more schools to become grant-maintained. Once they have attained and enjoyed that autonomy it would be a brave government which subsequently sought to remove their freedom.

I should also like to highlight two other areas of concern: access to grant-maintained status and religious education.

I warmly welcome the Government's commitment to allow new schools to opt into state funding through the grant-maintained system. However, there is a problem relating to the criteria which the Government may use when assessing proposals for a new school. One key indicator for that assessment is whether there are surplus places in the area. If, as is often the case, there are already too many school places in the maintained sector, new school promoters have a problem. I believe that parental preference is crucial here and I wonder whether there should not be a provision which places a duty on the Secretary of State to consider not only the number and distribution of places but also the relative popularity and success of each school in the area and the extent to which it meets parental wishes.

I also fear that some provisions in the Bill may discourage new schools from opting in; in particular, those preventing a promoter of a new or existing school from submitting proposals for funding until 10 per cent. of an area's pupils are in the grant-maintained sector. If a school has already started up and attracted parents those parents have already voted with their feet out of local authority schools.

Your Lordships may have heard me speak on earlier occasions of the John Loughborough School in North London. It is an excellent school, and there are many others like it throughout the country. Those schools satisfy the Government's criteria of high standards, choice and diversity. They have been set up at great personal sacrifice by parents who are not well off but who are so dismayed by the quality of education in their LEA schools that they have acted in despair, establishing their own alternative schools. Those parents have been let down by LEA schools and we owe it to them to enable their children to receive the education which they have chosen, and to which they are entitled, without having to make such great sacrifices. With the recession biting hard, those schools are in desperate need of official recognition and financial assistance. Many of them are new faith community schools; many are new Christian schools. Making them wait until the 10 per cent. trigger point applies could send them under forever.

The Bill as it stands also causes problems for schools which find themselves in sparsely populated areas such as Devon. The excellent Small School in Hartland, Devon, is convinced that if the provisions of the Bill as it now stands are unchanged it will never have the opportunity to opt in. A similar problem confronts parents living on Exmoor who are trying to establish a new school to serve the interests of the local community. If the Government are keen to see the grant-maintained system take off, and parents to have greater choice, those schools should be allowed to opt in as soon as possible.

I turn finally to religious education. There have been many encouraging developments in the teaching of RE since the Education Reform Act 1988. However, the spirit of the law has been implemented less than satisfactorily in a number of ways. For example, many LEAs have not made any attempts to reconsider their agreed syllabuses. Therefore, I ask my noble friend whether the Government might consider placing a duty on LEAs to convene a conference and to draw up a syllabus within, say, 18 months. I appreciate that my noble friend has already made reference to that point.

I also wish to ask my noble friend whether the Government will consider taking action to ensure that agreed syllabuses drawn up after 1988 will be in line with the requirements of that Act. The recent National Curriculum Council report shows that there is not one agreed syllabus which meets legal requirements. That is little short of scandalous. It also demonstrates the problems confronting those who are trying to implement the spirit of the 1988 Act, which was intended to ensure that RE would reflect the fact that Christianity is the main spiritual tradition in this land, to maintain the integrity of Christianity and of other faiths, and to respect the rights of other faith communities.

There is also concern over the efficiency of the RE complaints procedures. For example, some parents have had to wait two to three years for a complaint to be processed. I hope that my noble friend will therefore consider an amendment placing a time limit on the complaints procedure. Also, parents and families have been victimised when they have made a complaint. I therefore hope that my noble friend will consider an amendment enabling parents to make a complaint while remaining anonymous.

I finish where I began, warmly commending the Bill, which is a charter for choice and opportunity. I congratulate the Government. I wish them success in achieving their goals of providing a better education for all children. There can be no more important objective; for young people themselves, for their parents and for the future of our nation. For too long we have allowed too many young people to be deprived of their rightful heritage of a good education. Improvements have been made and are under way. The Bill will continue to remedy the problems which remain and will build on what has been achieved in order to give all children the education which they and the nation need and deserve.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, this Bill, in the main, is a further major step in the degradation of the education system of England and Wales. Since 1988 the Government have introduced three Bills dealing mainly with schools—first, the so-called reform Act; secondly, the infamous Act which instituted lay inspectors; and now this Education Bill—totalling 528 pages, 527 clauses and 36 schedules. That is not a millstone; it is a veritable Everest of bureaucracy laid upon our children and our, schools.

Every minute detail of the education system and how it is to work is now cast in reinforced concrete. But views on education, its content and its methods change. However, there is no room at all for flexibility in the system now. By contrast, the Butler Act of 1944 was flexible, broad, brief, and allowed for four decades of growth, change and development.

That is not the only difference between the legislation introduced by this Government and that introduced by Mr. Butler. There is a fundamental difference which goes to the very heart of our democratic system. The 1944 Act laid upon local authorities the duty to provide sufficient schools to meet the needs of every locality. This Bill removes that duty from local education authorities and places it on the Secretary of State. He may delegate it to the funding council, which is appointed by him. Under Clause 7 he takes the power to give the funding council directives on a wide variety of subjects. He has taken this power, in addition to the power which he took under the Education Reform Act 1988, to determine exactly what is taught in 80 per cent. of school time.

The position that we are now in in this country is that a political Minister, sitting in Whitehall in London, will determine the pattern of school provision in Northumberland, Devon, Hampshire and every other area. In addition, he will decide what is taught. If we remind ourselves that education is concerned with the immature minds of children and nothing else, the danger is only too obvious. The dividing line between education and indoctrination is a very delicate one. The noble Baroness is nodding her head. There are already examples of Ministers trying to inject their own reactionary views into the school curriculum. Ministers have lately been telling our excellent teachers how to teach as well as what to teach.

The front page of today's Daily Telegraph contains an article in which Mr. Chris Lowe, head of Prince William School in Northamptonshire, speaks about the Government's test for 14 year-olds. He says: They have been devised by a Right wing clique". Whether that is true, I do not know. But the system which this Government have created is riddled with opportunities for that kind of thing.

In Germany after the war when the allies were reorganising the country they were very careful indeed to put education in the hands of the Länder governments and not those of the federal government. In this country after the war when we were reorganising our affairs Mr. Butler and Mr. Chuter-Ede, in the 1944 Act, dispersed power in the system among the Minister, the local authorities, the school governors and managers and the teachers and no one of those was too powerful. This Government have completely destroyed that dispersal of power.

The noble Baroness said that power is in the hands of the governors. Of course it is not. The two most important factors in education are what is taught and the amount of money available. Have the governors anything to do with those? They have no say whatever in what is taught in their schools. We now have power centralised to a greater degree than ever before in this country. For the first time we have in Britain state schools. We have never had them before; we have had local authority schools and voluntary schools. The centralisation in the education system now is greater than in any other government department. It is greater than in the health service and in the Ministry of Defence. I believe that this is a thoroughly unhealthy, undemocratic state of affairs, based on the idea that the man—I suppose, the woman as well—in Whitehall knows best and better than dedicated local authority members of all parties and teachers who have been doing the job for the past 91 years.

This edifice of bureaucracy which is lying like a dead hand on our schools is the result of two hatreds which have characterised this Government. The first is their hatred of local authorities and local democracy. Ever since they came into office they have pursued a vicious vendetta against local authorities. They have completely destroyed the broad consensus that there used to be between central and local government. That consensus existed under all governments. I am glad to note that the Prime Minister recently held a meeting to try to mend the fences with the local authorities, and about time too! How ironic that he should do that at the very moment when this Bill is going through Parliament. The purpose or the Bill is undoubtedly to phase out local education authorities, or to reduce them to a few residuary functions.

The second hatred of this Government is of the way in which our schools have been run in the past. They coined the phrases "progressive teachers" and "progressive teaching methods" as terms of derision. They were first articulated in the Black Papers which were principally aimed at me 20 years ago. They began talking about bad and inefficient schools. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has left us. Tonight she was pursuing her vendetta against our schools as she has done for many years. Even the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, who looks like a shining liberal compared with the people who followed him, was constantly harping on about bad schools and bad teachers.

This grossly offensive parrot cry has been taken up by all subsequent Ministers in that department, egged on by sleazy, Right-wing education groups who have painted, and are still painting, a completely erroneous picture of education in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, had an article published in the Daily Telegraph at the weekend. I agree with most of it, but he also said: The national curriculum started only because of widespread public distrust of teachers and educators, and perception of falling standards … But in primary schools testing has virtually stopped; and the idea that teachers should be accountable to parents and taxpayers met with derision". That is utter nonsense; it is simply untrue. Anyone who knows our schools knows that to be untrue.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, as I have just been mentioned, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord—

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords—

Noble Lords


Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, is it true that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, when Prime Minister, was the first to refer publicly to those very worries and perceptions about declining standards which the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, has just dismissed as completely unfounded?

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, I apologise to him and to the other noble Lord for not noticing that it was an intervention.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Callaghan instituted a national debate on education, and quite rightly so. What a pity that this Government did not do the same.

Anyone who knows our primary schools knows that they are probably the best in the world. They have a constant succession of visitors from other countries. It is an inspiration to go into our primary schools. I greatly resent the constant attack on our schools and teachers which is based on a completely false view of them.

Our primary schools are good because since the Second World War teachers have used progressive methods which take into account the nature of childhood and do not regard children as little men and women but as children; they believe that childhood has its own perfections. One cannot have a perfect frog before one has a perfect tadpole. That is what our progressive teachers represent. I urge all of them in this country to stand up with pride and be counted; to glory in the title and to wear it with pride, no matter what Ministers, the press or anyone else may say.

These two hatreds have driven this Government to set the clock back to the early years of this century. I started teaching in a colliery school in the North of England 60 years ago this year, so I know what our schools were like then. The standards were appalling. Of course, they knew certain things by rote, but that was nothing compared with today's standards.

We now have a ludicrous system of tests at seven years of age, and half the children who take those tests are six years of age and not seven. Tests now take place for children aged seven, 11 and 14. These are leading simply to learning by rote. The noble Baroness is shaking her head. Perhaps I may tell her about the test for 14 year-olds which was published on Tyneside last year. All the schools were set out in order of their results. The top school was Newcastle Central High School, a girls' public day school trust, an excellent school which has the pick of all the able girls on Tyneside. The next school was one in the lushest suburb of Newcastle, a place called Ponteland, where most of the houses are executive homes. The bottom schools were those in the rundown city areas, of course. I believe that it is absolutely wrong that children should be penalised in this way by having social factors taken into account.

The new tests in our schools are leading to learning by rote. The ability to learn on one's own, the love of reading, the love of finding out things for oneself are all going and being replaced by drilling to do well in the tests. The teachers will teach to the tests; the tests will test what they test and nothing more. Every teacher in the country believes that payment by results is just around the corner, so naturally the teachers, being human, want as many children to do well in the tests as possible.

The National Association of School Masters and Union of Women Teachers held a poll recently. Of the 59,000 of its members who voted, 88 per cent. voted in favour of boycotting the tests. That is what the teachers think about the tests. I watched the noble Baroness being interviewed outside the building on the subject. She was very rude about the 59,000 teachers and about Mr. de Gruchy, the distinguished teachers' leader who has given a lifetime of service to education. She must not try to emulate her boss in this respect. She is much too nice for that.

We now have the publication of results. I cannot imagine anything more grossly unfair to our children than that. It is the latest example of putting the clock back. But this month we have had a further example in the small market town of Penrith in Cumbria. I know the area well because I live in one of the feeder villages for its two schools. The small, happy, integrated town has two secondary schools. The governors of one, which is known as a grammar school although it is not, applied to the Secretary of State to be allowed to make itself selective. The Secretary of State agreed, and that has been done despite widespread opposition.

Perhaps I may read to the noble Baroness from the local paper last week what one of the governors of the grammar school who resigned said: All six groups consulted by the grammar school over the proposal had rejected the policy, with only the majority of the school's governors in support. Mr. Robinson said those who opposed selective entry included the feeder primary school heads, the majority of written responses, the majority of people who attended five public meetings and the local education authority". Despite that, the noble Baroness or the Secretary of State agreed to the 11-plus being reintroduced there. It will divide the town, a happy town. It will divide each of the feeder villages. It will damage the feeder primary schools, as, of course, it did in the past, and they will be judged on the number of pupils they get into the selective school. So it goes on.

The economy is in tatters, with 3 million unemployed, the biggest balance of payments deficit ever and borrowing of £1 billion a week to balance the budget. All that is going on, and as though it were not sufficient chaos, the Government persist in reducing the education system to chaos as well. At least it will match the economy; one can say that about it.

All that is being done in a service which, as it is concerned with children, should be administered with great sensitivity and great care. The Government have not been like a bull in a china shop. They have been like a herd of bulls in a china shop. They have destroyed everything in sight. They have destroyed the good relations, the good practices and the good will which had been built up over many decades. The result is the lowest morale in the education system that I have known in my lifetime.

Teachers are applying in droves for early retirement and depleting the schools of wisdom and experience. Such is the appalling system that the Government have created that governors welcome early retirements because they can replace those teachers with younger, cheaper teachers.

I have been involved in the education system all my adult life. This all fills me with tremendous sadness and anger. The only consolation I can find is that when the next election comes, there will be a Labour Government, who will, I hope, reverse most of what this lot are doing.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I trust that this time I have not missed an intervention on my blind side! It requires considerable temerity to address your Lordships between the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who are such acknowledged experts on education. I wish to address only one topic: Clause 1 is widely seen to pose a renewed threat of bureaucratic aggrandisement to academic freedom.

However, before I do that perhaps I may mention the business arrangements for this debate. It is accepted throughout your Lordships' House that this is an extremely important measure. Your Lordships' House brings unexampled experience and expertise to bear on it. Noble Lords will hear in due course three former heads of the Department of Education, but there are four others who will not speak and there must be many others who have been put off by the length of the list of speakers. There are 48, and the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, with his command of numeracy, managed to count in addition the number of pages, clauses and schedules. This is a formidable and important measure and yet only one day is given to its debate. Not only that, a Statement which took nearly a full hour was interposed. That is simply not the way to treat your Lordships' House or a measure of this importance. It is not the first time that it has happened; there have been repeated protests from all parts of the House. It is treating your Lordships' House as no more than a sausage machine for processing government legislation.

Having said that, perhaps I may turn to Clause 1, which is seen to threaten academic freedom largely because it is seen as yet a fourth attempt (the three previous ones having failed) to achieve bureaucratic aggrandisement at the expense of academic freedom. The first attempt was in the Education Reform Act 1988. That established the funding councils in place of the former University Grants Committee, to which a notable tribute was paid last week by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff.

There were two very sinister provisions in relation to the funding councils. One enabled the Secretary of State to give directions to the funding councils as to how they should fund the institutions of higher education. The other did the same thing indirectly by allowing the Secretary of State to attach conditions to any grant. That was seen very widely and very strongly to impose a threat to academic freedom. There were loud complaints and the matter came to a head in the other place, when the Government finally gave way on both clauses. A safety catch was fitted to each barrel and it was stipulated by an amendment finally brought in by the Government that neither power would be used institution specifically. That seemed to be the end of the matter—but not a bit of it.

Within a year or two, in relation to the grant for 1991–92, the Secretary of State, or perhaps I should say the department, laid down certain requirements as a condition of the complete grant. Over £20 million of the grant was withheld. The conditions required were bureaucratic conditions only, it is fair to say, although the line between bureaucratic and academic in that field is very difficult to draw. The institutions of higher education were required to improve the deployment of teachers and their use of time and to certify that they had done so. When they certified, then a proportionate part of the grant was released to them. Quite obviously, that was institution specific. Quite obviously it flew in the face of the amendments wrung from the Government. One of the staff teachers' associations challenged that in the High Court. The case came before Mr. Justice Simon Brown. He held in their favour.

But that was not all. The department put forward an argument which, had it been accepted, would have completely nullified the amendment that had been made in 1988. Fortunately, that too was rejected. But the department did not rest on those two reverses. In the Further and Higher Education Bill of last Session they reinstated the original provision of the 1988 Bill. In other words, they sought to withdraw the concessions that had been wrung from the Government. This time the matter came to a climax in this House, with the department fighting bitterly every inch of the way. A compromise was offered: the power to give directions was sacrificed. We were assured that that was all that was necessary. But that left the power to annex conditions to a grant and to be able to do exactly the same thing.

In the end the matter came to a head as late as Third Reading. One amendment which would have completely closed the gap was rejected. The Government opposed it and won a majority of two. Another amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, which almost closed the gap was carried in the teeth of government opposition. That was the third attempt. So is it any surprise that Clause 1 is seen as yet a fourth attempt? It was brought in at. Report stage (a very late stage) in the other place. Noble Lords know that amendments cannot be raised on Third Reading in the other place. So is it any wonder that the universities look askance at this clause?

There has recently been a case before the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House called Pepper v. Hart, which has not yet been fully digested. But it certainly seems to say that the courts can now look at Hansard as well as at the statute. That means that something much more specific is needed than the emollient tones of the noble Baroness or the bland assurances of the Secretary of State in another place. What noble Lords require from the noble Baroness when she replies is that those powers will not in any circumstances be used as institutionally specific; and if possible an assurance in the very words of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, which was carried last Session. In due course, noble Lords will expect a suitable government amendment to Clause 1 to be carried to make it clear that this is not yet another attempt to get what they failed on three occasions—in 1988, before the court and last Session—to achieve and that this is not a further attempt to arrogate the power of the department where it would cause such damage—namely in the universities of this country.

6.7 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Blatch for introducing the Bill. It is one whose principles I support: namely, the desire to achieve quality, diversity, parental choice, autonomy and accountability. The Bill is, I believe, a continuation of the 1988 Education Reform Act. I understand that 50 per cent. of the clauses are re-enactments of that Act. It would be good to think that we might concentrate on new issues. The Bill provides a new framework for schools by encouraging the expansion of grant-maintained schools and establishing the funding council to support them. Clearly there will be much debate on that framework, and it is worth reminding ourselves of the problems that this Bill and its predecessor, the 1988 Act, are intended to address.

The argument was, and I may pick up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, that too many schools—not all, not even most, but too many—were failing their children. As a nation, our average and less able pupils in maths and science were some two years behind our competitors in Germany and Japan, as my noble friend Lady Cox pointed out. Too many children were ill-equipped to supply the needs of industry, which complained; or to get a job in an increasingly technical and competitive world. Too many left too early and found the education unsatisfactory.

No other country in the Western world had conferred such freedom on teachers. In the past, standards had been upheld by the national examinations boards. They were an adjunct of the 1944 Education Act, which did not specify standards, but maintained the standards, with the freedom given to teachers.

In the 1960s and 1970s particularly bizarre new subjects sprouted up in the curriculum; the range of syllabuses became bewilderingly diverse and course-work was marked more and more by teachers in schools rather than by external examination. Great anxiety was expressed not only by parents but also by employers. That is what lies behind the Bill before us today. It is not some sinister desire by the Government to overturn the 1944 Education Act, let alone destroy local education authorities. It is extremely dispiriting that no speakers from the Opposition Benches have shown any recognition of those weaknesses in the education system which clearly require to be addressed for the sake of the children.

I was interested by what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford regarding consensus. Despite what I have just said, I believe that we are beginning to see a broad consensus over the national curriculum and the need for it and the need for testing and assessment. I am only too well aware—I have received enough letters on the subject—of the difficulties over key stage 3 in the matter of English. But, as I understand it, the problem is not about the principle of testing; it is about the type of test. I am bound to say that I sometimes think that the old adage that the best can frequently be the enemy of the good may well apply in the tests.

There is also a broad consensus of welcome for the local management of schools, which again underlies the Bill and which will be extended by it in that after 1995 local education authorities must delegate 90 per cent. of their budgets to schools. It is good that the HMI report on LMS shows that it is working as was intended. Therefore the whole of Parts I and II of the Bill encourage the growth of grant-maintained schools and the framework for funding them. That will allow greater choice and variety. There are already examples of grant-maintained schools, comprehensives, city technology colleges and some grammar schools operating side by side, thus giving greater power to parents and to governors.

We have already seen that standards are beginning to rise. I believe fundamentally that education is a long process and it will be a long time before we see the results uniformly throughout the country that we should like to see. But it is good news that grant-maintained schools are employing more teachers, have a better pupil-teacher ratio and have greatly increased spending on books and equipment. I was interested to hear that of the primary schools that have gone grant-maintained, many would like to add a nursery class. That is something I would welcome.

Part IV of the Bill, by dealing specifically with the problems of truancy and the fact that from 1993 league tables will include statistics on truancy, should deal with that serious problem. I am sure that we all agree that children out of school are children that are likely to get into trouble. The provisions on moral and religious education are of the greatest importance and are strengthened following the working of the 1988 Act.

I am sure that we will devote much time to Part III of the Bill on special needs. But I believe that the Government have gone a long way to deal with the problems that have arisen under the 1981 Act. I recall clearly as a Minister taking that Act through your Lordships' House. I am glad to see that the Government are extending parental choice by giving parents a better right to appeal, placing a duty on governors of special schools to admit statemented pupils and many other matters. They are much to be welcomed.

But there will be debate on how the new framework will work. It must be recognised that the role of local education authorities is changing rapidly. The development of local management of schools, which has been widely welcomed, and the continual growth of grant-maintained schools, which is expected to total over 1,000 by April 1994, have completely altered their role. The high turnout at elections for grant-maintained schools shows the great local interest. That success shows local commitment and involvement.

Local education authorities need to recognise the message that the new schools are sending to them week by week. It is the schools which prefer to be free and independent of the local education authority, given the opportunity. I would not in any way subscribe to the view that the Bill is knocking local government. I was involved in local government for 15 years and would not wish in any way to be a party to that. But it is true to say that local education authorities must bear some measure of responsibility for the weaknesses of some of our schools, and, above all, they must recognise the changed situation.

The question then arises: how will the new framework work? It will be essential for the FAS to work closely with the local education authority to make sure that it does not become too bureaucratic and that one set of bureaucracy is not substituted for another. I welcome the fact that the FAS would have only a small number of closely prescribed functions. Both the FAS and the LEA will need to realise that they are concerned with the needs of the pupils. It is essential also that the arrangements for dealing with failing schools are clear and can be activated in good time. I should like to hear more about how that will work and particularly who will be members of an education association should one need to be established.

I would not require a school which is not maintained to vote every year for grant-maintained status. That may well be counter-productive. I realise that there will be much more debate on Clause 265 regarding local authority services. But I can see the argument that local education authorities should trade on level terms with outside suppliers. I am confident enough in head teachers to believe that they will not be taken in by the unscrupulous.

We need to be clear also about the situation that would arise were a local education authority to fail in its duties. That said, I warmly welcome the main thrust of the Bill. In view of the time, I shall touch briefly on three specific issues. First, I should like to thank my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my noble friend for amending Clause 256 of the Bill in another place by allowing small boarding schools of 50 or fewer pupils to return to the position they occupied before the passage of the Children Act. They will now cease to be called children's homes, which was singularly inappropriate, and the amendment has been greatly welcomed by the schools concerned.

Secondly, I want to say something in regard to Clause 1. I am grateful for what was said by my noble friend and particularly grateful for the letter that I received from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on the matter. I support what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and hope that we shall be given an assurance by my noble friend on the position of freedom of the university world.

Thirdly, I have been asked—I believe others have too, including my noble friend Lady Carnegy—by the National Association of Head Teachers to table an amendment on a better definition of the relationship between head teachers and chairmen of the boards of governors. It is the most important of relationships in the management of a school and is often a difficult one. However, it is essential for the smooth running of a school and for the maintenance of high standards. I support the view that the head must be responsible for the running of the school. We shall no doubt return to the point. If we wish grant-maintained schools as well as schools with local management to survive and succeed, they must have a clear line of responsibility.

There are many issues I should have liked to raise, but in view of the time and the number of speakers I shall not pursue them this afternoon. We shall undoubtedly return to them at Report stage. I simply reiterate that I welcome the Bill. It is a further move in the right direction to address the real problems of education. It builds on the 1988 Act which is already having a profound effect for the better in our schools; and it addresses the important problem of equipping our children for the world that they will find in the 21st century.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, was it not the novelist L. P. Hartley who said: The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there"? So far as this Bill is concerned, Wales is a foreign country, and they do education differently there. Over 100 years ago we had, in the 1889 Intermediate and Technical Education Act, a statute specific to Wales which gave rise to more than 100 county secondary schools and provided a distinctive structure to the Welsh school system. Every education Act since then has accepted the principle that the local authority has the duty to provide school places. All this is now being deliberately destroyed by the Bill, and the Government should think carefully about how, in Wales, it can possibly be replaced. This Bill shows the Government have determined that, structurally, the Welsh education system shall be a replica of the English system. I have to tell them that that is a dangerous decision to make.

The Government should take careful note that, despite all the persuasive skill and vigour of the Minister of State, whose assiduity can only be admired, grant-maintained schools have not taken off in Wales. I believe I am correct in saying that only two primary schools and five secondary schools in Wales have achieved grant-maintained status. All sorts of inducements and incentives have been suggested. No school is in any doubt about the advantages which might accrue. Yet only seven have taker the bait. The Government should ask why this is so.

I can tell them that the reasons are many and complex and that they have their roots in history and in the nature of communities. Welsh historians, educators and patriots have not forgotten the infamous report of the Commission on Education in Wales, set up in 1846, which published its report in 1847 in blue covered books. "Brad y llyfrau gleision" —the treachery of the blue books—is a phrase still well known, almost as well known as Iechyd Da throughout Wales. The report is still remembered as one which damned the Welsh as an illiterate, immoral, inferior and foreign bunch. It stated: The Welsh language is a vast drawback to Wales and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people". That has never been forgotten, especially by those who were determined to reverse the decline in the use of the Welsh language in the years after 1945 and saw that the schools were vital to their struggle. Add to that the close liaison which has existed for the past century between the schools and the local authorities, and it is not hard to see why this English-based Bill, which says and does absolutely nothing about Welsh medium education, and offers to replace the local education authorities by a distant and unelected quango of nominees so perfectly delineated in Clause 3(3)(a) and (b), has not, to say the least, commended itself in Wales.

I would advise the Government that it will take far more than Sir Wyn Roberts, relentlessly touring Wales on preaching practice like the missionary journeys of St. Paul, to convert the natives to the faith of GMS. It will need a higher level of incentive—I shall not use the word "bribe" though others do—and Welsh parents are likely to be profoundly unimpressed by the funding levels suggested so far. The best first step would be to agree most of the many amendments which will be proposed at Committee stage in your Lordships' House, though, if the record of this Bill's progress in another place is anything to go by, we have small cause for optimism about that.

The partnership between schools and LEAs is probably stronger and more fruitful in Wales than in most other parts of the United Kingdom because of the importance of the Welsh language at all levels of education. But this differs markedly from Gwynedd to Gwent. It is no use force-feeding the citizens of Monmouth with the works of Dafydd ap Gwilym, though that diet might, on the other hand, be welcomed and found to be nourishing in Aberystwyth. These sensitive perceptions, palpations of the local mood, are exactly what local authorities excel at, and no Schools Funding Council for Wales can ever match them.

Let me take one example. In West Wales one education authority has set up language centres, or Canolfannau Iaith, to give children, often those children of incoming families from England, intensive courses in Welsh. They last about six or eight weeks. They equip a child to go to a Welsh primary school and receive at least part of his or her education through the medium of Welsh. The same authority provides a network of teachers who teach locally—known as the athrawon bro or neighbourhood teachers —who are mostly peripatetic and teach Welsh as a second language in primary schools and train other teachers to do the same. Does anyone seriously believe that those services could be provided by anyone other than local education authorities? Can anyone envisage little private companies competing for the contract to teach Welsh to the toddlers of Tenby? And even if they did, could they possibly provide a better service than the one we already have, staffed by skilled and devoted teachers who believe profoundly in what they are doing and provide the highest possible value for money?

The deliberate removal of power from elected local authorities to a central body accountable to no one but the Secretary of State would be a difficult concept to market in Wales at the very best of times. But to propose it at precisely the moment when the Government plan to introduce a wholesale reorganisation of local government, dissolving the counties and districts and replacing them with some 21 new unitary authorities whose responsibilities will include education—or bits of education—seems almost ludicrously bad timing. The Society of Education Officers in Wales, a highly responsible professional body not given to rash rhetoric, has looked at this clash, and said that it, does not believe that it will be possible to provide a high quality public education service in Wales given the fragmentation of responsibility which will inevitably result from the combination of both pieces of prospective legislation. The sharing of responsibility between small LEAs, 'lead' authorities, joint committees … and a possible future Schools Funding Council is a recipe for confusion and instability". Your Lordships may be interested in noticing one particularly ripe example of confusion and instability caused by this clash of competing efforts at reformation. It is to be found in the debate on this Bill in another place on 3rd March 1993, 20 days ago. It makes a very good read, especially when honourable Members were discussing what is now Clause 265. Your Lordships will recall that this relates to the provision of goods and services for grant-maintained schools by local education authorities, and lays down that this may take place only in the authority's area or a contiguous area and is permitted for only two years.

It was argued that this would be particularly disadvantageous to Wales after local government reorganisation, because with the 21 unitary authorities instead of eight counties, many fewer of them would be contiguous with each other. It is true if you work it out. An English authority which bordered Wales would be able to sell services to schools in Powys, Monmouthshire, Wrexham and Flintshire, but most of the Welsh authorities would not be able to do so because they were not contiguous. Anglesey could not sell services to Denbighshire, Bridgend could not sell services to Caerphilly, and so on. And if they could, it would be for only two years, and there seems to be no real certainty as to when that period of two years would begin.

The debate which followed that argument has to be read to be believed. It seems to hinge on the non-existence of private sector suppliers in particular areas and on the necessity of proof that one is, trading at the margin of capacity", though in the discussions no one seemed either anxious or, indeed, able to define that peculiar term. I mention this only as an example of the total confusion, the inability to win through to any clear understanding, which results from the impact of this Bill on the proposals for local government restructuring in Wales.

In the final flourish of his speech on 9th November 1992, the Minister (Sir Wyn Roberts) said: It has again become clear to me during the debate that the Labour party stands firmly for the status quo in this, as in everything else".—[Official Report, Commons, 9/11/92; col. 716.] I do not know about "everything else" but in this certainly a bit of status quo would be a very good idea. The relentless rage for change, for greater powers for the Secretary of State, for yet more centralisation, all this has brought about a sense of battle fatigue in the world of education at every level, from the primary school to the university, and nowhere more than in Wales.

