HL Deb 10 February 1997 vol 578 cc11-33

3.13 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. We want to give parents real choice and we want to give children real opportunities to achieve their full potential. To do that we need a range of different types of good schools, all with high standards and good discipline. Those principles have been central to this Government's education reforms. They are what this Bill is all about.

We believe it is right for as many parents as possible to be able to choose the education that they want for their children. There is nothing remarkable about that. Many noble Lords on the Benches opposite would say the same. Where we differ is the way in which choice is defined and encouraged.

A choice between two schools of the same type is, admittedly, preferable to no choice at all. But parents deserve better than that. Parents want an education that suits the individual talents, interests, abilities and needs of their child, not a standard service pitched at some notion of the average child. That is why parents should have access to a range of good schools of different types. That is real choice, and in some parts of the country real choice is already available. In some places there are selective schools and comprehensives, Church schools, and schools specialising in particular subjects such as technology colleges and language colleges. But in too many places there is no such choice. The choice is any school you want so long as it is an LEA comprehensive.

A parent may be lucky enough to live in a place where one of the LEA comprehensives is excellent—and many are. But a choice between good and bad schools of the same type is still a pretty meagre sort of choice. Real choice means greater diversity, and Part I of the Bill facilitates just that.

We want to encourage schools to develop distinctive strengths, which is one of the ways in which greater diversity helps to raise standards. Those strengths might be in teaching particular subjects or particular types of pupil. So schools that select some or all of their pupils by aptitude for particular subjects, or by general ability, are essential to a truly diverse system.

We want to give many more parents this option, so the Bill helps schools to respond to parental demand in several ways. First, it sets higher thresholds for the proportion of pupils which school admission authorities may select without having to seek central approval. These are 50 per cent. for GM secondary schools, 30 per cent. for LEA specialist schools in their specialist subjects, and 20 per cent. for all other schools.

Secondly, the Bill requires governing bodies of secondary schools to review annually whether to introduce or extend selection. No school will be obliged to introduce selection if it does not want to. But every school should consider the issue as part of its annual consideration of how the school is performing, how it compares with other schools, and how it can improve in order to provide the best possible service to its pupils and its community.

Thirdly, the Bill gives governors of county secondary schools which wish to become grammar schools the right to publish their own statutory proposals if they are blocked by the LEA. Similarly, technology colleges and other specialist schools in the LEA sector will have a right of appeal against a hostile LEA if they want to use their new powers to select up to 30 per cent. of their pupils.

The Bill promotes diversity and parental choice in other ways as well. It enables the Funding Agency for Schools to propose setting up new GM schools in any LEA area. The agency will also be able to pay grants to promoters of new GM schools to help them prepare development plans. GM schools are popular with parents. They achieve good results, and make good use of the freedoms that they already enjoy. They play a leading part in extending diversity. So the Bill gives them even greater flexibility to respond to the communities they serve.

] In addition to more freedom to introduce or extend selection, the Bill enables GM schools to add nursery classes, sixth forms and boarding facilities.

When the Bill was first introduced in another place it included a clause to allow GM schools to expand their capacity by up to 50 per cent. without the need for central approval. The clause was lost in Committee in another place owing to what I believe might be termed "procedural problems". On Report, the vote on the reintroduction of the clause was, as I understand it, originally reported by Whips from both sides of the House as a defeat for the Government by one vote but was subsequently found to be tied. The Government announced their intention of seeking to reintroduce the clause in your Lordships' House, and I confirm that today. The clause will allow popular and effective GM schools to expand and thus help more parents to get the choice of school they want for their children.

The Bill also extends choice outside the state sector by broadening the scope of the assisted places scheme. In future the scheme will be able to cover independent schools which only provide primary education.

I suspect that our debate on the Bill will show some pretty marked differences of view about selection, deregulation and diversity, although I have to say that I live in hope following fairly recent statements from the party opposite on certain matters. However, I trust that there will be no difference of principle between us when we move on to school discipline. I am sure we all agree that an orderly environment is vital to effective education. An undisciplined minority of pupils can disrupt whole classes and schools and undermine the education provided.

We should not be alarmist. In his recent annual report, to which reference was made in this House only last week, the chief inspector of schools states that most schools are orderly places. I believe that that reflects well on the headmasters, the head teachers and the staff of those schools, sometimes operating under difficult circumstances. The majority of pupils are well behaved and are keen to learn. Anyone who visits a school will know that.

But neither should we be complacent. When problems arise, they can have serious effects. The Government believe that more can and should be done to help schools tackle those problems while also ensuring that the system does not ignore the educational and other needs of pupils with behaviour problems. That is why the legislation contains measures to strengthen the ability of schools to promote good behaviour and to take effective action against bad. It will also promote more effective support for schools and individual pupils with behaviour problems. In doing so the legislation builds on the foundations laid by the recommendations of the 1989 committee of inquiry into discipline in schools, chaired so ably—if I might put it that way—by my noble friend Lord Elton, and on the behaviour and discipline measures which noble Lords supported in the Education Act 1993.

Many school governing bodies already adopt a statement of general principles on behaviour and discipline. We believe that this is good practice which should be followed by all schools. The Bill will require all governing bodies to adopt such a statement. Head teachers will, as now, be responsible for deciding specific measures and sanctions, and for publicising and operating their school's discipline code. But there will be a new duty on governing bodies to provide a clear disciplinary framework for the school.

Schools will for the first time be given explicit statutory authority to detain badly behaved pupils after school without their parents' consent. That will ensure that detention as a sanction is more readily available, free of the potential risk of a legal action against the school for false imprisonment.

The Bill introduces a more flexible time limit of 45 days a year for fixed period exclusions in place of the current maximum of 15 days a term. That will help provide the scope, which the current limit sometimes denies, to set in motion effective action to tackle a pupil's problems before he or she returns to school. It should help avoid the need for permanent exclusions in some cases.

