HL Deb 10 February 1997 vol 578 cc42-95

5.11 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in returning to the Second Reading of the latest and, it is hoped, last Education Bill which this Government will present to the House, we all owe a very great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for exposing very clearly the contradictions in the Government's arguments. On the one hand, in his opening remarks he suggested that the Bill will enhance the choice of parents—but that will be done by extending the ability of schools to choose the parents. That is one of the fundamental contradictions of the Government's position. By talking about extending choice for parents, they imply that that is good, and that is what they are doing. But in fact, they are reducing parental choice by giving schools the choice as to which parents are allowed to send their children to a particular school. That demonstrates the Government's complete lack of understanding of the nature of comprehensive schools and comprehensive education.

I speak from my experience as a member of the Manchester education committee and also from visiting other schools in other localities. I am also a governor and the chair of governors of a high school. Therefore, I should explain to the Government that every comprehensive school is unique and has its own ethos and separate identity. It may come as a surprise to the Government, who look at these matters superficially, that two schools, which have an almost identical building, with almost identical numbers of staff and pupils, may have a completely different ethos and arrangements within them for the education of the children. Therefore, by and large, parents have a wide range of choice within the comprehensive system.

I could go through all the aspects of the Bill in detail, but that has been done most ably by my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris. What I aim to do—I hope not to take too long over it—is to illuminate one or two aspects of the Bill which have been mentioned.

I was concerned about the way in which the Minister talked about the home-school contracts. At the moment, it is virtually an unwritten contract that all parents are required to present their children at school and that the school must educate the pupils. But home-school contracts take that a stage further. My reason for raising that matter is that I had experience of a school where the concept of home-school contracts had not been thought through and had not been well explained to it. Its view was that all that was required was that it should present the pupil and the parents with a piece of paper which said that the parents must get the child to school and must ensure that he did his homework and that the pupil must be attentive in class and do his course work. That seemed to be the implication of what the Minister said.

I suggest that a contract is between two or three parties and all the parties must have something to contribute to it. It is unfortunate if only one party or two parties to the contract are required to provide or produce something or adhere to any constraints and the third party—the school—does not. It would be well worth the Minister discussing and talking to people who have experience of devising those contracts and utilising them so that he understands what it is all about.

My next point is the effect of selection. Those of us—I include the noble Lord, Lord Henley—who are "baby boomers", born shortly after the war, experienced the divide in our education system between grammar schools and the secondary modern schools. There was that distinction at the age of 11 between a child being a success or a failure. There was a distinction as to whether he went on to a university or to some other form of usually lower class education.

One of the effects of that was that quite a large number of mistakes were made. People who should not necessarily have progressed through grammar schools to university did so, and quite a large proportion of the population who should have benefited from grammar school and university education did not do so. One result was that when those young people went into work in industry and commerce there was a distinction between what one might describe as the officer class and other ranks. The result of that was an extremely deleterious effect on the performance of British industry and commerce, because we had the wrong people with the wrong qualifications in the wrong job. Having spent 20 years in industry, I can testify to that experience.

One of the other problems is the importance of sensible consultation. Again I speak from experience. When my children were fairly small, just coming up to primary school age and going into primary school, the local education authority planned to merge a girls' school and a boys' school. On the face of it, that was a sensible proposition. But when it came to the legal requirements of the consultation exercise, the only people whose opinions were sought were the parents of children already at those schools. If one bears in mind that the timescale of the change was five or six years, it will be understood that all the children at both those schools would have left the school by the time the merger took place. Effectively, the wrong group of parents were consulted. Those parents who had children at the feeder primary schools for both those high schools were not consulted at all. I suspect that, if they had been and had the right questions been asked about the future of the education which they wanted for their children, the results would have been rather different.

In conclusion, comprehensive schools have worked for this country. We can judge that in a number of ways. One way is to see the massive expansion of the numbers of young people who are qualified to go into university compared with the numbers under the previous system. A grammar school in every town means three or four secondary moderns. Education should not be a lottery, with a four out of five chance of failure. Education should be beneficial for everyone; in other words, everyone should have a 100 per cent. chance of a good education.

5.20 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I welcome some parts of the Bill. Fortunately, I do not have to go into questions of intellectual property with regard to those parts. However, there are many aspects of the legislation that I find very disturbing. I do not want to talk about the whole Bill—that is, either the good or the bad bits—but will concentrate on certain aspects of it on this occasion.

I find the Bill somewhat confusing. I believe that the confusion in the first part of the Bill arises from the use of the concept of choice, and it is very familiar in the present educational climate. Of course the existence of more and different kinds of schools involves in principle a choice, just as the existence of the independent sector involves more choice. But to suppose that a school that is selective offers each individual parent more choice is, as has already been pointed out, totally fallacious. We might as well say that an individual parent has a choice of sending her child to Winchester. That is correct, of course, provided that her child is clever, is a boy, and that she has enough money to pay the fees.

Similarly, with a selective school, or a school which has more selective places than it had before, individual parents cannot choose to send their children there to the extent that they could before. Parents can choose to let the child apply but they cannot possibly choose that the child should actually attend the school. For that, the child has to be clever enough to pass the entrance examination.

I am not at all hostile to selection as such. I do not believe that it is an intrinsic evil, with one proviso; namely, that the other schools are good and should be seen by parents to be good. I believe that they can provide a good education to those children who are not selected. I know, for example, of one London girls-only maintained school which is a Church of England school. I am told that this year there were 90 places to be filled—it is a three-form entry school—and that there were well over 490 candidates. That school selects partly on academic grounds and partly on Church membership grounds. But the point I wish to make is that it is incredibly important that any education Bill which advocates selection should say something about, say, those 400 girls who will not be going to that excellent school.

The main defect of the Bill, as I see it, is that it has very little hope to offer to schools which are not going to be selective schools. There is one exception to that and it is a most important one. The Bill does offer hope in the new qualifications. I believe that it is thoroughly admirable to have a new authority which covers all of the curriculum, including the new qualifications.

The worst feature of the legislation is that new powers have been given to the funding authority to start up new grant-maintained schools in any area. Moreover, the governors of existing grant-maintained schools can expand their school or change its character so far as concerns selectivity without proper consultation. We are told that they will be given advice or guidance from the Secretary of State, but we do not know what kind. That is a fragmentation of the policy making powers of the LEAs in relation to schools. As one speaker has already said, it is another nail—possibly not quite the last one—in the coffin of the local education authorities.

So far as I can see, the local education authorities will have only two functions in the future. One is to issue statements on children with special needs who will merit statements, if I may put it that way. But, even there, the local authority will not have to place those children with statements because, if your child has a statement, you really have a choice of schools. Indeed, schools and local authorities are almost bound to allow the child to go to the school of first choice, which will make things extremely difficult for schools such as the one in London that I mentioned. However, LEAs will have to issue statements and ensure that those children go to the schools which their parents prefer.

The other task of the LEAs is a new one and seems to me to be a terrible task; namely, to provide education, very expensively, to those children who will, if the Bill goes through in its present form, become "disqualified persons". Whatever else is claimed about the Bill, I believe that that title must go. I am sure that there is some other way to refer to those unfortunate children who will not be accepted at any school. However, I am afraid that they will be rather numerous. So a new and sad task will fall to the LEAs and it is only to be hoped that they will have enough money to fulfil it. They will have to devise other forms of education for the children who will be excluded from every school, not just from the one at which they started. We should be ashamed to have legislation which contains such clauses about "disqualified persons".

As I have said before, I believe—and even more strongly on reading the Bill in detail—that the slaughter of the powers of the LEAs will turn out to be one of the worst things that this Government have done. We must restore local policy making to the education scene. Governors of schools are interested in their own school and they cannot have, and should not be expected to have, an overriding interest in the common good of all the children in their area. It is not their task to make policy. It used to be the task of the LEAs. I hope that some of that power will he restored to them somehow or other.

5.27 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, I very much welcome the Bill. It appears to me neither as a curate's egg nor, to take the example of the right reverend Prelate, a half-burnt piece of toast, but as a very wholesome slice of daily bread for the children in our schools. I should particularly like to address the topic of selection which many speakers have referred to and which seems to result in a great deal of misunderstanding—not least a misunderstanding of what the Bill is actually saying and what it proposes to do.