On Monday 8th February 1993, 11 Welsh organisations combined in a press release. They included highly prestigious bodies such as the Parent Teacher Associations of Wales, representing parents; the National Association of Headteachers in Wales; the Welsh League of Youth (Urdd Gobaith Cymru); and the Welsh Joint Education Committee, which is one of the most trusted, respected and experienced institutions in Wales. They said the following, which I excerpt from the press release: We register our deep concern that the Education Bill makes no reference to Welsh medium education. Indeed, the Bill is essentially about change in the structure of the provision of education, rather than about the nature and quality of education. We foresee a confused situation where various bodies will have authority, the boundaries of which will not he clearly defined. This will create a situation of crisis for Welsh medium education… we believe that education in Wales generally is an afterthought in the Bill. Willy-nilly, education in Wales is to be viewed in exactly the same manner as education in England… our educational system needs a period of stability to implement changes already required by statute. Fatigue is setting in, not only amongst school staffs but also amongst governors to whom we as a body provide a considerable number. We are gravely concerned at the proposal to transfer so many powers from LEAs to the Secretary of State, and the concentration of responsibilities to yet another quango". That sums it up; that says it all. I can only endorse it, from my experience of my own primary and secondary education, all of which took place in Wales. Indeed, I think I may say without fear of successful contradiction that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who was taught, and caned, by that ferocious wielder of the stick who went on to become the Speaker of the House of Commons and the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. I miss him here today.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Dainton

My Lords, time is short and I do not wish to pick over the details of the 276 clauses and 18 schedules of the Bill. Instead, I should like to look a little bit behind the legalistic prose at two broad issues which the Education Bill is designed to affect and to concentrate within them on two aspects—one of omission and one of commission. This is in no way to diminish the importance of the issues of governance, structures, funding mechanisms, class sizes, resources and so on. The Bill itself constitutes an index —a catalogue—of those mechanistic details.

The Bill deals with schools of all types in England and Wales, how they are to be governed and funded, how children are to be admitted and examined, how what is to be taught shall be determined and assessed and so on. These are all matters which concern those in this country (and they are the vast majority) who wish that our school education should be of the highest quality.

To my simple mind, a high quality school education can be easily specified in four simple principles. First, it should ensure that the latent powers of intellect and personality of every pupil shall be identified and developed to the full. Secondly, it should ensure that each pupil shall acquire the skills and knowledge which will enable him or her to be an effective and fulfilled member of society, both economically and socially, and so contribute not only to individual well-being but also to the collective success of this nation. Thirdly, because the world is changing rapidly each pupil must be given an attractive invitation to learn by him or herself so as to be able after leaving school to adapt to new circumstances, to tackle new problems as they arise but which cannot be foreseen now and thereby be enabled to be an effective citizen throughout life. Fourthly, and lastly, because as the poet said, No man is an island, entire of itself", and because we wish to live in a harmonious, just and civilised society, each future citizen while at school must be made aware of and learn to subscribe to and to observe in daily living certain moral precepts.

Of course, the home and the parents have an enormous part to play in achieving these ends, but school is a great—some would say the greatest—influence in trying to ensure that young citizens become capable, adaptable and socially responsible. One may ask: Who are the key players in school in that enterprise? They are the teachers whom we are in danger of forgetting entirely in the legalistic prose of the Bill. It is they alone who have to make judgments as to how the Johns or Marys in front of them, each highly individualistic, can be taught the skills and knowledge that they need so that on leaving school they are able to think and work for themselves, to analyse and to solve problems, to be open-minded., to work well with others and to understand their rights and, I emphasise, their duties as citizens.

This is a tremendously difficult task which we put upon our teachers and it also makes very great demands on them. It cannot be done by mere "instruction", by which I mean the feeding of students with a kind of predigested pabulum of a detailed national curriculum and by coaching them to succeed in equally detailed testing and assessment procedures. To be of the greatest help to their pupils, teachers must have the training for, and be given the responsibility to adapt their teaching to achieve what they judge to be in the best interests of the individual John or Mary. Teachers have a duty to deliver the best possible service to their pupils in exactly the same way as the doctor has to his patient, the lawyer to his client, the priest to his parishioner, and so forth. In a word, the teachers have to be—and we seem to be forgetting this —true professionals bearing heavy responsibilities from which they must not flinch. To accomplish this, they must be allowed autonomy and discretion to act in the best interests of their pupils, to acknowledge their diversity and to be encouraged to act as partners with government in shaping and delivering the national curriculum and in formulating assessment procedures rather than being (as the Bill implies to some degree) merely the passive conduits of what is handed down through detailed and prescriptive Acts of Parliament and regulations.

Legislative changes during the past few years have established an entirely new educational framework, the twin planks of which are, on the one hand, the principle of autonomy for schools in a competitive market place and, on the other, the national curriculum and testing. These two alone are not enough to make a successful school education system. We also need the active and enthusiastic involvement of good teachers.

I believe that we now have many good teachers. I have noticed that, as compared with 20 or 30 years ago when there was a rapid expansion of the number of teachers to cope with the much enlarged pupil enrolment, the teachers today are better educated and trained and anxious to serve. Just like the members of all major professions, today's teachers are ready and willing to take responsibility for their profession's development and for the determination and maintenance of its standards and codes of conduct. If this self-regulation were to be permitted, I believe that there would be a significant and extremely valuable enhancement of teachers' commitment to their jobs. It has been my experience throughout my time in education that giving responsibility invariably liberates new energies and ingenuity on the part of the recipient.

None of what I have said is new. The Scots, mindful as ever of the value of good education, have always accorded a high respect to the dominie. Some years ago they established a Scottish Teaching Council, the performance and value of which have attracted high praise from the Scottish Education Department. We need something in England and Wales which builds on that Scottish experience. There is nothing in the Bill along those lines, and that omission should be remedied. Here I am at one with the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I hope that the improvement will come about during the later stages of the progress of the Bill through your Lordships' House.

That is the matter of omission. Now I turn to the matter of commission, which is my final point. In her opening statement the Minister said that nothing in this Bill confers additional powers on the Secretary of State concerning the universities compared with those he has under the 1992 Act. If that is the case, rather than giving the simple assurance which we have heard this evening, can it not be made explicit in Clause 1(2), where it says: In particular he shall exercise for that purpose his powers in respect of those bodies in receipt of public funds", by adding the phrase, with the exception of the higher education funding councils for England and Wales"? That would make the matter absolutely explicit beyond doubt of any kind. I am bound to say that here I admire the way in which we have had this exegesis of the past history of trying to maintain academic freedom which was given to us so eloquently by the and learned noble Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

In rising to commend this Bill, I should like to stress above all its coherence. Despite its 276 clauses and 18 schedules, it has a clear primary function, which is to facilitate the establishment of self-governing grant-maintained schools where the parents wish this.

The clauses for the funding agency for schools of Part I and the provisions of Part II are devoted to that end. The next three Parts of the Bill devote themselves constructively to special educational needs, to truancy and to schools failing to give an acceptable standard of education. The sixth and final part of the Bill, dealing with other matters, includes reference to the curriculum and to the institution of the school curriculum and assessment authority to replace the NCC and SEAC.

In his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, surprised me by suggesting that he felt the Bill was lacking in ideals. I should like to remind him and your Lordships, if that is necessary, that it was the Education Reform Act of 1988 which introduced many ideals with the institution of the national curriculum. The national curriculum has been much maligned of late, certainly in the Sunday press last weekend. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, dismissed it in pejorative terms as an act of centralisation, and the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, waxed gloomy—that is the most favourable way in which one could describe of his words—on the subject of the national curriculum.

I feel that there is a serious misunderstanding here. I was in agreement with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, said about the active role of teachers. Certainly, it is clear that the quality of education in our schools depends upon the quality of teachers, the quality of their teaching, and the extent to which they are free to teach in an effective manner. But I believe that the national curriculum is very often confused by its critics with a detailed syllabus. The national curriculum sets goals and targets and areas where knowledge is expected to be acquired, but it does not specify how that knowledge is to be conveyed. In good schools—indeed, I think in most schools—the headmasters and headmistresses make it their business to ensure that teachers teach subjects in a syllabus which they themselves construct collectively within the school in an effective manner.

I had the very good fortune to observe that when I had the privilege of being chairman of the national curriculum working party on art. We went round a number of schools, and I was very impressed by the teaching of art and also the extent to which art teachers welcomed the forthcoming national curriculum, which we were in the process of trying to propose and construct for the subject, and the extent to which they wanted a more coherent structure in the subject, as well as an updating which they felt an up-to-date national curriculum in art would provide.

Sometimes art emphasises making and the aspects of knowing or understanding art, the aspects of observing and understanding where creative elements enter in. These factors have not always been clearly stressed in some traditional teaching methods. So I would emphasise that the national curriculum, certainly in that subject—because we completed our work, although I have to say in parenthesis that I was not impressed by the modifications introduced by the National Curriculum Council—was well received by teachers; and in their work they have been able to carry through some of the aspirations they expressed to us. It may be that art gives more flexibility than other subjects, but during the course of our enterprise I had occasion to read the national curriculum provisions for all subjects and I certainly wish that I had been taught maths at school in the manner which the national curriculum makes possible today.

I would say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Dainton—I did agree with most of his remarks—that in most schools most of his aspirations are open to fulfilment by the good teachers who are given the freedom in good schools to operate in the creative manner which he was indicating.

The present Bill rests squarely on the Education Reform Act 1988, both as relates to the curriculum and to assessment. I have been astonished at the hostility expressed by some noble Lords opposite to the principle of assessment at the end of the various key stages, at ages seven, 11, 14 and 16. I well understand that the introduction of assessment has not been without difficulties, and that it imposes a burden on teachers. As my noble friend Lady Young said, the best is the enemy of the good, and, if there are very brief and quick assessment tests, that tends towards learning by rote, but, if there are fuller assessment tests, which perhaps give a more sensitive assessment of the position, that takes more time and imposes a burden on teachers. I would remind noble Lords opposite, and two of them who, alas, are not in their places who on the Education (Schools) Bill waxed eloquent on the principle of value added—I do not like the phrase, but it is their phrase and I will use it since it is they who, by implication, I am criticising now—that, if we are to assess value added, we have to assess at various stages. There is no point in merely assessing at ages 14 and 16. We have to assess at ages 7 and 11 and so on, to monitor the progress in the school. We should accept that assessments are often imperfect, and as has been implied correctly, they often apply constraints on teaching which are not always welcome, but that is the price one has to pay. The skill—this is no doubt the difficulty we are going through now to administer—is to strike the right balance, and perhaps we do not have it right this time.

The other element upon which the Bill rests is the Education (Schools) Act 1992, which provides for the regular publication of reports, for inspections and for the publication of inspectors' reports. It is thus that the multiplicity of self-governing grant-maintained schools will have a coherence which they might otherwise lack, parents will be able to monitor and choose, and governors will be able to govern and regulate more effectively.

I am afraid that, like other noble Lords, I have one reservation. It is the new Clause 1. I address myself here to my noble friend the Minister and to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I must say that I had thought that this was a Bill about schools. There is little in it that does not relate in one way or another to schools. So I was surprised to read in Hansard on 2nd March the Secretary of State say in another place of the provisions of the clause that it also covers the colleges of further education, the Further Education Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council and the universities.

Why on earth would a Bill about schools cover those provinces? I do not understand that. My noble friend Lady Blatch offered soothing words with almost her customary conviction, but, if it is not intended that the clause should affect the universities, I hope that we may have government amendments in Committee—I owe the suggestion to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway—to modify the title from Education Bill to Education (Schools) Bill. That would describe the general intentions of the Bill accurately and would perhaps make those aspects of Clause 1 otiose.

So long as this is an Education (Schools) Bill, I hope that it will have the significant and, if possible, full support of the House. It is well-founded upon the Education Reform Act 1988 in a coherent and effective manner.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, unlike noble Lords opposite I view the Bill with anger and concern. That the Secretary of State could have the arrogance to compare it with the 1944 Act amazes me. With that Act, there was proper consultation over two to three years with all interested parties. With this monstrosity there was barely two months, and summer months at that. The Bill proposes the creation of a system which will cause more confusion, uncertainty and instability than it resolves. It is of the planning aspect that I wish to speak first.

The Bill envisages that the Funding Agency for Schools will have responsibilities in two main areas. First, it will be the agency that channels grant to individual grant-maintained schools. Secondly, it will have a substantial planning responsibility, duplicating LEA responsibility while the proportion of pupils in GM schools in the primary or secondary sector—they are separate for this purpose—is between 10 per cent. and 75 per cent. and becoming solely responsible beyond 75 per cent.

The two functions are essentially separate. No one disputes that a mechanism is needed to administer the grant arrangements for a growing number of GM schools. The issue for the House is whether the planning responsibilities for the funding agency proposed in the Bill make legal, operational or constitutional sense. I should like to explore each of those aspects further.

We must have laws that can be seen to be made to stick. There must be a remedy before the courts in cases where a public body fails to discharge adequately a duty placed upon it by Parliament. It seems to me that there is an immediate difficulty where the same duty is placed upon two bodies. Which is to be pursued if there is default? Would legal challenge to either be complicated by the fact that precisely the same duty rested upon another which had not taken action? Ministers tend to describe the proposal as a shared responsibility. I do not see it in that light. The Bill proposes identical duties—not powers—for the LEA and the funding agency with no requirement as to how those duties are to be shared, and no arrangement for resolving differences between them. I cannot imagine that that will prove satisfactory in implementation.

I move now to the operational implications of the proposals. In most areas, for the foreseeable future, a mixed economy will prevail with between 10 per cent. and 75 per cent. of pupils being educated in GM schools. On that scenario, the LEA will be responsible for planning the shape of the school system for the area, for establishing new schools, for rationalising surplus places and so on. The FAS will have the same duty. The Bill is a recipe for competing and expensive bureaucracies. In some cases there may be complete harmony. However, the law must provide against the possibility that there will not be harmony. Sixth form provision in schools will be the responsibility of both the LEA and the FAS; sixth form provision in sixth form colleges will be the responsibility of the new further education funding council. Add in the possibility of education associations operating in some areas, and many of us believe that there will be altogether too many cooks in that kitchen. A simple line of ultimate accountability is needed. I hope that the House will amend the Bill to secure just that.

It is tempting to think that that dilemma might be solved by the adoption of a simple hand-over point of, say, 50 per cent. The planning responsibility would then rest with the LEA until half or more of the pupils in the primary or secondary sector were being educated in GM schools when the planning responsibility would pass to the FAS. That would solve the difficulty of parallel duty, but, in my view, would still not provide a sensible longer term mechanism for planning school provision. We need to think about just what is involved in that simple phrase. At the most basic level, new schools need to open in areas of growing population, and seriously undersubscribed schools may need to be closed in areas of declining population.

Proposals of the first kind seldom raise major controversy. Proposals of the second kind almost always do. Many noble Lords will have had experience of strongly argued local campaigns to keep open much loved, although seriously undersubscribed, schools. That is especially true in rural areas. Are we to imagine that closure decisions are to be taken by an appointed agency based in London, or even by regional outposts of such an agency? How are they to understand the views of the local community? How will they know whether, in an individual case, the brutal logic of numbers and finance needs to be tempered by the views of the local community which is willing to bear some modest additional cost to keep its preferred pattern of local schools?

Even in the usually uncontroversial case of a new school being established, how is a remote agency to understand what the community wants? New schools have to be planned years ahead to meet expected demographic change. The planning and organisation would take five years at least, Sir Peter Newsam told the meeting held last Tuesday with the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. Size and location have to fit in with other schools in the area. Sites have to be bought; buildings commissioned; staff appointed; and so on. Can any of that be sensibly done from a great distance? I do not think so.

I suggest that it is a fit, proper and sufficient role for the funding agency to be responsible for channelling grant to grant-maintained schools and for contributing to proposals for the distribution of schools in each area. It is a right and proper responsibility for an elected, accountable local authority to develop proposals for change in concert with the funding agency, local schools and the community and to present those to the Secretary of State for decision. It has long been and should remain the Secretary of States responsibility to decide on proposals presented to him by the LEAs. There should be significant moderation of the powers currently proposed for the FAS and we shall work in Committee to that end.

I turn now to Part III of the Bill dealing with special education. That has had a better reception than most other parts. It seeks to set out the vital principle that special needs pupils should be educated if possible in ordinary schools. Clause 152 introduces an unconditional right for parents to veto that but we understand that that is not the Government's intention. The right not to be segregated is surely a basic human right. Certainly for children with special needs socialising with other children is a crucial part of their education. But it is just as important for the education of ordinary children. With segregation, disability can easily be seen as alien, alarming or inferior. Professionals should be able to identify an integrated place as a special educational need for statemented pupils. Let us remember that the Audit Commission pointed out that mainstream education as well as being morally and educationally desirable is also cheaper.

But there is anxiety that the introduction of the funding agency will fragment responsibility and that the effect of that will be damaging to the education of those children. It is also likely to have a disproportionate effect on those with learning difficulties but without a statement; that is 18 per cent. of the school population. It has been good practice in many LEAs to make a range of services available to teachers and children well before there is any question of full statutory assessment and the possibility of a statement.

Under the proposals in the Bill the LEA will continue to have responsibility for providing additional resources to children with statements in mainstream schools, whether grant-maintained or local authority run. It is not clear, however, that LEAs will continue to have funds for non-statemented children with special needs, nor who will be responsible for providing the additional resources which those children require. When we consider admissions, those children are likely to have a raw deal from schools anxious about their standing in the league tables.

I have the gravest doubts about the wisdom of allowing special schools to opt out. It is not clear whether parents have the right to vote on that and perhaps the Minister will tell us. The organisation of the many support services which special schools need demands local attention and knowledge.

I should like the Minister to clear up one matter for me; I hope that someone will give her the information. It is the position of the 16 to 19 year-olds who have not been treated well in the past. Clause 148(5) states that, 'child' includes any person who has not attained the age of nineteen years and is a registered pupil at a school". Presumably that excludes pupils at sixth-form and further education colleges. However, in Clause 157(3) an LEA is responsible for a child if he is in its area and, he is not a registered pupil at a school … or over compulsory school age". That phrase occurs again in Schedule 8. We need to know what is planned for that age group. I hope that I am not just confused by double negatives.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, is certain to stress the need for there to be a duty on health, social services, the funding agency, and other LEAs to assist the LEA in meeting its duties under Part III set out along the lines of Section 27 of the Children Act. I would strongly support her in that.

I had hoped to speak of failing schools, of the need to have a "whole school" approach to behaviour, of the need to listen to children's views, of Clause 265 and of a general teaching council, but I shall be merciful. I want to give warning that there will he a cross-party amendment to finish the job of abolishing corporal punishment in this country. Parents in independent schools can still pay to have their children beaten.

There will be a great deal to be done on the Bill in Committee if a viable and fair education service is to be available to all children in this country. The vast interest in this House is shown by the large number of speakers today. I agree with other noble Lords that it is ridiculous that we are not having a two-day debate as we did on the 1988 Bill, which was shorter.

7.5 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, when we were discussing the Education (Schools) Bill in your Lordships' House last spring I remember referring to some of its provisions as elephantine. Here before us we have another elephant. What are the nature and colour of this beast?

I think that the noble Baroness the Minister, who is not in her place, would be surprised if, with my background of teaching in schools and working in local education authorities, I were filled with any great enthusiasm for the Bill. Regardless of one's background, however, there are aspects of its gestation which must give cause for concern. I shall not labour further the points about consultation and drafting, which were so ably made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and other speakers except to emphasise that more than 300 amendments and 20 new clauses had to be added by the Government during the Bill's passage in another place. That does not inspire confidence, especially where something as important as Clause 1 —the former "Clause Zero"—was among the afterthoughts.

Clause 1, of course, has deep constitutional significance. At a stroke, as we have been shown, the old partnership in education between central and local government is to be written out. Where the Butler Act of 1944 gave an express role to local authorities we now read that: The Secretary of State shall promote the education of the people of England and Wales". At a time when the trend in some other European countries is against the concentration of educational power at the political centre, we seem to be going the other way with a host of new powers to the Secretary of State. That was not referred to by the Minister in her otherwise clear and comprehensive introduction. If LEAs wither, as the Government clearly hope they will, the balance will be further tilted against local accountability. I make no apology for repeating those points which the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Ritchie of Dundee, highlighted, because their effects are profound. And they have nowhere been debated. The old checks and balances are going fast.

Viewed educationally, the Bill before your Lordships is largely about opting out; or, to put it another way, it is about the abandonment of the concept of a community of schools. So convinced are the Government of the merits of competition in all spheres of public life that they are prepared to apply the philosophy of devil-take-the-hindmost to the nation's children. It is a theory that has not been tested in this area, and it has not so far found the favour that the Government hoped it would, despite the optimistic pronouncements of the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Some 2 per cent. of eligible schools have so far opted out. That, I imagine, must lie behind the many places in the Bill where the playing field is tilted in favour of the grant-maintained school.

The Government have so far failed to persuade schools on the merits of the case. They have lacked the conviction to legislate en bloc, and so they step up the inducements and the nudges. The financial playing field, as we all know, has never been a level one. The same is true of admissions criteria. Schools can opt out but they cannot opt in again. Why not? There is an assumption in the Bill that no grant-maintained school will be bad enough to require the attentions of an education association. Why? And why, when an education association goes into a local school, should it be able to force it to go grant-maintained without a ballot? Why should LEAs and no one else be restricted in putting their case at the time of a ballot? Why should a special school go grant-maintained without a ballot? Why should governing bodies need a statutory nudge to hold a ballot on opting out every year, if not to ensure that they get the right result in the end? As for the proposed restriction on LEAs providing services to opted-out schools, which so many of them are on record as wanting—Clause 265 —I very much expect your Lordships will hear more of that in Committee. Another issue for Committee stage will surely be the messy arrangements for the interim sharing of responsibility between the funding agency and the LEAs.

One must accept—or at least I accept—that the Government are not just playing politics but that they genuinely believe that these are the right measures to secure a high quality of education in schools, an aim on which we are all agreed. Nor do I believe that everything in this and previous Bills is bad. But two underlying features of this Bill concern me as an educationalist.

One of them struck me as I went through the Bill for the first time. I noted that the first part was about an FAS; the second dealt with GM issues, and later we had the new EAs and then the creation of an SCAA. Unfortunately, there is no mention of a GTC, though we may hear more of that later. I thought, "This Bill is about initials". It is not about children in classrooms, but about structures. Therefore, it suffers from the same defect that has afflicted much of this Government's other legislation on this subject. We have had massive upheavals—change that has driven the education service almost to the point of breakdown—but they have been mostly directed at systems. I really believe—and I hope that I am wrong —that very little of what the Government are doing is likely to improve the quality of children's learning overall.

The second thing that disturbs me I have mentioned on previous occasions. It is the anti-LEA bias which is so evident in the Government's thinking. Whether or not you believe that that particular manifestation of local democracy is beyond redemption, as the Government clearly feel, it is unsettling to find the sheer animus against LEAs per se in so many key places, and it cannot make for sound legislation.

This is not the time or place for a full-blown defence of LEAs. But they do do some things well. There are the county music centres. There are the outdoor centres. There are the grounds staff. There is the strategic oversight of admissions, special needs, school planning, governor training and so on, all of which bring order into sensitive places. If this Bill goes through unamended, it is doubtful whether much of that will survive.

Above all, there is the accumulation of expertise which the present Government prize so lightly. When I moved from teaching in an old-fashioned public school to a suburban comprehensive I found it a breath of fresh air to mix with fellow subject teachers at the local teachers' centre, to attend local courses and later, as an LEA officer, to see something of nursery education in France. I believe it made me a better professional. The new culture will not be as friendly to professional development.

We come back to the concept of a community of schools. In that regard I agree wholeheartedly with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. If there is no such thing as society, then there is no merit in a system of schools. But if there is any sense in which we are part of one another, then it is no bad thing to have some locally accountable agency which can hold the ring and see that the weak get a fair deal, that resources are well distributed, that valued services are not lost and that, for example, a struggling school can be quietly sorted out, and followed up, without the need to send in a demolition squad. Perhaps it is because they recognise these things, and because most LEAs behave reasonably, that the vast majority of schools and parents have shown little interest in what the Government are proposing. I hope that in our later deliberations we can make this into a less dogmatic, educationally sounder Bill.

7.14 p.m.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, what high hopes we had for the 1944 Act and afterwards for the comprehensive revolution. Now we have a third major change—grant-maintained schools. I hope that it will be third time lucky, but it will be difficult.

The 1944 Act, which I had something to do with in the early stages, started well. The war had drawn us all together. Both sides of the House—Mr. R. A. Butler and Mr. Chuter Ede—shared in the design of the tripartite system. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, gave the local education authorities a masterly lead and Sir Ronald Gould did the same at the NUT.

The political consensus behind the 1944 Act began to end. It ended because the grammar schools and the 11-plus were under continual attack. At that time I thought, "Well, we'd better give the comprehensive schools a fair trial" and I authorised 150 of them. However, I said as clearly as I could that I was doubtful whether enough teachers who had both the scholastic ability and the administrative experience would be found who could make a success of schools with a staff of 100 and 2,000 pupils. Of course, Shirley Williams was not as cautious as I was. The grammar schools were swept away and replaced by a local authority-controlled network of comprehensives. The results of that have been very patchy and, as regards the less able children, we all know that they have been extremely poor. That is why this Bill is before us today.

There are still some very good comprehensives and especially very good sixth forms, but the quality of teaching did not meet the requirements of the children. Apart from the mistakes of putting political ideology before matching the available teaching to the different capacities of the children—that is what went wrong —we learned from the comprehensive revolution that if a system of schools is turned upside down, whether for good or bad reasons, it takes a long time for the new system to show whether it is worse or better than the old system. I shall return later to that point.

I turn to grant-maintained schools. The aim of the Bill appears to be to persuade all schools to opt out and, in doing so, radically but, as many noble Lords have indicated, clumsily to reduce the powers of the local authorities. I salute the new policy, which aims at improving choice and recognising parents' wishes; that is good. However, the real question is not whether it is good but whether it is attainable, given the terms of the Bill and the declared policies of the department. I doubt that.

I share the views of many of my noble friends that Clause 1 must be amended in order to protect the academic freedom of the universities. However, I shall confine my remarks to schools.

The Secretary of State takes on himself responsibility for education in England and Wales. That is a total commitment to the children and, from my experience, I believe that it will not work unless it is accompanied by an equally firm commitment to the teachers. Of course, the commitment to teachers cannot appear in the Bill. But we expect to see it in the day-to-day actions of the department. After all, in the classrooms throughout the country, who carries out changes in the methods and content of education? It is not the Secretary of State, it is not the noble Baroness who introduced the Bill earlier and it is not the civil servants in Elizabeth House or their clever advisors, whose tidy minds so often fail to take account of the weaknesses of human nature and the differences between one part of the country and another. None of them does the donkey work.

If a considerable number of teachers are either unable or unwilling to teach the national curriculum and be tested or cannot really be expected to handle the behaviour and the background of their pupils, which is very much the case, then we are in for another disappointment such as that which we have experienced twice already. Ministers may say that teachers are now selected, trained and rewarded better than at any time in the past. They may say that they are doing all they can to persuade teachers to back the national curriculum and the Bill. But, for someone like myself with long memories of schools, it appears to me that the Secretary of State is pushing hard in a number of very good directions but is not taking enough trouble to assess the capacity and secure the goodwill of the teachers.

In that connection, I wish that I had time to talk about the local authorities and the schools at risk. But I must end by reminding your Lordships that to implement a major reform takes longer than two Parliaments. Inevitably, therefore, the scheme comes to grief if there is no political consensus behind it. What is the position today? Well, from what we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Judd—and I believe that the same sort of aggressive tone was adopted in another place—if the Labour Party was ever returned to power, it would destroy the grant-maintained schools and, I suppose, return the remains to the local authorities or manage them directly from Whitehall. That would be a recipe for chaos.

One thing we really have learned is that, when you suddenly overturn a system of schools, you put back for a whole generation the raising of standards of education for children. I ask your Lordships to consider the effects of reversing this particular major scheme. I have in mind the effects on the British economy. The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and my own party all have very different programmes for dealing with unemployment, investing in infrastructure, encouraging exports, and so on. But each and every one of those programmes depends for its success on the very same thing; namely, the quality of British education in comparison with that of our competitors. Well, we are not winning that race today. But we have to win it.

It will not be possible to provide the vital piece of equipment in this world wide economic war in which we are engaged unless we get a really good form of education backed by everyone. I think that the public would welcome education being taken out of politics. We politicians have plenty of other issues to quarrel about besides education. We all have the same vested interest in getting the schools right. Therefore I look around and ask, "Is it possible to find a consensus today?" I believe that some remarks made by noble Lords in this Chamber and those made in another place prove that it is. An example was given of local authority schools where 80 or 90 per cent. of the budget has been delegated to the head teacher and the governors. That brings them not so far from the position of maintained schools.

In this transitional period, it is essential to have a constructive alliance with the authorities. The Secretary of State may be taking too much power for himself and he may be taking away too many powers from the local authorities. I certainly think that the planning powers of the local authorities and local knowledge are important. You must have knowledge of the locality if you are to plan the school.

Who should take the lead in trying to find a consensus? Without a consensus, we shall be beaten in the economic war in which we are engaged. I think that my party ought to do it because they are in government. There could be much give and take during the Committee stage of the Bill. We shall all suffer if we fight each other over the issue rather than putting the interests of the children first.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Young of Dartington

My Lords, there have already been so many excellent speeches on the general principles underlying the Bill that I shall restrict myself to one limited but important issue. I refer to the future of hospital schools and home tuition. I should first declare an interest as I am chairman of a body called the Open School which provides some services for invalid children. I was concerned with the issue much earlier when, as president of the Consumers' Association, its very critical report entitled Children in Hospital was published. I should also like to express my concern today for the National Standing Conference of Hospital Teachers—a body which includes home tutors—and the Inner London Hospital Head Teachers' Association.

Members of those bodies want the Bill to make it clear that the educational needs of invalid and sick children should be safeguarded. They are not being safeguarded by the Bill in its present form, nor, by the way things are going, are they being safeguarded on the ground. Many of the 200 or so hospital schools in the country and many local home tuition systems are being cut back because of the squeeze on local authority education funds. Moreover, in some parts of the country there is no service at all.

The issue matters because the numbers of children involved are so substantial. In its report published this year on children in hospitals, the Audit Commission estimated that children comprise 16 per cent. of all hospital in-patient admissions. In one recent year, 600,000 children of compulsory school age were discharged from hospital. So the numbers are large.