Such exclusions are a serious step for both pupil and school. So it is right that there should be robust and well-balanced arrangements to enable parents to make representations and seek reinstatement. But these must reflect all the interests concerned. Therefore the Bill strengthens the current appeals procedure by ensuring that schools—as well as the parents of excluded children—have the opportunity to present their case. It will also ensure that the interests of staff and other pupils are taken properly into account alongside those of the excluded pupil.

We believe that schools should not be obliged to admit pupils who have repeatedly been excluded from other schools. Currently, if schools still have empty places they cannot refuse to take a pupil on the ground of a bad disciplinary record. This Bill will change that, allowing admission authorities to refuse a place to pupils who have previously been excluded from two or more other schools.

The Bill also allows school admission authorities to require parents to sign a home-school partnership document as a condition of gaining a place. We believe that this will reinforce the relationship between parents and schools by ensuring that parents have a clearer understanding of what the school expects them to do to support their child's education, including in disciplinary matters.

But sanctions will not, on their own, provide an effective response to pupil behaviour problems. Schools and teachers need support in managing pupil behaviour so as to minimise disruptive behaviour. Pupils who have problems are still entitled to an education. And there must be effective means to address their problems. So the Bill requires every LEA to draw up a statement setting out their arrangements in relation to pupils with behaviour problems. These statements will cover the full range of an LEA's provision: for supporting schools in addressing behaviour problems; for meeting the needs of pupils with behaviour problems; and for planning behaviour support arrangements across the range of agencies, including schools, LEAs, social services and voluntary organisations.

It is important that there are effective alternatives to mainstream schools for pupils with behaviour problems. Pupil referral units are less effective than they should be in providing such an alternative. An important factor is often the way they are managed. The Bill therefore allows the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring LEAs to establish management committees for all their pupil referral units.

All these measures have been part of the Bill from the outset. But the Government have continued to listen to the views of teachers and others. In particular we have recognised that there is confusion about how far the law allows school staff to intervene physically to prevent violence and disruptive behaviour. We believe this to be unsatisfactory. An amendment was introduced in another place that added a new measure on discipline. It clarifies and codifies the circumstances in which it is lawful for staff to use physical force to restrain pupils.

This package will strengthen the framework for dealing with pupil behaviour and discipline problems. It will bolster schools' authority. It will also help ensure that support is available to schools which need it and that individual pupils' behaviour problems are properly tackled. These measures have been widely welcomed by schools, teachers and others. I trust that they will also be welcomed here.

I hope that the same will be true of the final part of the Bill which contains specific measures for raising standards in schools. We start with entry to primary school. The Bill requires all primaries to assess all their pupils at or around the age of five. This assessment will provide a baseline from which to plan each child's education, and measure each child's progress. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has consulted widely on the arrangements. Its proposals have been widely welcomed and are accepted by my right honourable friend.

The Bill allows my right honourable friend to make regulations requiring all schools to set annual targets for improving their performance, particularly for pupils' attainments in qualifications and national curriculum assessments. This will increase the need to ensure that the framework for assessments and qualifications is robust. To promote that the Bill proposes to merge the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications to form the new and fairly well publicised qualifications and national curriculum authority. The new authority will oversee the curriculum and assessment in schools. Just as important, it will continue the work of developing a coherent set of courses and qualifications through which young people can progress at 16 and beyond in sixth-forms, in further education, in training for employment and as adults throughout their working lives.

With a much greater variety of training and courses to consider, it is more important than ever that young people have good advice on the choices before them. The Bill will ensure that all 14 to 16 year-olds get a planned programme of careers education. It will also ensure that schools and colleges work closely with the Careers Service in providing the information and guidance which pupils and students need.

Finally, the Bill extends the powers of Ofsted to inspect the work of local education authorities. All schools are now held to account through inspections by Ofsted. LEAs should not be exempt. LEAs continue to have a significant role in supporting schools and providing services. Those functions will be inspected by Ofsted in collaboration with the Audit Commission. After the report has been published, the LEA will have to follow up the inspection with an action plan setting out its next steps.

I have outlined the three main areas of the Bill—more choice and diversity, school discipline and measures to raise standards. I am proud of our record of achievement in raising standards, widening choice, extending school self-government and making the whole process of education more transparent and accountable. This Bill builds on those achievements. It will allow the best within our system to flourish, encourage others to emulate that best, and support schools in providing high quality teaching and learning. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Henley.)

3.28 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for introducing this large and important Bill with his customary clarity and enthusiasm.

It was on 9th November 1895 that that famous cartoon appeared in Punch showing a bishop and a curate at the breakfast table. Said the bishop, I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones". The curate replied, Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent". Parts of this Bill are, if not excellent, at least broadly acceptable, but other parts are not. If the curate had consumed only those parts of his egg that he considered edible, he would still be in grave danger of salmonella, and so are we.

The acceptable parts of the Bill are, without exception, proposals which have previously been put forward by the Labour Party. We have no particular objection to having our clothes stolen, but we must take this opportunity to label them clearly before the party opposite lifts them off the washing line.

The first obvious example is the requirement in Part IV that schools publish a discipline policy and LEAs publish a statement of the support available to schools for dealing with disruptive pupils. In our publication, Excellence for Everyone, published in December 1995, we said that all schools would be expected to publish behaviour policies in partnership with the LEA, setting out for parents, pupils and teachers what was expected of them and what rewards and sanctions would apply. How nice to see the Government falling into line behind us.

Of even more venerable antiquity is the proposal in Clause 30 for home-school partnership documents. Labour first advocated these in 1988 and our plans were fully described more than a year ago in Excellence for Everyone. Not surprisingly, the Government have picked up this good idea and made a mess of it. We urged that all schools should introduce these contracts. The Bill proposes them only for some schools, which would produce an even further division and dispute within the school system.

The same is true of compulsory baseline assessment of children in primary schools in Clauses 32 to 35. That idea is perfectly acceptable—acceptable because it is Labour policy, developed in Labour local authorities such as Birmingham, Staffordshire and Sheffield, where it flourishes well; and it was fully described and highlighted in Excellence for Everyone on pages 23 and 24. Once again the Government have followed our example.