However, perhaps it would be salutary, first, to ask why selection is on the agenda at all. It surprises me somewhat that there is a belief on the Opposition Benches—and, indeed, in some of the daily newspaper reports—that repeating like a mantra that comprehensive schools have been a success will somehow make that come true. Unfortunately you cannot have it both ways. You cannot produce the wonderful rhetoric which the noble Lord, Lord Morris, produced, and which I greatly enjoyed, about the failures of the education system where, for example, 85 per cent. are not performing as well as they should, and point out how desperately the children from deprived homes in poorer areas are being educated, while at the same time claiming that the comprehensive schools which all these children have been attending are a howling success.

However, surely as people who genuinely care—and I know that we all do—about what is happening to the young people in our society, we ought to be asking much more fundamental questions without ideological presuppositions as to what it is that is going wrong. It is patently obvious that we are not doing as well as we would like to be doing, especially as regards the less able or at least those who are perhaps less well endowed in terms of home background and so on. Indeed, we are not doing as well as we would like to do. We are not doing as well by them as they deserve. Therefore something must be wrong somewhere within the system that we have set up. Comprehensive schools are not a howling success. When they were first introduced I was one of those who believed that they would be a great step forward. It is extremely disappointing to read the research of the past 10 or 15 years which consistently shows that children from more deprived backgrounds continue to perform poorly even though they are now in the comprehensive system. Many of us as educationalists thought that it was the failure of the secondary modern schools that made that happen. However, it is not; it seems to be something which continues despite the reorganisation of the system.

Sadly, the success rate of young people from less well-off homes in getting into higher education has not been radically changed. In many ways the social composition of those who enter higher education is not greatly changed from that of 20 or even 30 years ago. We need to look at this matter again and we should do so with open minds and without all this ideological baggage of repeating—as I said, rather like a mantra—comprehensive schools, good; every other kind of school, bad.

Having said that, as I listened to spokesmen from the Benches opposite this afternoon, I found myself re-reading the Bill rather nervously in case I had misread it. Were we being presented with proposals for 100 per cent. selection in some schools? Were we being invited to sign up to the idea that some schools should select all their pupils and others should select none—the old bipartite system of grammar schools and secondary modern schools? No, it is no such thing. The most that is being proposed is that local authority schools should be able to select up to 20 per cent. of their pupils and grant-maintained schools should be able to select up to 50 per cent. of their pupils on any range of criteria which they choose, not just academic ability but perhaps giftedness in the performing arts or music, or even in sport. The sort of picture we have been offered of how wicked it will be for a child to fail to get into a school and therefore be "in the sink" is absolutely not the picture which this Bill presents us with.

I have said before in your Lordships' House that to allow schools which are situated in deprived areas where achievement has been low to select a proportion of their pupils on grounds of ability might be a good thing. I remember that one of the aspects of the ILEA's policies that I liked—I am sure that noble Lords on the Benches opposite approved of the ILEA, which I, largely, did not—was that it attempted to achieve a mix of ability in its schools. It used to band pupils into the very bright, the medium-bright and the less bright and ensure that each of its comprehensive schools had a mix. That is the kind of possibility which is opened up by this Bill. In an area which has a long history of low achievement it is difficult for the head and the staff of a school to raise that level of achievement unless they can admit some pupils into the school who have the possibility of reaching higher achievement. Then one can begin to reverse the downward spiral. Therefore I strongly welcome that aspect of the Bill. Nor does the Bill in any sense restrict choice; it widens choice. It always seems to me odd that we hear a repeated statement—as if repeating it made it true—by those on the Benches opposite that one cannot have parental choice and selection. I have said before in this House that people choose which university they wish to apply for. However, that does not mean they are guaranteed to obtain a place there. The universities select the students who best suit them. When young people enter the world of employment they choose which jobs to apply for. However, that does not mean they are guaranteed to obtain the job they want. There is a wide diversity of choice. However, the fact that they may sometimes suffer disappointment and not get the job they want or get into the university they want is surely not a recipe for going to the other extreme and becoming like the People's Republic of China and saying, "You have no choice at all. This is where you go and be blowed to your choice and your inclinations". I have seen young Chinese men and women in universities literally in tears when they describe to me how they were directed to study engineering although they wanted to become doctors or they were directed to become teachers when they wished to become actors or actresses. Surely we are not advocating that kind of thing.

Let us keep an open mind about what selection can achieve. What is more, we should keep an open mind about the effect of including in the criteria for selection the home-school agreements for parents. It is unfair to expect schools and teachers on their own to cope with all the difficulties that young people face nowadays in reaching their full potential. There must be a partnership, with parents being prepared to sign up to their part of the bargain. Schools alone cannot make good deficiencies that may exist in people's ordinary lives outside school. Schools must have help from parents. This surely is a way in which that can be achieved. I believe it is right to sign the agreements before the young person enters a school, because afterwards it is too late to find out that, however hard the teacher works, he or she is in opposition to the parents, who may be pulling the child away from what the teacher is trying to do. Having these agreements signed in advance gives the parents a choice too. If they do not like the criteria the school has set out in the home-school partnerships, they have the choice of choosing another school where the criteria are more to their liking.

I wish to refer to another aspect of the Bill; namely, the setting of targets by individual schools. I give this provision a particularly strong welcome. It has quite rightly been referred to rather tangentially by other speakers as being part of the package of raising standards. I wish to emphasise how important a part school targets play in raising standards. One of the courageous things which this Government have done is to set national targets, year on year, up to the year 2000, for the achievement of young people. Each year they have courageously published the performance tables to show how progress towards those targets is being achieved. The effect obtained by the annual publication of those tables has been beyond even my wildest expectations. The raising of standards and pupil achievement has been quite remarkable. However, we are still not as far down the road as we would like to be, and we never shall be until we raise standards for all pupils in our schools. Simply to set national targets, or even regional targets through the training and enterprise councils, cannot reflect the whole picture. Targets must be set at the level of individual schools.

I refer to a depressing experience when I attended the education forum of one training and enterprise council at which regional targets were being discussed. The three representatives of three Labour local education authorities began the discussion by saying, "Of course you cannot possibly expect our kind of children to achieve anything like the national targets. Our kind of children can only reach a half, a third or even a quarter of the standards that the others can attain". I want individual schools to consider that kind of statement and say "nonsense". I believe that individual schools will not be tempted to lower their standards and to set themselves low targets. They will have to answer to parents and to pupils as regards the targets they set. I should like to see every school set itself realistic targets for the achievements of its young people. That way, most certainly, the achievements of young people will be raised throughout the entire population and not only in the leafy suburbs.

5.40 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I rise to speak about the Bill with mixed feelings because some parts are very acceptable and are, as my noble friend Lord Morris pointed out, Labour Party policy. But there are other parts which are far from being acceptable and will, I hope, be extensively amended before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House.

First, however, I should declare an interest (especially perhaps as in this instance my accent may be misleading). I am chair of governors of Fairlawn Primary School, a county school in the London Borough of Lewisham; and I also serve as one of the chairs of Lewisham Admissions and Exclusions Appeals Panels.

There are many aspects of this long and wide-ranging Bill which are of interest. However, at this stage I should like to make some points only about those parts of the Bill dealing, first, with selection, and, secondly, with exclusion. I turn to the proposals on selection in Part I, whereby all schools will be allowed to select up to an increased percentage limit without central approval or any public or community consultation. For county, voluntary and grant-maintained primary schools the limit is now to be 20 per cent.; for specialist schools it is 30 per cent; for grant-maintained secondary schools it is 50 per cent.; and, for reasons I cannot understand, grant-maintained schools requiring "special measures"—which means that they are considered to be failing on inspection—should be allowed a 20 per cent. increase.

One of the striking factors in the proposals is the way that parental choice—it was supposed to be a guiding light for this Government's education policy—is being eroded. Rather than expanding the choice for parents, an extension of selection will mean that those parents whose children fail to meet whatever entrance criteria schools impose will not have their choice. Increasing selection gives the schools greater choice—not the parents of children who are not chosen. The effect on other schools of a local school becoming more selective has significance for the whole local community; and schools and planning authorities will face even more difficulty than they do already in planning provision for their local communities. Even the Government seem to see the risks in this since Clause 11 gives them reserve powers.