The issue also matters because if a child's education is interrupted that can be harmful. Being sick is bad enough, but the injury can be compounded if the children are not able to keep up with their schoolmates while they are away from school. Children can fall behind and be unable to catch up with the requirements of the national curriculum. A lifetime's harm can even be done if, for instance, a child is taken sick in the year in which he or she is to take examinations such as GCSE or A-levels. Children may fail examinations partly because they have been away from school at a crucial period.

The need in this area is so great that the teachers of invalid children of whom I have been talking were generally relieved by the White Paper and its proposal that LEAs, instead of having a power to provide education for children not at school, should be placed under a duty to provide it. I believe the teachers will also be pleased by what the Minister said today in opening this debate as regards taking up the proposal in the White Paper. However, the Minister put the emphasis on children excluded from school. Invalid children should not, in my submission, be lumped together with truants but provided for in the Bill as a category on their own.

Invalid and sick children have not been excluded from school for any misbehaviour or the like but have excluded themselves because they were ill. It is surely high time that hospital schools and home tutors should be recognised in legislation as an important part of the education service. Cutting back the expenditure of LEAs is putting all hospital schools and home tutors in difficulties. The only decent way out is for hospital schools and home tutors to join together in a new type of school which should be recognised as a type of its own, alongside and together with special schools generally. They could be called hospital schools as long as it was understood that each such school should have enough home tutors on its staff to look after its young patients after they have gone home.

But whatever legislation states, it will come to nothing without the necessary resources. Many hospital and home teachers would prefer that such new and comprehensive hospital schools should be part of the LEA service. But the fact has to be faced that LEAs will not have the resources to do that. If that is so, many people in the hospital schools would rather be starved to death than seek to become grant-maintained schools. However, if that is to happen, the Government need to accept that it would not make sense for each of 200 hospital schools, with their attendant home tutors, to apply on their own. Some hospital schools will need to come together in federations and there needs to be a general plan or framework which will delineate the areas which different hospital schools will serve.

There needs to be a new relationship between hospital schools, home tutors and the taxpayer if something very precious is to be preserved and maintained; that is, the educational supplement which children receive in addition to the care they receive from the health service when they are taken sick or suffer some grave setback to their health. I hope the Minister in her winding-up speech will be able to say something sympathetic on this subject of hospital schools as that will certainly go down well with the people who are under great difficulties in trying to keep the service going in hospitals and in the home tuition services of this country.

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am extraordinarily grateful for the most generous words spoken by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, at the beginning of this afternoon. I feel therefore all the more churlish when I say that I regard this as a disappointing Bill. However, I must say that.

The Bill bears the marks of haste and a determination to move headlong in a centralist direction which may in the end, I fear, be harmful to the very standards that it hopes to improve. I wish to draw the attention of noble Lords to just a few of the unclarities and omissions in the Bill. Here I am bound to repeat points that have been made already but I do so without apology because there are features of this Bill which have caused widespread anxiety.

There is for one thing considerable confusion in the Bill as it now stands, despite the reassurances of the Minister, about the role of local education authorities. We have heard quite different and conflicting messages about this during the course of the debate. It is far from clear how they will interact with the new funding council, but at any rate there are some matters which I believe it is essential to leave in the control of local education authorities. Those are matters where the policies of individual, autonomous schools, however well-intentioned, are simply not relevant to the needs of a whole area and where therefore co-ordinating, overarching and, above all, local planning are essential.

I shall mention just two of these matters with which I personally have been very much involved. Other matters have already been mentioned in this context. One is the provision of specialist music teaching (that is, instrumental teaching) and such teaching as talented children need if they are to have a chance to become professional musicians, if that is their wish. That kind of teaching simply cannot be managed school by school. Many schools, of course, have good classroom music teaching. Many may employ peripatetic instrumental teachers and many have school orchestras, choirs and bands. Schools can even come together for these purposes with neighbouring schools. But that is different from the long-term and continuous organisation of music which has for more than 25 years been the glory of good local education authorities. Under them a store of instruments has been held to be borrowed or hired. Saturday morning orchestras have been organised and composition workshops have been held. Children have been individually supported and known individually to the local education authority.

As a result, British orchestras are now the best in Europe and the pre-eminence of young British instrumentalists has been positively embarrassing to those selecting players for the European Youth Orchestra. All that depended on the commitment and the resources of local authorities. What was most important of all, no talented child was excluded through poverty from being part of that great musical renaissance. It would be wicked—I can think of no other word—to throw all that away. Incidentally, I would add that specialist music in my experience is a great exemplar of both standards and discipline in schools. Music imposes its own discipline and young musicians are seldom disruptive as they are far too busy and far too committed to improving their own standards and those of their fellows to be disruptive.

My second example of an area over which LEAs must be able to exercise overarching authority—I emphasise that—planning and control is special needs.

That is partially recognised in the Bill, but the issue is still fudged. LEAs are said to be responsible for providing places for children with special needs, and individual schools, whatever their status, are bound to publish their policies with regard to such children. However, there is no clear indication in the Bill as to how the local education authority is to ensure that those policies are implemented.

In any case, individual schools cannot possibly be expected to formulate policies to cover the full range of special needs. A local education authority must ensure placements not only for children with the common types of special needs such as slow learning and disruptive behaviour but for the fewer children with profound, multiple and rare disabilities. No individual school can possibly know the incidence of various disabilities overall in its locality. There must be a planning authority with the responsibility and the resources to ensure that all children with special needs are educated in an effective as well as a cost-effective way.

It seems to me that it is essential that such an authority is local. It must be accountable to its electorate. It must have the feel of the local community. It must know its own sister organisations, its local social services, its own police force and its own health authority. It must be accessible geographically to the parents of the children concerned.

I should like for a moment to pursue the issue of children with special needs. I shall be brief, but I cannot promise to be as brief when we return after Easter. The greatest disappointment concerning the Bill is that it was brought out in such haste that there has been no time for more than a superficial update of the 1981 Act, which now stands as Part III of the present Bill. Therefore, the distinction between children with special needs and those whose special needs merit a statement, placing the local authority under an obligation to make the provision specified in that statement, remains enshrined in the new Bill. That distinction has been reinforced. In 1978 we thought that the distinction was justified, and I shall not go into the question of whether we were right then. However, I am convinced that now the division between two categories of children with special needs is positively harmful to those very children who are the most numerous and who could be best helped.

In the Bill new powers have been given to parents to challenge statements or the non-issue of statements. New tribunals are to be set up where such cases are to be heard. However, the rights of parents with regard to the special needs of their children seem to be identified solely in the context of statements. There is extraordinarily little in the Bill about those other, more numerous children, who have special needs, and who have been assessed as having special needs, and who are therefore also the responsibility of local education authorities but for whom a statement has not been issued and ought not to be issued.

I am afraid that those children, most of them in mainstream schools, will simply disappear from view. They undoubtedly require extra provision and extra support, but their needs are not central to the Bill. We know nothing whatever about the resources that will be available to local education authorities to help them It is far from clear how local education authorities within whose responsibility they fall can ensure that individual schools, with their own separate policies, carry out their obligations to those children. Perhaps we may learn more about that when the code of practice is formulated. I hope so.

It is of the utmost importance that school inspections should take account of the existence of those children with assessed special needs but no statements. We speak sometimes of their constituting 18 per cent. of all children in schools. I suppose that that figure has been plucked from our 1978 report. The figure was originally thought up out of our own heads. We have to remember that in some schools the numbers will be greater than 18 per cent: as many as 40 per cent. of children may be assessed as having special needs at any one time.

Finally, perhaps I may become philosophical for the moment. I believe that since 1981 our view of the educational needs of children has gradually changed. It is, after all, a long time and, as we have heard, education moves on and our view of society changes. Since 1981 there has been a considerable change. That is why I so bitterly regret that no time has been allowed to rethink the ideas of 1981. It is all very well to receive nice compliments on our 1978 report, but nobody likes to be stuck with ideas which they thought up 10 or 20 years ago. The best compliment to a good idea is to develop it rather than to hold on to it for ever. Therefore, I deeply regret that we are stuck with the ideas of 1981.

We are now less inclined than we were then to think of an educational need as something to be identified in isolation and tackled in a particular context, rather as a medical condition may often be treated in the context of hospitals. After all, again and again in the past few months we have had perforce to recognise that the commonest cause of failure at school is failure, disaster, neglect and violence at home. That points to the essential part which early educational intervention can play in saving children from continuing violence and disaster. I truly believe that nothing but early education can save those children who have been the victims of neglect and violence at home.

It is a thousand pities that there is nothing about that aspect in the Bill. The new vision is not a vision of children but one of power, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said. It is a power which teachers must obey and subject to which education authorities must prepare for their own funerals. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has given us a very chilly preview of their obituary notices.

7.49 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, regretted that he will be absent at the end of this debate and warned your Lordships against a central funding power. I regret that I must he present at the end of this debate, given note of the hour, and I must tell your Lordships that central funding is not so bad as all that.

I spent five of my teaching years at a direct-grant grammar school. It was an admirable institution and the fact that it got its money direct from central government in no way hampered either its independence or its interaction with the local community. It will be rightly argued that the direct-grant grammar schools were the cream of the system. It will also be argued that because they were selective they necessarily throve at other people's expense. I do not accept that, because it it quite evidently not necessary.

But that said, I have immediately to add that one of my most painful duties as Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, where selection was maintained after 1979, was to adjudicate in appeals against refusals to admit children to grammar schools following their 11-plus exam. Both parents and children regarded entry into the grammar sector as the passport to respectability and admission to the other as a badge of failure.

The assumption that academic ability was and is the only yardstick of a child's worth, was and is both wrong and damaging. I hold a torch for grammar schools but nonetheless I ask Her Majesty's Government this question: if the result of the new order of things is an increase in selection, for which there are many arguments, and which may well come to pass, will they ensure that non-selective schools get both the treatment and the resources to ensure their excellence and to secure their proper place in public esteem?

Their pupils are just as much people; just as much the children and the citizens of this country; just as essential to our nation's welfare and every bit as precious to us as those selected, because of their academic ability, for one kind of schooling. If there is a single thing which can be done to bring about the classless society aspired to by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, it is surely a general recognition of that fact and no government can be better placed to start it than the one of which he is the leader.

For the sake of brevity, I shall only refer to religious education by saying that I agree in substance with what my noble friend Lady Cox said in the paragraphs of her speech which related to that. I go on to remind your Lordships that about five years ago a small number of very violent incidents in our schools gave rise to a great deal of public anxiety. As a result, Kenneth Baker, then the Secretary of State for Education, asked me to chair a committee of inquiry into discipline in schools. He agreed that discipline, for that purpose, should be taken to mean everything that tended to make a school work effectively. That was very convenient for our work, but not so convenient for our definitions afterwards.

We mounted the biggest survey ever of the experience and opinions of teachers in England and Wales. We visited a number of training institutions in this country; many schools both here and abroad, and interviewed a great many witnesses. In the process I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, that we did come across thoroughly bad schools in lush suburbs and thoroughly good schools in run-down inner city centres. It was the schools which counted more than the environment.

A number of other things became clear. One of them was that society will no longer do the teachers' job for them when it comes to good manners and discipline. It became clear also that a school works properly only if everyone in it understands its purpose and contributes to achieving it. That obviously goes far beyond the academic staff and I illustrate. We discovered that one of the peak times for disruptive behaviour was just after the dinner break when one might have expected the pupils to be replete and docile as at any time of day. So we looked at what was going on in the dinner hour and what we found was, quite often, mayhem.

Dinner ladies have a critical contribution to make to the running of a school. They are often looking after large numbers of pupils. They have to be able to manage their behaviour. They must therefore be in the confidence of the academic staff and understand the school's policy about that behaviour. That goes for the caretaker and the groundsman as well, if there is one. How does one expect a behaviour policy to work if the school is continually saying one thing and the parents another? We quickly confirmed the enormous importance of home-school links and of parental understanding and endorsement of that policy. Naturally, the governors have a direct interest and responsibility for the effectiveness of their school.

Finally, we looked at the way in which pupils themselves saw school rules and reacted to them. Two things became obvious. Clarity and simplicity were essential if they were to work. Much the most successful were those rules which the pupils themselves had a hand in drafting. Some of the very best conducted schools we saw had rules actually worked out by staff together with the pupils. These, being the property of the pupils themselves, were very effectively enforced by them. Seeing the school as actually their own school, and not that of the staff or the local authority, also made them proud and careful of its appearance. Windows and flower beds were safer there than in other sorts of schools and the graffiti artist and his spray can were public enemies. I believe that it is also possible to identify and deal with bullying a good deal more easily in schools run on those lines.

We concluded that imposed school rules were not the answer. The answer lay in a whole school behaviour policy contributed to, understood by, and supported by all those involved, and simple rules worked up with pupils' support and understanding.

Teachers and pupils from five schools which have adopted whole school behaviour policies on those lines will be coming to tell Members of the parliamentary all-party children's group about the results of doing so tomorrow morning. If the account is as I expect it to be, I hope that the Minister will consider accepting an amendment to encourage other schools to take similar steps.

Before we leave the subject, I should add that, like my noble friend Lady Young, I have been approached by the National Association of Head Teachers. I share the concern of some head teachers for a clearer demarcation of their own and their governors' powers and duties. We shall need to look at that in Committee.

Another area of concern centres on exclusions. The Government's understandable desire to harness openness and competition to the drive for higher standards focuses attention on the high achievers among our pupils. It is by their achievement that schools will be judged and low achievers will detract from it.

Low achievers tend also to be despondent, frustrated and often rebellious. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has spoken eloquently of that. Very often good teaching, and a disproportionate amount of staff effort, can discover the potential of such pupils and enable them to achieve too, though not in a way that will do much for the league table position. I am gratified that the Bill gives attention to the needs of those children. Their school days represent the only opportunity the state has to break into the cycle of deprivation and poor parenting in which many of them revolve for generation after generation. Schools should be encouraged to discover the latent ability of difficult pupils rather than offloading them. Can my noble friend say what thought has been given to attaching a financial benefit to such pupils, either statemented or otherwise, which would encourage and enable schools to keep them and teach them rather than passing them on?

We shall need to look closely at the Bill's provisions for exclusions and at the likelihood that, wherever possible, excluded pupils can be rapidly reintegrated into mainstream education, and at the provision for appeals. We should also look at the policy for readmissions and the need for some sort of home-school contract as a criterion or condition for it. In connection with readmissions, I remind those of your Lordships who want to see an end to indefinite exclusions that they are the one instrument a head teacher has to secure the space in which to work out a suitable agreement with parents on how, and on what terms, readmission shall take place.

Our discussions of exclusions generally will be very much more constructive if the Government's response to their consultation paper on exclusions is published in the next few days. Can my noble friend assure the House that it will be known well ahead of the Committee stage as I gather that comments were due by the end of January? Some pupils exclude themselves by playing truant. If they are difficult and disruptive, there may well be a tendency for schools not to be too eager to get them back. Among our 138 recommendations—all but two of which were accepted—was one addressed to the Government proposing an increase to a significant level of fines for people employing children illegally, especially during school hours. Such legislation would sit well with Part IV of the Bill even if not included in the Bill itself. It would be helpful if my noble friend could tell us whether such legislation is either in place or in prospect.

If the Bill can achieve a more flexible, more responsive and more effective education for our children, it will be widely welcomed. But while Parliament can legislate, Ministers can implement, officials can administer and funds can be provided by one agency or another, it is only teachers who can teach. Most of the responsibility and almost all the work will rest with them, whatever we do.

If I saw the paper correctly, today's headline announced the head teachers' boycott of a standard test. I shall not spend time on the merits of the case, but we must recognise that it is a symptom of something that has to be put right if any system is to work. It must be put right by a partnership between the Government and the teaching profession.

We cannot now have a debate about the nature of that profession, but we must be aware, as background to our discussion of the Bill, that it has changed greatly in the past 50 years, partly because of a large and necessary, but over-rapid expansion of education in the after-war years; partly because of the way in which successive negotiations about its members' salaries were conducted; partly, as a consequence of that, because it came to be regarded and to behave increasingly like a trade, not a profession, notably in the teachers' strike.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of that stake (and there were things to be said on both sides) it revealed a willingness in some teachers to put their interests ahead of those of their pupils. That did enormous damage not only to their status but to that of all their colleagues. It altered the way people saw the profession. But the massive, overwhelming, reassuring majority of teachers remain devoted to their work and dedicated to their children. They have been burdened and battered by a succession of changes and they will read my noble friend's assurance that the Bill represents "the last great step" in the process with huge relief. However, it will take much to restore the standing of the profession, and acts of statesmanship on both sides to restore the sense of partnership in education.

In whatever form the Bill emerges from the House, let the Government's policy be to encourage that partnership and both draw strength from it and give strength through it to the teachers' professional associations. They could do worse than re-read what we said about how to develop an effective whole school behaviour policy. Much of it is relevant to how to develop an effective all schools policy as well.

8.2 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, of the many fine phrases which have been used by the Government—and we have heard more today—I fear that few will bring about the higher standards of education which we all desire. I begin with a matter, referred to by the Secretary of State himself as a "core" issue—he has used the word on a number of occasions—of this huge Bill of 276 clauses and 18 schedules. It is that the schools should become grant-maintained or, to use the common phrase, opt out of LEA control. The philosophy is that the governors know what is best for the school.

I have dealt with many governing bodies. In every case, without exception there was no doubt about their enthusiasm, dedication and determination to do what was best for their children. As an officer myself, it was always a great joy to take the meetings and see those qualities manifested during the course of the meeting. I am sure that that was and is the case in all parts of the country.

I have also had considerable experience of dealing with LEA education committees. I found the same attitude in relation to boards of governors among the LEA committee members. They too were equally determined to do what was best for their children and I am sure that that attitude applied and still applies throughout the country.

There is no question of one being better than the other, to my mind. But the Government's case is that one is better than the other. I submit, therefore, that the basic proposal is fundamentally flawed. There are at least two differences. Education committees see a number of schools at work. They have a wider picture. They see schools with different structures, different procedures, different organisations and different ideas. I believe that noble Lords agree that variety in educational approaches is extremely valuable, not only for schools but for the benefit that committee members derive from it. Two speakers have referred to the great importance of the planning function of LEAs in their area.

The other difference is in some ways perhaps even more important. Noble Lords may have anticipated what I shall say. Education committee members are elected and therefore accountable and in our democratic society presumably that counts for something. The Government regularly inform us how much they believe in democracy and in the field of education it could hardly be more important. I believe that the present system of governors working in conjunction with LEAs has served us very well indeed.

The lack of democratic control runs throughout the Bill. Who controls the funding councils? There is the lack of a requirement for a ballot for special schools to become grant-maintained and there is no opportunity for schools to opt back from grant-maintained status. There is the nature of education associations and many other matters. Those restrictions are, in my view, little short of scandalous.

It would be helpful if the Minister, when replying to the debate, would tell us—this has been referred to on a number of occasions already—how many additional powers the Secretary of State accrues to himself under the Bill. I assure the noble Baroness that it is a genuine inquiry. We heard the figure of 44, and I have heard it put at up to 100. Many noble Lords have so far correctly talked about how power is now accruing to the centre and to the Secretary of State. Had there been four powers accruing to the Secretary of State, it would have been an important matter. If there are about 44, we are in dangerous waters. It is hardly the forward march of democracy to which the Government pay so much lip service.

To remove education from local government is not only a huge step away from local democracy but also a fundamental change in what has been a basic constitutional balance in this country for many years. All of us have been proud of the notion of partnership in most forms of educational practice in our country. It has stood the test of time. The reluctance to change that balance is surely one reason why there has been such a poor response from schools to become grant-maintained despite the incentives provided by the Government to opt out.

The Bill is far removed from the realities of parental concern. Parents' anxieties are not with the bureaucratic nonsense contained in much of the Bill. Parents are worried about oversize classes, lack of books and equipment, the physical state of our schools, the provision of nursery education and similar matters which must hit the Secretary of State and any Minister between the eyes every time they enter a school.

There is an overwhelming reason why the Bill should not have been introduced. Our teachers are sick to death of the many changes constantly being thrust upon them. Time and time again when talking to teachers, we are told—I am sure this is the experience of every noble Lord—"For heaven's sake, let us settle down to a few of the changes we are asked to make before giving us another dozen to cope with."

It can give no pleasure to any of us to witness the low morale of teachers. Among many other factors, teachers resent the lack of consultation, not least in the preparation of this Bill. The Secretary of State praises the work of the teachers occasionally, but I have the clear impression that for some of the time it is lip service. I say that because the Secretary of State is so quick on many other occasions to criticise the profession. The Department for Education, I suspect, will not have received many letters from teachers praising the Bill.

If the Government had any real respect for teachers, they could have demonstrated it in an important way with the Bill. They could have proposed a general teaching council, or whatever they preferred to call it, to compare with parallel professional organisations. Such a body would not only raise the status of the teaching profession in the eyes of the public and parents; it would raise the standards and the morale of teachers themselves.

A number of us in this House and in another place —I know that my noble friend Lord Glenamara has done so—have raised the matter on a number of occasions. The Government's reply has been, "It should come from the teachers themselves." That is a demonstration of the lack of interest of the Government. The noble Baroness shakes her head. I was about to say that the feeling has built up in recent months. I believe that she would agree. The proposal now comes from the teachers themselves. We shall see how the Government respond. There is a strong feeling for such a body among teachers. If the Government were to agree to meetings very soon, I predict that a general teaching council would be established within a matter of months. For once, let the Government take the initiative in the matter.

Perhaps the most bizarre part of the Bill is that which establishes education associations, bodies which can take over so-called failing schools. "Take over" includes the power to close schools. The first question to be asked is: who is to decide when a school fails? And associated with that question is another. Exactly what constitutes a failure? Presumably the privatised inspectorate will have a say in deciding, and that does not inspire confidence. It may be a strong comment to make, but all schools fail in some way at some time. Failure can be caused by lack of teaching staff, lack of specialist teachers, lack of facilities or for a number of other reasons. Designating a school as a failure requires the most careful examination; and to establish a new body with the powers proposed in the Bill cannot he justified. An education association can either close a school or change it into a grant-maintained school without a parental ballot. So much for the much vaunted importance of parental ballots. What local accountability will there be? How will the staff be transferred? Will the LEA be given an opportunity to improve a school before an education association is brought in? I am glad to see that the Minister nods. It is a fundamental matter and I am pleased that we have some information and agreement on it. Those are only a few of the many questions to be answered before such a drastic step is taken.

It is important that something be said about parental choice, not least because the Government place such importance on it. It is important. Choice should be met whenever possible. But the Government deliberately raise false hopes. It is never possible to meet the wishes of all parents. It is an organisational problem involving quite heavy additional expenditure which simply cannot be met. The Government know that, and they should not give the impression that it can be achieved. The Government exacerbate the position by their constant repetition that they are to get rid of surplus places. Having surplus places in our schools is a real problem. It can lead to the closure of schools. The Government frequently say—they said it very recently—that they will not hesitate to close schools where they think it necessary. My understanding is that the Government wish to remove 1.5 million surplus places. If that figure is incorrect, I hope that the Minister will give an accurate one, because reconciling that figure with an extension of parental choice would be a most interesting exercise. I say to the Government: let us have less hypocrisy in the matter. They know that there are real and considerable restraints in parental choice. It does no good either to parents or to their children to pretend otherwise.

I said earlier that the Bill did not deal with the realities of education today. That is a major criticism of the Government's thinking. But equally important are the missed opportunities which are so blatant. Think of what could have been said and done about nursery education. We have all received lots of letters about nursery education. We welcome them, although we did not need them; we know the importance of it. Think of what could have been done about adult education, particularly with 3 million unemployed; about teacher education and training; about strengthening and developing partnerships instead of the divisive proposals in the Bill; and about the progress required in special educational needs, about which we have very properly heard so much in the debate.

Where would the money come from for those important issues? First, from the millions wasted on the bureaucratic structures to be set up in the Bill's proposals. That would form a useful debate in itself. Secondly, by the Government deciding, as a matter of fundamental political philosophy, to devote more resources to education. In real terms, spending on education each year since 1979 has been less than that of other government departments. If the Government were to spend the same percentage as was spent in 1979, an additional £1.5 billion would have been spent on education in the last year alone. I believe that a heavy price will be paid for those missed opportunities. The Government are in the process of establishing an expensive and unbalanced structure which will not meet the needs of individuals or of the country in the coming years.

If the traditions of this House were such that we could vote against this measure tonight, there would never be more justification for going into the Lobby. In the circumstances, we can only earnestly hope that the Government will listen seriously to what will be said in the remaining stages of the Bill and change the ill thought-out parts of this pedestrian, divisive and completely inadequate measure. George Bernard Shaw said that you can get used to anything, so you have to be very careful what you get used to. Truer words were never spoken. I feel optimistic that the people of this country will not allow themselves to get used to the mish-mash which has been presented here today and that change cannot come too soon.

8.15 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the Emperor Charles V, giving advice to his son told him: You yourself know how sadly the present Pope lacks all zeal for Christendom. Nevertheless, respect his office". In dealing with the Secretary of State for Education, I think that we ought to reverse that maxim. The Secretary of State for Education enjoys a considerable and deserved reputation as a scholar. Since his field is within shouting distance of my own, I think I can say that with reasonable confidence. But, though we respect his scholarship, nevertheless, restrict his office. And I say that with the authority of the Secretary of State himself.

The Secretary of State, in his Swinton Lecture in 1991, argued that it was the duty of Parliament to control the Executive. If he gets his Bill through this House substantially unamended, he will have succeeded in refuting his own Swinton Lecture.

We too on these Benches, quite as much as the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, on his, see this as a centralising Bill. It puzzles us very deeply that there seem to be some people opposite who do not see it in the same way. The confusion deepens when we get to the point of discussing compromise, which at some stage in any Bill we must do. It helps to understand the underlying objectives of the other side. Practically none of us can make sense of the underlying objectives of grant-maintained schools. Ever since 1988, I have listened long and hard. I beg the noble Baroness to take on board that this is a genuine inability to understand. I listened to the phrases that the noble Baroness used today: "extending parental power" and "control of their own affairs". But it seems to me that the schools are still answerable to the funding authority, and they only have those powers provided they do what the Secretary of State wants.

Looking at this Bill, it is perfectly clear that it is designed to increase pressure on schools to opt out. In fact, there is a power to choose, provided they choose the right thing. Clause 28(1) (g) brought that home to me particularly clearly. It gives the Secretary of State power to declare a ballot void if the result is brought about by information appearing to the Secretary of State to be, to a material extent false or misleading". I have no love for misleading information. If it were to be declared misleading by the courts, I should be perfectly happy. But the noble Baroness knows as well as I that in a heated political debate each side comes out of the Chamber accusing the other of having put forward misleading and inaccurate information. We have heard that outside this Chamber many times after a hot debate. In my view, that one side and not the other should have power to ban information which it regards as inaccurate and misleading is profoundly undemocratic.

Like many other noble Lords, I am surprised that the Secretary of State can say that he believes in freedom of choice when there is no provision for opting back. It makes the Secretary of State sound a little like Uncle in Ruthless Rhymes: Gloomy, gloomy, was the day When poor Aunt Bertha ran away; But Uncle finds today more black, Aunt Bertha's threatening to run back". I shall not run through the other clauses. Other people have dwelt on them already. But I feel that the Secretary of State cannot claim to be in favour of freedom of choice until he changes his name by deed poll to Hobson. I also have considerable doubt about how the funding council will obtain the information to deal with and assess school needs in every corner of the country. I share those doubts with others. Mrs. Thatcher, as she then was, giving an interview to the Sunday Times on 5th June 1988, said, The department of education and science could not make all the decisions with regard to schools. It would just not be possible. They would not know the circumstances". NALGO agreed, and when NALGO agrees with the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, something remarkable is going on. NALGO pointed out that, to assess needs for school places, one does not need only educational information. One needs to know about likely building of future housing; one needs to know about likely future employment; about which factory may be in danger of closing down. I have yet to be convinced that there is any mechanism in place to enable the funding councils to know those things.

Like others, I am extremely bewildered by the system of dual control between the Secretary of State and the funding councils, when we are in the stage between 10 per cent. opted out and 75 per cent. I can think of only one similar previous system in recorded history and that is the consuls in the Roman Republic. I once visited the site of the battle of Cannae, the most disastrous defeat the Roman Republic suffered. I was surprised to find that they fought the battle from a well-chosen defensive position. I checked what had happened and found that they chose the position on the day when the good consul was in charge and fought the battle on the day when the bad consul was in charge. I wonder whether this dual control will lead to an arrangement rather like that. When I look at Clause 17 of the Bill I find once again that we are back with Hobson's consul, because any dispute will be resolved by the Secretary of State.

The basic purpose of the Bill is to introduce the funding council system. Some of the briefing argued that that system is new, but for anyone in a university of course it is not. We have had five years of it. The words which introduce the funding councils are copied almost directly from the words setting out the Universities Funding Council in 1988, with all the same faults, including the inability of the funding council to give advice in public—with one significant difference. The universities funding council had an academic representation. I do not see why there is no provision for a representation of teachers on the funding authority for schools. That is something we may address later.

What was that system for? First, it was to introduce a system of accountability. Nobody objects to accountability, but the Government's appetite for accountability and the level to which they take it are remarkable. I am reminded of one of my neighbours when I was a boy, who was an old soldier with a collection of First World War cartoons. In one of them a soldier was cowering in a dugout with shells exploding all around him holding a shaking field telephone to his ear from which a voice was emerging saying, "Colonel Fitzshrapnel orders you to indent immediately for 15 jars of raspberry jam received on 17th ult". It was hardly the man's top priority and his expletives were deleted from the cartoon.

In thinking of that, I cannot help thinking that the Government have been rather unlucky in their public service professions. They remind me indeed of King Henry VIII, after executing his fifth wife, complaining of his misfortune in meeting such ill-conditioned wives!

The funding council was concerned with efficiency. I shall not say any more about efficiency, except that, if we have any more efficiency, things will not work at all. It is extremely difficult to hold a funding council accountable. One can talk to members of the funding council but all one finds out is that such-and-such a thing is policy. They do not appear to believe that they themselves are in any position to alter it. It is quite difficult to question Ministers in this House. They simply say that it is a matter for the funding council. How we hold a funding council to account, therefore, is something about which I am not awfully sure.

Believe me, funding councils are not infallible any more than anyone else. In fact, they seem to operate as the Secretary of State wishes. I am reminded of the Member for Newcastle in the Reformation Parliament, who said that free speech in Parliament was of very little use because at the end of the day, "Whatsoever Cromwell says is right, and none but that". I think we all know how he felt.