There is a wide measure of consensus on the Bill's proposals for Ofsted inspections of LEAs—fully spelt out in our publication, Diversity and Excellence, many moons ago. We agree about the regulation of supply teachers, for management committees for pupil referral units, careers education and guidance, and the merger of SCAA and NCVQ. There is even general support for the proposals on exclusion, though on those we shall be asking many questions and proposing additional solutions. Indeed, in all those areas where we are broadly in agreement in principle, we from these Benches will be putting down serious amendments and requiring detailed answers from the Government, and drawing attention to lacunae, imprecisions and infelicities in the Bill. The drafting is in many places far from clear and we shall have to pay close attention to it in amendments which we shall put forward at Committee and later stages.

We shall do that because it is the prime duty of your Lordships' House, as a revising Chamber, to scrutinise all proposals for legislation, but especially on this occasion because at Committee stage in another place such was the depth of disagreement about the first half of the Bill that, even with 16 separate Sittings, honourable Members were unable to give as close attention to details in the second half of the Bill as they would have wished. It falls, therefore, to your Lordships' House to assist another place in that respect. Indeed, it is very meet, right and our bounden duty so to do.

The Bill has, of course, left undone those things which it ought to have done. It makes no move towards reducing class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds to a maximum of 30. It does not introduce a general teacher council, vitally necessary to promote and regulate the teaching profession. It does not ensure that 11 year-olds reach level 4 in national reading tests, even though over half of 11 year-olds last year did not reach the required standard either in maths or in English. On that scandalous situation, this Bill is as silent as the grave.

The bad parts of this curate's egg are very bad indeed. We believe, and our honourable friends in another place have amply demonstrated, that the proposals in Parts I, II and III to extend selection without consultation, to provide even greater freedoms and advantages to grant-maintained schools, to permit the Funding Agency for Schools to set up nurseries, sixth forms, boarding facilities and even entirely new grant-maintained schools and to extend the assisted places scheme to preparatory schools are nothing more nor less than pernicious porters of putrefaction into the state education system.

My noble friends behind me will be dealing with what we may call the "salmonella sections" of the Bill during this debate. Let me at this point introduce a whiff of wholesome fresh air by reminding your Lordships that these proposals, taken altogether, will make virtually no difference whatever to the overwhelming majority of children in our schools. The proposals come from the Conservative Party's almost paranoid obsession with a tiny minority of schools and its puerile preoccupation with school structure. Almost 90 per cent. of the nation's children attend their local comprehensive school and have done so for decades, and they have no quarrel with the comprehensive system. They like it; they choose it; they flourish in it. There is no demand for selection from pupils, parents or teachers. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that in the DfEE consultation on selection, only 1 per cent. were in favour. Less than 4 per cent. of grant-maintained schools have applied to select up to 10 per cent. of their intake. Even the Daily Express—no close friend of the Labour Party—polling its readers on 22nd January last with the ludicrously loaded question, Should there be more selection on merit rather than selection based on living in the right catchment area", found a majority answering no. People do not want some vast, bewildering range of choice. They want good, free, local comprehensive schools. Polls conducted over the years since comprehensive education came in show a steady decline in support for selection, as more and more people experience the comprehensive system. In 1957, 90 per cent. of the population supported grammar schools. By 1967, it was 76 per cent. By 1987, it was 62 per cent., and the most recent poll in the Guardian showed that only 27 per cent. wanted their schools to select pupils.

I make no apology whatever for championing the comprehensive principle in education. I do so proudly. As Mr. Tony Blair pointed out at Oxford last June, the Tories want to dump comprehensive schools and return to the 11-plus system of grammar schools and secondary moderns—"a grammar school in every town". Labour wants to modernise the comprehensive system by finding better ways to recognise and develop the different abilities and talents of pupils within schools. The old system is dead. Grammar schools were a response to he needs of a vanished society which needed a small educated class and a large number of manual workers. Today the United Kingdom's success depends on producing a highly skilled, flexibly trained integrated workforce of educated people. The old distinction between the bosses and the workers is dead; so is the divisive system of grammar schools for the elite and secondary moderns for the rejects. And let us hope that never again will a parent receive a letter containing the stinking euphemism, "Your child has been carefully selected as more suitable for secondary modern education", which means, of course, "Your kid's failed".

The comprehensive system has had, and still has, outstanding successes. At the present moment, despite the lack of funding from this Government, Arden School in Solihull, Ringmer Community College, East Sussex, and Cape Cornwall School in Cornwall are equal to any school anywhere. Mr. Chris Woodhead, HMCI, features them among schools which, have excellent GCSE results which they have sustained over a number of years. They are also highly effective in the attention they give to their pupils because of the exceptional quality of some of their extra-curricular provision. These are outstandingly successful schools". DfEE figures for England and Wales show that in 1979–80 only 21 per cent. of young people obtained the equivalent of five or more GCSEs at Grade C. By 1994–95, 41.6 per cent. of comprehensive school pupils achieved this. Proportions of young people going from school to university have increased enormously since the days of grammar and secondary modern schools. In Scotland, which enjoys a fully comprehensive system, the results are better than in England and Wales. The overwhelming majority of comprehensives which are doing a good job for all pupils are very popular indeed with parents. So much of the scornful criticism of comprehensives is focused on a few inner-city schools and blindly neglects the nationwide picture of support. It is time the whole truth was told.

Labour is committed to a meritocratic system which allows people to rise by their talents, regardless of background. There will be no further selection under Labour, but we shall not declare war on existing grammar schools; nor shall we penalise preparatory schools or discriminate against Church schools. Our task is to raise standards in all 25,000 schools and for all pupils. The Prime Minister has admitted that, the top 15 per cent. of youngsters who come out of our schools are equal to anything you will find anywhere in the world. The other 85 per cent. frankly are not". Such a carefree admission of complacency is frightening. A Labour government cannot and will not accept it.