The question of the parental choice of school is already very vexed indeed, as anyone who has had anything to do with admissions appeals will testify. Parents say, sometimes despairingly, sometimes aggressively, "But this is the school of my choice", and have been misled by the propaganda poured out about this by the party in power into thinking that that should be enough to decide the matter. But of course it is impossible to satisfy all the demands for entry into a popular school. Proposals to increase selection will create further havoc in local admissions and planning.

I have felt for some time that we are looking into an abyss already; and I find that view endorsed by the Audit Commission report, Trading Places, of December 1996. It uses the word "gridlock" for the crisis. I make no apology for quoting this part in full because it is exactly the position that recent policies have produced. It has to be recognised and dealt with rather than further compounded by the proposals in the Bill before us. The audit report warned: Unwanted and unnecessary school places lock up scarce resources which could be used elsewhere. Class sizes continue to rise in popular schools. Appeals are on the increase. Schemes for school rationalisation are decreasing. Government and LEAs blame each other. The system risks gridlock". That is an indictment with which I completely concur both from my own experience and from conversations with others who have to try to help deal with the flood of admissions appeals which pour in. Appeals clerks have a mammoth task to try to make the necessary arrangements and, not least, to find the people to sit on the panels day after day to hear the cases put by impassioned and sometimes distraught parents who more often than not have to be told that on the entrance criteria of the school their child does not qualify. Parental choice does not come into play when dealing with oversubscribed schools.

Before I leave selection, I wish to mention another worrying point in the Bill. I refer to the potential use of baseline assessments at the age of five for the purposes of selection. Those assessments are generally recognised as desirable to allow children's progress to be monitored properly, but it is not acceptable that they run the risk of being used for selecting children at such a young age.

Clauses 2 and 7 of the Bill require school governors annually to consider selection—a not very subtle attempt to encourage the growth of selection. It is an exact parallel to the requirement of annual decisions on whether to ballot parents on grant maintained status. The Government do not seem to have learnt from that experience that it does not achieve what they want. It is yet another statutory demand on already overloaded governors who, not surprisingly, are becoming ever more difficult to find.

Turning to exclusions, we all recognise that other pupils and teachers have to be safeguarded from disruption, or worse, by individual pupils; and that as a last resort this has sometimes to mean exclusion. However, in dealing with the mechanics, let us never lose sight of the many and complex reasons for the fact that exclusions are a growing problem.

Disruptive children are often from emotionally and/or economically deprived backgrounds. In many areas the resources are lacking to provide adequate help from specialist services such as educational psychologists. And when the child is excluded, the arrangements either for referral units or home tuition are often woefully inadequate so that an excluded child is too often found to be coming to the attention of the police. Let us not overlook the real pressures in a league tables climate on a school to divest itself of problems which affect its overall performance and statistics.

Lastly, Clause 28 deals with, persons permanently excluded from two or more schools". I am horrified to read the provision at Clause 28(2) which states: Where a child has been permanently excluded from two or more schools, he is a 'disqualified person' for the purposes of this section during the period of two years beginning with the date on which the latest of those exclusions took effect". I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. The term "disqualified person" should not be used of any child. It is completely unacceptable to label a child pejoratively in this way. I do not know what brilliant bureaucrat thought up this term. Perhaps—I do not know whether I dare say so in this House—it was one with a legal background. But surely someone should have thought of the consequences of such a term coming into usage about a child and the effect on the child and the parents. One does not need to be a child psychologist to see what harm it could do. And what civilised society would brand a child a "disqualified person", however many times that child has been excluded from a school? This term surely has to go.

There are many other sections of interest to me in the Bill upon which I shall not comment now. I conclude by saying that, although there are good points in the Bill, I find the whole thrust of the extension of selection very depressing. It is turning back the clock and it would do nothing to address the real problems of our current education system.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, there is much to praise in the Bill, since it addresses some of the problems which have plagued education in this country for years. The early clauses deal with the question of selection that has occupied so much of our debate. In the 1960s I was one of those in favour of the comprehensive principle. I see no reason at all to go back on that belief today.

When I became Provost of King's, in Cambridge, in 1956, 69 per cent. of the intake came from independent schools; a further 12 per cent. from direct grant schools; and the remainder from maintained grammar schools. Today, 70 per cent. of the intake come from comprehensive schools and a few maintained grammar schools. Has the intellectual level of achievement fallen? It has not. For five years running that college came top of the academic achievement table. Who can doubt that the principle of selection at 11-plus failed to identify boys and girls who would have gained entry to university and distinguished themselves there?

Yet people like myself should admit that the move to comprehensive education did not serve the country as well as it should. The tragedy of the comprehensive system was, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, that it coincided largely with a revolution in teaching methods—a revolution that was responsible for lowering the standard of achievement in schools; and in institutes and colleges of further education theories of education replaced old-fashioned instruction in chalk and talk.

The ideal of head teachers in comprehensive schools in the 1950s was that their schools should be uniform-wearing, satchel-carrying schools with homework; and that was diminished. In addition, the NUT turned to the tactics of disruption to enforce its claims.

On the question of selection, I want to make it clear that in comprehensive schools I favour the maximum of streaming and setting.

That is why, in my opinion, the Government were right to set up special schools to encourage the teaching of maths and science. I only wish that they would pay a differential to those who teach these subjects in all schools. The schools are competing with business, which demands higher and higher numeracy skills—and can pay for them. Who can blame potential teachers for settling for vastly higher pay in industry than they can possibly receive from teaching in schools?

Good schools in good LEAs have a grievance. They see comparable schools from indifferent LEAs adjoining theirs opting out and being awarded capital grants sometimes totalling £1 million—and not only capital grants; sometimes they receive more in recurrent grant. Whereas good schools which remained loyally with their LEA because that LEA had treated them fairly now see their recurrent grant go down because the Government have imposed cuts on local government. Is it any wonder that they feel sore? I have heard the noble Baroness, Lady David, make that point time and again at Question Time, and I have never heard a satisfactory reply from the Minister.

Clause 30 of the Bill requires parents to sign a home-school partnership document. That is a welcome innovation. But how long will it be before parents begin to think of suing schools which have had to cut back on teachers and other auxiliary staff and activities because in their opinion a school has broken its side of the contract?

I still doubt whether we realise how far we lag behind our competitors in Europe. Our children do not emerge from school with the attainments of Dutch, German or French children. That is one of the most severe criticisms which those who support a positive grammar school policy can bring against the policy of comprehensive education. Both the Germans and the French have maintained the equivalent of a selective principle. In only one of the Lander in Germany, Land Hesse, are the Gesamtschulen (that is to say, comprehensive schools) entirely compulsory.

I notice that the French are complaining that the standard of the baccalauréat has fallen. Has the standard of A-level achievement fallen in this country? There is grave scepticism about the marking of scripts now that such immense numbers sit GCSE examinations. Is it not time now to refer to the GCSE boards? Should not the Government set up an inquiry into their work and the effect that their policies have had on higher education? Options proliferate —

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive my intervening. I assure him that we have had concerns about standards over time regarding A-levels. We set up an inquiry under both SCAA and Ofsted which reported last year.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much indeed. I am sorry that I missed the results of that inquiry.

The clauses in Part IV of the Bill about discipline are admirable and long overdue. The upper limit for expulsion is set at 45 days. That allows time for social services to sort matters out. The previous period of 15 days was far too short. It is also right not to allow a pupil to be excluded indefinitely. However, I should like to see provisions that bring home the responsibility, and if possible the cost, of expulsion to the parent or parents of a child. I am sure it will be argued that that is impractical. How is a single parent, often living on support, to pay fines or costs resulting from the insupportable behaviour of her offspring? Yet much more should be done to compel parents to bear responsibility for the bad behaviour of their children. Has the Minister any further initiatives to pursue on this matter?

There is one comprehensive school under a particular LEA of which I have a little knowledge. Among LEAs, Harrow comes around the top of the table of achievement in secondary schools. I assure the House that I do not refer to Harrow-on-the-Hill; I refer to Harrow, the dormitory area of Heathrow Airport. It is one of the most multi-racial areas in the country.