I listened with great interest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on Clause 1. I listened with care to the reassurances of the noble Baroness on that subject. I was relieved to hear her say that the Bill introduces no new powers in relation to the universities. In that case I want to ask the noble Baroness why it is necessary to have a clause in the Bill that covers universities. I will not enter into an argument about the autonomy of the universities. This is not the place to do so and my prime contention is that the Bill is not an appropriate vehicle to change the law in relation to universities. If that is to be done I hope that we will have a proper Bill introduced to do it and then we can discuss it.

I am concerned also about the treatment of "at risk" schools. I will say to the noble Baroness what I once said to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, when we were discussing the Further and Higher Education Bill. "Do not mistake poverty for mismanagement". I hope that she will respond as sympathetically as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, did. Management is not the only reason for which a school may fail. In some cases, such as the London Borough of Brent where I live, local authorities may leave a school so short of money that they are practically forcing failure upon it. I do not want to see that become a machiavellian route for forcing opting out.

It is particularly unfortunate that we deal with raw data of a school's performance and not in weighted data. This may make it easy to miss neighbourhood reasons for the school's failure. In the ward next door to my own, Carlton ward, Kilburn, 37 per cent. of the population are on means tested social security benefits. I cannot believe that that has no influence on the performance of the school and I should like to see this taken into account before a school is found to be at risk.

It is very difficult to get these things through. I am left thinking of the verdict that one of my academic colleagues passed on a former Lord Deputy of Ireland: His object was to produce an administration entirely unresponsive to its local environment". This is perhaps a case of E.M. Forster's law—it is the tragedy of life that one gets what one wants.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, the noble Earl made a number of important points. I agree with some of them but not with others. He spoke entrancingly and I am sure that all noble Lords greatly enjoyed his speech. This does not apply to the noble Earl's speech but, having listened to a number of speakers in the debate, I believe that we should keep reminding ourselves that this Bill is about moving from the present to the future. It is not about the past. Some of the measures are new but the majority are follow-up proposals carrying forward changes which date from 1988 and are now beginning to develop.

Big decisions for schools in England and Wales were then put in place. The vision was established that there should be a national curriculum, that the user-friendliness of schools and the job satisfaction of teachers had to be enhanced, that it should be done by local management and by devolving the budget away from local politicians and their officials to schools, and that there should be the opportunity to go even further and apply, if schools wanted to do so, to leave the local authority altogether. That was all settled in 1988. There was a great fuss at the time and some noble Lords seem to want to relive the debate all over again. It was decided then. It is now happening and beginning to work and to show considerable benefits to schools and their pupils.

The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, identified, as only he can, what it is that young people need from schools and what makes for active and involved teachers. He spoke of the advantages of self-regulation of the teaching profession. As a Scot, and from experience, I agree with him. But the noble Lord must be pleased, as must other noble Lords, by the recent report of Her Majesty's inspectors on the effects so far of devolving budgets to schools. The inspectors tell us that local management of schools is sharply management focused and staff are participating more fully in forward planning for their schools. They report that there is more spending on books, equipment and materials and, most importantly, that there is a positive effect on morale at every level in schools. That must be good news for young people and their parents.

On the opportunity to leave local authority control altogether, we have heard that some 1,500 schools, including the majority of secondary schools, seem likely to be self-governing by April next year, and so the trend goes on. The Grant-Maintained Schools Centre states that more than 80 per cent. of its member schools report increased pupil numbers already. All primary schools and nearly 80 per cent. of secondary schools are employing more teachers. The majority of schools have better pupil-teacher ratios than before, have introduced new subjects and have increased spending on books and equipment. That must be good news for the children in those schools.

The national curriculum has won broad acceptance. My noble friend Lord Renfrew spoke about that and I shall not reiterate his remarks. It is all beginning to happen and now procedures have to be set in place to carry the process forward. I hope that this House will not continue to look backwards but will fulfil its traditional and most important role and look constructively and pragmatically at the Bill's proposals and do all it can to ensure that they are workable and practical.

The setting up of funding bodies for self-governing state schools is not optional. It is absolutely essential. What other way could there be? I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who was critical, can think of one, and I certainly hope that it will not be too clumsy an elephant. It will be a system a little like the system for university funding and the system agreed in 1992 for further education colleges. I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that not many of the former polytechnics or further education colleges would want to return to working under local authorities.

There are special problems to be met by this part of the Bill and the noble Baroness, Lady David, identified some of them. The new funding bodies will need to cope with a growing number of schools and at the same time the old funding bodies—the local authorities—will be catering for a falling number of schools. There are not only problems but enormous opportunities offered by the change. It is interesting that the teachers pay review body has pointed out that under the present system local authority discretion in allocating its resources between education and other services and the associated interaction between central and local government contribute considerably to the fog which surrounds the flow of funding to schools. It suggests that much greater transparency of funding and greater clarity for schools about how their total funding has been decided upon would greatly help them to manage better and make better use of the money for their pupils.

We will need to ensure that the Bill minimises the problems and maximises the potential benefits and opportunities for local authorities and the new funding bodies. We shall need to look at the effect of schools remaining within local education authority control and whether the increase next month to 90 per cent. of the proportion of the budget devolved to schools will be enough to ensure that the benefit of local management is preserved for them. The Association of County Councils is naturally and rightly anxious about that. The House must pay attention to it.

We shall need to look at the balance of advantage of the limit to two years of the period during which self-governing schools can purchase services from local authorities. One noble Lord has already mentioned that point. It is causing anxiety to local authorities and also to the National Association of Head Teachers. We shall need to look at the phasing the Bill proposes for the changeover of responsibility for ensuring that adequate numbers of school places are locally available and, extremely importantly, we shall need to consider the question raised by the National Association of Head Teachers, and already mentioned by my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Elton, as to whether the Bill should not contain a clear definition of the role of the head teacher of a self-governing school in relation to the role of the governors. The evidence is that such clarification would not only greatly help the effectiveness of head teachers as leaders and managers, as chief executives responsible to the governors, but it would also, very importantly, help schools to attract the kind of governors they need. I shall hope to join in putting down amendments to that end. There are many important proposals in the Bill, but I shall not go on. I look forward to a fascinating Committee stage.

8.39 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, if I can secure the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, I should like to tell her that I have six Scottish grandchildren. But that hardly equips me to reply to her speech. Now that she has been liberated from the attentions of her noble friend, perhaps I may proceed along my own line.

Members of your Lordships' House will no doubt have read Tom Brown's School-Days and will remember the question that Tom Brown's father asked himself when Tom was being sent to Rugby for the first time. It was, "Shall I tell Tom to say his prayers?" Then he thought, "If he won't say them for his mother's sake, he won't say them for mine." I therefore leave religious education almost entirely to other authorities.

We heard an authoritative statement from the right reverend Prelate giving the view of the Church of England, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, will no doubt honour us with his presence in due course. I have complete confidence even in his absence that he will speak with authority about the position of the Catholic Church. Who knows? Perhaps he is receiving last minute briefing from the cardinal.

I have been advised by Catholic experts that there is much to be worried about in the Bill. The director of religious education in the Westminster diocese sent me some correspondence between the cardinal and the Minister in which the cardinal expresses some grave anxieties. The director of education in the diocese of Birmingham has pointed out his great anxieties also. Therefore, although I feel a duty to say something on the subject, I shall leave it to the noble Duke. If, however, he has been taken ill, I shall have to say something about it myself. Assuming that the noble Duke is in good health, he will speak with all authority from the point of view of the Catholic Church when he returns to the Chamber. He has returned—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Longford

I was hoping that the noble Duke would take his place and would give me an imprimatur. I must leave these great matters of religious education to the right reverend Prelate and to the leader of the Catholic community, the noble Duke.

I shall speak about one issue and do so only briefly. I refer to the question of how to improve the moral condition of this country. Many grave anxieties have been expressed about the alleged moral decline. Although I shall not go into the reasons why—certain appalling crimes probably triggered it off—that concern is widely expressed. I do not want anyone to suppose that I am one of those old gentlemen who thinks that the whole place has gone to the dogs since my time. In some ways this country is better, but in other ways it is much worse, than when I was growing up. In the 1930s the old age pension was 10 shillings a week. However one multiplies that to allow for inflation, it is still an appalling amount by modern standards. Many of my noble friends sitting around me at the moment know the North East coast and do not need me to tell them that many of the unemployed were close to starvation in the 1930s. In those respects, therefore, we are a much better and more compassionate society today.

On the other hand, however, when I started prison visiting in Oxford in that same period of the 1930s there were 10,000 people in prison. The figure rose to 50,000 at one point but is now slightly less. At any rate there are now more than four times as many people in prison than there were in those days. If one asks for an explanation, one hears that it is because crime has greatly increased. It has increased steadily by about 5 per cent. per year not only here but in other Western countries also. One must take note of that. There are also more broken homes than in former times. It is therefore difficult to say that this country is better. However, I would not go so far as to say that it is worse. At any rate, let us agree that a real opportunity has arisen, through public concern, to do something about the moral condition of this country.

I do not believe anyone would dispute my submission that the moral education provided in schools has a great influence on the moral state of the country later on. Various governments have been in power, and we know that they have a great responsibility for the social conditions prevailing. The home is also a great influence. However, tonight we are discussing education. I do not believe that anyone could disagree with the proposition that the moral education provided in schools has a profound, long-term and ineradicable effect on the moral state of the country.

So what do I propose? My recommendation is simple and should appeal to both the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and to my eloquent and noble friend Lord Judd. It is a return to Christian morality. More emphasis should be placed on Christian morality. I am not talking about religious education but about Christian moral teaching. I leave out the question of religious education, considered in the narrow sense, tonight. We want a return to the Gospels.

Where do we begin? Still on the ethical side, surely every child should be taught that he or she must love his or her neighbour like himself or herself. The Chief Rabbi will tell me that that comes from Leviticus so we do not heed to have any difference with our Jewish friends on that point. That is only a beginning, but emphasis must be laid upon it. If I may say so, the trouble with humanists (using the term in its widest sense) is that they have no sacred books. Although Marxists have sacred books, I do not think that at this time of the day any of us would want to start searching for moral truths in Karl Marx. Let us, therefore, approach the matter from the point of view of the Gospels.

Before concluding, I should like to mention two other aspects of Christian teaching which are very relevant to the moral life of the country. One is purity and the other is forgiveness. Christian teaching (and, I believe, Jewish teaching) is that all sex outside marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is sinful. How many political or religious leaders are saying that loud and strong today? But if they do not say it loud and strong, there will not be fidelity in marriage, and fornication before marriage will lead to adultery afterwards. We will then have plenty of broken homes and plenty of crime in the next generation. That is why I say that the insistence on purity should be proclaimed afresh although I know that that is a harsh saying in the eyes of the younger generation, and perhaps of the older generation also.

Christian forgiveness is fundamental to forgiveness. One could argue with the Chief Rabbi about to what extent the concept of forgiveness can be discovered in the Old Testament and the Talmud. At any rate, the concept of Christian forgiveness can certainly be discovered in the Gospels. Christ said to the woman taken in adultery: Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more". In the end, everyone will be forgiven if we follow His words on the Cross: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do". When we present a harsh doctrine, let us never forget other Christian messages. I do not know where this comes from (perhaps some more learned person will be able to tell me) but we must hate the sin but love the sinner. Christianity is a message of law, but above all, it is a message of love.

8.49 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and I happen to share many interests and views and it is a singular privilege to follow his appreciation of the moral state of the country, religious education, a return to the Gospels and everything else that he said, with which I agree without any hint of reservation.

If the heart of education lies in the art of the calling of the teacher, as was expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, in a memorable speech which I for one shall never forget, to interest and inspire each pupil to learn according to his ability, then assuredly the new regime proposed by Part III of the Bill, of which your Lordships' House is the progenitor, enhances that art for the benefit of that vulnerable group of pupils with a learning disability, because Part III serves to establish an entirely new sense of partnership between all concerned with the educational welfare of those pupils. It defers also to parental authority. I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Longford, would agree with me on that. It reflects a depth of consultation not previously afforded. I can speak to that from my own knowledge and experience in my dealings with my noble friend Lady Blatch. It avoids the disparity of treatment which obtains under the existing regime, the Act of 1981, which cannot be said to have served its intended purpose. On that I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, would agree.

The code of practice—one has to speak in almost telegraphic messages now—will provide the essential implementing machinery. It will make provision for the procedure and time-scale under which the LEAs are to make assessments and then, if appropriate, statements of special educational needs. It will make provision for annual reports from schools to parents on implementation of their policies, for early identification of special educational needs, for a sound framework of LEA implementation with adequate support services, and I hope for expert representation on the funding councils. It will make representation on matters of concern to your Lordships expressed in a Private Member's Bill but which do not call for repetition at this hour. Perhaps, too, the hope is that it will make provision for the setting up of an informal complaints procedure by each LEA, which is a way whereby the parents can informally air their grievances without invoking the formal jurisdiction of the new tribunal.

The status of the code, according to Clause 149 of the Bill —this is a matter of considerable importance —is to give practical guidance in respect of the discharge by LEAs of their functions under Part III of the Bill, and then a duty is imposed on the LEAs or any other person exercising functions for that purpose, to have regard to the provisions of the code". The status of the code, which must always be enshrined in primary legislation and, if not, can never be changed other than by primary legislation, is not only advisory and for guidance; it also imposes a duty of compliance which, having regard to the new statutory appellate machinery, the new tribunal, has a measure of legal efficacy.

The duty to take into account and implement a positive, clear, categoric duty instead of a wishy-washy "have regard to" which is relevant only to the advisory type of code, which this is not, would be appropriate. I take great comfort from a superior and totally independent judgment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, because I thought that I might have got it wrong. If the noble and learned Lord thinks I have got it right, that is a comfort. This is something that has gone wrong by mistake. I am not criticising the Government. What has happened is that they have used the traditional form for the advisory code, which is perfectly right, but this is not just an advisory code because it involves duties which import legal efficacy. Therefore, we must not use the type of trigger clause which is appropriate for an advisory code. It sounds very technical but it is desperately important when we come to see how the legislation is to be enforced under the new appellate machinery.

I only ask that my noble friend the Minister takes this and the all but sub silentio assent of my noble and learned friend into account and seeks to take advice on the matter, because at one remove, if an amendment along these lines were to be introduced, this would in effect clarify and render wholly effective the appellate jurisdiction under the new independent tribunal to which parents have direct access along the lines originally proposed in what have been called the Cavendish papers, which were, as your Lordships will inevitably have forgotten because it was so long ago, the first proposal for the Private Member's Bill which was not at all acceptable to the Government.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords who attended the debates on the Private Member's Bill. I thank my noble friend Lady Blatch who announced the intention of government to legislate. I thank all noble Lords for the advice they gave me to stay my hand and withdraw the Bill. It is not easy when you get stuck into something to pull out, but I am grateful to them. In particular, my noble friend Lord Elton was the decisive voice on that.

I also wish to thank and acknowledge publicly my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who stood unobserved at the Bar of your Lordships' House for great periods of time to listen to the argument. How often, I ask, does that happen in your Lordships' House? Finally, and it comes rather strangely from me, so it must be true, I wish to thank the officials in the department and the draftsmen of Part III of the Bill who have devised a legislative framework which is vastly superior to the extant regime under the 1981 Act or, indeed, as was proposed in a certain Private Member's Bill.

9 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, there will be no prizes for guessing that I too will concentrate upon Part III of the Bill and special educational needs. The changes the Government have introduced will be welcomed warmly by parents: the decisive powers of the new tribunal; the additional grounds for appeal against an LEA's decision; and the new right to express a preference for a particular named school will be especially welcomed by parents seeking an integrated placement.

Part III of the Bill, as it stands, goes no further than the 1981 Act towards the inclusion of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools, which I would have welcomed, but that was never the Government's intention. The aim was to tighten the nuts and bolts and to ensure that the existing legislation worked more efficiently. It took account of the changing educational scene. I shall leave the broad issues to others tonight and concentrate mainly upon the nuts and bolts, although the words of my noble friend Lady Warnock are ringing in my ears—that the compliment to a good idea is to develop it, not to be stuck with it.

The Minister referred to the constructive contributions by various organisations. I have to say that the Government consulted widely, listened and in turn responded constructively. There were also valuable additions in Committee in the other place. However, some of the nuts and bolts still need to be tightened. For example, there is a need to clarify the specific duties laid upon LEAs under Clause 152; that is, just what is involved when they have to explore whether the conditions specified can be met. Secondly, another example arises when we deal with appeals. There are now six situations in which a parent can appeal against an LEA's decision. That is most welcome, but in only one of those situations (when a statement is first issued) can the parent see all the professional advice at the time of the LEA's decision. That advice will eventually be disclosed at the tribunal. If the Bill were amended to give parents the right to see all professional advice at an early stage, parents could make an informed decision. Indeed, they might even decide not to go to the tribunal, which would save time and trouble.

So much for the nuts and bolts. There is however one aspect of Clause 152(1) which is a withdrawal from the principled position on integration adopted in the 1981 Act. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has already spoken about it, so I shall try to be brief, but I may not be very brief because I wish to highlight my concern.

Under Section 2 of the 1981 Act, an LEA must consider the possibility of a mainstream placement for every child with a statement. There is a balance between the statemented child's right to consideration for a place in a mainstream school, the parents' rights to have their view taken into account after assessment and, ultimately, the LEA's power and responsibility to make a decision in the best interests of the child. Under the 1981 Act, the child's best interests—not the parents' preference—were paramount.

Clause 152, which replaces Section 2 of the 1981 Act, will change all that. A parent will have the power to relieve an LEA of its duty to consider integration as an option for a child, a power which the parent will exercise before assessment and without the benefit of professional advice. If Clause 152 is unamended, we shall be enacting a shift from the position where every statemented child has the right to be considered for integration to one where that will be conditional on the parents' wishes. It would surely be a unique development in education law in this country if parents were given the power to relieve an LEA of a legal duty towards a child—a duty which Parliament under the 1981 Act clearly believed to be of benefit to the child; that is, exploring the possibility of the child's integration. It is a development which should worry not just supporters of children's rights but those who believe that the paramount purpose of special needs legislation is to identify and then secure the provision which is in the child's best interest.

IPSEA (the Independent Panel on Special Education Advice), of which I am a director, has obtained the views of two leading experts in education law: solicitor Peter Liell and barrister John Friel. Both believe that the changes give parents a veto not just on an LEA's duty to consider integration (which the Government apparently intend) but on any actual proposal made by an LEA to provide integrated education for a child with special educational needs. The DFE says that that is not its intention, and does not accept Liell and Friel's opinion on the effect of Clause 152.

I hope that the Government intend neither effect. I hope that, rather than leave it to the courts to interpret Clause 152, we can sort this out in discussion or in Committee. I cannot believe that it is the Government's intention to retreat from the aim of the 1981 Act in that respect, given the many welcome measures they have introduced to ensure the more efficient working of existing legislation for children with special educational needs.

9.6 p.m.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, first, I acknowledge with appreciation the Government's willingness to listen to and to meet the points raised by the church bodies during the Bill's passage in another place. The Bill, as introduced in October 1992, has been amended in a number of material ways as a consequence of the Government accepting suggestions made by the Church of England and the Catholic Church. For the Catholic Church, I am obliged to record with gratitude that the due consideration promised on Second Reading by the Secretary of State in another place, in the matter of what is now Clause 220, which originally related to a proposal whereby a local authority might be granted the power to propose a change of character, but not the religious character, of voluntary-aided schools, has resulted in the placing of a government amendment which is broadly acceptable to the Churches.

Elsewhere, the Bill has been amended in response to suggestions made by the Catholic Education Service. That is gratifying evidence of the Government's willingness to listen to, and act upon, the constructive and helpful advice which the Catholic Church's official education agency has provided. Only last week, at a meeting of the Catholic diocesan schools commissioners, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, speaking about the education association said: I have been greatly encouraged that it has been possible to reach agreement that voluntary aided schools should be brought within the framework for tackling failing schools. That will be done in close consultation with the relevant churches, whose interests will be fully reflected in the membership of an Education Association". We are truly most grateful but there are still outstanding one or two items of concern to the Church which have yet to be addressed. We hope that they will be satisfactorily resolved before the measure completes its Committee stage in this House.

It will come as no surprise, I am sure, to my noble friend the Minister to learn that I read the correspondence between her right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. In particular, and this is the first point I wish to air today, is the Cardinal's wish to see included in the Bill some statutory acknowledgment of the overseeing role of the Catholic bishops in the matter of maintained Catholic schools.

The Catholic Church in England and. Wales has made, and continues to make, a significant numerical contribution, apart from the recognised spiritual contribution, to the education provision of the nation's young; indeed, nearly 10 per cent. of all maintained schools are Catholic voluntary-aided, special agreement or grant-maintained establishments. Those schools operate within a diocesan framework, carefully structured by the individual Bishops and overseen by them in their endeavours to meet the known needs of Catholic pa rents and their children.

The Cardinal and the Catholic bishops are most anxious that the Bill should respect that overseeing role; a role which has operated successfully in the dual partnership under the 1944 Act. At the moment there is a perceived fear that there are provisions within the Bill which might well undermine those long-standing and accepted diocesan responsibilities in the very provision and organisation, and, on occasion, necessary reorganisation, of Catholic schools.

Lest your Lordships might erroneously glean from that more than just a hint of special pleading, perhaps I may put the matter into context. As the Cardinal observed in his letter of 18th February to the Secretary of State: I hope you will appreciate that in stating these fears so frankly I am not seeking a protected or privileged place for Catholic schools. They should and must be expected to meet the same standards of educational attainment and efficiency as other schools. But they are different, and their distinct identity has been respected for more than 120 years within a fair and workable partnership between Church and state and formalised in the 1944 Act. What I want to see is that mutually beneficial partnership retained. Such a partnership is essential if the Church's contribution is to be strengthened, as you say you wish it to be. I hope that that key issue will be carefully considered, for I am firmly of the view that due statutory recognition of the responsibilities of the Catholic hierarchy in the diocesan provision of Catholic education will do much to assuage those fears and also those reservations which the Bishops' Conference of November last year publicly addressed, particularly in the matter of grant-maintained status for Catholic schools. Moreover, such recognition would undeniably signal that the Government are, indeed, committed to enhancing and strengthening the partnership between Church and state, which is acknowledged by both parties as being of considerable benefit and, not least, to the greater good of the national education service. That recognition of the position of Bishops and diocese is also needed in the context of the Funding Agency for Schools and its work in dealing with proposals for school development or reorganisation.

I should like to draw attention to another matter which arises in the same context; namely, the need for the funding agency to be guided in its work by the objective of making the provision of schools in an area corresponding as far as possible to the wishes of parents, particularly on the religious character of schools. The House has considered this matter previously in connection with a Bill introduced by my noble friend Lady Cox. It is important to bear in mind that in city areas many of the schools date back to the beginning of the century, or even earlier, and since that time a new population has gone into the area with different preferences as to schools.

Some of the Catholic bishops are not entirely happy about the provision for the inspection of denominational schools contained in the Bill.

I propose to touch upon one other issue; namely, the rather vexed issue of home-to-school transport. For some little time now the Churches have endeavoured to persuade successive Secretaries of State to use the powers of direction clearly provided by Section 55 of the 1944 Act when local education authorities decide to remove free home-to-school transport provision. By their very nature, many Catholic schools—and Catholic secondary schools in particular—serve a wider catchment area than their neighbouring county schools. Moreover, the very siting of those schools was agreed upon only after local education authority agreement to meet home-to-school transport costs.

It was only some 14 years ago that your Lordships' House rejected a government clause in the 1979 Bill which would have permitted local authorities to charge for home-to-school transport. Those of us who were present at that time would no doubt recall the significant masterly contribution in opposition to the clause made by Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. He reminded your Lordships in unequivocal terms of the thinking and rationale behind Section 55. Indeed, I played a minor part in that same debate.

Suffice to say, I am sure that none of us, following the excision of that clause, expected to see in such a relatively short period of time that which we had rejected coming into effect, as it were, by stealth. I hope that the Minister will give those matters serious consideration.

9.16 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, first, I express my gratitude and congratulations to my noble friend Lord Judd on his outstanding speech. It augurs well for the quality of the debate and the moving of amendments during the course of what must be an extensive Committee stage. Indeed, this is an extensive Second Reading. I note that it is now shortly after 9.15 and we are half way through the list of speakers which means that the debate cannot end, unless noble Lords cut out much of what they want to say, until about midnight. Your Lordships should not be asked to deal with issues of such importance in that way. I regret that the Government have not recognised that. I should be surprised if they thought it an uncontroversial Bill for your Lordships to tackle.

I served as a government Minister. We sought consensus whenever possible. It was not always possible but we sought consensus and when the debate had to take place, it took place. My impression of this Government is that they do not want consensus. They enjoy conflict. In fact, because they enjoy conflict, they seek to promote it in relation to all areas of social policy. It is not merely conflict between political parties and special interest groups but conflict inside schools and between schools. The Government have sought to undermine local democracy, which is sometimes good and sometimes had. It is however responsive to the needs and wishes of the people, as this Government appear not to be on almost any issue they tackle. I greatly regret that undermining, not only of local government but also of the status of teachers within the profession. It seems that the Government are always happy to launch into attacks both on local government and on teachers who have a very heavy responsibility for the teaching of children in their classes.

I echo the eloquent appeal made by my noble friend for an expansion of nursery education. That has been mentioned by many speakers. I was very much moved by what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said about the importance of early intervention in the lives of abused children. Tragically, we know only too well now—indeed, more than we did—the degree of abuse of one sort and another within families.

There is wide acceptance of the importance of under-five nursery education. Having said that, the United Kingdom compares very badly with most other countries within the European Community. Services for children under five in the UK are of a very variable quality. The provision made by many different departments and individuals is often uncoordinated. In both respects, the Children Act introduced important new measures which are already bearing fruit. That legislation laid down minimum standards for all voluntary and private sector provision. It introduced a requirement that all services for the under-eights should be reviewed by the social services and education authority collaboratively as part of an overall plan. It also required that all provision should take account of each child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.

There is ample evidence in this country and overseas of the effectiveness of early education. It shows that children who have access to good quality pre-school education are at a very great advantage. When starting school, they score higher at SATs at seven and do better at school at the age of 10 on a variety of scores. Moreover, American research shows that the long-term effect includes a reduced likelihood of delinquency, fewer referrals to special education and fewer unwanted teenage pregnancies.

Yet there is scarcely any reference to nursery education in the Bill. That point was made by other speakers. There is much confusion over the funding policy which the Government are pursuing. The current lack of clarity over that policy is, I think, a matter of great concern which we shall—certainly, from this side of the House—press upon the Government in Committee.

There are three possible ways forward. First, we could earmark funding for services for under-fives at both central and local government level; secondly, we could accept the longer-term need for increased spending on nursery education and reflect this in increased SSAs; and, thirdly, we could make statutory provision or return to the pre-1980 position where local authorities had a duty to provide nursery education with additional resourcing.

The Bill must address those issues. I welcome the proposals put forward by the National Children's Bureau to which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has made such a distinguished contribution over so many years. I very much look forward to hearing her speech. I am also much impressed by the briefing from the Centre for Studies on Integration in Education and from the Royal National Institute for the Blind as both relate to disabled children and those requiring special attention. I strongly support the plea that has come from the RNIB in that respect.

There is a great deal that needs to be done, and there is much that will be done if adequate amendments to the Bill are accepted. We want to see more children with disabilities or learning difficulties included in a diverse educational mainstream. In its present form the Bill gives a further boost to the introduction of market forces into the education system which many of us fear will lead to yet more setbacks for a policy of integration. In addition, a new clause in Part III of the Bill further weakens the integration duty on LEAs by allowing a parental veto on a mainstream placement.

As the Bill makes its way through this part of Parliament, there is widespread concern that selection by ability will form a major part of the educational scene in the coming years. That seems to be turning the clock back and it certainly does not augur well for the policy of integration which at one stage had acceptance across the House and across the political parties. I agree very much with the CSIE which would like to see a new and stronger duty placed on LEAs to make provision for the fullest possible integration of children with special educational needs, and for them to plan for this to come about.

Although the 1981 Act placed a general duty on LEAs to integrate, subject to certain conditions, progress has been slow. We have recognised that. The majority of disabled children are still segregated in separate special schools and between 1988 and 1991 there was even a 2 per cent. rise in the segregation of primary age pupils across England indicating a reversal of the gradual trend towards integration over the past decade. The CSIE fought for the fullest possible integration. It is not intended that every child with a disability or difficulty should be in a mainstream classroom all the time. The CSIE is saying that ordinary schools should accept full responsibility for all children as equally valued members of the school and should strive to make the necessary changes and provisions to meet their needs.

There is much that one could add. I want to ensure that we have a properly integrated system. I want to see provisions made, and funds made available, to ensure that more and more children with learning difficulties can be properly incorporated within the state system. We shall not, through this Bill as it stands at present, see any increase in the opportunities for parental choice. The Royal National Institute for the Blind has referred to a number of anxieties. Its key concerns relate to planning at a local level; the provision of nursery education for the under fives; and the compatibility of the Bill with the provisions of the Children Act. In addition the RNIB is concerned at the limited choice open to parents of children who have special educational needs. As your Lordships will be aware, the Bill restricts choice to maintained schools and therefore excludes non-maintained schools such as those which are run by the RNIB. That cannot be acceptable.

Although for the first time the Bill provides that the parents of children with special needs have the right to state a preference for a named school, as the Bill stands there are severe limitations on the real choices open to parents. Parents' choice is to be restricted to maintained schools. Non-maintained special schools, which in the field of visual impairment are the principal providers of education in most parts of the country, are therefore excluded. The RNIB points out that of the 21 special schools catering for visually impaired pupils in England and Wales, 10 are non-maintained. By omitting such schools from those available for parents to name, choice for severely handicapped children who are seeking residential placement is limited to only one LEA school. Those schools attract LEA funds, although arty such placement would be subject to the efficient use of resources. It cannot be satisfactory to your Lordships that schools which are run so admirably by an institution of the quality of the Royal National Institute for the Blind should be placed at such a disadvantage.

I hope that we shall take the Committee stage extremely seriously. In my view the Bill needs a tremendous amount of amendment if it is not to be a new catastrophe for our educational system. We have to ensure that there is real choice for parents and that there is a proper monitoring system such as the local authorities, which are responsive to the needs of local people, are able to provide. We have a very heavy responsibility in debating this important Bill.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, we must surely welcome a Bill the purpose of which is to provide for an education which develops the full potential of every child in this country.