This Bill fails us all because it fails to address the central problem facing our education system—how to raise the standards of achievement and fulfilment for average and below-average pupils. Until we can solve that we shall have this long tail of under-achievers unable to realise their personal potential, unable to contribute to the nation's success. We can produce the best in small quantities. Our problem is to raise standards for the less gifted.

It is a curate's egg of a Bill. It is neither good nor bad, neither one thing nor the other. It is neither hot nor cold. It is Laodicean. And because it is Laodicean I reserve for it the fate decreed for such things in the 16th verse of the third chapter of the Revelation of St. John the Divine, which the noble Lord the Minister, with his well-stocked and learned mind which I so much admire, will not fail to recognise.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, though I long since recognised that I am unable to keep up with his literary eloquence. I begin, as always, by declaring some interests. First, I am still the leader of a local education authority, and have been for almost 11 years; secondly, I have been a school governor for rather longer than that; and, thirdly, I have been married to a teacher for even longer. That means that I have long experience at what might be called the sharp end of successive government reforms. Discussion in my household does not lead me to believe that they have been wholly for the good.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, so often steals my words. I, too, had intended to describe the Bill as "a curate's egg". I suspect that, although I am the second to do so, I shall not be the last in this debate. The first half of the Bill is almost wholly bad, as the noble Lord said. The second half is good, at least in its intentions. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, claimed credit for that, and cited proposals from Labour's publication, Excellence for Everyone. I do not wish to enter into an "us first" competition. I simply refer the noble Lord to a Liberal Democrat publication which appeared some time before his, entitled Excellence for All. We very much enjoyed the backdrop to the Labour Party's launch of its publication: Labour got the title wrong and referred to it as Excellence for All. We are now one step ahead. Our publication is entitled Insisting on Excellence. I do not want to enter a competition as to "who thought of the good things first". Let us simply be pleased that there is a measure of agreement about what is good, and let us concentrate on that.

Uncharacteristically in an adversarial Chamber shortly before a general election, I begin by listing the proposals in the Bill with which I broadly agree and whose intention we welcome. We welcome, for instance, the proposals for career support for pupils and students; the proposed amalgamation of SCAA and NCVQ—indeed, on the basis of "us first" my honourable friend Don Foster put forward that proposal nearly five years ago; the necessary definition of compulsory school age; and the rather overdue proposals to bring agency teachers within current teacher requirements. We welcome baseline assessments—as I said previously, they are a recognition of existing good practice. My wife, who was for many years a reception teacher, assured me that that was something she had always done. We support, with some qualifications, the intention behind Ofsted inspections of local educational authorities.

We broadly support the measures contained in the Bill to improve discipline in schools and certainly support that intent, as I am sure do all noble Lords. The messages regarding detention are clearly right in their intention, although they give rise to concerns which we shall address in Committee. Similarly, the proposals on exclusion are widely welcomed in the education world and the teaching profession, but with reservations which will be discussed more fully at Committee stage. We shall return to the matter then.

I wish to make two points in passing. First, I particularly dislike the term that is used to describe children and young people—"disqualified persons". I hope that we can find a better description during the course of our examination of the Bill. I have some concerns, too, about funding for the continuing education of pupils who have been excluded. At this stage I simply wonder whether the excluding school should perhaps bear some of the responsibility for the continuing education of those children. It is all too easy for a school to exclude children and thereby absolve itself of responsibility. I do not suggest that that happens often, but it is sometimes the case.

We support the idea of home/school contracts. However, we have concerns about the process. We feel that such contracts should be part of a co-operative process between the school, the parent and the pupil. That can be properly achieved only when the pupil is in the school. If the proposal is to work, there must be a co-operative and agreed process, not an imposed process. We do not therefore see how it can reasonably be a condition of admission.

What happens, for instance, when parents know that they cannot control their child? Do they sign dishonestly as the only way to get that child into a school? What happens to children whose parents, for whatever reason, will not sign? Where will they go?

In his introduction, the Minister made reference to the clarification of the whole very difficult area of what is "necessary force". None of us wishes to see force used. We all recognise, however, that at times restraining force is necessary. To the extent that this Bill may be able to clarify this increasingly difficult area for teachers, we welcome its proposals.

I turn now to the bad part of the curate's egg. When the Bill was first proposed it was said in some quarters that its main purpose and certainly the main purpose of this part of the Bill was to embarrass the Labour Party. I do not think that is ever a good basis for proposing legislation, but now it seems to be entirely unnecessary. The Labour Party has shown that it is more than capable of embarrassing itself on the issue without any help from the Government.

The Bill proposes to increase selection. Liberal Democrats remain wholly opposed to selection by ability or interview and we strongly oppose the measures contained in the Bill. Selective schools mean grammar schools, by whatever name and whatever means—the Prime Minister's dream of a grammar school in every town. But selective schools also mean non-selective schools—secondary moderns by any other name—and three or four of them in every town. The Prime Minister's dream is a nightmare for the 75 per cent. of parents and pupils who would be consigned to a secondary modern in the unlikely event that that policy was successful.

For most, it means schools choosing pupils, not parents choosing schools. It means less choice for most, not more choice. What we should be striving for is more choice within schools, not choice between schools. I strongly reject the Minister's claim in his opening remarks that all LEA comprehensive schools are the same and that that is no choice at all. That is not true, and under a proper education system it would he even less true. What we should concentrate on in the Bill and all legislative proposals is creating diversity between good comprehensive schools. That represents proper choice.

Those proposing more selection must demonstrate that it enhances quality of education, not for a few but for all. Demonstrably it does not do that. I doubt whether in many cases it does it even for a few. Secondly, they should demonstrate that there is a demand for more selection. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, quoted figures which I shall not repeat, but he is right to say that there is no evidence at all that there is a popular demand for more selection. All the evidence points to exactly the opposite. Proposals in Solihull and Milton Keynes to introduce selection were soundly and comprehensively defeated. This part of the Bill is proposing greater division, not greater diversity.