My nephew is head teacher of a comprehensive school in Harrow. Twenty-five per cent of the pupils are white; 50 per cent. are of Indian origin but speak different languages such as Gujerati and Bengali; the remaining quarter speak a variety of mother tongues, including one speaking Japanese. The last count, in 1995, showed that 39 different mother tongues were spoken. The other day, 30 Somalis suddenly arrived, some of whom had received no schooling at all in their own country. They were admitted on the order of the LEA. The teachers, naturally, are similarly multi-racial. Yet 50 per cent. of the 180 who enter for GCSE and A-level are awarded grades of between A and C.

There are head teachers with far more intransigent and devastating problems than those that face my nephew. I sometimes wonder whether we realise how formidable are the problems that teachers face. The grant-maintained schools do not have to admit children who cannot speak English. The LEA-maintained schools are obliged to do so.

The Government and the Chief Inspector of Schools have decreed that there should be league tables that show the attainment of schools in terms of examination results. I understand that the reports presented by inspectors refer to particular difficulties under which certain schools operate. But those are not reflected in the bare statistics; nor is any allowance made for them when grading a school, since grading purely reflects examination results.

I do not suggest that there should be an elaborate scheme of weighting which would reflect the inequalities. We do not want more unnecessary form-filling. But it would do a world of good for morale in disadvantaged schools if an asterisk could be placed against some of their names to show that inspectors are human and recognise that there are handicaps under which some schools labour. I am thinking particularly of a benighted school in the eastern part of Newham which received a dreadful report from Ofsted. Quite rightly, the weaknesses of management and staff were emphasised, but little was said about the deplorable condition of the buildings and the inadequate back-up facilities. By "back-up facilities" I mean all those aids essential for helping immigrant children to integrate with the school and learn the conventions and morality of their new country. Those facilities are the first to he cut by LEAs which are forced to economise.

I do not blame the chief inspector for his brutally frank remarks about the failings of some head teachers and staff. He is quite right to wake us up and face the truth. But I am bound to say that neither his record nor his pronouncements gain the confidence of teachers. I think he needs some guidance and he would find it were he to consult some of the noble and gallant Lords who sit on these Benches such as the noble and gallant Lord, Field Marshal Lord Bramall. They understand how to lead men under their command and inspire them, as well as tearing a strip off them when things go wrong. The chief inspector has something to learn about leadership. He should go himself to visit some good schools, accompanied by his PR officer and, if possible, a television crew. He should compliment the staff on the admirable work they are doing, praise them, encourage them, esteem them; and then add: "O si sic omnes!".

6.2 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, since I became a Member of this House in 1991 we have had an education Bill every year. At various times I remember Ministers saying: "This is the last education Bill we are going to bring before the House". But each year there is another one. I understand that this is now called the "evolutionary approach", as if we were going through the stages of a carefully matured programme of legislation based on a coherent vision. I should like to believe that that is so, but it seems to me that the evidence is against it.

As I have said before, the Government have a choice: they can either try to raise standards by increasing bureaucratic control or they can try to raise standards by freeing schools to respond to the varied demands placed on them by parents. I do not think they have ever made up their mind which they want to do or perhaps even realised that beyond a certain point there is a contradiction between the two approaches. So each Bill we have had has had elements of both approaches. That is why I do not think we have yet achieved a stable framework for our educational system.

But that is all I want to say by way of criticism of the Bill. The great achievement of the Government has been to introduce the language of parental choice into educational discussion. So much so that even the Opposition parties feel constrained to pay lip service to it. However, I do not believe that they have the slightest idea what it means.

This is what Margaret Hodge said on Second Reading in another place: If all schools were good, parents and children could exercise real choice".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/96; col. 101.] I quote her because she said succinctly what the other Opposition Front Bench spokesmen said verbosely. I suggest that she is simply misusing ordinary language. What she seems to be saying is this: "Trust us to make all schools equally good. Then we will trust parents—and only then—with the right to choose". But what sort of choice is that? Not only does it deny parents the right to choose things of which Margaret Hodge might disapprove, but it also ignores the role parental choice has in making and keeping schools good—choice as a mechanism. It shows no understanding of what choice can do in improving the quality of education.

Most people understand the difference between having and not having choice, even if the Labour and Liberal Democrat spokespersons do not. Having choice means the freedom to choose. It means having a variety of things to choose from. It means getting what one prefers. It does not mean a bureaucrat in Whitehall or town hall deciding what people ought to have and stopping them from having anything else. That is why I support the Bill. It allows more variety to develop; it gives parents more to choose from.

In theory, the Labour Party is all in favour of variety. Did not David Blunkett say so? Did he not say on Second Reading that: the development of specialisms within schools … can be operated perfectly reasonably within the framework of comprehensive schools".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/96; col. 51.] Specialism is variety. How can it be developed within the framework of existing comprehensive schools? He is much too bashful to say. How can a school build up strength in music, sport or anything without being able to select pupils with a talent in those areas?

The Bill proposes a modest increase in selectivity: up to 20 per cent. of places in ordinary LEA schools. The Opposition parties throw up their hands in horror. Again at col. 51, Mr. Blunkett says that specialisms can be developed as part of a sensible admissions policy that covers the entire area". If you pierce that fog, what it seems to me to mean is that the LEA will decide which school is to specialise in what and allocate places accordingly. In other words, the LEA will do the selection. Mr. Blunkett turns out to be in favour of selection after all, provided neither the school nor the parent does the selecting. What sort of hypocrisy is that?

The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, has followed her party in seeing a fundamental contradiction between schools selecting pupils and parents choosing schools. But I do not believe that that is true. It is not true of the independent sector, it is not true of universities, it is not true of the labour market, as my noble friend Lady Perry pointed out. Let me ask the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, a question. Do parents who send their children to fee-paying schools claim that they are deprived of choice because they cannot get their children into Eton, Winchester or Wycombe Abbey? Of course they have choice. Selection by schools and choice of parents are not contradictory. There is no conflict between them provided there is a sufficient supply of places for which parents or pupils have a preference. That is not necessarily a first preference, but a positive preference. The contradiction only arises if parents are forced to send their children to schools they actually dislike. That can only happen, I suggest, if over-subscribed schools are not allowed to expand or new schools are not allowed to be set up. That is why those of us who genuinely believe in parental choice have attached great importance to allowing the supply of school places to vary with demand.

The Bill made a modest contribution to that aim. In particular, it allowed over-subscribed grant-maintained schools to expand by up to 50 per cent. without getting permission. What happened? The Opposition parties combined to ambush that clause—Clause 3 in the original Bill—in the other place. I welcome the announcement by my noble friend Lord Henley of the Government's intention to re-introduce that clause in this House. The belief underlying the Opposition's attitude seems to be that no school should be allowed to be more successful or popular than any other school, that all should rise together or not rise at all. That is classic socialism and I do not accept it. On the contrary, I endorse what the Secretary of Sate said in another place that competition between schools is a powerful lever for raising standards. It seems to me to be much too generally accepted that if some schools are temporarily more popular than others, the others will simply become sink schools.

Why should it not be assumed that competition encourages emulation? It does in most other walks of life. Why should education be particularly immune to the stimulus of competition in raising standards? What worries me about speeches such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, is that they are full of phrases about what we should do and do not pay nearly enough attention to how those things—many of which I agree with—can come about. I suggest that competition is one of those mechanisms.

We must remember that what makes schools attractive to parents is not just good examination results but intangibles such as discipline, ethos, moral standards and so on, which are often, but not invariably, associated with good academic performance. Competition between schools is one of the surest ways of spreading what is called "good practice" as well as variety.

Mr. Blunkett said: We will not deny people the right to opt for the school of their choice". That was tactful. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, rather let the cat out of the bag this afternoon when he said "People don't want choice". There speaks the candid planner. His party has supported him. Whenever the Government have tried to extend parental choice, whether by allowing popular schools to expand or by allowing a variety of schools to develop, the Opposition parties always vote against it. The only thing that they consistently support is more control and more planning. The only choice that they allow is Hobson's choice—take it or leave it. If that is one of the grounds on which the election is to be fought, I welcome it. We have nothing to be ashamed of, a lot to be proud of and further to go.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I wonder whether I might just correct him. I have the exact script of what I said. I said: People do not want some vast, bewildering range of choice".