I believe that the Education Bill should embody the philosophy of the Children Act 1989—namely that the welfare of the child is paramount, that parents bear responsibility for their children and that the statutory, voluntary and private sectors dealing with the education, upbringing and care of children should work in close collaboration with each other. There are areas of the Bill which are at variance with relevant sections of the Children Act 1989.

I was going to make an impassioned plea for nursery education, but that has already been done by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and many others. I shall just make two points. The first is that the best time to establish the special needs of children is when they are under five. Many deaf children are not assessed until much later. Therefore, besides many other positive aspects, nursery education has that important feature.

I have been sent works of art by nursery school children from around the country. They were not solicited. They have been sent by children from the Goadness Primary School, the Bedworth Heath Primary School outside Coventry, the Greenlands Nursery School, the Manor Lodge Primary School and the Kettlebridge Nursery Infant School. Nursery education is being considered deeply by many people in the country.

We have the honour to have the Secretary of State sitting in the Chamber with us. I cannot forbear to say that I visited a nursery in Victoria Street, and as I talked to the children a very intelligent and most attractive little girl spoke up and asked me where I worked. I told her that I worked at Westminster. She said: "My father does too". She was the daughter of the Secretary of State. Therefore he cannot possibly vote against nursery education. I shall leave the question of nursery education at that, but the House will realise how strongly we all feel about the matter.

I should like to make one point about school dinners. I regret bitterly that in the previous Bill we did away with school dinners. I believe that school dinners are good for the health of children and also for their social upbringing.

In relation to non-attendance at school, my noble friend the Minister has said that she will be producing more details. I should like to point out that, in one city in this country on any one day, 7 per cent. of children are not attending school. That city—a great city of the British Isles—has the highest delinquency rate in this country, and indeed in Europe. Therefore we are grateful to my noble friend and the Secretary of State who are going to pursue the question of school non-attendance.

The Redcliffe-Maude report on local government recommended unitary authorities. The recommendation was not adopted. Now we are having a second round of local government reorganisation. I worked in a unitary authority where the chief officers worked as a team. Is the Minister really satisfied that the system of planning and the delivery of education is satisfactory? That point was made by many noble Lords including the noble Baroness, Lady David. The local authority has responsibility for schools which have not opted out. The opted-out schools receive funding from the appointed funding authority through the funding agency.

The governors of the opted-out schools are responsible for the quality of education in their schools. I ask the Minister whether in all schools throughout the country all governors understand the teaching skills and what is involved in the precepts of education. The HMIs in OFSTED cannot possibly get round to all the schools in an area. Therefore who is going to maintain consistent standards at the schools both within local authorities and without?

How is the planning going to be done? For argument's sake, those of us who are interested in housing are hoping to see more housing estates built. That being so, who is going to plan the school? Is it going to be planned as an opted-out or as a maintained school? Who is going to do the planning and have the strategy for education in any one area? I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that managerially there is fragmentation and a clear lack of management structure so that people are not quite sure where they have to go and who is responsible.

I hardly dare suggest it, but has the Minister considered asking Coopers & Lybrand to look at the management structure as it is at the moment? I have tried to draw it, but it is not possible to see exactly where responsibility for management and ultimate planning lies. I hope that Coopers & Lybrand are listening to me.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, they are. It is business.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, they are listening. Many of your Lordships have spoken about special needs. I wish to speak on one aspect. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said that since the 1981 Act times have changed and that we have to look at things in the light of modern circumstances. The level of delinquency has risen in this country and many people are concerned about it. In the noble Baroness's report, which resulted in the 1981 Act, integration was recommended for children with special needs into the local community and schools. We all agreed with that and we still do. But there are certain children who perhaps have disrupted homes, personal emotional difficulties, difficulties of delinquency and distress, and who need residential accommodation.

There are many homes in this land that offer these services, and where charity has been prevailed upon to give money for the homes and schools, which have extremely good conditions and, I would submit, good staff. If children with severe emotional difficulties, difficulties of delinquency and with a difficult background are not helped when they are young, they will be a very expensive burden for the state at a later stage. They will be a cost to the state, the social services and the local authorities and, later, to the penal system.

However, those schools are beginning to fail because children are not coming to them: the local authorities say that they cannot afford to send children there. The welfare of the child is paramount. If we do not use the schools and the places for children with special needs and with difficult problems, the welfare of the child is not paramount. What is paramount is the purse of the local authority.

Having been a chief officer in local government, I have sympathy with the treasurer's department. I ask the Minister whether it would be possible—she has already told me that it will not, but I shall ask just the same—to find some other way of funding the children and the schools. I declare an interest, I have to say, because I am chairman of the governors of the Caldecott Community and a governor in another school. I should have liked to spend much longer on special needs, but they have been dealt with aptly by other people and therefore I shall leave the matter.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not take it amiss if I end this inadequate speech by saying that, rather than confrontation, the Warship Warnock, the Frigate Faithfull and the many ships which have set out tonight will hope to sail safely in accord with the Battleship Blatch in an effort to make this a better Bill.

9.42 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, I am sure that we all share the hope that the Navy will come safely into port with the maximum consensus.

I support the broad thrust of the central part of the Bill in relation to grant-maintained schools but with the reservations that have been powerfully expressed by many noble Lords, especially in regard to centralisation and the problem mentioned by the right reverend Prelate of the voluntary sector and aspects such as the need for nursery schools to be brought within the funding structure. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, impressed on us the enormous importance of this stage of education. There are other detailed arrangements—for example, the teaching of musical instruments—on which I look forward to our discussions at the Committee stage.

I wish to open a window in our discussion to the longer term. Sir Karl Popper, perhaps the most distinguished social philosopher alive now, said: I don't know a better argument for an optimistic view of mankind than the fact that this devastating system of education has not ruined them". What he was driving at was that the broad parameters of our present educational system were set 150 years ago, and were based on the practices and understanding of medieval times, going back to Aristotle and Plato. We have preserved those broad parameters. There have been great refinements, great widening and great improvements; but the system as a whole is still the system that was created in Victorian times.

In those days society was relatively stable. Changes occurred, but they occurred slowly. It was not of enormous importance that boys and girls should be brought to acquire the skills and faculties required for dealing with continuous and accelerating change. We all know now that the main feature of our society is change. We have no idea what kind of a society it will be in 25 years. We only know that conditions are changing, not only here but in the rest of Europe and the rest of the world, and changing at an accelerating rate.

What, then, are the new qualities that we require our boys and girls to acquire in order to be able to confront the challenges of change? What do industry and commerce require? What are their needs in dealing with the problems of incessant change? I believe that the answer has been identified. It is necessary that boys and girls should have stronger and more varied powers of thinking—flexibility of mind. The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, referred to the question: what are we educating boys and girls for? It is the central question. Society as a whole needs a firm basis of responsibility in its citizens and the restoration as far as possible of real values.

Many of the functions of thinking have been neglected in schools. I do not suggest that we should throw overboard the traditional skills of literacy, numeracy, analysis, reasoning, critical judgment, and so on. But we have to add to those skills new powers to enable those who will enter industry and commerce and other parts of society to foresee new developments and to have creative imagination, wider understanding, ability to comprehend complexity, and global attitudes. It is interesting that practice in experimental schools has shown that those qualities can be brought out by artificial means; namely, by deliberate teaching.

It is said that a wholesome, innovative curriculum is possible. Anybody who has had anything to do with teaching would no doubt say, "Yes, but where is the time going to come from for adding, new subjects, however desirable?". The answer, I suggest, is that we now know that it is possible to apply new forms of accelerated learning.

In the school for which I share responsibility we have succeeded in saving one-third of the curriculum time. That leaves time for the new and interesting subjects of great social importance which the children love. They take to them like ducks to water; they are fun. We firmly believe that they can be combined with the right standard of traditional skills. They include thinking skills, modelling, mental mapping and all the new disciplines that have been applied largely in management consultancy and industry, which are way ahead of education in those kinds of techniques.

I was interested, as I am sure were other noble Lords, in the appointment by the British Association, supported by the Royal Society, of a National Commission on Education to define the scope of education; to seek to assess the future demands of industry and commerce in society; and to identify what powers should be given to boys and girls to confront continuous change. The noble Lord, Lord Walton, is chairman and the distinguished industrialist, Mr. John Raisman, is vice-chairman. We look forward to their report, which is due in July, and I hope that your Lordships will have an opportunity to debate it.

We do not have a great deal of time—not only tonight, but for the nation as a whole—to get our act together on introducing the new powers for boys and girls to meet the needs of industry and commerce. It is increasingly apparent that this country is not going to remain competitive unless it not only catches up, but also goes ahead. Those skills will enable our boys and girls to get ahead. I hope that this country will pioneer the best kind of education for the western world and the world as a whole for the future.

9.52 p.m.

Lord Renwick

My Lords, I am delighted to speak in this important debate as a vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association. In speaking with a particular eye on the needs of dyslexic children, I believe that I shall be raising issues of common interest spanning many special educational needs. The association was pleased to take part in the special educational needs consortium which has had constructive dialogue with the Government over the Bill. M any of the consortium's concerns and interests are our concerns and interests.

We are starting to see signs that dyslexia is accepted for what it is—a different learning style. It is important that that difference is recognised early and that the enormous talents of the 4 per cent. of the school population that is dyslexic are developed to the full. "Difference" should not mean "handicap". In my experience both as a vice-president and previously as chairman of the BDA, I have encountered far too many cases where that difference has not been recognised or accepted. Over and over again I have seen the blight caused to children as a result.

The situation of a young person of at least average intelligence leaving school at 16 with a reading age of seven or eight has sadly not been unusual to the British Dyslexia Association. I therefore welcome the opportunity provided in Part III of the Bill to remedy some of the shortcomings of the follow-up to the 1981 Act. If Parliament can, through the Bill and its associated codes of practice, deliver faster, fairer and more effective practices in assessment and statementing, it will have done well.

The BDA strives to ensure that every single child with dyslexia receives the appropriate support, whether that be through ordinary classroom teaching, specialist attention, local support activity or some other method. We are concerned not merely on behalf of those severely dyslexic children who need the protection of a statement, but also for the much wider group—the so-called 18 per cent.—who, with properly trained intervention and carefully targeted support, can achieve their full potential.

I hope that in Committee this Chamber can give close attention to the needs of that wider group. In particular, I hope it will look at what might be called "preventive" work and work done before school entry to flag up problems and address them. The cost of such work is matched many times over by the benefits to individuals and saves the potentially huge costs of recovering educational failure subsequently, with all the anti-social implications that such failure means. Accountability, resourcing and co-operation between agencies are, I hope, issues that my noble friend the Minister will consider at later stages of the Bill.

At the more severe end of the spectrum, we look forward to the greater consistency of practice and effectiveness of educational result, promised in the revision of statementing. I have particular hopes, first, that the criteria for statementing can reflect the needs of individuals, bearing in mind their potential. It is important that the criteria allow some attention to an individual's current achievement in relation to his or her potential. Secondly, I hope that the Bill will make sure that the goal of acceleration of assessment and statementing is achieved. The BDA's experience very much bears out the findings of the Audit Commission/HMI report Getting in on the Act in relation to delays in assessment and statementing.

Thirdly, it is most important that all statements are relevant and precise. So many are not. Statements should target a learning outcome and should specify hours of provision relating to specific needs; their accountability should be clear. Above all, the level of expertise should be appropriate. All too often, dyslexic children are given, via their statements, classroom assistants who have no experience of the methods of teaching to which dyslexic children will respond.

My final hope for the Committee stage is that Her Majesty's Government will carefully consider the increasing responsibilities and freedoms of schools. Freedom and autonomy are healthy things for schools to have, but they must be used responsibly. All schools have obligations to children with special educational needs. But such children are often expensive to teach and demanding to look after. I hope that we can look to Her Majesty's's Government to provide protection for them against unfair exclusion, either before admission or while they are at a school. And I hope that the Bill can do all in its scope to enable schools to have access to a stable and good quality supply of expertise to support their own policies and practices on special educational needs.

9.58 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, in view of the length of the list, I shall restrict myself to a few selected issues. First, I should like to make one general point in supporting the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who drew attention to the competition which this country faces. I was recently involved in a business trip to the Far East. I came back completely convinced that we are in great danger of underestimating the competition which this country faces. In terms of educational excellence, we are far behind. The Government are right to make changes, and I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was right in saying that we must all work together to try to make those changes successful.

I should like to talk about the issues connected with opting-in. The current situation is that the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish community have a partnership arrangement with the Government in respect of the schools which they own. As your Lordships know, there is pressure from some Moslem communities in this country and from other Christian denominations to be given the same treatment. That pressure will become hard to resist even if one should wish to do so. There are already 12 schools in the state sector in this country with 100 per cent. Moslem pupils and no fewer than 230 schools with 75 per cent. Moslem pupils.

Moslem schools need not be regarded as a threat. I should like to quote from the definition of Islamic education that was adopted at the first World Conference on Islamic Education in Makkah in 1977, which states: Education should aim at the balanced growth of the total personality of man, through training of man's spirit, intellect, rational self, feelings and bodily senses, with the ultimate aim of Muslim education lying in the realisation of complete submission to God at the level of the individual, community and humanity at large". Could the Christian churches find fault with such a definition?

There are, of course, disadvantages and dangers in the proliferation of faith-based schools. There are dangers of separatism, of the development of a ghetto mentality and of fanaticism. I do not anticipate great difficulty in carrying your Lordships with me on the subject of fanaticism, especially fanaticism which promotes hate or prejudice. I do not suppose that any of us would want to see this country's children exposed to an education which encouraged them to believe in the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition or the bigotry that brought Christians to the gallows in earlier centuries—nor do I suspect that any of us are very keen on the kind of fanaticism that we see in Iran today.

I should like to ask the Minister how the Government propose to ensure that religious or political groups which hold views unacceptable to our society will not be able to obtain control over or to influence the ethos and values that are taught in our grant-maintained schools in the future? Will the schools' inspectors make judgments about values or will they simply report what values are being taught? If (as I hope and believe) it is the latter, who will judge what are and what are not acceptable values?

It is worth pointing out that the Government have no control over the values that are taught in independent faith-based schools. There are 26 such Moslem schools and over 90 faith-based Christian schools in this country at present. It is also worth noting that the exclusion of Moslem schools from the maintained sector is encouraging a sense of grievance and rejection. That in itself leads to a sense of separateness and potentially to a ghetto mentality. If, however, such schools were within the maintained sector, they would have to follow the national curriculum and would be subject to inspection, which is both a safeguard and a unifying force.

It is fair to say that neither the RE curriculum nor acts of worship are covered by inspection as the Bill stands, but I am credibly informed that the vast majority of Moslem communities in this country would welcome controls that would enable them to ensure that there is no infiltration of their schools by fanatics. They have suggested to me an agreed curriculum and the licensing of RE teachers, but whether those solutions would be acceptable to other churches is another matter. I suspect that a nice balance needs to be struck between the need to prevent sectarian excesses on the one hand and the understandable desire of the churches on the other hand not to have their religious teaching interfered with by ignorant or antagonistic inspectors.

I should like to mention a few points on diversity and choice which have been raised earlier by other noble Lords. One relates to the 10 per cent. rule under which existing independent or specialist schools will not be allowed to apply to opt in until the 10 per cent. threshold for grant-maintained schools is in place. I would ask the Minister whether this is reasonable.

Even for Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools parents' choice is severely limited at present by the power of the Secretary of State to refuse to allow the opening of a new school if there is a surplus of places available in the area, even if those places are in schools whose ethos and values are quite unacceptable to the parents. That means in a way that there will be choice for some but not for others. Surely that is not what the Government mean by choice.

There is an issue about the composition of the SACREs. Often they do not reflect the mix of faiths in the area in which they operate. Would it not be reasonable that they should do so?

I should like to look at the purpose of religious education in our secular schools. In faith-based schools, religious education and the act of worship are an education for the practice of a particular faith, a particular way of life, a gateway to understanding what life is all about, a way for each individual to develop in love and in knowledge. That is what religious education is about in a religious school. What is it about in a secular school?

There are those who would like to see a kind of historical, anthropological study of religious beliefs—a superficial overview which would naturally tend to trivialise. The approach which I believe is right is to accept that every child has to make a choice in its life as it grows up: is it going to accept the disciplines and sacrifices necessary to follow a religious faith, or is it going to settle for a materialist or humanist approach, or is it not even going to think much about the subject at all? I believe that the purpose of religious education is to prepare each child to make that decision wisely. All our children should learn that there are alternatives to pure, unadulterated consumerism and that the religious way of life is a realistic and meaningful alternative for them in the 21st century if they want to adopt it.

I would go on to say that I believe that in order to do that religious education must give each child a genuine understanding and experience, not exclusively but mainly, of one religion, and that normally this should be the religion of its parents or, if they have none, I suspect that this House would feel it right that it should be the Christian religion. I believe that this deeper understanding can only be given by teachers who are themselves committed. I do not believe that a true understanding of religion can be given from the outside looking in.

I have two other points unconnected with religious education. I am concerned that the Bill makes no mention of the under-fives, a subject which has been mentioned by many noble Lords already. It is essential to start with the under-fives for two reasons. First, the proper teaching of under-fives makes an important contribution to progress both in primary and in subsequent secondary education. Secondly, proper pastoral care of under-fives gives an opportunity to pick up and deal early with family problems and special educational needs. As your Lordships will know, both those propositions have been conclusively confirmed by recent research.

Finally, the tragedy of James Bulger has drawn public attention to the serious problems within our society of some young people who are emotionally and behaviourally disturbed. In a high percentage of such cases these children suffer from inadequate support at home. Children who are abused or deserted, or who do not have proper support from their families, need pastoral support at school, whether it be by teachers, by Outreach or by social workers. Where problems are identified early enough, pastoral care can often avoid costly statementing, special schools and the subsequent cost of juvenile courts and adult crime. Pastoral care in our schools, especially primary and nursery schools, is at present patchy. Do the Government have plans to put school pastoral care on a sounder footing?

10.10 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, the later the hour, the smaller the appetite for long speeches, so I shall try to keep my remarks succinct. I should like to give the Bill my restrained approval. My reasons for using that phrase will emerge in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, was good enough to call a couple of sentences of mine that he quoted from a recent newspaper article, complete nonsense. I assure your Lordships that my experience of those matters, though much less than that of the noble Lord, is more recent both as a parent and as a current member of the School Examinations and Assessment Council.

The main message I have received from some of tonight's speeches is, "Keep the status quo". The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, was surely right: the world moves on. What is needed is a national framework which allows new life to grow in response to new needs. I believe that the Bill provides that.

It must be remembered that, except in certain circumstances, under the Bill not one school is required to opt out, a point that I do not believe has been made previously. It depends upon parents; 12.5 per cent. of secondary schools have been approved for GM status. That number is sure to grow, but opting out is not compulsory. The good thing about the Bill is that it continues the Government's policy of opening doors without seeking to impose a rigid pattern upon future developments.

I welcome in particular those parts of the Bill which make it easier for schools to opt out of local authority control. On balance, it is right to allow that to happen gradually, through parental ballots. The main advantage of the balloting route to GM status is that it creates groups of active citizens, committed to their success and survival. That is why I do not share the fear of my noble friend Lord Eccles that these decisions will be reversed easily by a future Labour Government. It is not so easy to reverse the voice of the people.

If we peer a little further down the evolutionary road, we can see a diverse and exciting pattern of education emerging, ranging from fully independent fee-charging schools to many different kinds of state-funded school, enjoying different degrees of legal independence, practical autonomy and specialisation. The most interesting possibility opened up by the Bill is the emergence of groupings, associations and partnerships of schools. Some might be members of charitable trusts. Others might have a central management running common services. The inspiration for such arrangements could be religious, educational or merely practical.

Why should not we look forward to a situation in which local authorities replace their LEAs by educational trusts into which their self-management schools might be invited to opt? How would the Government regard that proposal? How would the Opposition regard it? Is there anything in the Bill to encourage or prevent such developments? Such developments might meet the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford about the need for intermediate institutions between the individual schools and the state. I am a strong supporter of local government, but I cannot say that I regret deeply the fading out of the LEAs. In my experience they are, in practice, unaccountable, and, I have reason to know, sometimes behave tyrannically.

I believe that we could have seen more distinctly through the fog of 276 clauses and 18 schedules had the Government clearly put forward the view that the state does not have to provide the services it funds; indeed, that there are enormous gains to be had from it not providing them directly but leaving it to competing suppliers to do so. That purchaser/provider split was the main idea behind the health service reforms but it does not appear to have penetrated that far into the Department for Education. In fact, the funding agency and the LEAs are seen as both providers and purchasers and sometimes as managers of schools rather than as buyers of educational services on behalf of parents.

It is for those reasons that my support for the Bill is restrained. It offers no clear view of the role of government in education. It divides responsibilities between central and local government in a way that I find lopsided and illogical. It provides for no local discretion in the funding formula which might be used to help poorer neighbourhoods. It vests the Secretary of State, his funding agency and the new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority with an extraordinary range of powers.

I share the disquiet of many noble Lords about the scope of Clause 1. It gives little or no encouragement to private providers to come within the ambit of the state sector. How is it possible to reconcile an ever more rigid national curriculum assessment system with the Secretary of State's claim that diversity has been one of the great themes running through the story of educational change since 1979? How is it possible to reconcile the Government's desire to make parental choice paramount with their vesting of virtually all decisions as to which schools to open or close, expand or contract, in bureaucrats and in politicians?

It is to that question of the management of supply that I wish to turn in the final part of my remarks. An educational system hospitable to new ideas and better practices must be one open to new schools; one into which new schools can easily enter. At present it is almost impossible for new promoters, even voluntary religious bodies, to enter the state educational sector, so onerous are the conditions for entry. So far as I can see, the Bill does little to help matters. I hope that the Government will be willing to amend it in order to make entry easier, as my noble friend Lady Cox suggested.

The main immediate problem is the rule that no new schools can enter the state sector until all surplus capacity in any area has been eliminated. The Secretary of State said that quite clearly in another place. He said that the Government were always willing to consider applications from schools of all sorts for admission to the state sector provided that there were no surplus places in any area. What did he mean by "surplus"? What did he mean by "area"?

I suspect that there has been a failure to distinguish between places which are surplus due to demographic changes —as when an area becomes depopulated—and places which are surplus at unpopular schools only. The counterpart of that may well be a shortage of places at popular schools, whether those are state or private. The remedy for that kind of surplus capacity is not to close down supply but to allow successful schools, or successful types of schools, to expand and less successful ones to contract. Provided that entry conditions are reasonable there are plenty of exciting; opportunities for starting new schools, taking over old schools and developing new kinds of educational agencies and services. The Bill does not see, or at least it sees too dimly, that local or regional imbalances in supply and demand give a wonderful opportunity to liberate the innovating power of the marketing system, to raise standards and to give parents something new and different to choose from.

Contrary to what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, this is not an untried theory. It is a genuine principle which has proved itself all over the world in all walks of life. The onus is on the noble Earl to show why market mechanisms have no part to play in education.

We must also challenge the assumption that new schools cost millions of pounds to set up. You can have new schools on old sites. Apart from that, it takes teachers, books, rented or donated space and not much more to set up a new school.

Finally, fears were expressed in another place that the two new quangos set up to control funding and the curriculum would, together with the Secretary of State's new power, be the most potent instruments for the control of education that this country has ever known. That could be so but it need not be. We need assurances from the Minister about the uses to which those powers will be put. Will the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority be told to slim down the national curriculum and simplify the assessment system? Will the funding agency allow funds to follow parental choice? Above all, will the Secretary of State use his authority to loosen the shackles of the bureaucracy that has been set up?

If the answer to those questions is yes, the Secretary of State will have built a framework that can develop and which will last. If the answer is no, he or his successor will have to come back in two years or so to repair or shore up a crumbling structure. What I and many other noble Lords in the House today want from the Minister is an indication as to the spirit in which the proposals will be implemented and the ends that they are intended to serve.

10.22 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I must immediately express my disappointment at the way in which the debate has been managed by the Government. Given the timescale and the amount of parliamentary time available, I see no reason why the Second Reading debate could not have taken place over two days, as was suggested by the noble and learned. Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. Your Lordships' House prides itself on the fact that its business is not subject to a guillotine. However, unless noble Lords are prepared to speak at length as they wish—and these important matters should not be trivialised—then the Government are imposing a form of guillotine. That is to be regretted.

I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said in her opening remarks. I wonder what the Bill really is that we have before us. She said that the Government intend to bring forward a substantial number of amendments in Committee. She gave no indication as to what they would be or to which parts of the Bill they relate. She did not say whether they relate to those areas of anxiety which have been referred to by noble Lords on all sides of the House; for example, nursery education and children with special needs. Noble Lords are entitled to know whether there is to be a huge clutch of amendments shoved on the Marshalled List with which we shall have to deal in Committee.

I did not hear the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. However, a noble Lord on the Cross-Benches said that he thought that the Bill could work if we all shared the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles; namely, that we should all work together. However, if the Government behave as they did in another place—and the Minister who handled the Bill there was at the Bar of the House a short time ago—no amendments of substance will be accepted other than their own amendments. My information is that in another place the only amendments which mattered and which the Government accepted were their own. They were totally oblivious and hardened against any points of view other than those put forward by themselves.

We are told that this is the largest and most profound Education Bill that we have had for years. I do not normally speak in education debates because it is not a subject in which I am particularly well read or well versed. My only experience of education comes from the time when I was privileged to be the leader of the local authority in Manchester. We were proud of our education system in the city at the time.

What I find strange is that if the Bill is to install an education system that will last a long time—and I think that I am entitled to draw that inference—are we not entitled to expect the Government to deal with the priorities that are before us as a nation? I am not talking about higher education because that has the strongest political and cross-political lobby of any sector in the country. You only have to listen to a debate in your Lordships' House to understand that quickly.

Without a shadow of a doubt—many speakers have referred to this aspect—the two areas of greatest need in the country are nursery education and special needs. But where are we going when a nation like ours cannot guarantee that there will be a place for a child of four or five years of age in a nursery? The Bill does not guarantee that at all.

From my early days in Manchester and as a Member of another place for Leeds, I know that even in some educational areas —I am not talking in the political sense, although some of them are Conservative and some Labour—it depended upon where you lived in the city as to whether your child had a chance of nursery education. In the area of Leeds that I represented, the provision for nursery education was almost nil. But if you crossed the city into the more affluent area there was no waiting list; indeed, they were almost coming around knocking on doors asking people whether they had children to put in the nurseries that were available.

The Bill does not deal with that situation. In my view it is monstrous that today a government who talk about creating an educational path for the foreseeable future in the Bill are not prepared to say that every child in the country should have nursery education by right, irrespective of colour, creed and place of birth —that is, whether it is a slum in the centre of Leeds or Manchester or in the hinterland of the more affluent areas. If we do not put such a provision in the Bill in Committee, we shall be talking nonsense to some of the most underprivileged children in the country.

If you start a child 12 months later in education than one of similar ability, there is no way that the child denied an early start will be able to catch up with the other one. Statistics prove that fact. With children of level intelligence, the one who starts earlier will always achieve higher results. During the Committee stage, I hope that the Government will seriously consider enshrining in the Bill the right of all children to nursery education.

Noble Lords have spoken at great length about special needs. I am not too sure that I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, on the integration of children with special needs into mainstream education. There are degrees of handicap. Many schools, for example, will accept a dyslexic child. However, if a school's financial resources are restricted, that child will not receive the education he deserves, or the education he would receive in a school that is designed to deal with dyslexic pupils.

There may have to be a reappraisal of the matter. It is no use moving children with special needs into mainstream education and expecting teachers to devote their attention to them. It does not work that way because most state funded schools do not have the financial resources to establish measures to deal with children with special needs. We must consider the matter on a non-political basis. I know from my experience in Leeds and Manchester that some senior pupils in some schools develop special relationships with children with special needs in other schools. Those senior pupils realise that some people in society need to be cared for. That experience is of value to them and the children they care for.

At the weekend I happened to pick up a copy of the New Mancunian which is the newspaper of the Manchester Grammar School. The newspaper refers to five schools in Manchester that cater for children with special needs: Crosby Meadow, Leacroft, Melland, The Birches and Piper Hill. As I understand the position, Manchester City Council is to reach a decision on the future of those schools. The council has four options but all involve a reduction in the number of establishments and consequently a reduction in the number of places available for children with special needs. That is being considered at a time when, through this Bill, we are supposed to be moving forward in education.

Some noble Lords have referred to existing legislation and to the measures local authorities may take to absorb children with special needs into their education systems. However, it is obvious that teachers at the sharp end in schools have strong anxieties about the effects of such a policy of absorption being carried to its ultimate limit. I do not expect the Minister to reply to my next point tonight. As I understand the position, Manchester will make a decision in early April as regards its options. I would assume Manchester's decision will be taken on the basis of legislation that is already on the statute book.

Perhaps the Minister can write to me to tell me whether the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will override existing legislation. If it does, would it not be possible and sensible, where there is any diminution or change in the programme, for the department to issue guidelines and for there to be a moratorium until the position is sorted out?

I believe that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who said that it would be difficult to finance special needs as such. From my experience in local government I do not believe that that is the case. I know that within local authority grants there were needs elements. I believe that my noble friend Lord McIntosh was also involved in such matters at that time. I do not believe that it is impossible for the Government, if they wish, to tell education authorities that the Government will fund an established figure if the authorities will educate children in need.

That money could be ring-fenced. When it suited the Government to do so they ring-fenced the housing programme viciously to accord with a political ideology. I am not talking about political ideologies. I am speaking on behalf of children who ought to be offered a nursery place, children with special needs whose needs ought to be catered for by us as a nation as a right, not as an afterthought. I should like to think that the Minister will take seriously the point that I have made about the ring-fencing of special needs when and where they are proved.

10.35 p.m.

Lord Rennell

My Lords, this Education Bill builds on the reforms the Government have so bravely and comprehensively tackled since 1979. The scope of the changes have been monumental and, of course, they were needed. It was necessary, for instance, to remove control from a number of irresponsible, ideological and spendthrift Labour-controlled LEAs in which not only vast sums of taxpayers' money allocated to schools were wasted but, worse, the so-called progressive education methods were not working and as a result large numbers of young people were, and still are, leaving school unable to read, write or add up.

Criticism that this Bill and previous Bills were drafted and passed to your Lordships' House too quickly, without enough thought and consultation, should be tempered by the knowledge that our children have only one chance to obtain a good school education and that each year tens of thousands of pupils pass from one age sector to the next. Too many schools are, at present, failing their children. We cannot sit and debate and not take action. As Eliza Doolittle said: Don't give me words, show me". There were bitter arguments over opt out, grant-maintained schools in the Education Reform Act 1988. Yet, despite those forebodings, today schools which have taken that step are, without exception, delighted with the results. The children are happier, exam results have improved, demand for places is up, spending on facilities of every sort has been increased, parents are involved and teachers in those schools have great pride. Applications for GM status are gathering speed and momentum and I am pleased that this Bill will streamline and simplify the procedure for future applications.