To extend that now to primary schools is frankly obscene and entirely inappropriate. Instead, we should concentrate on learning from the many excellent comprehensive schools to improve the standards in the rest, not this sterile and divisive debate of 30 years ago.

The Bill proposes that governors must consider every year whether or not to introduce selection. I think that is wrong and unnecessary, but if it is to happen then surely the balance should be that all schools that have selection should consider whether to reduce selection. That would be an even-handed approach if, in my view, an unnecessary one.

I turn to the other parts of the Bill. The Minister referred to the Government's much heralded intention to reintroduce the defeated clause from the other place. To allow schools, especially grant-maintained schools, to expand by 50 per cent. without prior consultation or authority is pernicious. It is the sixth attempt to relaunch what must surely be the Government's most publicly failed policy. I did not have time to look up the figures that were expected when GM schools were first launched upon the nation, but I am certain that they were dramatically less than the 1,100 that have so far been established. There are fewer and fewer ballots for GM schools and even those ballots that take place are, as often as not, unsuccessful. Liberal Democrats have always opposed GM schools, so of course we oppose that measure. But even supporters of GM schools need to consider the effect on neighbouring schools. To be able to increase the intake of a school by 50 per cent. or anything up to that is bound to have a devastating effect on neighbouring schools. Yet those schools, beyond protesting, have no right of appeal, no means to do anything about it.

Perhaps of most concern to your Lordships' House is that there have already been proposals in the past to expand the GM schools. Some of them have been rejected by the present Secretary of State. Presumably she has rejected them for very good reasons, given the Government's enthusiasm for GM schools. In future, even that safeguard will no longer be available. It will no longer be possible to take account of the good reasons that led the Secretary of State to reject proposals.

Most important of all—and here I speak as the leader of a local education authority—it would put the final nail in the coffin of any hope of coherent, strategic planning of our education service. It will undoubtedly lead to a huge waste of public money. If noble Lords have any doubt about that, they should read the report of the Audit Commission entitled Trading Places, which demonstrated that fully, graphically and in no uncertain terms. I am sure that we shall return to that point later.

As to the assisted places scheme which it is proposed should be extended, we have an annual debate. We oppose the assisted places scheme and it clearly follows from that that we shall oppose its extension to primary and preparatory schools.

To conclude, there is much in the Bill that is to be welcomed; there is much that should be in the Bill but is not. Despite its good measures, it does little to improve the rock bottom morale in the teaching profession. It does little or nothing to enable the career development of professional teachers. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, it should contain the provisions for a general teaching council about which there is a fair measure of agreement these days. Nothing is said about that.

The first part of the Bill has served its purpose. The Labour Party is now well and truly embarrassed. I fear—and I say this with some regret—there is a huge dent in the credibility of its education policy. That part of the Bill has served its purpose. Can we now abandon it, forget it and spend the fag end of this Parliament concentrating on that part of the Bill which is broadly acceptable, at least in its intentions? Let us spend our time ensuring that the eighteenth and last Education Bill of this Government can at least be the first on which there is common agreement.

3.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clarity in presenting the Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible, The Book of Common Prayer and clerical jokes. He will, of course, know that I am not the Bishop to whom he referred. Clergy having breakfast with me these days are more likely to have an austere diet of toast and coffee. However, it is perfectly possible that I might say to one of them: "Mr. So-and-so, is your toast burnt?" To that he might well reply: "Only on one side, my Lord".

The Bill is concerned with particular issues and I shall refer to some of them in a moment. I wish to begin by expressing regret that there is at present so little debate about the nature of education. We seem to reduce education at times to the acquisition of knowledge and to have forgotten that it is about leading people forward into growth. It is about the growth of personhood. We have forgotten that people are whole people with gifts, skills, motivation, emotion, energy, spirituality, capacity for relationship and far more. Modern education seems to divide these up to lay stress on some and totally to ignore other aspects of personhood. To take one example only, when most enterprises in the modern world depend upon team work, why is it that so much of the testing within the educational system is individual only? Clearly, individual skills are of great significance but so too is the capacity to work together.

It seems to me that modern movement of information technology will bring about changes as great in the education system as did printing in a previous era. But that raises for us profound questions. Information technology is a tool and has to be subject to the people who use that tool. So we might well ask with T. S. Eliot: Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? We might perhaps add a further phrase: Where is the information we have lost in data? I believe that in the future we shall rediscover wisdom, which is clearly a deep dimension of being a person and growing as a person. I see little recognition in the public debate at the moment of the revolution that I believe lies ahead in education.

Turning to the Bill, I declare an interest as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education. I have also consulted with Roman Catholic colleagues. Your Lordships will know that the Churches' contribution to the maintained system of education in our country is massive. More than one school in three is a church school and one pupil in four attends such a school. My comments are from the perspective of church schools.

I begin by looking at the proposals on selection. Clearly, within my Church and indeed within all Churches, there are different views about selection. My personal view is that selection between schools is divisive; selection within schools—streaming or setting—can have great benefits.

But there is a particular concern of governors of voluntary or grant-maintained former voluntary schools in the matter of selection. Many of the schools, probably the majority, have been promoted or funded by a diocese to make a particular contribution to education in an area. If governors are able to change that contribution without having to consult the diocese which promoted or funded the school, that will override the concerns of the diocese. Most dioceses promote secondary schools to provide denominational education. If the schools choose to use 50 per cent. of their intake for selective places, those denominational places are lost. If the Government wish the Churches to continue to invest in church secondary schools, they must respect the purposes for which those schools were founded, purposes which are determined by diocesan authorities. Therefore, at the very least, the Churches ask that diocesan authorities should have to be consulted before changes are made to a school's character and, indeed, if matters of admissions are concerned, their consent should be required.

Let me refer to a point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the Secretary of State's powers to restrain governing bodies from making changes which are unwise, controversial or harmful to education in a particular area. To intervene at present, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that governing bodies are acting in a manner that is so unreasonable that no reasonable governing body would behave in that way. That means, surely, that the Secretary of State can act only very rarely. I should like to see a reserve power for the Secretary of State to direct that the publications procedure shall, in the case of controversial proposals, apply to such proposals. Indeed, I had understood that such a provision was to be included in the Bill but at the moment I do not find any sign of it.