Lord Skidelsky

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the exact quotation. In other words, people might accept a small amount of choice, the kind of choice that a Labour controlled local education authority is willing to give them; but if the choice is extended in any way, they would find that bewildering, entirely unacceptable and would reject it. I assume that is what he means. I believe that my original quotation gives the gist of the attitude that he expressed.

6.13 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I declare my long-standing interest as chairman of Mencap and wish to speak briefly on an issue of great concern to people with learning disabilities and their families: namely, further education. Although the issue to which I shall refer is not yet covered in the Education Bill, my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) will move an appropriate amendment in Committee unless the Government feel able to deal with the matter themselves. Ignoring Charles I's dictum of 1636: Never make a defence or apology before you be accused"— unfortunately, he did not take his own advice—I should like to apologise for the fact that I shall not be able to be present at Committee stage owing to a commitment overseas. I should also apologise to the Minister and your Lordships if I have to make a slightly early exit from this Second Reading to attend a long-standing charitable occasion of the Lords Taverners this evening. I have given the Minister notice of my intention to move on from what the Bill does contain to what it should contain under the umbrella of the Long Title.

Further education colleges already provide courses for substantial and increasing numbers of people with learning disabilities, many of whom 25 years ago would have been deemed ineducable. Further education is often a vital part of the development of a person with a learning disability; it helps greatly in enabling them to lead more enriched lives. The full titles hardly trip off the tongue, so I beg your Lordships' indulgence for simplifying them and saying that the 1992 FE Act, Schedule 2, gives the funding council the criteria for funding courses of further education. Paragraph (j) of Schedule 2 states that the council shall fund: a course to teach independent living and communication skills to persons having learning difficulties which prepares them for entry to another course falling within paragraphs (d) to (h) above". In plain English that means that one does not get money for a basic lifeskills course unless there is a strong possibility of moving on to a more advanced course. In practice, it is a limiting clause and stops some people with severe learning disabilities getting the further education they want and need because of lack of certainty about what they will be able to cope with later on.

I give your Lordships a practical and recent real life example. Robert Parkinson is 20 years old. He is severely mentally and physically disabled. He wished to continue his education after his statement of special educational needs had expired at the age of 19. His former school confirmed that his intellectual capacity was still expanding but could not predict its eventual level. He was offered a place by Pengwern College, a residential college run by Mencap, which felt that Robert would benefit from further education. The funding council was approached to fund his place but refused the application because, given the level of his disability, it was uncertain that he would be able to progress beyond a basic lifeskills course. His family appealed against the decision but lost because of the restriction in the Act. His local education authority, which has a residual responsibility in this area, also felt that it could not fund him. His family finally decided that the only way to resolve the matter was to seek a judicial review. The court ruled that, as the law currently stands, the funding council could not fund Robert. Meanwhile, Robert attends a day centre and his mother says, "Robert was making progress at school but now his only option is the day centre. He has already slipped back."

Many of your Lordships are resplendent with academic distinction. But, for some, a law which did not allow them to take their O-levels unless there was a good prospect of getting an honours degree later on would have been rather inhibiting. So is Schedule 2(j). Robert is being discriminated against because he is severely disabled. If his disability were milde37r, the funding council would have had to pay for his further education.

If we are to embrace the principle of lifelong learning, it must cover everyone in our society. Severely disabled people must not be disenfranchised. I hope that, through an amendment to the Bill which embraces further education as well as schools, this matter can be rectified. I believe that the value of further education for people with severe learning disabilities, in terms of greater independent living skills and enhanced ability to communicate, should not be diminished. People with learning disabilities and their families should not be tossed between the local education authority, the funding council and the social services department to seek funding for essential courses—which will greatly enrich their lives and will only apply to a minimal number of individuals anyway—only to find that no one will fund and therefore a vital opportunity is lost, perhaps for ever.

If education means giving the mind the chance to grow and giving the person the chance to use their mind, can we legitimately deny that to people with learning disabilities? I cannot believe that the Minister, or indeed any Member of your Lordships' House, would be party to such a denial.

6.19 p.m.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, I must offer a deep apology to your Lordships' House but the Chancellor of my university will be in Cambridge and I should be in his presence in the not very distant future. Therefore, I ask your Lordships to excuse me if I withdraw when I have made my remarks.

My contribution might well start with appreciation of those comments made by such as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and other noble Lords who have drawn attention to the non-technical side of education. I strongly believe that we must never forget the spiritual as well as the general education of the young people in our country.

I want to spend a few moments directing your Lordships' attention to Part VII of the Bill concerning the supervision of the curriculum for schools and external qualifications. I shall be speaking particularly about the new body which is to be called the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority.

Others have given their reasons for feeling that they can come today to this debate and speak. In my case, I am conscious that many Members of this House will have 30 year-old relatives who took their O-levels and A-levels while I was vice-chancellor at Cambridge. They will find a facsimile of my signature on the no doubt framed and much treasured certificates for which they qualified. While I was at Cambridge involved with teaching and the affairs of Downing College, I entertained examiners from the local examination board who came during the summer months to re-mark their efforts and equilibrate the standards that they were demanding of the examinees.

I want to make the point that, altogether, 30,000 school teachers are involved in the process of examining for the various boards, 2,000 of them being involved in the actual affairs of the board. I regard those people as the most dedicated of all our teachers. Not many people are prepared to go to meetings and have their marking criticised as being too tough or too weak; yet they do that in the summer months and equilibrate the marks.

I should perhaps advise your Lordships that around a decade ago we had 40 examining boards in this country; now we are down to only four for the school examinations and three for vocational qualifications. They are based in Manchester, the Midlands, Cambridge, Guildford and London. I am speaking to your Lordships today to try to make your Lordships aware of the anxieties felt about the new body, the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority.

Around 750,000 young people sit qualification exams each year. As I said, around 30,000 people are involved in the marking of those papers. Your Lordships will be aware that in that activity the examiners are divided into many and various committees. They all now fall under the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority or the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. In the past few days Ofsted has stated that it is not now so displeased with the results of the A-level examinations. If that is so, the people in the universities are asking whether this is the best time to disturb the ongoing arrangements. They are also concerned because they hear from the Department for Education that there will be a restructuring of the boards; that a consultation paper is to be published in that regard, but only after the restructuring has been defined. Being academics, they want to know whether or not there will be consultation before the restructuring proceeds—and I agree with them.

Specific anxieties centre on how widely the new regulations will extend and whether the rules being developed will be in conflict or otherwise with the regulations. Is it appropriate that the new body should have powers to cap the fees that boards are expected to raise without reference to the boards or to the Government? What appeal facilities will there be when difficulties arise between the boards and the new over-arching organisation, the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority?

Schedule 6 is concerned with the establishment of committees by the new authority. My colleagues are concerned that it has not yet been made clear what kind of committees they will be, with what kind of responsibilities. All that may sound pernickety to Members of this House. But I am anxious not to antagonise that large group of dedicated teachers who are concerned with checking the end point of the academic processes and the qualifications for vocations. We rely on them to tell us how we are doing compared with the French and the Germans. Therefore, when my colleagues say that they are concerned that the board's membership will be so small that it cannot cover the whole range of interests in the examining field, I am sympathetic to their anxieties.

Perhaps the Government could consider organising a self-regulatory system involving the existing bodies and the new authority could then monitor the situation. Your Lordships will be aware that academic people always hope to be able to show their support and interest for systems by self-regulation. That is certainly how doctors behave.

I want to conclude by reminding myself in your Lordships' presence of the wonderful guidance given to me when I went to Nottingham University by its first vice-chancellor, Bertrand Hallward, who, in his nineties, is still alive. He said to me that the universities would be making decisions at their peril if they did not take great interest in the training of the people who leave the schools to enter university and those who will teach them. It is of course from that group that examiners are recruited.

Perhaps I may put down a marker on this occasion that I shall be tabling amendments for the consideration of the Committee in relation to the structure and functions of the newly established authority, the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority. But that is for another day. I am grateful today for your Lordships' attention.

6.28 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, for the past 20 years around 90 per cent. of the children in this country have been educated in the comprehensive system. So far as I am aware, I am the only person taking part in this debate who himself attended a comprehensive school. I suspect that says more about the make-up of this House than it does about me.