Given the success of the GM schools, perhaps all schools should come into GM status sooner rather than later or perhaps, with competition between grant-maintained and well-run LEA schools, create a beneficial, competitive stimulus. In the meantime, I would like to see more emphasis on speeding up in opting-out of the primary school sector. Proper schooling at that age makes or breaks.

I very much welcome the provisions in the Bill which will limit the sums that can be spent by obstructive and destructive LEAs campaigning against schools balloting for GM status. There have been a number of disgraceful episodes on record. I hope that strong measures can be taken to prevent intimidation of one sort or another of teachers, parents and schools who are contemplating opting-out or have already done so. For example, I read in another place of an instance where planning permission on new school buildings has been refused by the local council and of another occasion where parents have been misinformed to the extent that they believed that they would have to pay £50 per term towards school fees if they were to become grant maintained.

I am particularly pleased that failing schools are being given most urgent attention. As often as not, those schools are found in the inner cities and generally deprived areas. Turning those schools around will not only benefit the children but will be a major contribution to the gradual regeneration of the area as a whole. I hope that with league tables, general data and more frequent inspections, failing schools will show up early enough and therefore be able to avoid the necessity of the education association. That is, of course, the aim of the inspections.

I understand that approximately 130 schools have been identified and advised that their performance is causing concern and that they will be listed for early inspection. If that is the case, I hope that the action plan can be started now and not wait until September. Again, let us have action and not words.

As regards the new bodies, the education associations, where do we find these rare experts to head them and what is the blueprint for success? Bernard Shaw, who hated school, said: What I did learn at school I should have been better without as it was only what a convict learns from his fellow prisoners". I am not sure that I do not agree with him. There is no golden rule in education. However, I would put my faith in looking for five essential requirements: strong leadership, good teachers, caring parents, firm discipline and a religious ethos.

Hopefully, education associations will bring new ideas and new minds to the legacy inherited from the failed LEA. I hope that they will look to the most successful of other comparable schools to see what makes them tick. I hope that they will look abroad to the countries where education standards are highest.

I should like to give your Lordships examples of two schools. First, Baverstock, which is a Birmingham inner city comprehensive. Ten years ago it was in a desperate plight. It was virtually run by skinhead gangs. It was so bad that few parents wanted their children to go there. Three years ago the school became one of the first to go grant-maintained. Today, that school has been transformed, thanks to a headmaster who has been an inspiration to his teachers, his pupils and their parents. In the final year of local Labour council control three years ago, only 26 local parents had listed Baverstock as first choice for their children. This year, Baverstock is so popular that the school administrator was forced to close the list of applicants after 560 parents had chosen the school as their first choice for the 240 places available.

Secondly, let us look now at Highbury Grove School in the North London borough of Islington. In the 1960s, this was the school that showed that the comprehensive system could work. Under the headmaster, Sir Rhodes Boyson, it was a model of firm discipline, academic endeavour and sporting success. Parents queued up to send their children there. En November last year, two headmasters later, the school was and is in turmoil, with its head teacher suspended, classroom standards under attack and a damning report on how it is being run. It shows some of the worst classroom behaviour ever encountered. The headmaster is more interested in promoting social justice than examination results and absenteeism is at levels unheard of since Red Robbo's day at British Leyland.

The currently suspended headmaster's predecessor, who succeeded Sir Rhodes Boyson, said that there is a far greater degree of informality at the school now. Structures which served the school well for about 20 years were changed. Somehow, grip was lost. The point I wish to make here is that given the right ingredients, or the wrong ones, it does not take long for a school to be turned around, for the better or for the worse. Tackling failing schools will be a daunting but very rewarding task.

Finally, we have heard criticism that the Bill has given the Minister of State too many and too strong powers. It is argued that such powers should only be given in a state of emergency. But when one looks at the desperate plight of inner city schools where reading, writing and arithmetic are often not even taught, one can only come to the conclusion, as my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has remarked elsewhere, that we are in the midst of an emergency. It has been left, strangely enough, to a Frenchman to show us the value of direct and brave intervention. That, of course, is General Morillon in Yugoslavia. I believe that over the past 15 years the Government have shown considerable bravery and great determination in coming to grips with education in this country. Of course, it will still take time and co-operation from all sides. I think it will succeed and I commend the Bill.

10.47 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, it is getting late and I shall not detain your Lordships long, but there are one or two points I wish to make broadly in favour of the Bill.

The most urgent need in Britain today is for the rediscovery of biblical Christianity in our schools and for the re-establishment of confidence and enthusiasm in its teachers. Many excellent teachers have left the profession, discouraged by falling standards, saying that they are unable to function as they would wish.

The revolution to child-centred education in the 1960s resulted in many improvements. Under the rigid 11-plus system, schools had often concentrated on the academic needs of the top 20 per cent., leaving those not selected with a feeling of failure. With the scrapping of the 11-plus came the insistence that no child should feel labelled a failure. However, with it also came an aversion to words like "standards", "discipline", "order" and "authority". Before long, children of known similar intelligence began arriving at secondary school with very different standards in maths, reading, punctuation, grammar and behaviour.

By 1986, the inspectors' report acknowledged that 30 per cent. of lessons in maintained schools were below an acceptable standard. There was concern also about certain school policies, including the teaching that sex outside marriage and homosexual sex were normal, and about a multi-faith approach to religious education which trivialised Christianity and was depriving children of an awareness of their Christian heritage.

I now turn briefly to religious education, a subject which I believe is of fundamental importance, although it has often received little priority in schools. In 1988 I supported the amendments to the Education Reform Bill which ensured that religious education would be "mainly Christian", with account being taken of the other religious traditions in this country. Those amendments gave a helpful new impetus to the importance of religious education and the need for its content to reflect the Christian traditions on which much of our law and public life has been built.

But many local authorities seem to have been slow to respond to the requirements of the 1988 Act. In the past few weeks a major study has been published by the National Curriculum Council which concluded that: no syllabus could be said to be meeting the full requirements for religious education … none specify what proportion of teaching should be based on Christianity". I am glad that the Government have included in the Bill a provision requiring local authorities which have not yet reviewed their RE syllabuses to do so. But further action is necessary. I believe we need some national monitoring of religious education and local authority syllabuses, not simply through a one-off exercise such as that recently undertaken by the National Curriculum Council but on a regular and continuing basis.

I know that the Secretary of State suggested recently that it might be helpful to have some nationally agreed guidelines on RE which would help in drawing up local syllabuses. That would be most effective if the guidelines were devised by an expert body such as the new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority rather than by some major conference on religious education involving all the representatives of different Churches. Would not such a conference be a recipe for confusion?

Monitoring and guidelines will help. But we also need more resources for the training of good religious education teachers. I am fully aware that religious education on its own cannot somehow change schools completely or change individual pupils' lives. But it can make an effective contribution towards a rounded education. That contribution will be even more effective if the steps I have suggested are taken.

The White Paper upon which the Bill was based included in it a short statement with which I think we all agree; namely: There is too much truancy from our schools". I am deeply concerned that so many children, for whatever reason, do not go to school. I fear that truancy may often be a fertile breeding ground for other social problems such as juvenile crime and drug addiction. I am encouraged that the Government have taken steps in Part IV of the Bill to strengthen the arrangements for dealing with truancy by introducing school attendance orders. It is imperative to bring parents into the picture, as the new orders will do.

However, truancy is not a simple matter, and I am sure that other steps are necessary, including the co-operation of voluntary bodies. I am involved with one such body, Schools Outreach, which exists for the sole purpose of placing high calibre, well trained, skilled, full-time workers alongside young children in schools. That organisation has been particularly successful in overcoming truancy and turbulence in schools. Here I must declare an interest, as I am the chairman of the appeals committee for that charity.

If the Government are really interested in reducing truancy in schools, surely the Department for Education should be able to offer more financial support than is given at present. The sums are absolute peanuts in central government terms. The limited support given to the Berkshire project of Schools Outreach is much appreciated. But what about the rest of the country? Headmasters are crying out for trained workers from Schools Outreach to be put into their schools to overcome truancy and turbulence, and only extra finances are needed to achieve that.

10.55 p.m.

Lord Adrian

My Lords, speaking thirty-fifth in our debate I shall try to be brief. Most of what I might have said has already been said, and indeed much better than I could have said it. But I wish to raise two points and both may, I fear, seem peripheral to the main thrust of the Bill. That thrust—improving our primary and secondary educational provision by the state—can hardly be faulted. Indeed, improvement is probably long overdue. We can be sure from what has already been said that extended disagreement at later stages will occur over the specific organisational changes which are proposed in the Bill, but with the general aim of improvement it is hardly possible to disagree. I listened to the debate and learned a lot, and I look forward to taking some part in later stages.

My first point arises because I have received, as no doubt have many of your Lordships, an unusually large number of letters from parents of young children who are anxious about the future of nursery education. No doubt those letters are to some extent stimulated, but there can be no doubt about the anxiety. Though I know that the Bill is confined to primary and secondary education, I ask the Minister, when he replies to the debate, to touch upon the Government's attitude to the provision of nursery education, if only to dispel as soon as possible the real fear expressed in the letters that, as a result of the proposals, nursery education will have to be discontinued in some places. After all, nursery schooling should not be an optional extra. The younger one is, the more one has to learn and the more able one is to learn. One cannot start too young.

My second anxiety—one already voiced by several noble Lords—is also perhaps beyond the scope of the Bill. I say "perhaps" because, although universities do not appear on the face of the Bill, the Secretary of State for Education said at col. 161 of Hansard of another place on 2nd March, that Clause 1 of the Bill, covers all the relevant institutions and bodies. It also covers the colleges of further education, the Further Education Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council and the universities". It had been my intention to ask the Minister to tell us, in respect of further and higher education, whether the Bill proposes any powers for the Secretary of State beyond the powers which derive from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. The Minister assured us that the answer is a clear and unequivocal no. We are grateful for that statement. But that leaves me uncertain about the purpose of the Secretary of State's words. In view of the heated debates on the Secretary of State's powers during the passage of the Education Reform Bill and the Further and Higher Education Bill, graphically described by my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I am sure that the universities will examine carefully the words of the Secretary of State, the Minister and Clause 1, to ascertain how they may be reconciled and what the actual effect of Clause 1 will be.

An amendment explicitly excluding further and higher education from the operation of Clause 1, as has already been suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale, my noble friend Lord Dainton and the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, would be welcomed and I would support it. It would be extremely sad if time better spent on the important details of the present proposals had to be devoted to a third or perhaps even fourth replay of arguments for autonomy in higher education which were successfully maintained in the debates in Parliament on the Education Reform Bill and the Further and Higher Education Bill.

10.59 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it gives me particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adrian—Oxford and Cambridge for once, rather than Coopers & Lybrand—and I do so with the more enthusiasm since what he has said makes it unnecessary for me to elaborate some points which I should otherwise have had to bring to the attention of my noble friend the Minister.

In spite of the assurances which she gave us in introducing the Bill, I find myself still perplexed by Clause 1. I think that my perplexity can be solved only if she is able to give us an understanding of how this clause came about with the reference to universities, which the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, has mentioned. Our anxieties can be removed only if she can tell us that the Government will produce an amendment in due course which will make it clear that universities are excluded from that clause or, failing that, if she will say that the Government will accept an amendment which, with other noble Lords, I shall be tabling tomorrow morning to make that exclusion.

I can only repeat the regrets I expressed last week that the Government are so unwilling to take universities into their confidence. As I understand it—this is all those of us who are not in the confidence of government have to go on—the Bill that is now before us was presented to another place without this clause, that therefore it was never discussed in Committee in another place, that it was introduced only at Report stage and that by the conventions of another place no amendments at that stage were possible. I think it is only proper that those of us who are concerned should be told why it was that this was thought to be necessary.

The Secretary of State had powers under the 1944 Act, which has been referred to a number of times during the course of today's proceedings, for promoting education, which is the duty now imposed on him by the clause, but the 1944 Act went on to say that education was defined as progressing through three stages; primary, secondary and further. So, in the 1944 Act, although by then government were paying considerable sums towards higher education, it was not thought necessary to confer powers on the Secretary of State in that respect. Therefore, there is a question—it is a perfectly fair question—to ask of the Minister. Why was it thought necessary to do this at this very late stage? What lacuna existed in the powers over education available to government which had not been satisfactorily covered by the operative clauses of the Bill, which are, as has been pointed out, numerous enough?

Perhaps I am even more suspicious at this hour of night than in daylight hours but I am somewhat suspicious, and for this reason. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with Victorian melodrama will know that when it is necessary to get rid of some superfluous female she is described as being afflicted with a disease known as "galloping consumption". Looking at the history of education over the past few years, it seems to me that Secretaries of State are also liable to a rather dangerous disease which in the terminology of Victorian medicine I would describe as "galloping megalomania". What does it consist of? It consists of producing year after year enormous bulky Bills that it would test the powers of endurance of a Sherpa to bring into the House. These Bills are not given full consideration in another place and your Lordships are left with a task, which we may or may not enjoy, of putting some rhyme and reason into their provisions. That is why we had the contest, particularly with regard to the universities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, referred earlier.

The other aspect of megalomania, if I may so describe it, is an obvious desire to extend wherever possible and into whatever possible realm the authority of the Secretary of State. It may well be - and all the holders of that office whom I can remember are honourable men - that this is not their personal desire; that they have no wish to strut the stage as mini-Napoleons, as someone has put it, but that somewhere in the heart of the department itself there is a resentment on the part of certain civil servants (and, were it not for the conventions of this House, some names might come to mind) that, although they have been able to wreak their will on the school system, the universities have so far established a measure of independence. However, unless we get the amendment which I have suggested to my noble friend the Minister and unless it is made absolutely clear that there was an error and unless an assurance is given that the Secretary of State read out a speech that he had never intended to make (at least, not with those words in it), we are bound to be extremely anxious. We are anxious not so much because of any doubts about the good faith of the Secretary of State, but simply about his capacity now to confront directly the anxieties of the university community in the way in which I enlarged upon in our debate last week.

In the speech in the other place to which the noble Lord, Lord Adrian referred, the Secretary of State talked about the exhilaration that one would feel when visiting the newly enfranchised schools and what he referred to as "independent universities". But the independent universities are only just clinging on. If these provisions were passed, there would not be any independent universities for him to visit, except for the University of Buckingham. Twenty years ago when those who founded that university said, "The state is not a paymaster you can rely upon to keep its hands off forever", we were laughed out of court by pundits such as the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, who was formerly in his place, and others. They said that the British system was an absolute guarantee. I did not believe it then and I do not believe it now. I think that it is perfectly reasonable (because the state represents the taxpayer) that those who pay the piper should call the tune. All that we ask for is that the tune should be rather more agreeable.

11.8 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, this courageous and largely excellent Bill seeks to strengthen the powers of parents, head teachers and school governors by encouraging grant-maintained schools. It also seeks to promote religious values in our schools. It is therefore much disliked by our educational establishment, which is largely atheist and which, until recently, has enjoyed a monopoly for more than 40 years. The massive failure of this monopoly is only now becoming widely recognised, thanks to the Government's determination to let some sunlight into its musty rooms. Perhaps the latest nugget of evidence of this monopoly's failure is yesterday's report from the Adult and Basic Skills Unit which finds that some 6 million adults are neither literate nor numerate in this country today. As violence grows in our society, one fears that just as many may now find it difficult to tell the difference between right and wrong.

I need hardly remind your Lordships of the main beneficiaries of the British state education monopoly. They are largely the local education authorities, the teaching unions, the teacher trainers and the Department for Education itself. Of these, this Bill affects the LEAs more than the others and so they have become its greatest natural enemies.

In the Bill's defence, the suggestion made by a number of your Lordships that its provisions may be an attack on local government itself is so clearly a red herring that I do not think I need deal with it further. Local education authorities perhaps bear more blame than anyone else for our present plight and must therefore expect to have their monopoly further eroded.

I wish one could lay the blame entirely at the door of Labour-controlled LEAs but one cannot. Of course, it is the Labour Party which spawned, and which has most enthusiastically espoused, the failed socialist experiment of comprehensivisation which it has promoted while many of our children have failed to learn the five Rs. But I gather that the standards in the comprehensive of, for example, Essex are pretty dismal too. By the same token dishonourable resistance to grant-maintained status has not been confined to Labour local authorities. I understand that Hampshire, Hereford, Worcestershire, East Sussex and indeed West Sussex have been among those authorities using large sums of public money to lobby against grant-maintained status. I very much hope that Part H of the Bill will stop this behaviour in future.

It is not even as though anyone is suggesting that LEAs should disappear. We are just saying that they should earn the trust of parents by putting the interests of their children above the trappings of office and the dead hand of bureaucracy. Those which do that may well survive, as they have in Holland, where I am told that for most of this century some 60 per cent. of schools have been similar to our grant-maintained schools, and 40 per cent. have been under local government control.

I have criticised the Department for Education itself, and I know I must be careful about criticising civil servants who cannot reply publicly. But Schedule 13 to the Bill puts civil servants into play, and so I have to say that in my 10 years on the Council for National Academic Awards, and in my other contacts with our state education system, I have not always found all the civil servants in the Department for Education to be entirely supportive of government policy. Of course, that might be no bad thing if the policy in question was wrong. But I think I detect that this independence of action can be at its most fervent when government policy attempts to weaken the monopoly to which I have referred. Indeed, in view of the acrimonious debate we had on academic freedom last year and during your Lordships' debate on the 1988 Education Act, I would like to join my noble friend Lord Beloff and say that I have my doubts about the quality of the advice which caused Clause 1 to be inserted into the Bill so late in the day.

Lord Campbell of Allowsty

My Lords, would my noble friend allow me? I just wanted to record a protest against the criticism of the civil servants in the Department for Education. For reasons I have already given in a speech which will not have attracted the attention of anybody, I think that that is misconceived and unfair.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am of course grateful for that intervention, but I was just about to say that I hope that these fears are unfounded, and I mention them only because they are germane to the point I am about to make about Schedule 13. I was going to say that in view of these experiences I am fairly sure that the provisions of Schedule 13, which empower civil servants to take part in all meetings of the new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, are inappropriate. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is going to be a body of huge power and influence. It ought to be able to meet in private when its members wish to do so, and thus maintain its intended and necessary independence.

I trust that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway will read carefully what I said in Hansard and he may feel that his intervention was not necessary.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I do feel that my intervention was wholly necessary, and the longer this speech goes on the more proud I am to have made it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, without naming names, I do not think that I can go any further with my noble friend, but I am quite happy to do so if he wishes.

I have three further worries about the Bill. First, I join with other noble Lords in wishing to strengthen some aspects of its religious education clauses. For instance, I am advised that there are no safeguards against religious schools receiving hostile inspections from Ofsted as to their moral and spiritual ethos. This is clearly not the Government's intention, and so I trust that we can find a way round the problem.

Secondly, I join my noble friend Lady Cox and others in failing to see the point of the 10 per cent. hurdle which new schools have to jump before they can opt into the GMS system. The explanation that the hurdle demonstrates local commitment to GMS seems weak, especially when one considers that the Bill wisely allows for the clustering of schools across LEA boundaries. So I cannot quite see why a single new school should not cross from an area which does not have 10 per cent. of its schools grant-maintained into one which does. Once that principle has been accepted, I should have thought that the case for the 10 per cent. hurdle collapes.

My third fear is really my most important worry about this Bill, because I am one of the very few of your Lordships to be the parent of a mentally handicapped child, and so I feel that I have a particular duty to comment on the special education needs provisions of the Bill. The politically correct expression "special education needs" covers and confuses a broad range of ability, and so I should make clear that I am talking of the thousands of children like my daughter who are mentally handicapped. It is not helpful to them or to anyone else to describe them otherwise. Certainly we should not describe them as "people with learning disabilities" which is the new politically correct jargon now being espoused by our Department of Health. So I am referring to the effect that this Bill may have on statemented, mentally handicapped children.

I am in general enormously grateful for Clauses 148 to 180 and Schedules 8 to 10 of the Bill in this respect, and would like to join others—I must say our recent exchange makes it a pleasant opportunity for me to do so—and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for inspiring much of what is contained in them and to the Government for acting upon that inspiration. The new tribunal is, for instance, particularly welcome.

I think that my worry is encapsulated in Clause 152, which seems to contain a presumption against special schools and a presumption in favour of making parents fight to keep their mentally handicapped children out of ordinary schools. I am afraid that Clause 152, as drafted, will extend into education some of the tragically erroneous philosophy of our Community Care policy, and I cannot believe that that is the intention. Indeed, there are signs that Clause 152 is already encouraging local authorities to refuse to fund mentally handicapped children in special schools, using the irrelevant excuse that the school in question does not stick sufficiently closely to the national curriculum.

Of course, I accept that there are many parents of mentally handicapped children who want them to go to ordinary schools. I fear that many of those parents may do so because they may not have been able to withstand the pressures that are put on them to that end by our social workers and SEN enthusiasts. I fear their children will not be very happy in ordinary schools, however good the intentions of those who run them.

Be that as it may, the Bill seems to discriminate against those parents who know that their children are happier among their own kind, away from the natural competitiveness and, dare I say it, cruelty of ordinary children. Mentally handicapped children can suffer quite enough of that in the holidays, and so I hope that the Government will agree to remove the Bill's apparent presumption against special schools in Clause 152.

The hour is late and I have spoken enough. I support the Bill because it continues to break up a monopoly which has done more to damage our culture, our civilisation and our prospects than almost anything else I can think of.

11.20 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, at 11.20 in the evening, after listening to 37 speeches, I propose to say little. I prepared three speeches, one during the weekend and two during the course of today. With the greatest of respect, I propose to say nothing more than that in Committee I intend to try to improve the Bill to the best of my ability.

11.21 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot promise to be quite as short as that. I wish to add my voice to those who welcome this Bill. The Government have done much to improve our education system and they continue to advance on a broad front. This Bill lays the groundwork for further progress in some important areas.

My involvement in state education is a relatively recent one. I was educated in the private system, a system about which I have many reservations. Nonetheless, I chose to educate my children privately because I lived in London. In London I had seen my friends who taught in the state system driven out of it by the destructive influence that it had on them and on the children who they taught. I had seen my poorer friends make extraordinary sacrifices to keep their children out of it. I had seen the low morale and expectations of our local schools, the indiscipline and low achievements of their pupils, and I had employed the products of those schools: the intelligent ones, who should have had A-levels or better, without qualifications and getting their intellectual stimulation from petty crime, and the less capable ones unable to spell, to add or to express themselves; without enthusiasm, courtesy or self-esteem. Of course, I knew that there were good schools in the system, but none was easily available to me, my local school being Holland Park Comprehensive.

Then I moved to Winchester and found a comprehensive stale system in flower like a rose hush at Chelsea, offering an education which is in every way, except for the amount of money spent on it, a match for its neighbouring private schools. I found pupils, courteous and well-disciplined, working studiously even after a long absence by their teacher, lessons so full of enthusiasm and interest that I wished I could be part of them and have another chance to study all those subjects like French, history and geography that I had hated so much, drama, music and practical experience woven into the academic curriculum, giving a breadth to education that I never experienced, the spirit of the schools, the commitment to achievement and excellence, their interest in and openness to parents and, above all, the pastoral care of each individual pupil. My Lords, I was profoundly envious.

But why should there be this vast divergence between the good and the bad in the state system? The best illustration I have come across of what I believe to the the crucial factors is Thomas Telford City Technology College. Of course, Thomas Telford is newly built and well endowed and has yet to show any examination results, and is different from its surrounding schools in many other ways. But its interest to me lies in the fact that it is positively unselective. It draws its children from a primarily industrial catchment and its intake is independently assessed to ensure that it matches the profile of its catchment in ability, social background, race and wealth.

The pupils describe the primary and secondary schools which they came from as being just like my image of London schools, and yet Thomas Telford feels every bit as good as a Winchester school. There is no truancy and it is having to double the size of the sixth form because the staying-on rate seems likely to be closer to 100 per cent. rather than the 50 per cent. that it budgeted for.

Talking to its pupils, three clear themes emerge. First, they appreciate the high expectations and commitment of staff. Secondly, they say that pupils are treated as adults rather than children. Thirdly, they say that both they and their parents have a strong commitment to education. Many noble Lords may recognise the similarities between these themes and the ones which emerge from the report of the HMI visit to Japan in which it was commented that there were "no low achieving pupils", that there was a pervasive and powerful assumption that virtually all children are capable of mastering the curriculum if they work hard enough and receive adequate support from their families, peers and teachers, and that the teachers held the same high expectations of all pupils.

We must rid this country of the pervasive belief that less should be expected of some pupils merely because of their home and social backgrounds. I meet that attitude of talking down all the time. It is immensely destructive of the pupils concerned and is simply not true. The children of bad state schools are, when you get to know them, so obviously educated to well below their potential and so clearly demoralised by what they have been through. In such schools we are educating for unemployment, for criminality, for industrial decline and social disorder. This absolutely must stop.

Our Government have made and continue to make the many changes which are necessary to remedy this situation. At last, in GCSE, we have examinations which document attainment at any level rather than labelling pupils as failures. We have an examination which challenges those going on to higher education while engaging the interest of, and generating confidence in, those for whom GCSE, will be their ultimate achievement. We have the national curriculum and at the same time we have a great broadening of experience with the gradual rise of vocational qualifications and the encouragement of students in further and higher education to mix arts and sciences in their courses.

At least, I thought we were encouraging such mixing until I saw the further education funding councils' first proposals in which the extra financial weighting given for a science A-level course of, say, physics, chemistry and maths of 1.4 times the basic funding level is entirely eliminated if that pupil in addition takes an English A/S-level.

We have more information and, therefore, power and involvement for parents and now we have the new inspection arrangements for schools. Hampshire has been running courses to familiarise us with the system and all of us heads and governors, were left challenged but enthusiastic at the end of the day. We shall undoubtedly see much self-criticism and self-improvement by schools in their determination to get a good report, and even greater efforts o inform and involve parents.

We have seen what I hope will prove t o be a mortal attack on the concept of the teacher's right to teach, a concept that, like the architect's right to build and the surgeon's right to cut, belongs to the bad old days when people treated experts like demigods rather than advisers.

We have LMS, a process which has led to great improvements in both schools and LEAs, and now we have grant-maintained schools. There has never been an idea better calculated to generate commitment from staff, parents and pupils than the GM movement. It was always an excellent idea. It has proved itself in practice and now this Bill now brings it some further momentum.

We have reached the point in the evolution of the GM movement where it must establish its own funding mechanism. We must tread a careful path between centralised bureaucracy and an unrestrained free market. We must find a way of taking into account the local nature of primary and secondary education, with great differences over short distances in the type of intake, the quality of buildings and the availability of alternative schools. Funding that takes little account of the the physical characteristics of a school (such as that presently proposed by the FEFC) or which is based on the social characteristics of an entire LEA (as suggested in the recent consultation paper) may produce substantial local distortions.

We must also beware of the market's tendency to destroy diversity, the tendency for it to produce lots of different kinds of the same thing. American television is a classic example, but for a more local example I counted the toothpastes in Tesco's—62 different kinds, all but one flavoured with mint and the other one was bubblegum. It will be a challenge to develop a mechanism for detecting and remedying undesirable side-effects of the common funding formula without creating an omnipresent bureaucracy, but it will be necessary, particularly as local education authorities fade away.

Even LMS has side effects; for example, a notable increase in long-term sickness claims are rising because teachers with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, who could be looked after within the broad budget of an LEA, cannot be supported in a relatively small school. Perhaps this is another suitable situation for the Rubber Windmill which, as the cognoscenti will be aware, has proved itself over several years as a predictive tool for the effects of NHS reforms and has recently been taken up for higher education by Liverpool John Moores and Leicester Universities. I hope that the Department for Education will take a tilt at it. The Department for Education certainly wishes to take a tilt at failing schools and this is greatly to be welcomed. A school which has resisted all the pressures that come from testing and publishing results, and the best efforts of its LEA, needs extreme and urgent measures to be taken.

The idea of education associations has attracted much criticism, but that is no reason for opposing it. If the Government are right, then to oppose education associations is to oppose the rescuing of tens of thousands of our children. If the Government are wrong, they will be stuck with a hundred of our worst schools on their hands with no one else to blame for their performance but themselves. They will have to save face by pouring in whatever resources and ideas are required to make things go right and again tens of thousands of our children will be rescued. Once we have saved a hundred schools we will know how to improve the rest. What has anyone, except the Government, to lose by this experiment? And is there not much to gain?

There are a few areas, though, where I hope for amendments or clarifications to this Bill. First, I know that we are to see new and more relaxed arrangements for grouping, to include the idea of a secondary school with its primary pyramid. These will be most welcome, provided that they allow each primary school to retain its own governing body while passing some powers up the line to the group: a sort of EEC structure. Sovereignty and subsidiarity are concepts that every Hampshire village holds dear.

Secondly, Clause 265 adds to LEAs' abilities to trade with GM schools but limits this to a two year period. We are rightly assured that that period does not begin until the LEA is no longer trading at the margin—perhaps in many years time—and that commercial suppliers will then be available for all LEA services. But, nonetheless, we in Hampshire have grown used to the excellent services that our LEA provides and its function as a centre of excellence and co-operation. We also have our doubts about how robustly defined "trading at the margin" is, and all this adds to our cautiousness about going grant-maintained. If the Secretary of State would allow his powers to be extended by the lifting of the time limit, our anxieties would be lifted too.

Thirdly, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to confirm that the Government intend to lighten the funding agency's burden, while it is finding its feet in its first few years, by exercising the discretion under Clause 10 not to involve the funding agency in planning matters, despite the breaching of the 10 per cent. barrier, where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the LEA is performing well.

Fourthly, I am delighted that we are to see new clauses establishing a system of well funded and well run schools for excluded pupils. Such pupils can do immense damage to the education of other pupils in mainstream schools but can recover their discipline and motivation and become successful students in small specialist units. We owe them a good education as much as any other child with special educational needs. But the Bill as a whole, as an instrument of progress in many areas of education, clearly deserves our wholehearted support.

11.33 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, I was about to tell the fleet that I thought I was sinking but the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has quite buoyed me up with his enthusiastic remarks, particularly about the city technology colleges, of whose trust I am proud to have been a founder member. I am also a governor of the city technology college in Derby.