I have one other comment, again on a similar issue to that referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope; namely, the requirement that governing bodies should annually review the matter of selection. Perhaps I may put a slightly different gloss on it. It seems to me that the requirement for governing bodies to consider grant-maintained status on an annual basis has meant that practically no schools have gone grant maintained. Might it not be the case that, if the same provision were applied to selection, the same result would become apparent?

In relation to the planning clauses in the Bill, I have a point to make which might be slightly contentious. The planning clauses relate to grant-maintained schools on the basis that those schools are sufficiently independent and well governed to be able to make those decisions without consultation. Might not that also apply to voluntary aided schools, which I would argue are also in that category? At this point I am in something of a difficulty because I do not in fact support the planning clauses. But, were they to be included in the Bill, I believe that there is a case for arguing that voluntary aided schools should be subject to them as well as grant-maintained schools.

The Churches have always been very keen not to drive a wedge between voluntary schools and county schools. Noble Lords will be aware that that was our argument in relation to the fast track to grant-maintained status. Nevertheless, in your Lordships' House there are many who are well able to argue on behalf of county schools and I should like to argue on behalf of aided schools that such provision might be of help. Indeed, I mentioned that to the Minister's right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I should be interested to know whether he has any reflections on that particular suggestion. Of course, it would need to be with the consent of the appropriate diocesan authority.

In relation to school discipline, I welcome generally the Government's proposals to clarify the legal basis of certain aspects of school discipline. There may be reservations about how well it will work.

I should like to comment on home-school partnerships and the facility that schools will have to use them as part of their admissions criteria. Might it be the case that focusing attention on that particular use of home-school partnerships—that is to say, at the moment of admission—would inhibit the creation of a specific partnership document at a later point in a particular pupil's school career? There is some evidence that they could be valuable: for instance, if a pupil's behaviour is giving cause for concern, there might then be some place for the renegotiation of a partnership document; or post-crisis, where a pupil is being readmitted to a school following a period of exclusion. Do we have to limit the home-school partnerships to the moment of admissions only?

Base line assessment schemes seem clearly to be good, in that they will contribute to the gradual development of a value added approach to the assessment of school effectiveness. For primary schools, surely, they should also provide an important reference point when governors set their annual targets.

With regard to the proposed Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority, the Churches would hope that that body would include someone with knowledge or experience of the voluntary sector and, indeed, that the Churches would be consulted about the membership of that body. That would put the legislation in line with existing legislation on the Funding Agency for Schools.

I have a concern about the title of that body: the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority. It is clear from the text of the Bill that it is the Government's intention that that authority should be concerned with the whole of the school curriculum. The school curriculum is not the same as the national curriculum. Indeed, religious education is specifically excluded from the national curriculum and is part of the basic curriculum. There are other subjects which are part of a wider curriculum. With the title as given—the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority—it could be supposed that the responsibilities of the authority are limited to national curriculum subjects only. Following the 1988 Act, the position of religious education was adversely affected for a number of years by the National Curriculum Council's unwillingness to accept responsibility for any curriculum issue beyond the national curriculum itself. Could we not, therefore, have a title which reflects the responsibilities of that body for the whole curriculum—perhaps the "Qualifications and Curriculum Authority"?

I am aware that there is some discussion about the acronym of that particular body and that the chief executive is debating whether he would prefer to be known as a "QuANCA" or a "QuACA". I do not wish to enter into that particular debate. Maybe one alternative is the "National Curriculum and Qualifications Authority", which I do not think can be made into anything shorter. I hope that the Government will take that anxiety on board.

Finally, I express the hope that under some future administration—of whatever colour—we can look forward to a more far-reaching Bill which is more creative and innovative than anything the present Bill has to offer.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, as many Members of your Lordships' House are aware, I had the privilege from 1990 onwards of chairing the Hamlyn Foundation National Commission on Education. Today I do not apologise for repeating some items of revision published in 1993 by that commission in its report entitled Learning to Succeed and the reports that it has published subsequently.

First, in the United Kingdom much higher achievement in education and training is needed to match world standards. Secondly, everyone must want to learn and have ample opportunity and encouragement to do so. Thirdly, all children must achieve a good grasp of literacy and basic skills early on as the foundation for learning throughout life. Fourthly, a full range of people's abilities must be recognised and their development rewarded. Fifthly, high quality learning depends above all on the knowledge, skill, effort and example of teachers and trainers.

In looking at our goals, which we listed serially, let me comment upon two: first, that there must be courses and qualifications that bring out the best in every pupil; secondly, that every pupil in every lesson has the right to good teaching and adequate support facilities.

Since the 1993 report was published, happily, some 50 per cent. of the proposals that we made and of our objectives have been accepted and implemented by government, though I must say that some of the means by which they have been implemented—not least in the field of nursery education—were not the ones that we as commissioners recommended.

The question I ask before examining the Bill in detail is this. In what way and to what extent do I recognise in the Bill items furthering the objectives which we defined? I must say, with respect, that there are certain aspects of the Bill which give the impression that a complex and detailed measure has been prepared showing some signs of hasty preparation and drafting, almost as though it had been prepared in the hope of rushing it through into legislation in the dying days of this Parliament. But, as previous speakers have already said, there are many parts of the Bill which I and I am sure my fellow commissioners welcome. It is good in parts. In response to the characteristically erudite and fiery Gallic contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, I say only that, happily, nowadays the salmonella organism is one that can normally be eradicated by good hygiene or by the use of appropriate antibiotics.

Where do I see the good points in the Bill? First, I wholly agree with the proposal to merge SCAA and NVQ. That integration was recommended by the national education commission and is a welcome step towards bringing closer together education and training in the United Kingdom. Secondly, like others, I welcome the measures proposed to improve school discipline. While the details of those measures require a little fine tuning and the clauses must not be used as a thinly veiled excuse for bringing back corporal punishment in schools, nevertheless, the measures as defined in the Bill are most welcome.