I too wish to restrict my comments to selection and the issues surrounding the introduction of greater selection. Mantras were mentioned earlier this afternoon, but it is indeed a mantra that selection itself will drive up standards. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said that competition is a lever for standards for children of all abilities. That is an assertion which I believe to be quite untrue.

Last autumn I attended an education conference where I spent a long time talking to the head teacher of a girls' independent school. The school is in an area where there is a long-established tradition of grammar schools. They have their natural partners in a number of secondary modern schools going under other names. The head teacher explained to me that one of the reasons her school was so successful was that a large proportion of the intake was of girls who had failed the examination for the local grammar schools. She went on to explain that her school achieved examination results that were at least on a par with and in some years even exceeded the results of the grammar schools. Naturally, she was proud of the results of her school, and quite rightly so. I went on to ask her what she thought that said about the 11-plus or selection at 11. She said that to her the attitude of the girls' parents was far more important to their likely achievement at the age of 16 and 18 than any examination at 11 years old. I noticed that she was careful to talk about the parents' attitude to education rather than their social class or income. But I suspect that she was probably being duly sensitive to her audience.

Is that really a system we want to return to, where a minority of bright children are well educated by the state and those who fail the exams with parents who can afford it opt out of the state system, while those who cannot are labelled as failures and go to institutions which are perceived as second best? I do not accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about schools selecting fractions of pupils. My experience in the London Borough of Wandsworth is that parents know very well which are the truly selective schools and which schools are just using magnetism and selecting fractions of pupils as a smokescreen for the sink schools. Parents know when a school is truly selective.

The Bill has a number of methods by which it seeks to impose greater selection and it is doing that without any of the normal consultation procedures. I shall go through seven such paths that I have identified. Clauses 2 and 7 require the governing body annually to consider selection. Here we have the thought police in action again and they will probably be just as successful here as they have been in encouraging more schools to go grant-maintained. Nevertheless, the governing bodies will have to think about it every year. Under Clause 3(6), grant-maintained schools, both primary and secondary, can select up to 50 per cent. of their intake. It is a bizarre proposal that primary schools will be able to select pupils. I read the Hansard report of the Committee stage in another place, where the Minister assured the Committee that she was thinking of music schools and things like that. However, even selecting on the basis of the musical ability of five year-olds is a lottery in the best of circumstances.

Under Clause 13 the FAS is given power to create new schools. That will overturn the thresholds laid down in the 1993 Act and gives the FAS unrestricted powers. If anything, that is an admission of the failure of the take-off of grant-maintained schools that the Government had anticipated. In Paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, county and voluntary aided schools are able to expand their selection up to 20 per cent. In Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1, county and voluntary sixth forms can discount age for the purposes of their overall percentage of selected pupils, which will effectively increase the number of selected pupils. Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 gives the Secretary of State power to direct LEAs to implement increased selection for specialist schools. Finally, Paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 gives county secondary school governors power to request LEAs to publish proposals for a school to go selective. If the LEA does not do it, the school can go ahead and do it anyway. Today we heard from the Minister that the Government will bring back the old Clause 3 from the Bill in another place to enable grant-maintained schools to expand their size by up to 50 per cent. every four years, which will increase the total number of selected pupils.

It says something about the problem the Government anticipate with introducing greater selection that they have to use all these methods of requiring schools to consider selection. They know they have a fight on their hands. They are using every mechanism they can to try to force this on to the education agenda.

I wish to close by talking again about Wandsworth. I know a 14 year-old boy who, I suppose one could say, is a friend of mine. The boy is well behaved and is keen to learn. He is probably of below average ability. He is probably what we would call a band 3 child. When he was 11 his mother and teacher assumed that he would be unable to pass the exam for the local selective schools that were in place in Wandsworth at the time so he went straight to the local non-selective comprehensive school, which is sometimes called a sink school. The school is a rough school where the teachers do well even to keep the class quiet let alone teach the children anything. The boy was bullied and he took a lot of time off school. He fell behind in his lessons and after two years he was moved to another non-selective school in the borough. Over the past year he has done better. He has settled down but he is still behind in his lessons. It has now been diagnosed that he has a sight defect which has led to his problems with reading. The boy is nearly 15 and it has only just now been diagnosed that he has this sight defect. He is someone with what we might call non-statemented special educational needs. It is a tragedy that the boy has reached this stage in his education and only now has the problem been diagnosed.

I would ask the Minister this question. What will the rhetoric and mantra of choice, diversity and selection do for children like that? I am not talking about someone who is stupid. I am talking about someone who is slightly below average and whom the system has failed. All the rhetoric we have heard today has done nothing for this child in his educational life. I reached 20, where I lost count of the number of times the Minister used the word "choice" in his speech. I heard the word "choice" numerous times when I was a councillor in Wandsworth. I have given the House a specific example of where "choice" has failed a boy.

The challenge for the Government and for my party is to find a mechanism which rewards success and is intolerant of failure. I look forward to a Bill which is specifically targeted at enhancing diversity and choice for children of below average ability.

6.38 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, a few years have gone by since I was an LEA officer responsible for a number of comprehensive and special schools, and even more years since I taught modern languages in the maintained sector and before that in a good old-fashioned boys' public school. I must admit that my feelings on being confronted with the Bill that we are looking at this afternoon include relief that I am no longer on the receiving end of yet another piece of educational legislation—the 21st, on my reckoning, since the present Government came to power. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who I see is not in her place, I have taken part in discussion of a good few recent education Bills. In fact I seem to recall one of the points that she raised earlier coming up in the middle of that memorable night in 1988 when we all sat until a quarter to nine in the morning.

I do not look back to any golden era in education. But I do believe that, among improvements that have undoubtedly been made in recent years, much that is valuable has been thrown away. This Bill, it seems to me, continues that trend. If I pass rather speedily over the sections of this many-faceted measure which deserve a welcome, this is chiefly to save time in the face of a longish speakers' list, and to leave room for a hard look at the more contentious areas.

From Part IV of the Bill onward, as many speakers have pointed out, there is a lot of good, practical sense. Disciplinary arrangements needed attention. Baseline assessment, performance targets, inspection of LEAs, emphasis on careers education and regulation of supply teachers are all uncontentious in principle, even if there is some devil in the detail which will emerge doubtless in Committee. On the whole there has been wide consultation and preparation here, for which the Government can take much credit.

Just over four years ago John Patten, then Secretary of State, introduced the White Paper Choice and Diversity which foreshadowed the major 1993 Act with the comment—the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has stolen my point here—that it was the last piece in the educational jigsaw and that no more legislation could be expected during this Government's lifetime. Plus ça change, my Lords. In terms of good management practice there is a limit to the amount of reform any institution can be expected to absorb. I was by no means the only one of your Lordships who maintained several years ago that that limit had been reached and that what the education service now needed was a period of stability in which the reforms could bed down. Constant change is not good for morale, and low morale attracts poor performance.

The changes have often been piecemeal, and sometimes self-contradictory, giving an impression of amateurishness in an area which cries out for clear, strategic thinking. The 1988 Act saw the introduction of the NCC, the National Curriculum Council; by 1993 we had SCAA; now it is to be QNCA. The ground is always changing, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, pointed out, it is mostly structural organisational change unrelated to the classroom.

The most significant changes in the present Bill, as we have seen, relate to selection, which is to be encouraged by a variety of means. It is hard to see what this is going to achieve. There is no good evidence that selection of this kind raises standards, particularly in the areas where they most need to be raised. There is good evidence that most people do not want it. If the worry is that we do not educate to the level of our industrial competitors, then we need to note that few if any of them select by ability. Is it about choice? But, as we have heard, the Government want to give parents the choice of school, not schools the choice of pupil, which is what selection by ability produces. These proposals will indeed reduce the choice that already exists. I cannot agree with the analogy used by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, of university entry where students do at least end up in some selective institution. The situation with local schools is quite different. Is selection about diversity? Well, yes, but that is hardly an end in itself in the absence of positive benefit. I am not against selection in every form, but I cannot see why the Government should want to pursue what is in no sense a winning formula unless it is simply to satisfy the Prime Minister's wish to see secondary moderns in every town.