I congratulate the Government on their determination to carry through the good work started by the 1988 Education Reform Act—the ERA which heralded the new era of necessary change and improvement to the nation's schools. Most of us in the teaching profession welcomed the national curriculum positively and optimistically. Much has been achieved since 1988 with many of the subject orders now well in place.

I cannot pretend that it has been an easy time for teachers, particularly school heads. Change and adaptation have been inevitable. Certainly, many regulations have had to be rushed through with too little time for discussion and professional consultation, but time does not wait for children at school. I was moved by the eloquent support for teachers voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, and my noble friend Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn. Appreciation from two such distinguished academics will do much to raise the morale of the profession.

Teachers' morale is low at the moment. That is not the fault of the Government. It is because, during the recent years of change, adaptation and development, there simply has not been enough time for teachers to adjust to the new demands and to plan their schemes of work and their strategies for assessment and reporting of achievement. There has not been enough time for essential in-service training. The so-called Baker days of the 1988 reform Act are invaluable, but more training and support are needed. Now teachers need a rest from the stream of orders, regulations and guidance documents - please. I should like to put the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, straight on one point. Teachers are not undermined; they are just tired—like us.

I have two requests to make. Once the subject orders are in place, can they be left alone for a period? Once professional teachers know what they must teach, may they, in the words of my noble friend the Minister, be given the space to practise their art? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, that the best classroom teachers have to be able to teach in their own way, appropriately to their pupils, if they are to give of their best and ensure the high quality of education for our children that we all want.

A good example of what one might call the untapped potential of teachers is home economics. I hope that the powers-that-be will not be too prescriptive when preparing the new technology order. The technology curriculum is one subject that has not been right so far. We all acknowledge that. Clearly, this country is behind others in Europe which treat technology as far more of a practical subject. Many of our schools still have well-equipped home economics rooms with cookers intact. Technology should be about planning and making things. What could be better than making—that is, cooking—food? Prue Leith, the well-known cook and restaurateur, tells me that she started a cookery course in a school in Reading where the boys have, in the past, been pretty disruptive. The boys have taken to their cooking course and are eager to qualify for their chef's hat. Think of the vocational training they are receiving in that food technology class. Moreover, their behaviour is transformed.

My second request follows on naturally. Can the detailed statutory requirements take up no more than 70 per cent. of the time available for the whole curriculum? Schools could then build on their strengths and teachers could develop their own professional skills. Perhaps there might also be a chance for Latin.

It is odd that at a time when emphasis is rightly placed on grammar and syntax the national curriculum seems to be squeezing out Latin from the timetable in state schools. The Kingman Committee argued that as well as expanding vocabulary, Latin could make an important contribution to the teaching of grammar and syntax. Some people tell me that the only grammar they ever learnt at school was in their Latin lessons—sometimes from me. In the United States, Latin for literacy programmes have been notably successful. Despite its bad publicity this evening, I give three cheers for Holland Park Comprehensive School which has just advertised for a teacher of Latin.

I turn from the curriculum and teachers to administration, school heads and governors. As regards administration, proper financial standards are essential for grant-maintained schools which are emerging into the world without the present fairly tight financial and performance review regime. Instead there seems to be an expectation that governing bodies will somehow cope with all the varying financial and performance pressures facing them.

These grant-maintained schools are going to need adequate support and supervision. May I urge a stronger role here for the Audit Commission which, I understand, would otherwise be able to carry out only simple financial audits, if appointed by grant-maintained schools, but would no longer have access to the central evaluation and support functions which it currently provides.

I invite the House to consider the pressures on the heads of newly-created grant-maintained schools. Most are untrained in executive management; yet they are suddenly asked to be responsible for budgets of between £2 million and £3 million. Who will ensure that the grant-maintained head receives the training and professional support she or he needs? For that responsibility a degree and a postgraduate certificate of education are simply not enough.

The role of the head teacher is paramount. For heads to lead as they should, their responsibilities must be clearly defined. That is one area where there is a need for more and not less prescription, The White Paper Choice and Diversity: A New Framework for Schools stresses the importance of the head as a strong leader. The head is the chief executive of a school answerable to the governing body and needs the authority to exercise that responsibility. It is not appropriate for governors to be concerned with day-to-day management. It is for the head to manage the staff, academic activities, financial estimates and the maintenance of student discipline. I am asking for the head teacher to be on the face of the Bill where the role of the head has not been sufficiently recognised.

I worry about governors. There are schools in our inner cities—London, Birmingham and Liverpool—where several governors are themselves illiterate while many governors throughout the country have no knowledge of managing organisations. Nor have they much idea of the overall educational structure, not to mention employment law. Governors will need guidance and training, too. I wonder what safeguard there is in the Bill against incompetent governors. There is no problem in Cambridge or the shires. But what about the inner cities?

I turn to children with special educational needs. I am concerned for a group of children who have very definite, special educational needs. They are the children from very poor homes, often from immigrant families, who are in our inner city schools and who find all their welfare support services being eroded. It may be just temporary, but it is happening to them now. So many children in those schools have severe behavioural problems. They are deeply handicapped by their home circumstances and they are often unbelievably neglected. Surely their educational needs are special.

Imagine children of five or six years of age with a vocabulary of no more than 30 or 40 words! What happens to them at school is their only hope for becoming anything like fully functioning adults. Please remember the wise words of my noble friend Lady Faithfull on the cost-benefit aspects of nursery schooling, particularly in respect of the children I have been talking about. I add my voice in support of those of noble Lords who have spoken up movingly for nursery schools. As a mere secondary school teacher, I cannot emphasise too strongly that the most important stage of education is the beginning—the earlier the better. The Spartans knew a thing or two.

I know from schools in the East End of London, which I visited recently, that there are nothing like enough resources for diagnosing children with special needs or for statementing them, let alone arranging appropriate treatment afterwards. One boy of 11 has just been expelled from his "failing" school. He had been statemented at his primary school, but since transferring to his secondary school last September he has not yet been given his statutory re-statementing. He is totally out of control. Ironically, before the 1981 Education Act, such a child would have been taught in a group of five, albeit in a segregated school. Now he is probably one of 10 children with special educational needs in a class of 30.

I have seen a young teacher in her first post vainly trying to conduct an examination class of mostly disturbed, huge young men aged 15. Her only hope of order in the class was to have her department head in there too, the department head giving up her one precious non-pupil contact period to do so.

There is a debate in the Chamber tomorrow on the inner cities. I hope that it will highlight the part that the Home Office, as well as the Department for Education, must play in supporting the local education authorities in trying to meet the special educational needs of the children and the teachers in these sad, deprived schools. I am all for parental choice. But who will do the choosing for the child whose parents—or more probably parent—neither know nor care what local schooling is available?

Anne Sofer, chief education officer for Tower Hamlets, tells me that in 1991 the Home Office approved a large Section 11 programme involving more than 500 additional staff for Tower Hamlets. This has given a real boost to morale and potentially to achievement. Unfortunately, late last year the Home Office announced that the grant would be reduced from 75 per cent. to 57 per cent. in 1994. For her this means a gap of £3 million, which she cannot fill. Being the largest recipients of Section 11 funding in this country, Tower Hamlets is the largest sufferer from the reduction. Section 11 special funding has in the past helped to provide the essential language and curriculum support that is needed. It must be kept at least until the Bill takes effect.

I conclude by congratulating the Minister on all that is good in the Bill, and also on the Government's new initiative for able children, for they too have special educational needs.

11.49 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we are somewhere in the middle—though at exactly what point on the map it is hard to say—of a necessary cultural revolution in education which is likely to roll on to the end of the century and probably beyond. The question we have to ask ourselves this evening is whether or not the Bill contributes positively to that process.

The Bill has this evening been called many names. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, accused it of ideological dogma; the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, likened it to a bull in a china shop; the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, compared it with an elephant. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who called it clumsy and the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, said that it was coherent. Not a few noble Lords said that it was centralist; and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said that the part which related to special educational needs was "fudged" and in general that it suffered from confusion. So what is it? Who is right? Or is it maddeningly a bit of all those things?

Some of those many-coloured strands of criticism can be woven together. The Bill can certainly be seen as the bull of the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, or the elephant of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, in the local authority china shop. I think that it can also be claimed to be coherent in the mechanistic sense that it sets up the machinery that the Government think they need to carry their revolution forward.

But coherence can be coupled with confusion if the ultimate goal for which the machinery was constructed is itself confused—which I fear may be the case. For my part, I contemplated its great length and Byzantine complexity with some dismay, but for reasons different than those advanced by most noble Lords this evening. My dismay is due to its failure, in my view, to give real legislative life to the slogan "Choice and Diversity", which was the title of the White Paper that preceded it. My approval, therefore, is a little more restrained than that of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky.

I return for a moment to the White Paper. We were to be offered (at paragraph 1.7): a new and evolutionary framework … robust enough to last well into the next century. That framework will be stable but broad, allowing a rich and diverse system of state funded education". That sounded fine. Few people doubt that education is a mixed private and public good the vast majority of which should be funded out of general taxation. It is what happens within that envelope of public spending that matters. The uplifting phrases of the White Paper seem to give grounds for hope. In paragraph 10.1 we were also told that the Government, wishes to see the creation of new schools and will be seeking to remove barriers … to their formation". I shall come back to that point. As a statement of intent it sounded good. On the whole, therefore, one could put down the White Paper—or I did—with some optimism.

Now let us look at the Bill. Much of the bulk of the Bill is due to the fact that no less than 128 clauses, those from 19 to 146 inclusive, are devoted to the promotion and extension of grant-maintained schools. There are a few more, if one includes the facility for schools taken over by education associations to become grant-maintained. The dice are loaded heavily in favour of grant-maintained schools in various ways, including a 15 per cent. capital costs bribe to encourage existing LEA-maintained voluntary schools to opt for grant-maintained status.

The proposed shared regime between the local education authority and the Funding Agency for Schools over the whole wide bracket between 10 per cent. and 75 per cent. take-up of grant-maintained status sets up a tangled skein of responsibilities which seems to be a recipe for increased bureaucracy. A number of noble Lords shared that view and I shall not labour the point.

But the paradox confronting this massive and tortuous mechanism for increasing the number of grant-maintained schools from the present number, which, I believe I heard the noble Baroness say, had reached 500 or so, to about 1,500 in the not too distant future, and to a majority of all schools in the long run, which I understand to be the objective, is that many of the advantages of grant-maintained status are already inherent in the generalised local management of schools. I gather that by 1995 it is expected that in most areas 90 per cent. of educational spending will have been delegated to schools, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said. The Government's determination to keep their hands on all the other important levers seems to me to work directly against the expansion of grant-maintained status on the scale that they seek.

I turn next to some more specific criticisms and end with what I hope will be some helpful suggestions. One of the worst features of the Bill is its obsession with surplus places, reflecting, it is true, a similar obsession in the White Paper.

The Government estimate that, LEAs are currently paying for the upkeep of up to 1.5 million more school places than are required for present needs". That comes from the Financial Memorandum. They have calculated the cost at some £300 million, which they plan to claw back partly to finance new places and partly to fund their new bureaucracies. But that is a dubious calculation, whether based on floor-space, the historical number of pupils or however it is calculated—which we are not told. More importantly—this is critical—it leaves out of account one essential requirement of a system of choice and variety; that is, that there has to be some surplus capacity for it to happen at all. Real parental choice cannot be reconciled with plans to eliminate all surplus capacity leaving virtually all decisions as to which schools should open or close, expand or contract, to bureaucrats and politicians.

Similarly, where an insufficiency of supply is identified, the Secretary of State may order the establishment, alteration or discontinuation of schools so as to secure provision for the estimated number of pupils. But much of that intervention could be avoided if local markets were allowed to do their work and schools allowed to expand or contract in response to parental preference. I therefore submit that Clauses 219 and 220 in particular need to be looked at hard to see if they are susceptible of amendment or a new clause or clauses are required to mitigate those rigidities.

Likewise, Clauses 45, 46 and 48, together with Schedule 3, need scrutiny. Those clauses deal with the proposals for the establishment of new GM schools, either by the funding authority in Clause 45 or by independent promoters in Clause 46. They discriminate somewhat against the independent promoters who have more hurdles to surmount. In both cases the exact number of pupils to be admitted in each relevant age group must be specified. Additionally, Schedule 3 specifies no less than four sets of individuals or bodies who can object to the establishment of a new school under Clause 45, and no less than five sets who can object under Clause 46. Furthermore, in all cases the Secretary of State has to give his personal approval to the proposed new premises to which stringent conditions are attached. When one adds in that the Secretary of State has an effective veto for any of those proposals, one has a formidable series of barriers to entry, rather than a charter of encouragement to new entrants and new providers. I therefore find it hard to see where "choice and diversity" are coming from.

One of the most imaginative proposals I have heard recently is for the setting up of a schools land bank to take control of surplus educational buildings. Some of them might well find alternative uses as social security offices or primary care centres and the like, but equally they may well be attractive to promoters who could be not only the traditional voluntary providers but groups of teachers, active parents, community associations, industrialists and so forth, some with capital, some without, some aiming at profit and some not. Such promoters may well not fall within the rather institutional-sounding "Churches and other voluntary bodies" apparently envisaged by the Government. But they would be just as likely, perhaps more likely, to bring commitment, enthusiasm and innovative ideas into the schools arena. Different types of capital or loan arrangements could be devised to suit their circumstances and they would receive the per capita revenue funding for their pupils provided always that they met the necessary standards. Possibly some existing independent schools may come in also. To me it is intuitively an attractive idea. I do not know whether it is legally feasible, but I certainly propose to look into it before the next stage of the Bill.

To conclude, I cannot see why the Government are so scared of opening up the system to greater competition and genuine variety. The controls over what is taught, over quality and standards are, after all, now in place through the national curriculum (which is too prescriptive, in my view, but that is another matter); through Ofsted and through the independent registered inspectors. That is to say, the regulatory system is almost in place. It is proper that the Government should be the regulator of state-funded education and I have no quarrel with that. Every school must operate within the framework of regulation. The fact that that is now largely complete, should actually make it easier rather than more difficult to proceed towards greater liberalisation of the means of delivery and greater encouragement of a plurality of providers.

Sadly, that is not what we are being offered in this Bill, in which the Government are entering terrain that does not properly belong to them. It is simply not the Government's business to dictate the number of places in every school in the country, or to appoint expensive roving commissions of commissars to hunt out every surplus place in the land. Having whittled away the power of local education authorities, the Government will be taking a seriously wrong direction if they turn themselves into one huge, and almost certainly inefficient, education authority.

We have heard that no amendments, other than the Government's own lengthy ones, were put into the Bill in another place. That cannot be right in as important and far-reaching a piece of legislation as this. I hope very much that it will leave your Lordships' House with some significant improvements.

11.59 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, even as we approach the midnight hour I can still muster a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to welcome this Bill as a truly giant step forward in creating a democratic framework for our educational provision and I offer my thanks to my noble friend the Minister for her comprehensive and encouraging introduction to the debate which reassured us on several important points.

I should like to mention three major areas which cause me to feel this enthusiasm in the Bill, but, first, I must express my astonishment at noble Lords opposite in their defence of the 1944 Act. This was an Act which, on the basis of one short and very unsatisfactory 11-plus examination, divided children, effectively for life, into labelled groups, groups, incidentally, which were based on the 1944 assumption, already out of date, of a workforce where about 75 per cent. of the workers—that is to say, the children who grew up to be workers—were unskilled. It is that assumption, and the structure which was built upon it, which in my view has maintained a stranglehold both on this country's education system and on its economic development for more than 40 years. That stranglehold was broken only by this Government's introduction of the entitlement to a national curriculum and a common system of examinations for all pupils through the 1988 Act.

This Bill offers to all schools enpowerment at the level of their individual school. My 17 years experience as an HMI, and the last six as chief inspector, led me to a very firm belief that the school is the living cell of the body educational, a cell supported, of course, by the lifeblood of parental and community involvement. All the educational research of recent decades has shown that the single most important factor in children's success at school is the degree of closeness and co-operation between their home and their school, between their parents and their teachers. As a parent who myself was once kept at the gate of my two young sons' LEA primary school by a notice saying "No parents beyond this line", I cannot too strongly welcome the opportunity for those with the most direct care, concern, love for and knowledge of their children to have a real involvement in their daily experience of learning.

Turning now to the teachers, to the schools themselves and to those who run the schools, I should like to offer them my urgent message that they should choose as soon as possible to become grant-maintained. I say that not simply from a philosophical standpoint but from my own experience as one who ran one of the former polytechnics at the time when it came out of local authority control into the equivalent in higher education; I suppose of grant-maintained status—direct funding by a funding council. I should like to say to any head deciding how to advise governors and parents that there is absolutely no comparison between the experience of running a school in a permanent state of dependence on the LEA, with a budget controlled and monitored by big daddy LEA, and the experience of managing one's own affairs with maximum business freedom to put money where the logic of internal development determines priorities.

I am sorry to say that it is not only in the area of financial freedom that it makes sense to be free of the LEA. I listened with interest to the passionate arguments for academic freedom from central government which were rightly advanced in this House and wondered where were the voices raised when the polytechnics were subject to daily political bullying, interference and blackmail. That happened on many occasions to many polytechnics in many local authorities over the years of local authority control.

However, my positive experience is that once funding is removed from the LEA, it is much more positive and able to develop a free partnership based on the equality of two equal partners. I find it sad that so many noble Lords define an LEA's relationship with schools as one based on the LEA being the funder of the schools. Surely it is possible—I know from personal experience that it is possible—to form a relationship which includes shared interests, the sharing of information about development plans and support and help in initiatives such as City Challenge. All of that is very different from a relationship based on the concept of the funder and the funded.

Finally, like my noble friend Lord Rennell, I very much welcome the provision in the Bill for the identification and treatment of failing schools. Each year at South Bank we see many young people who have been totally failed by their experience of their inner-city schools but who prove themselves to be not only able and intelligent but highly motivated when given an opportunity, sometimes after many years in employment, of trying their hand at higher education. I feel great joy and pride at seeing their success, even though it comes later than it should have done, but enormous sadness for the many hundreds who do not have that opportunity and whose experience of being so appallingly failed by their schools, alas, stays with them throughout a life of under-achievement.

It is a very good thought that that long tale of under-achieving, bad schools will be tackled in the way suggested by the Bill. I am convinced that HMI and the inspection procedures, followed up by the need for identified action and possibly by the education association moving in to run the school, will ensure that all schools are able to perform well - as we know that they can - and, more importantly, that we shall be raising the standards for all our children, not just for a few.

12.8 a.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lady Perry of Southwark. Like her, I warmly welcome the Bill which is good in so many ways. I strongly endorse the drive for higher standards in all schools and I long to see a much higher proportion of our students staying on for higher education. My noble friend Lord Lucas gave the example of a school that now caters for 100 per cent. of its pupils slaying on into the sixth form. That should mean a much greater proportion going on to higher education. I hope so. I warmly welcome also the stronger governing bodies, which will have greater accountability to the community, and the merger of bodies responsible for the curriculum and assessment.

As the first of the Wednesday morning speakers, I do not propose to make a full-length Second Reading speech, but I should like to comment on a couple of points. I echo what my noble friend Lady Brigstocke said about the needs of teachers. I wonder whether the Bill goes as far as it can to encourage teachers and to improve their morale generally. I hope that it does. I know from speaking to teachers that that is greatly needed. Can we reduce the amount of paperwork with which the average teacher has to cope? I have a letter from an English teacher who says that she has to complete 17 criteria in assessing each piece of written work and oral presentation. With a class of 16, that means 16 times 17 - I cannot work it out at this hour of the morning - criteria that she has to complete. She says that it is extremely daunting work. While we need to be thorough, do we need to be as thorough as all that?

I long to see teachers able to maximise their time teaching the boys and girls in their classes. I hope that after the Bill is passed we shall have a real period of stability, as my noble friend Lady Brigstocke emphasised, without too many more changes.

I wish to comment too on the relationship of worship, religious education and spiritual and moral development. There is great anxiety about the inspection of worship. At the very least I believe it is important that the criteria of that inspection are made absolutely clear. Even so, can an agnostic really evaluate it, however well intentioned he or she may be?

I have hope. I wrote to my noble friend the Minister and received a reply from a member of her department saying that the inspection team could have someone acceptable to the governors able to inspect denominational RE and other aspects of the school. The letter was dated 1st February. I wonder whether the "other aspects" include worship and spiritual and moral development because that would cover the anxiety. I can see the great value of a totally independent and outside appraisal of all three categories that are so important in our education. I wonder whether at the same time a denominational inspector could also look at it from the point of view of the denomination involved—Church of England, Roman Catholic or Jewish. I feel that parents and others would gain tremendously if both appraisals were published at the same time. They would give different slants and provide some advantages in the reporting back to the community on how well the school is doing.

Finally, in the light of the NCC report on the agreed syllabuses, I strongly endorse the notion that the NCC should give national guidance on the syllabuses and that these should thereafter by monitored by the SCAAs.

12.14 a.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, in the way that we deal with primary legislation in Parliament this Bill has two Secretaries of State, and I shall address my remarks briefly at this time of the morning to the second of the two because there is a slightly smaller logo on the front of the Choice and Diversity White Paper which refers to the Welsh Office next to the Department for Education. There is an even more grandiose quotation in Chapter 14 which refers to arrangements in Wales. It states: The Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for all education matters in the Principality and the reforms will be implemented so as to reflect the distinctive needs and historical, cultural and linguistic characteristics of Wales". I quote that chapter and verse because it seems to me that the content of the Bill falls substantially short of the rhetoric of the White Paper, and it does so in a number of ways.

It is clear to me that the Government were faced with a difficulty yet again which they should have understood after the exercise of the Education Reform Act 1988. It is that to devise legislation in York Road and then to take it down by 125 train to the Welsh Office in Cardiff is not an appropriate way to deal with the complex structure of the relatively autonomous Welsh education system which was so aptly and historically described by my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I do not have to repeat his historical lecture, save to say that I endorse his conclusions.

In the current climate in which education functions in Wales, the Bill again fails to deal with the needs of Welsh education. Whatever the reception of the proposals for a funding agency in England and the other recommendations contained in the White Paper and the Bill, there is little or no support among the educational providers, or indeed parents, throughout Wales for the proposals contained in the Bill. That is why it is incumbent upon the Secretary of State for Wales, taking note of his responsibility, to proceed with the Bill in a very different way from the way in which it is being proceeded with at the moment by the Department for Education.

The Secretary of State for Wales should do that, taking account of the opinion and consensus that exist in Wales about how the education system is administered. I am not personalising this matter. It is not just the present Secretary of State. It is the Welsh Education Department and Sir Wyn Roberts, the longest serving Minister of State in the history of the United Kingdom, who are responsible for administering the system and they have to deal with it in a way that goes with the grain of the system itself. It is obvious that they have had great difficulty in bringing out the Welsh clauses for the Bill. That applies to the Schools Funding Council for Wales and the other body (Awdurdod Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru) the Curriculum and Assessment Council.

If your Lordships look at the White Paper you will be familiar with the fact that the original proposal was for the paltry number of grant-maintained secondary, junior and primary schools in Wales—I think it is still four secondary schools at the last count—to be maintained by the Further Education Funding Council. But when we reach the Bill we find that there are now two proposals. One is for the creation, by order, with no specific date, of the Schools Funding Council for Wales. But in the meantime, any grant-maintained schools that may appear—I suspect that it will be only one or two, if that many—in the course of the next year or so while the legislation is becoming established will be directly grant supported by the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State himself. There we have two schemes, and no indication of the timing of the introduction of the funding council.

Bearing in mind the grandiose quotation I made at the beginning of my remarks about the Secretary of State being responsible for all education matters in the Principality, I turn to the incredible arrangements for the transfer of functions relating to the curriculum and assessment. Although the Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for the whole of education and training, including further and higher education, within Wales, under the arrangements contained in the Bill, it is only up to the age of 14 in relation to the breadth of the curriculum that the responsibility for curriculum development and assessment will be transferred to ACAC, as we call it affectionately in Wales using the Welsh acronym for Awdurdod Cwricwlym ac Asesu Cymru. Not only is that an anomaly, but to add to the complexity and confusion, responsibility for all key stages relating to Welsh medium provision are being transferred. However, the other aspects of the GCSE-level will remain the responsibility of the restructured SEAC, the curriculum and assessment body for England. Therefore, there is a clear inconsistency and a failure to decentralise in a reasonable way.

We then come to the issue which was touched on so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. It was the relationship between that structure, local education authorities and the existing Welsh Joint Education Committee, Cyd-Bwyllgor Addysg Cymru. That is a unique institution in that it extends well beyond the traditional role of regional examination boards in England. It is a broad-based educational development body. It was called on by the Welsh Office and the Government some six or seven years ago to undertake specific development work on Welsh medium provision so as to provide for a full strategic role for the development of Welsh medium education.

It seems to me that the Government and the Welsh Office are making decisions about the structure of the education service in Wales at precisely the time which is the least appropriate. Members of this House will during the coming year debate both the White Paper and the Bill on local government reorganisation within Wales. Yet precisely at this time the Government and the Welsh Office are moving to impose upon us a structure of schools funding councils and a further structure of a curriculum and assessment body which surely duplicates the work already being undertaken at a local level by local education authorities and at the all-Wales level by the Welsh Joint Education Committee.

As regards the clauses in the Bill which are relevant to Wales we must say to the Secretary of State for Wales that it is time he opted out. He should opt out of the Bill and ensure that the structure of education within Wales is organised by those who operate the system democratically. That is the other aspect of the Bill. The main reason why the Bill has been so roundly rejected by the educational bodies within Wales is that we still have a long historical commitment to something called "community", to something called "democracy" and to the link between the two.

The structure of the local education authority has faults. I do not defend any particular authority and I do not say that the status quo is the option. It is not the option in my view because we need to make a radical reappraisal at school and community levels and at the level of the delivery of the education service. However, we need to start by looking at the needs of Welsh communities rather than at a system imposed by what I can only call the "high-speed 125" type of government by diktat from Whitehall imposed on the Welsh Office which we see in the Bill.

I give the Welsh Office and the other Secretary of State due warning that many noble Lords will be moving amendments to ensure that the parts of the Bill which apply to Wales are available for opt-out. The Secretary of State should seriously consider whether it makes any sense at all to proceed with those clauses relating to Wales in advance of his proposals for local government reorganisation.

12.24 a.m.

The Earl of Stockton

My Lords, as we now coming to the final furlong of the great educational chase I shall not detain your Lordships long from the finish line. In general I support the broad thrust of the Bill, although I must agree with noble Lords who consider that it is overlong. I am sure that as usual much must be done to improve it. Much was done and left undone in another place, particularly in respect of Clause 1.

As a governor of a city technology college which my noble friend knows well, I shall pay particular attention to what she has to say about Clause 16. However, this evening I wish to put down a marker in relation to Part III of the Bill and, in particular, the provision of special education facilities for the physically and mentally handicapped.

I am sure that the Minister knows of the extraordinary work carried out by Lord Mayor Treloar's College in Hampshire, where children with a wide range of disabilities are educated and trained to levels far beyond any that a lay individual would consider possible. Any of your Lordships who have visited the school will have been, as I was, moved and humbled by the devotion and ingenuity of the staff and the courage, determination and cheerfulness of the pupils.

There are two issues in the Bill which particularly concern Treloar's and other non grant-maintained special schools. The first is that the Bill extends the possibility of grant-maintained status to such schools. There can be little objection to that as such, but children attending grant-maintained schools are no charge on the local authority since they are to be funded from a central departmental fund. But Treloar's and others like it are non-maintained schools at present. The specialist nature and extremely wide—practically national—catchment area of the school, to say nothing of the expense of such provision, mean that it is not an obvious candidate for grant-maintained status.

As a result, the children will continue to be sent to the school by the local authorities and, therefore, have their fees paid by those authorities. Under the terms of the Bill as it is drafted, there is a strong disincentive to send a child to Treloar's or any other special school as opposed to a non grant-maintained school because the child sent to a grant-maintained school ceases to he a burden on the funds of the authority. Therefore, it seems that some method of funding a child with such disabilities at a no grant-maintained school should be introduced by my noble friend to bring the funding regime into line with the grant-maintained sector. But I am not sanguine, as attempts to bring about such a change in another place were strongly resisted by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

The second issue concerns the principle of parental preference. While the Bill recognises—nay, enshrines —the obligation of local education authorities to take into account any parental preference that may be expressed for a grant-maintained school, it makes no mention of possible parental preference for a non-maintained school. In the case of a special school, and in particular Treloar's, there is frequently an extremely strongly expressed parental preference that a severely handicapped child should be afforded the opportunities that such an establishment offers in an atmosphere of care and affection. There is a real danger that, unless your Lordships' Committee, if not the Minister, can be persuaded to amend the Bill to deal with that omission, a local authority, perhaps beset by the demands of priorities of higher public and political profile, would turn round and wash its hands of an expensive problem by saying that the Bill places no obligation on the authority to consider the parents' wishes in respect of that school because it is in the non-maintained sector.

I trust that the light of reforming zeal in my noble friend's eye does not blind her to the obvious inconsistency of that position. Let us hope that, when the Bill is considered in your Lordships' Committee, the non-maintained sector of special schools will not be ignored. Many such schools for the disabled are extremely distinguished and enjoy wide support from parents and the community at large. As the Bill stands at present, because their provision is perforce expensive, they could be severely disadvantaged in comparison with centrally funded grant-maintained special schools. Let us hope also that the Minister will see fit to address the point of parental preference.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, rightly highlighted those problems with regard to the education of the blind. Much more has properly been referred to by noble Lords and I shall not trespass on your Lordships' tolerance by covering that ground again. I am sure that my noble friend will be able to possess herself in patience until the Committee stage to learn of my opinions on these other matters.

12.30 a.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, it appears there is no one who wishes to speak in the gap in the Speakers' List. At about six o'clock my noble friend Lord Ritchie scribbled down a few calculations and told me that I would rise to speak at about 6 a.m. I am happy that that is not the case. However, I realise now that the comment made by the cab driver who drove me here some 10 hours ago was more apt than I realised at the time: he asked me whether I was one of the inmates!

The Minister said at the start of this debate that schools have welcomed self-government. That is the case, but it is so in the context of, and with the support, of local education authorities. For me, one of the saddest things about this Bill is that local financial management and local management of schools which was a good idea—an idea developed by our colleagues in Cambridge and built upon by the Minister—has been taken well beyond its logical conclusion. Zeal moving to zealotry is a dangerous thing.