I too commend the proposals to introduce home-school contracts—something which again my education commission was anxious to see introduced. We defined, as did many others, the problem associated with the anti-education ethos which exists in certain parts of our society, not least in many of our inner city regions. My question is whether the provision that the home-school contracts should be signed prior to admission will be a mechanism which will be effective and work in those areas where such contracts are most needed. Is it not possible that the necessity of having such a contract signed between parents, teachers and the school may put off some of those most in need of the improved education which we all hope to see in some of the most deprived areas of the country. The proposals therefore must be carefully considered and their preparation monitored.

I wholly agree with the proposals on baseline assessment and target setting. They are admirable and can do nothing other than improve standards. The proposals relating to statementing of children with behavioural problems are most welcome, as are those giving authority to Ofsted to inspect LEAs. We took a great deal of evidence for our education commission, and it was clear that many local education authorities were doing an excellent job, though some were doing a job which was far from excellent. Indeed, we recognised certain local authorities where no school inspections had been carried out under their auspices for many years. Therefore, that is a welcome measure.

Like others, I too have considerable reservations about the proposals on pre-school selection or selection by ability as a means of admission to a school. I confess that my father was a council school head teacher in a mining village in Durham county. I myself went to a highly selective grammar school which gave me a thoroughly excellent education. But I recognised at that time that some of the children who were excluded on the basis of failing the 11-plus possessed outstanding capabilities and that the education system to which they were referred—secondary modern schools came later—simply did not fulfil what might have been expected by capitalising upon those abilities. Some children with capable minds were classified from the outset as failures because they failed the 11-plus examination.

By contrast, I am wholly in favour of setting or selection within schools. I find the pre-school selection principle in the Bill disturbing, whereas setting by ability within schools is wholly to be recommended. One of the problems when the comprehensive system was first introduced was so-called "mixed ability" classes. They did not serve the interests of either the most able or the least able of pupils. The bright children who went into mixed ability classes did not develop at the rate one would have expected in the light of their capabilities, and those with the least ability were often left behind. Rather like many of the other "trendy" views and the anti-competitive attitude of some members of the teaching profession—the belief in egalitarianism, in so-called preservation of a child's self-esteem—that did great harm to the comprehensive system and to its image in the education community at large.

I have often quoted in this House the great American, Thomas Jefferson, who said, I believe in an aristocracy of merit based upon a democracy of opportunity". That should be the attitude that we all adopt in examining our education system. Hence, setting within schools is the right way. Comprehensive schools have the ability to capitalise upon the wide range of abilities that children possess, covering an enormous field of human activity, provided they have the leadership and the structure to allow them to have classes in which the most able can go ahead at a fast rate and the individual abilities of those who may not be so able can be recognised and built upon.

What is the most important item missing from the Bill? From the Ofsted reports of Chris Woodhead and his inspectors, it is clear that a large proportion of schoolteachers are doing an excellent job. However, there are some who are undoubtedly failing their pupils and failing the country. Fortunately, it is a small number. I have no doubt that this could best be handled by a general teaching council, something on which I have spoken repeatedly in the House. I was happy to see that a Bill introduced by Sir Malcolm Thornton had its First Reading in another place; I was pleased too to learn that Mr. Eric Forth made a suggestion recently to the effect that perhaps the time had come to establish a general teaching council.

I am aware from past speeches of the Front Bench that there are those who would prefer to see the establishment of a college of teachers comparable in certain respects to the Royal Colleges in the medical profession. But those bodies are concerned with professional and academic development. They are not concerned with the statutory regulation of the profession. We have statutory regulation of doctors, dentists and nurses. I played a part in seeing through this House Bills for the statutory regulation of osteopaths and chiropractors and the establishment of councils to regulate their authority. A general teaching council could be the most important innovation leading to the monitoring of high standards of education of teachers and high standards of education of those whom they teach; it would make sure that teachers who were not competent or who were performing at a less than satisfactory level had their problems handled appropriately; and it would introduce disciplinary procedures and procedures for dealing with teachers whose health problems might be putting students at risk.

I hope and believe that whichever government are in power after the election the general teaching council proposal will be one of the leading proposals in education in the next Parliament. My own feeling is that to have a Royal College would be complementary to the establishment of a statutory authority with which every teacher in the land must be registered.

I welcome the Bill in parts. I am unhappy about the proposals relating to selection. I am not opposed to the grant-maintained principle but I believe that the proposals in the Bill to extend grant-maintained status may have a damaging effect in the longer term. While certain popular schools, as the Minister put it in his cogent opening statement, will attract more and more pupils, what will happen to the schools which do not attract more and more pupils? Will we not be in danger of creating many more sink schools which will not serve the population as well and as effectively as they should?

4.23 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Henley for introducing this very important Bill. As he would expect, it is one which I wholeheartedly support.

Having listened to the preceding speakers, I am glad that there is a measure of agreement on a number of issues. I shall not argue as to who thought about what first. I have taken part in discussion of every education Bill since I arrived in your Lordships' House in 1971: all those introduced since 1979 have been fought by the party opposite line by line. It is extraordinary for those on this side of the House to see the kind of deathbed transformation which seems to have come over that party as it considers, with the general election approaching, what the public at large think about education.

Having said I am glad that there is a measure of agreement, I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, whose speeches I always enjoy, that I admire his courage in speaking as he did about grammar schools. After all his honourable friend Mr. Blunkett, whom I heard on the "Today" programme only last week, told us that Labour is in favour of grammar schools. Perhaps it is because we know that his honourable friend Ms Harman is sending her son to one. So, clearly, some people think they are very good.