I can. however, see some of the harm that will come about. Selection is possible under present arrangements, but there are checks and balances, at local as well as central level, and there is accountability. From now on, if Parts I and II of the Bill go through, there will be minimal opportunity for comment and objection on the part of those in the neighbourhood who are affected by a school's decision to select unilaterally. LEAs are not perfect, and in some areas schools may have found their influence stultifying. but many people are grateful for the democratic accountability that has meant that no one part of the community can affect the operations of another just like that, without the fullest consultation. If there were to be more selection—and selection by one school, just as opening a sixth form or a nursery, has a knock-on effect throughout the entire community—let it be introduced by a body such as the local authority with an overview of the situation on the ground. Individual choice is admirable, but in a civilised society it needs to be balanced against the needs of the community as a whole. A reserve power under Clause 11 for Whitehall to intervene does not adequately meet the case.

For what this Bill does is increase the fragmentation—in the word of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock—in the education service which previous Acts have started, and to which some of us in past debates have tried to draw attention. The more freedom an individual school has to go its own way unchecked, in terms of size and nature of intake, the greater the incoherence in the system as a whole—indeed the less there will be a system at all. This makes inevitably for inefficiency, and for the near impossibility of sensible planning by the agency—the LEA—which still has the statutory duty of seeing that there are the right schools at the right time in the right places, and that pupils can get to them without too much difficulty and public expense. I do not believe (and nor, as it happens, does the Audit Commission) that the Government have ever satisfactorily resolved this tension between choice of schools and the need to manage resources such as school places efficiently. In parenthesis, when I worked in Oxfordshire we achieved a success rate of around 97 per cent. in parental choice of schools before legislation on the matter was even a gleam in the Government's eye. At the same time I am glad I am not a parent who will have to face the confusion of entrance exams and criteria which the new arrangements may bring about. As ever, those who are already least advantaged will find it hardest to cope.

All this raises the fundamental question whether the Government still see education as a public service. They have gone far towards abandoning the concept of a community of schools, and of local partnership, and this is sad. Once again we have an Education Bill which erodes local democracy, nowhere more so than in Part II which empowers an unelected body to set up grant-maintained schools in any local authority's area and send it the bill, a total change from the provisions of the 1993 Act. Partnership is out, and we are moving towards a free-for-all in education which I do not believe is in the best long-term interests of our children.

Leaving aside for a moment the matter of pace and frequency of recent reform, another bout of change might be acceptable if it were well targeted, or if the service were in acute crisis which, contrary to what The Times would have us believe, the objective evidence shows it is not. Let me end by pointing to what the Bill does not do. Other noble Lords have done the same.

It does not do anything for the lowest 40 per cent. of the ability range, as others have said. It is here, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, pointed out, that this country falls down, and has so for years: the achievements at the top end are not the problem. It does not do anything for resources: not the factor, certainly, but a significant factor which continually crops up in surveys of schools, and one which the inefficiencies of a free-for-all are bound to make worse. If you want to see what resources can do for the educational league tables, look at the major public schools.

Above all, and this includes my two previous points, except for a couple of commendable clauses on discipline it does not touch the classroom. Surely, this is where it begins and ends. Since 1980 we have been so concerned with structures and systems and administrative bodies that too little attention has been paid to the actual teacher, and his or her skills, training, morale and status—I was glad to hear the General Teaching Council mentioned—conditions and professional pride. I am not saying we should legislate directly for what goes on in the classroom, nor am I saying that there have not been worthwhile initiatives directed to the quality of teaching and learning, because there have. My point is that this has been overshadowed by an avalanche of structural changes, the majority of which do not, I believe, make the slightest difference to how our children perform in the classroom. Instead they have siphoned energy and resources from where they should properly have been directed, the point of interaction between teacher and pupil. Given the things of value that we have lost on the way, I think I would willingly trade all the administrative reforms of the past 17 years, apart from special needs, against that one consideration.

So while there will be much of a practical nature to support, I cannot welcome the provisions of the early parts of the Bill which I feel will be profoundly unhelpful to what goes on in schools. I regret that I shall probably have to miss some of the later stages, but I hope that changes can be made to soften some of the more unfortunate effects of this latest measure in a seemingly endless sequence of legislation.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, at my age I tend to be autobiographical when this subject comes up. I vaguely remember being taught about evolution as a small boy. The teacher told me about dinosaurs and said that they were extinct. Had that teacher been alive and present in the Gallery tonight he would have had to withdraw that statement because the noble Lords, Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Tope, are the best examples of living dinosaurs that I have come across for some time. They still repeat the opinions of left-wing educationalists of 30 or 40 years ago when the damage was done to our education system, which all of the Bills in the last three Parliaments have still not been able to correct.

On the other hand, I am always grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for his extreme honesty. He gives us a picture of what is in the minds of the party he represents. It is important to know what is in its mind, not merely what is contained in the press releases or statements that are made on behalf of the leader of that party. No one listening to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, can deny that he hates the very notion of a grammar school or any kind of selective school. Therefore, when people are told that the existing grammar schools will be safe in the hands of the Labour Party they must be very gullible to believe it. They would have to be like those in Albania who have lost all their savings on pyramid investments. Luckily, there are not many Albanians in the Wirral.

The more important point is that which has been referred to obliquely by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and, in a rather different way, by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley; namely, that what matters in the end is not structure but what goes on in the classroom. It is that which has been affected by the progressive educational philosophy that it has been the lot of trainee teachers to receive for a whole generation or more. That is at the root of the problem rather than any form of structure. No doubt there were some comprehensive schools in which teachers took no notice of the kind of nonsense that came from, say, the London University Institute of Education when the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was there. They would still teach subjects and would not be child centred. They would insist on children learning by rote, which is a very good thing for children to do. That could happen in a comprehensive school, although it is perhaps unlikely that that would happen in such a school in a Labour-controlled authority. I believe the Government agree that we find ourselves in a rather unfortunate position in which we experiment with various structural changes in order at least to create some centres of excellence from which we can derive the kind of people that we need at all levels of the economy and society.

I thought that in the speeches of some noble Lords and noble Baronesses there was far too much about what was popular with children or parents. What matters is the national interest in having a state system of education at all. Surely, what matters is the selection of quality wherever it is and whatever the level of ability of particular pupils. In a sense we are skirting round the issues. I do not share the belief of some of my noble friends that parental choice is all important. I doubt that some parents are good at making choices. But there are parents who feel that their children are not being taught very well. I have read that in the borough of Islington almost one-third of parents try to find places for their children in schools in neighbouring boroughs because they have a better reputation. Lenin would have said that they were voting with their feet, but since mostly they belong to the champagne tendency of the Labour Party they may be described as voting with their Volvos. These are expedients adopted by individuals.

That leads me to one of the matters on which, autobiographically, I can assent to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. I believe that there should be a general teaching council. I say "autobiographically", because the Conservative Party committee which advised the Government before the 1983 election made that particular suggestion. It was turned down by the late lamented Lord Joseph, who was then Secretary of State for Education, because he believed that such a body would be captured by the teaching trade unions. I agree that if we had a general teaching council that was run by the likes of Mr. de Gruchy or Mr. Doug McAvoy it would not be of much use. But I believe that Lord Joseph's fears were unfounded. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, has said, we need a general teaching council to root out bad practice and make sure that teachers in the classroom are acquainted with good practice. I hope that in the end my noble friend will accept that.

My other autobiographical point relates to discipline. I remember telling your Lordships when the measure was brought in to abolish corporal punishment, at the behest of that foolish court in Strasbourg, that the people who would pay for the excesses of those continental jurists would be the teachers in the classroom. I was right. I do not say that corporal punishment should now necessarily be restored. It may be that that is no longer possible. But certainly it has produced a problem of discipline which is relatively new. The degree of violence and assaults on teachers, which the trade unions quite rightly are concerned about, is a matter that must be tackled. Whether the measures in the latter part of this Bill, which appear to have general approval, will do the trick I do not know.

There is, however, another possibility that we have not examined in this country but which is followed in certain continental countries, notably France. In that case discipline in schools is the responsibility not of the classroom teacher but a person specially designated for that purpose. It is a pity that any classroom teacher should have to bother with discipline. It is difficult enough for the teacher to keep up at all in these days of expanding information, information technology and matters of that kind, let alone to be distracted by wondering whether he or she can intervene to stop one little boy from hammering another. There are matters that we can think about and learn from.