We have had a good deal of discussion this evening on "Clause Zero", as it was called when it was introduced. It is ominously named. That term is redolent of a horror movie or a nightmare. There is a little of a nightmare quality to Clause 1 in the sense that, like a dream, it does not quite relate to reality as we know it. It makes no mention of local education authorities and surely those analyses which say that it is an attempt to write local education authorities out of the mainstream of education provision must be right.

The Minister also said that Clause I embodies the Government's vision. As speakers including the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, have said, that vision seems to be one principally of power. We have also discussed the replacement of democratically elected, locally accountable bodies by the Secretary of State and his quangos. Quangos too often consist of placemen. The education committee of Conservative controlled Devon County Council has stated: It is difficult to see how a funding agency could be other than remote, unresponsive, ignorant of local issues and unaccountable to local feelings". The constitutional implications of this Bill are considerable. I regret that I cannot agree with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on the democratic framework. That is not an analysis I share. But the implications are not just constitutional, they are practical; for example, the role of the local education authority in strategic and co-ordinating terms. I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who referred to the role of the LEA in—to take one simple example—planning for a new development and also its relationship with other services, in particular social services.

I agree, too, with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, with regard to the local government review. It was a point which I intended to make about England but it is even further down the track in Wales, and it has made me wonder again whether considering structure before function was the right way to go about the review of local government.

We have also spoken about the importance of partnership between those who are concerned with education provision; that is, central and local government partnership, among others. I have to say I think that both sides in this argument should show a little humility. I do not think that perfection is found either on the side of central or of local government in this area. On both sides an attempt to come together needs to be made. But the Bill gives no sense of real partnership.

Clause 265 has been mentioned, which concerns the local authority provision of services with a two year limit. If that limit remains, will it not lead to the loss of an irreplaceable, accumulated expertise? Is that not another example of the Government not trusting local authorities? If the Government do not trust local authorities do they not at least trust the structure that they have put in place for compulsory competitive tendering for so many local authority services? The regulating hand of CCT might at least give them the confidence to allow those services to be provided for a longer term.

Clause 255, which moves recoupment for education in another authority area to the Secretary of State, is another nail in the coffin of the link between the local authority and its own community. The local authority loses the responsibility of paying for its own community.

I am very much a supporter of partnership and the use of the skills and contributions of all members of our society. I am very much a supporter of freedom of expression for governors and of real choice for parents. Therefore, to take one example, why does not the Bill permit governors and parents to decide when to raise the issue of opting out? I fear that an annual ballot will be a divisive procedure.

The Bill does not allow the discretion for a ballot to opt back into local authority control, nor for a so-called failed school to decide whether to remain within the LEA. The education association will take it into grant-maintained status or will close it without a ballot. Must there not be a concern that once a school is designated as having failed that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and it will be impossible to save that school?

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, referred to the question of standards, both in and out of local education authorities, and the quality of grant-maintained schools. That is an issue to which we shall have to have regard.

I am also anxious about powers of closure in dealing with excess places. I fear that they may be the subject of a short-term approach. There is an interesting conjunction this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who is to follow me, represents a ward which adjoins the ward which I represent, although we are in different boroughs. The school whose governing body I chair is on the borough boundary. It takes many children from the noble Lord's adjacent borough. That is no criticism of the noble Lord, who is an opposition member of that authority, which is the flagship authority of south inner London.

There are real strains as a result of the present position. I sense that some may be short-term strains. The number of pupils in local authority schools are higher, because of the recession, than five years ago. That is a relatively short-term problem with which we have to cope.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, gave a warning concerning the provisions for special educational needs, including the fact that an individual school cannot formulate policies for the whole range of special needs. She also said, as must be the case, that the question of resources is a major issue. We must heed her warnings.

The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, referred to the question of parental preferences in the field of special needs. That is a matter with which I have a great deal of sympathy.

The longest Education Bill ever—the boast of the Department for Education—gave us the shortest period of consultation for a major piece of educational legislation. It also includes the late introduction of amendments by the Government. It is a long Bill, but it does not include anything to enable teachers to teach better. As a noble Lord commented, GTC (General Teachers' Council) is the acronym which is missing from the Bill.

I wonder whether the Minister is aware that the best single step she could take for education would be to give public support to teachers. Not every teacher is perfect, but not every teacher is bad. I see that the Minister is looking sternly at me, but that is the impression that the public have of the Government's view of teachers. Teachers are among many others who are begging for stability and for a period of no change. It was the Conservative Education Association which said: We are also concerned that while the FAS will be expected to work with LEAs it will in fact merely undermine them. We are likely to see several years of transition which will mean instability". Teachers, too, know that education is not just a matter of the market and that children are not just widgets. Today we have heard wide-ranging criticisms of this Bill. My last quotation is from the chairman of the education committee in West Sussex who said: I am a Conservative. We are a Conservative LEA and it gives me no joy to say they [the Government] are using all sorts of immoral bribes to persuade schools to go with the dogma". I look forward to attempts to reduce the dogma in the Bill and to improve it.

12.40 a.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise because I suspect that I am the only noble Lord taking part in the debate who was educated in an inner-city comprehensive school. I did not realise how badly educated I was until I heard the speeches of some noble Lords opposite. Indeed, I was educated at the infamous Holland Park comprehensive school.

I believe that this has been an excellent debate on an important Bill. I wonder how many of your Lordships would agree with Mr. Eric Forth who said in another place: I am confident that when the Bill leaves the Committee it will be in such a perfect state that even their Lordships will have difficulty finding fault with it". In my response to the debate I shall seek to divide my comments into two broad halves: the constitutional implications of the Bill and the educational aspirations. I believe that there is a consensus that the proposals in the Bill would deplete the role of local education authorities as the main providers of education in England and Wales. As an aside, I hope that the Minister will respond to the comments of many noble Lords, particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, about explicitly removing the universities from the provisions of Clause I of the Bill.

I contend that there are all the necessary elements in this Bill to delete the role of local education authorities as the providers of education in England and Wales. Those elements are as follows. We have heard a great deal about Clause 1. It throws into sharp relief the constitutional change. It removes Section 1 of the Education Act 1944. which, together with Section 8, define the constitutional relationship between central and local government in education provision. That partnership is to go. My noble friend Lord Glenamara spoke of the post-war consensus in Britain, and that imposed on Germany, which put the control of education firmly at local level.

I believe that it was the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who spoke of the concern about the loss of a community of schools at local level. I believe that it was my noble friends Lord Dormand and Lady David who spoke of the undemocratic proposition of the FAS.

A further element is contained in Clauses 2 to 9. Those establish a separate and parallel source of funding for all schools in England and Wales. I believe it was the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who asked how that is to be held to account. A further element is the new balloting procedures for acquiring grant-maintained status. Some of those procedures are undemocratic such as the removal of a second governing body resolution, the limiting of LEA expenditure on publishing information about a grant-maintained ballot and the widely-drawn powers of the Secretary of State to declare a ballot void. That again was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Russell.

A further element is the lack of a requirement for a ballot for special schools to become grant-maintained and for schools run by education associations to become grant-maintained. The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, asked why no grant-maintained schools would ever be thought bad enough to need the safety net of an education association. I was also glad that the Minister nodded her head when my noble friend Lord Dormand asked whether LEAs would be given a chance to put schools right before local education associations are brought in.

Another element is the denial of the opportunity for schools to opt back from grant-maintained status to LEA control. A further point was the inequality of funding between grant-maintained schools and the LEA schools. Here, I should like to echo the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, for keeping Section 11 funding, which is important in my own borough, until the funding arrangements settle down between the two statuses of the schools.

Another element is the loss of the lead planning role by LEAs when only 10 per cent. of the pupils in their area are in grant-maintained schools. Here, my noble friend Lady David spoke of the confusion that may ensue from the dual planning role of the FAS and LEAs. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, spoke of the: same concern, and even the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, spoke of the lack of local flexibility in who has the lead planning role when a particular proportion of schools are between LEA status and grant-maintained status.

All those elements are there to provoke the end of LEAs as they currently operate. 1 draw on my experience as a local councillor in Wandsworth where the then chairman of the education committee and the director of the education department wrote in a paper for the Centre for Policy Studies in 1991: The days of LEAs as most of them still operate are or should be numbered. There is no reason why all schools should not be self-governing". I believe that it is no accident that 'Wandsworth published its education policy paper entitled Diversity and Choice only a few weeks before the Government published their White Paper Choice and Diversity.

If it is the intention of the Bill that all schools should be self-governing, and the necessary elements are there, the Minister should say so. There is an old American saying: If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck". The Minister should come clean about her intentions.

For our part, we shall seek to put forward amendments which take the Bill at its face value. If there are to be parallel sources of funds for schools, if there is to be an institutionalised conflict for those funds, it should be on the basis of a level playing field. A level playing field would have some of the following elements: an equity of funding for children in schools; an ability to opt back into local education authority control; balloting that reflects the views of all parents and does not destabilise schools by annual repetition.

We would also wish to amend the Bill to protect what is currently good in our LEAs. Our LEAs should retain their role in providing goods and services across their area of responsibility. The blooming of our county youth orchestras is the envy of Europe, as we have heard this evening. The LEAs should retain their role in co-ordinating and planning the peripatetic music teachers and music courses, and all the rest of it, which have led to the acclaimed high standards.

I believe that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, who talked of the glory of our county youth orchestras and used the word "wicked" when she said that those standards might be eroded. I myself played in a county youth orchestra for a number of years and I heartily agree with those sentiments.

We also wish to protect the consensus created by the Education Act 1988 in the realm of religious education. We believe that it must not be undermined. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, spoke of the concerns of the religious community about the Bill.

We also wish to amend the Bill to create a GTC. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, spoke very eloquently about that topic. Lest there be any doubt, I believe that all the teaching unions support that concept and have approached the Government about the formation of a GTC.

We also wish to amend the Bill to raise its sights and we accept studies that have consistently shown that nursery education improves a child's chance in life. The resources should be there to provide nursery education, which must be planned and co-ordinated so that it reaches those children who need it most. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, spoke very powerfully about the early need of children to have education, and in some cases intervention, particularly some children from the most deprived homes. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, spoke about how the opportunity is being missed to include nursery provision in the legislation. Those sentiments were echoed, I believe, by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful, by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke.

Part III of the Bill deals with special educational needs, about which we have heard much. For our part, we support the presumption in favour of integrating children with special educational needs into mainstream schools. We have some questions about the resource implications of the special educational needs tribunals.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked whether LEA and grant-maintained schools will have funds for children with special needs who are not statemented. I thought that was a particularly telling question. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, spoke of the local necessity of planning for special educational needs provision. I listened with great interest to the second half of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and to the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, in the area of special educational needs provision. I was very interested in and sympathetic to their comments about parental preference and issues being handled very sensitively.

Another aspect of our concern is the lack of any complaints procedure on the face of the Bill. That is unusual in that there are such procedures in penal legislation and health service legislation. I think particularly of the area of exclusions, where there is a strong case for establishing separate tribunals similar to those to be established for children with special educational needs. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who asked about additional financial benefit for schools which keep children who are particularly difficult to deal with. I thought that an extremely imaginative suggestion. I should also like to say that his proposals for improving school discipline through a greater clarity of rules and co-operation sound both sensible and workable.

I turn to the educational aspirations of the Bill. I was a little surprised to discover that, so far as I know, the White Paper has not been discussed in this House. It seems that a simple educational and ideological logic has led to the Bill. It is as follows. First, there is a need to achieve higher standards. From there, to achieve those higher standards there has to be specialisation. From that point, if there are to be specialised schools, there has to be selection for those schools—both selection of schools by pupils and selection of pupils by schools. That train of logic stems from a belief in the benefits of competition over planning. In my view that belief is almost theological in its fervour. I wryly note that it is a fervour which Members opposite and Members of the Government apply to other people's children and not to their own. One reason why Members opposite use their wealth to educate their children privately is to protect their children from the excessive competition of mixing with children from ordinary families. Nevertheless the logic is there. The need for higher standards leads to specialisation, which in turn leads to selection. Therefore I believe that the Government wish to see in place a diverse choice of selective, specialised schools in a continual state of competition. I was amused by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he spoke of markets leading to a larger choice of much the same thing.

To achieve that goal the Secretary of State has taken unprecedented powers for himself in provoking the end of locally accountable education authorities. I believe it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford who spoke of his anxiety in regard to the Secretary of State's "unfettered" powers.

Under the guise of giving parents more power, the Secretary of State has taken more power for himself. Unfortunately for him, Britain's parents have failed the Government. They have failed the Government by not sharing their vision that specialisation and selection are the paths to higher standards and greater opportunities for all our children. Britain's parents have failed the Government by insisting on the benefits of nursery education, which must be resourced, planned and co-ordinated so that it reaches those who need it most. Britain's parents have failed the Government by wanting a locally accountable education authority which can continue to supply the goods and services which enhance the life of the school and its children. Britain's parents have failed the Government in that they want local control of their schools and not state control of their schools.

The Bill is of constitutional importance in that it contains all the elements necessary to provoke the move of education, which is, after all, the single largest part of local government finance, from local to state control. It is of educational importance in that it undermines the 1944 Act and seeks to provoke the introduction of specialisation and selection in our schools. The Government are experimenting with the lives of other people's children. We reject the Bill and all its implications.

12.57 a.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I had no doubt that the debate would be instructive. So many of your Lordships speak from considerable and varied experience in the field of education. I cannot hope to respond either to each point that has been raised, or to each speaker. However, I shall attempt to deal with some of the points of interest and refer all other matters to more detailed discussion at Committee and Report stages of the Bill.

Let me begin by responding to the anxieties on Clause 1, in which so many noble Lords have expressed an interest. It is true that the department gave it the temporary code name "Clause Zero" but that was to make sure that it was fed in at the beginning of the Bill: it was not a transferred epithet reflecting a bloodcurdling desire to rid the world of local education authorities. Far from it. As I made clear in my opening speech, they have an important and continuing role.

Several noble Lords expressed anxiety about the application of Clause 1 to higher education, in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Adrian and Lord Baldwin, and my noble friends Lady Cox, Lady Young, Lord Eccles, Lord Renfrew, Lord Skidelsky and others. I sought to make clear in my opening remarks that Clause 1 of the Bill does nothing to extend the powers of the Secretary of State over universities.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, if the provision does nothing but what is already done in unrepealed legislation, why is it in the Bill at all?

Baroness Blatch

: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will allow me to complete my explanation and we shall almost certainly return to the topic in the course of discussing the Bill. In view of the strong concerns expressed by all noble Lords it may be helpful for me to explain a little more in greater detail.

Clause 1 of the Bill brings Section 1 of the Education Act 1944 up to date. That was its purpose. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State indicated in another place on introducing the amendment, it covers all the relevant education institutions and bodies, including universities and the higher education funding council. But it does so only to the extent that the Secretary of State has specific powers or duties in relation to those bodies. It does not extend those powers or those duties.

As regards universities, those powers are set out in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. As Members of this House will well recall, there was full and detailed debate about the nature and extent of those powers during the passage of the Act. Those powers are limited. Specifically, Section 68 of the Act debars the Secretary of State from imposing terms and conditions of grant which relate to academic issues.

This House was fully satisfied that the 1992 Act secured the continuing independence of the universities. Clause 1 of the Bill has to be read with the 1992 Act, which it in no way overrides. I have heard all that has been said today. I shall keep an open mind. I will continue to take advice and will return to the matter again in Committee and possibly on Report.

There has been much talk about the Bill being a great centralising measure, gathering all power into the hands of the Secretary of State. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, prayed in aid at some length the Conservative Education Association. As I suspect he well knows, that body has no official links with the Conservative Party, and I dissociate myself and the Government entirely from its private thoughts. Alternatively, I could join the noble Lord's game and quote at length from the Socialist Education Association, whose advice to parents last month was, and I quote: Keep your children at home on testing day". I have a positive library of quotes from the SEA, so perhaps we should call it a day on cat calling on these matters. I believe that we have much more important things to do in this Bill.

I fully accept that the national curriculum was a centralising measure. It was intended to be so, to bring some coherence to the variety of curricular offerings around the country, the result of which was a failure to educate our pupils properly. But I believe the national curriculum to be a widely supported measure, provided—as we all agree it should—it gives sufficient flexibility for teachers to extend the curriculum in the way which best reflects their skills and talents, and those of their pupils.

Without this centralising measure we all had to take our chance on good, bad and indifferent practice. This was not exposed and it was purely a matter of chance if one received a good education. But I recognise what has been said, particularly by my noble friend Lady Brigstocke. It has not beer an easy time for teachers. The national curriculum has represented an enormous challenge. I know that many of those teachers have risen magnificently to the challenge. However, some of those who ask for a consolidation and for a slow down in the pace of change speak with a forked tongue. On the one hand they say, "Please, no more change. Do not keep reviewing the subject orders." We are asked to look again at home economics. We did in fact respond to teachers in regard to looking at technology. I have to say to my noble friend that home economics does not prepare our young people for the manufacturing world into which many of them will go beyond school. On the other hand, if we are to respond to many of the concerns that teachers have, we shall have to look again at the orders. The National Curriculum Council and Ofsted have both said that there is an issue of possible overload and too much content in each of the orders. We have promised that we shall have a rolling review programme looking at the orders and addressing the needs of primary school teachers in particular. It will address the issues of flexibility and manageability.

Reference was made to room for Latin. The national curriculum is rigid to the age of 14. At 14 students can study history or geography. They do not have to study formally, to examination level, art and music. It is possible to do short courses in technology and modern foreign languages. Therefore, there is flexibility to bring in subjects like Latin, other foreign languages and vocational subjects for those who would prefer them. The flexibility is there.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that I listened to some dated, dreary, socialist remarks about people on this side of the Chamber who do not partake of state education. I went through the state education system. My children all went through the state education system. I find that kind of remark lowering to the tone of the debate. I hope that we hear no more of that during the course of the Bill's passage through the House.

Perhaps I may advise the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that I need no prompting to recognise the worth of professional teachers. No politician in this land can pass legislation without having to depend on the commitment and professionalism of teachers to make it happen and work in the classroom. I have spent a great deal of my life not only consuming state education myself, and through my children, but also a great deal of my local government and ministerial time in and out of schools, recognising the worth of teachers, as does my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. But good news is never reported by the media on these matters.

I assure my noble friend Lord Skidelsky that we are determined to secure continuing improvements in the national curriculum and in standards in our schools through an appropriate national curriculum, and the SCAA will bring a new coherence to the national curriculum and assessment regimes. It will not—nor must it—increase the bureaucracy.

It cannot be argued that the Government are attempting to centralise the organisation of schools. Our main objective has been quite the reverse in the past five years—first, through local management of schools and now, based on the decisions of parents throughout the country, by increasing the numbers of grant-maintained schools. It is my belief that it is the success so far of this policy that has a number of people running scared of it. Those schools will be run by their local communities and it is their energy and commitment that will spur the drive to higher standards. We are beginning to see that already. It is precisely because of the increasing numbers of grant-maintained schools that we need a supporting funding framework. That will be the main job of the FAS. I was delighted to hear the splendid speech of my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour who made that point eloquently, supported by my noble friends Lady Young, Lord Lucas, Lord Renfrew, Lord Pearson, Lady Brigstocke, Lord Rennell, Lord Skidelsky, Lady Cox, Lady Perry and Lord Stockton.

Several noble Lords have expressed concern about the LEAs and the new funding authorities having shared planning responsibilities. My right honourable friend and I have given much thought to the responses to our White Paper on this subject and to the debates on our proposals in another place. I am convinced that our proposals are sensible and workable, but more of that when we reach the detail of the Bill.

As the number of self-governing state schools grows, it is important that we put in place a new system to regulate the supply of school places. We cannot give this responsibility to the LEA in respect of schools which have chosen to go grant-maintained. The LEA and the funding authorities will each have clear and distinct duties. Each will be concerned with their respective sectors. At no point does the funding authority acquire planning functions over schools which have chosen to remain with their LEA. Each will be required to provide the other with the information necessary to the exercise of their functions and, to answer the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, LEAs will be obliged to provide information to the FAS on such matters as population changes and new building requirements.

The Bill's provisions mark a departure from the school planning system that has operated since 1944, but that is not a reason in itself for rejecting them. This is an important but complex part of the Bill. I have little doubt that we shall have occasion to discuss it again in more detail over the coming weeks.

I turn now to a very special part of the Bill—that dealing with special educational needs. A number of noble Lords have spoken with great knowledge and understanding of the subject, especially my noble friend Lady Faithful! who, I know, works tirelessly with many organisations concerned with special needs, and with colleagues both inside and outside this House.

Clearly, there must be appropriate planning to secure sufficient school places for children with special needs. The Bill secures that. At all times, the FAS and LEAs will be required to share information on provision for children with special needs. I have no doubt that the FAS and LEAs will work together closely in the interests of all children with special needs. Additionally, governing bodies of self-governing schools must provide LEAs with the information that they need to carry out their duties towards pupils at the school, including pupils with special needs.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway rightly referred to the key role that will be played by the new code of practice. I look forward to hearing him develop his views on that important topic. I also welcome his recognition of the new partnership between local authorities and parents which we seek to foster.

That partnership should encourage openness in giving parents the appropriate access to professional advice on their children's special educational needs —to which the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), referred. But I think this is more a matter for guidance than regulations.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, also made important points with respect to children with special educational needs. I can assure them that the Bill recognises the needs of those children with special educational needs with statements and those without statements, as I said in my opening speech—the 18 per cent. which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, pointed out, are spread unevenly across all schools.

As I also said earlier, all schools will be required to draw up, publish and report annually to parents on their policies for all their pupils with special needs and those authorities will be able to provide special need support services to self-governing schools as well as to their own local education schools. These provisions will ensure that the needs of non-statemented pupils are met.

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, both referred to special schools and GM status. We envisage that regulations will secure that there will always be a ballot before a maintained special school can become grant-maintained.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, would the Minister care to touch on the point that I made regarding some local authorities that are already in the process of making a change that may or may not be overtaken by this legislation?

Baroness Blateli

My Lords, any reorganisation or organisation that is in train will be fully taken into account when my right honourable friend considers an application before him, because no reorganisation of special schools can take place without his being involved in the process.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, in the case of hospital schools special circumstances will apply. It is unlikely that there would be a constituency of parents, which I think was one of the things that he was saying. Therefore, this may not be appropriate in the case of hospital schools.

The Government remain committed to educating children with special needs in a mainstream school, but provided that it is in the child's best interest. I can therefore tell the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Darcy (de Knayth), that the Bill does not give parents a veto over a placement in a mainstream school. While parents may express a preference for a maintained special school, LEAs are obliged to consider that preference in the light of the child's particular needs.

I can also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady David, that Part III of the Bill applies to children over compulsory school age who are still at school.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and my noble friends Lady Faithful and Lord Stockton that I recognise the very valuable contribution made by non-maintained special schools. The Bill gives parents the opportunity to make formal representations to the LEA that a non-maintained special school placement is necessary for their child. It is the LEA's final decision which will be subject to scrutiny by the tribunal.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, referred to a reorganisation. I have just picked up that point in answer to his intervention.

On trading powers, I hope I have made it clear that LEAs have a future, and a very important future. There has been particular concern about Clause 265 on LEA trading. Clause 265 is a liberalising measure.

Far from curtailing LEAs' freedom to trade, it extends and enhances their very limited existing powers. Currently a local authority can only trade at the margin of the capacity it requires to discharge its statutory functions. Under the proposals in Clause 265 the Secretary of State will be able to designate a local authority as able to trade beyond the margin of capacity for two years. This power to trade will relate to grant-maintained schools not just in its own area but also in the areas of adjacent authorities.

The two-year period will vary from LEA to LEA. It will start only when a local authority would have to go beyond the margin of capacity to supply goods and services to the grant-maintained schools that wish to buy them. During the two-year period, I am confident that private sector provision will develop to meet the needs of the GM schools. I am sure that that will include many current providers, a good number of whom are already looking at ways of becoming independent of the LEA.

We have examples already of trusts and units offering services including music, building advice, legal and personnel services, cleaning and grounds maintenance. There are also some 30 independent outdoor education centres.

In the long term, independent providers of goods and services must be the best way forward. I believe that is the way to ensure the highest possible quality and the widest possible choice of services for schools. A take-it-or-leave-it choice is no choice. It would not be right to legislate to allow local authorities to act as large-scale providers in perpetuity.

I appreciate concerns that instrumental music provision both within schools and in county orchestras should continue to flourish. Music has always been an area where our schools have excelled, and it has brought enjoyment and a great sense of achievement to very many children. Locally organised school orchestras and bands should not be affected by the Bill. Section 145 of the Local Government Act clearly allows LEAs which currently make provision for such organisations to continue to do so. No provision of the Bill will have any impact. Pupils who attend GM schools will be able to continue to participate in those organisations on the same basis as before.

I have listened with care to the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, and my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I made clear in my opening speech that I want to see Church schools thrive and retain their distinctive identity as self-governing schools. As my noble friends acknowledged, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has taken careful account of the Churches' concerns and, I believe, has done a good deal to allay those concerns. That process will continue. In particular, we intend to bring forward amendments to' the Bill that will require the Secretary of State to consult the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church on the membership of the Funding Agency for Schools; will ensure that, where a former voluntary self-governing school closes, the trustees will receive the premises or the market value of the premises; will offer small schools that are interested in becoming self-governing a way of associating together for common interest—that is, short of a formal grouping of schools; and will involve the relevant Church education authorities very closely in all the stages that might flow from a Church school that was found to be failing its pupils, including ensuring that the Churches are closely consulted on the membership of any education association that might need to be set up.

We have made no secret of our hopes that more Church schools will seek grant-maintained status. But we see that status as fully compatible with being part of a family of diocesan schools. I know that there are fears that, say, a Catholic school might lose its Catholic ethos on becoming GM. Those fears are understandable but groundless. The name of a GM school can indicate clearly that it is a Roman Catholic school.

The Churches have other concerns—I was not surprised to hear a mention of school transport from my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk—but there is no time to respond to those tonight. There must be plenty of time for debate as this Bill goes through Committee; and I very much hope that the fruitful discussions that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, I myself and my officials have been having with the Church authorities, will continue to a mutually satisfactory set of outcomes.

I was a little saddened that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford did not give recognition to the way my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, I and my officials in the department have consulted him, his colleagues in the Church and various other Church authorities on all these matters. However, this is something to which we shall continue to give a real commitment.

Some anxieties have been raised about the particular effect of the provisions of this Bill on Wales. As I said earlier, my noble friend Lord St. Davids will deal with those as this Bill proceeds through Committee. However, I should emphasise that we have taken great care to ensure that, wherever appropriate, the Bill does cater for the special needs of Welsh Education. For example, because there are not as yet any grant-maintained schools in Wales the Schools Funding Council for Wales may not be set up immediately. Another example, as I explained in my opening speech, is the separate set of arrangements for the development of the Welsh curriculum.

Many noble Lords spoke eloquently in favour of nursery education. I am happy to join them in recognising the importance of giving children an effective early start to their education. That is the foundation of their subsequent progress. This Government believe that there is no single right form of nursery provision for young children. We believe in diversity but I can assure the House that the Bill does nothing—positively nothing—to threaten the continued healthy existence of nursery education.

One should take into account nursery education which is already in the system—nursery schools, nursery classes, nursery units and private nursery schools. There is also the contribution of the Pre-school Playgroup Association-19,000 playgroups serving the needs of 750,000 children—and the incidence of taking rising fives, which gives children three years in an infants school. Indeed, in my own authority almost all rising fives are accepted. When all that is taken into account more than 90 per cent. of children in this country receive some form of under-fives provision. I do not think that that is a bad record. We must also remember that we have one of the earliest statutory starting ages for children in schools.

Mention was made of education associations and grant-maintained schools. Perhaps I did not make myself clear in my opening speech; and I cannot assume that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, have actually read the Bill. There is no escape or hiding place for a failing school, whether a church school, a grant-maintained school or a local authority school. They will all be dealt with, and swift action will be taken. The necessary provisions are contained within the Bill.

Many issues were raised tonight. The specific answer to the question about spare places is that it is wrong to say that 1.5 million places are to be taken out of the system. There are deemed to be about 1.5 million spare places in the system. My right honourable friend recognises that it is not possible to take out that number of places for logistical reasons. We are engaged in an exercise to ascertain what it is practicable to take out of the system. We know that much of the money deployed in sustaining empty places could be put to better use in local authorities.

There was considerable talk about a general teaching council. We must return to that subject during the passage of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the approval of selective admission arrangements at two schools in Hertfordshire. He claimed that we had "forced" those schools to become selective against their will. That is far from the truth. I was personally involved with the governing bodies, the schools and the parents of children at those schools. What my right honourable friend the Secretary of State did was to enable those schools to preserve their existing character and mix of pupils on becoming self-governing. They did no more than that. Those schools did not want to be neighbourhood comprehensives. That is why we endorsed their existing form of recruiting children. In one case that happened to be 50 per cent. above a particular stated IQ level and a similar figure in relation to the other. Therefore, they are partially selective but both schools take in all-ability children.

My noble friend Lady Cox wants new schools to be able to be set up before the FAS takes on a planning role. That was supported by other noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Young would like a clearer delineation between the responsibilities of a head-teacher and his or her governing body. I know that to be a vexed issue and no doubt we shall return to it. I shall not attempt to deal with those points tonight. I could not do them service and that would spoil what has been a excellent debate—a vigorous and impressive curtain-raiser to the detailed scrutiny of the Bill in Committee.

I assure your Lordships that the Government will continue to listen to the concerns expressed by all noble Lords as we move on to detailed consideration of each of the 276 clauses of the Bill. Indeed, as I have said, I shall bring forward amendments as a result of debates in Committee in another place and also which reflect discussions which we are having with the Churches and others.

This debate has shown beyond doubt that we are all agreed on the aim of improving standards in our schools. I believe that most of us are agreed that important contributions to that goal are to be made by giving schools more responsibility for running their own affairs and giving parents more say in their children's education.

This House now moves into its own. We have already begun to burn the midnight oil and I suspect that we shall burn a great deal more over the next few months. It will be in a worthy cause. I do not doubt that we shall scrutinise the Bill with our customary vigour and rigour. It is my task to return the Bill to another place without invalidating the Government's serious objectives for education. It is the job of your Lordships to test my case. My noble friends Lord Henley, Lord Astor and Lord St. Davids and I look forward to that challenge.

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend has not answered my questions as to whether before we reach Committee stage we shall have an answer from the Government about the consultation on exclusions.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I cannot be specific about that. I know that there will be consultation on exclusions. There have been many questions in the course of the debate which I have not answered and I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for that. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.