There was also the noble Lord's long peroration about grant-maintained schools. I say that in the light of the fact that his right honourable friend Mr. Blair is sending his children to one, something which I admire and support. Nevertheless, it is completely incongruous to have people on the Labour Front Bench saying they support grammar schools and then to hear the kind of speech we have had this afternoon. The whole thing is entirely designed to win votes in the coming by-election. The Labour Party is scrabbling around for what votes it can get here and there; it changes its mind on education policy every five minutes. How anyone can believe anything it says on the matter I do not know. However, as I said, I am glad there are some areas on which we can agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, seemed to be equally opposed to selective and grant-maintained schools and wanted more choice within schools. One of the problems with a uniform system of comprehensive schools is that it rules out choice within the comprehensive system. The number of comprehensive schools for girls is diminishing all the time and so the single sex option is not so readily available, something about which many women teachers have complained. I was sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Walton, make the mistake of thinking that if you do not go to a grammar school you have a terrible education. I hope he does not believe that everyone in a comprehensive school has an excellent education.

I wish to make three points about this important Bill. I agree with the first part because I believe that it encourages the improvement of standards in education by building on success. If there is one thing I have learnt in the course of my life—I think it is true of any organisation—it is that you raise standards by looking for good practice and success and building on them. I should have thought that that was as true of the medical world as it is of the education world. I therefore welcome the greater freedom given to grant-maintained schools and the opportunity to have more of them. If there are no more than 1,100 grant-maintained schools, I suspect that that is because every time a ballot takes place there is a sustained campaign on the part of local education authorities and many in the educational establishment to stop them. We are all perfectly well aware of that. It is absurd to think that there have been free elections in any sense. Grant-maintained schools produce better results. Why would people who are in a position to choose them if they did not? They are a success story.

I welcome the expansion of the assisted places scheme, which is another great success story. Recent research shows that assisted place pupils obtain grades two or three higher at A-level than their counterparts in local authority schools. That makes a great deal of difference in terms of the universities they can go to and the subjects they can read. The city technology colleges are also a great success story.

I welcome the fact that there will be more opportunities for grammar schools. Other speakers will be discussing that point and so I shall not pursue it further. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, made the point that education in Scotland is very good, something with which I entirely agree. He will agree that education in Northern Ireland usually comes out top of the list. That could well be because Northern Ireland has kept its grammar schools. All employers I know welcome employees who have been educated in Northern Ireland. Perhaps my noble friend can tell us in his reply where Northern Ireland schools fall within the general league tables. I welcome the building on a series of success stories. We must not stop there. Successful schools will see how they can raise their own standards and improve standards for all.

The second area on which I wish to comment is discipline. I was glad that my noble friend had so much to say about it because, clearly, without good discipline in a school learning is impossible. I know that we have taken steps with the publication of statistics on truancy, and I recognise that many of the proposals in the Bill are based on the report of my noble friend Lord Elton. However, I think that with regard to discipline we have put teachers, and particularly head teachers, in a very difficult position.

The operation of the Children Act has had a serious effect in schools, no doubt not intended when the Bill passed through your Lordships' House. I heard of one head teacher being told firmly that under no circumstances should a teacher touch a child. I do not know what one is supposed to do to comfort a small child. Most of us would put an arm around such a child. It is deplorable that such things could be said to be "good advice". Conversely, there are many well publicised cases—such cases have come to my notice—of teachers who have found themselves, having tried to separate two fighting boys, being accused of abuse by the parents of one of the boys. That puts the teacher in an impossible position. Such matters need to be looked at very carefully.

I read with great interest the memorandum that I was sent by the National Association of Head Teachers which I believe welcomes the proposals and wishes to go further. The matter needs close examination. I am glad to say that I believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers do an excellent job. One very practical way in which we could help them would be to give them the disciplinary powers that they need.

Many noble Lords will have much to say on the important issue of the merging of SCAA and NCVQ. I believe in the importance of high academic standards. Whatever happens with the merger, we must not see a lowering of standards. Judgments about whether A-levels are now easier or more difficult are always problematic. The truth of the matter is that A-levels now are rather different from what they were. Ultimately, however, we do no service to anybody—academic or vocational—if we do not set high, demanding, rigorous standards. Whatever the result of the merger, I hope that such standards will be applied equally across the board.

I am pleased that, as I understand it, Dr. Nicholas Tate is to be the chairman of the body because I hope that we shall not forget the moral and spiritual side of education. The matter has been raised in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions. We must stress the importance of marriage and the family. After all, it is the children—and the children of the future—whom we are considering. I hope that there will be a great measure of agreement across your Lordships' House on the matter and that this important aspect of life is not forgotten.

In conclusion, I should like to raise one point which, in a way, is outside the scope of the Bill. However, this Second Reading debate gives me an opportunity to refer to a matter on which I shall table an amendment in Committee. I refer to British schools in the European Union. Looking around your Lordships' House, I believe that the only Member who was present in the Chamber when we last discussed this matter is the noble Baroness, Lady David, who was good enough to support me in an amendment to the Education Reform Act 1988, which was carried in this House. I now see that my noble friend Lord Boardman is in his place. I believe that he was present then also.

The point at issue is as follows: thousands of British men and women now work in the European Union. Naturally enough, they are concerned about the education of their children. Many of them work in Europe for only a limited period. They can send their children to a British school which teaches and follows the national curriculum in the same way as a maintained school in this country. Such schools prepare pupils for GCSEs and A-levels. Pupils sometimes attend such schools for as little as a year or for as long as six years. They then return to a maintained school in this country and go on to higher education.

British schools in Europe are fee paying because the British Government, unlike the governments of many other countries in the European Union, contribute nothing whatever for the education of nationals abroad. Large companies in the European Union pay the fees for their employees' children because they can afford to do so. Small companies and particularly self-employed people are often unable to do that. That puts our exporters and business people at a great disadvantage, to say nothing of what it does to the education of their children which has been greatly interrupted. It is only common justice that people who are working hard for the prosperity of us all in this country should be helped. I shall be tabling an amendment to suggest a way in which it may be possible to give help, through some kind of educational grant scheme, to the children of employees of small companies or those who are unable to provide for such school fees.

Finally, once again I thank my noble friend for introducing this important Bill which will have my great support throughout its passage.