I was surprised to hear the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, assert that the comprehensive model was one adopted by our major European neighbours. France and even more so Germany have highly differentiated school systems. They have never gone in for the comprehensive model. We are told—and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, frequently reminds us—that their results are better. I do not say that that cannot be done. I agree with streaming and setting which, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, is the solution so long as one keeps the comprehensive system. However, I would point out that mixed ability teaching was part of the doctrine with which teachers were imbued in institutes of teacher training for very many years. One still sometimes hears from the Campaign for State Education, and such bodies, objections to anything but mixed ability teaching. There are many things that we could do and many things that I hope we will do. Meanwhile, for what it is worth, as another step forward in the right direction, I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

7 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, because I cannot help enjoying his speeches. But there is a great deal of what he said that I should like to challenge. If I went into it in detail, there would be a great deal to go into and my speech would be even longer than it is going to be, and I do not think that that would be popular with your Lordships. I may find a few remarks to make as I go through.

First, I must apologise to the Minister for missing his opening speech. I really do apologise for that. It was very bad manners indeed. I shall explain privately later why I missed it. I missed also a little bit of my noble friend's speech.

I intend to speak on Part VII of the Bill which has not been much discussed, but to spend most of my time on Parts IV and V—the parts dealing with discipline, exclusions and admissions. There has been agreement on a number of clauses and disagreement on others. In some cases, the ideas behind the proposals may be accepted, but better ways of achieving their aims can be found which would be more likely to work better for school, parent and pupil.

Those clauses were not sufficiently discussed in another place. And the anxieties of a large number of children's organisations, which make up the Children's Consortium, were not given enough attention. The Children's Consortium is made up of 14 bodies: the NSPCC, the National Children's Bureau, Barnardos and the Children's Society, to name but four of them.

I would like to make my position clear. It is essential that there is good discipline in schools. Schools have very real problems, and there must be sanctions when classes are disrupted, where there is bullying and serious behavioural problems.

This part of the Bill is largely amending the 1996 Education Act, passed only last year. Indeed, it was still 1996 when this Bill was introduced. Clause 19 would require all schools to publish a discipline policy. In this Bill, it is for the governing body, rather than the head teacher, to draw up a statement of general principles to which the head teacher must have regard in performing his duty to promote good behaviour and discipline. The head teacher must publicise the measures he is proposing in order to bring them to the attention of pupils, parents and schools.

What we would like to see is for the governing body, when drawing up the statement, to take into account the views of staff, parents and pupils. This would reflect advice in the current government circular 8/94 and the recommendations of the Elton Report. A behaviour code will obviously work better and be respected if it has been produced with the involvement of the whole school community. The rules should promote self-discipline and respect for others, ensure that necessary action is taken to prevent bullying and meet the needs of all children involved in incidents of bullying.

Clause 21, which gives members of staff in independent schools as well as in maintained schools power to restrain pupils, is unfortunately needed and will reassure teachers who could in this litigious climate become victims of assault charges. I am sure that that part of the Bill will please the noble Lord, Lord Beloff.

I am very glad that corporal punishment of any type will remain unlawful in maintained schools. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said that that was following the European Court. A good many of us here feel ourselves fairly responsible for getting corporal punishment banned in maintained schools in this country. I said that corporal punishment is banned in maintained schools. Of course I think that it should be the case in all schools, independent as well. I sincerely hope that no misguided person in this House will produce an amendment to bring back beating. That happened in another place and it was soundly and satisfactorily defeated.

I am not happy with Clause 23 which gives the head the power to detain a pupil after school without the parent's consent. This does seem an erosion of parents' rights. One can see complications, even though travel home is mentioned in the Bill. There could be great difficulty in rural areas for staff as well as pupils.

We then come to exclusions. Of course exclusion must be available as a sanction. Disruptive pupils can be a menace to the whole class, to the teacher and indeed to the pupil himself. Only last Friday the father of a primary school teacher who had a class of over 30 told me how she had one very disruptive pupil—this was a class of eight year-olds—who disturbed the whole class, although there was an assistant in the mornings to help look after him. Not only did he disrupt the class; he would follow her to the staff room, kick her and try to bite her. This teacher managed for the whole of last term and part of this before that child was removed. She felt sorry for the child because he had been rejected by his family and now she said that he had been rejected by the school. It is not a happy situation.

One day that child crawled under the computer table, clutched a radiator and would not come out. No one in the school could move him. The foster father was sent for. He could not get him out. The foster mother came. She said, "Come on, Jamie, time to go home". He came out. I think that they were excellent foster parents. But it is not something that teachers can hope to cope with. What we must have are plenty of special units for this type of child. No one can cope.

We must bear in mind—and this applies to detention too—that a great many of those who are likely to be excluded may be children with special needs—not the 2 per cent. of children with statements but the children who make up 18 per cent. of the school population, who have very definite learning disabilities or who have emotional or behavioural problems. Are they to be treated in the same way as children without those special needs? We need also to take account of the Chief Inspector of Schools when he said that some schools are "trigger happy" on exclusions. We know that Afro-Caribbean children are more likely than white children to be excluded for the same offence. The Commission for Racial Equality conducted research on this, and that is its finding.

I believe that the Secretary of State should make regulations to secure that head teachers take appropriate steps during any period of fixed term exclusion to return the child to school as quickly as possible, including assessing special needs, and meet parents, pupil and staff. I am aware that this costs money.

I am not happy with the extension of the 15 days' exclusion in any one term to 45 days in a school year. This could happen in one term. That means nine weeks out of school. There must be proper education during these periods, not just a few hours a week, as can happen now.

The LEA is at the moment under a duty to provide: suitable full-term or part-term education at school, or otherwise than at school". This is surely unsatisfactory. It contradicts the duty of parents under the 1944 Act to ensure that children have sufficient full-time education suitable to: age, ability and aptitude … and any special educational need". Excluded children are arguably more in need of full-time education than any other group of children, not least because recent Home Office research identified exclusion as one of the main factors leading to juvenile offending. My noble friend Lady Ramsay referred to that also. I very much dislike the term "disqualified person". These children should not be labelled. My noble friend Lady Ramsay and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, both referred to that. I understand that it is the parliamentary draftsman who wanted the phrase used. It must be deleted, and most certainly it should not refer to primary schoolchildren.

In relation to the whole of Part IV, I agree with the Local Government Association's summing up. It states: These are piecemeal actions. We need a national focus on the importance of school discipline, which should be considered in the context of the overall strategic planning for pupils with difficulties. There is much current good practice from which we could learn". Finally, I turn to Part V, admissions and home-school contracts. As with school statements of policy in Clause 19, the home-school contract—the concept of which I agree with, if not the name—would be much better and more likely to be effective if it was drawn up in consultation with the head, the staff, the parents and the pupils. Research has shown that schools successful in both academic achievement and behaviour have a common feature; that is, good home-school relations. What I totally dislike and disapprove of is Clause 30, which would prevent a pupil being admitted to a school if the parent refused to sign the document. That is selection by the back-door and I hope that we can delete the clause. Admission dependent on signing could conflict with the duty of LEAs and the FAS to secure places for all children. An alternative could be to set out in the Bill a framework for our expectations of all parents' roles in relation to their children's schools.

I have two special worries about these two parts of the Bill and I wish to emphasise them. How will the Bill affect those 18 per cent. of children who have special educational needs but who have no statement? And who is to act in the important role of parent to those children in care who make up a large proportion of children excluded from school and in difficulty with the courts?

I turn to Part VII. Most public discussion on the Bill has focused on education at school level and for young people, but Part VII has wide implications for the education and training of adults and also for higher education. Part VII proposes the merger of SCAA and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. The merger was recommended by Sir Ronald Dearing and has been generally welcomed in that context.

However, the Bill goes way beyond qualifications for 14 to 19 year-olds and gives to the new body very wide powers over all vocational qualifications, including higher level NVQs, an area which is bound to overlap with universities. The House will recall that Dearing's review of higher education is still in process. Seventy per cent. of further education students, most studying vocational courses, are adults and there are some 20,000 different qualifications. What is more, even before the Bill has been passed, the appointment of Dr. Nicholas Tate, currently head of SCAA, has been announced as its new chief. This smacks of unseemly haste and appears to imply increasing political control of the content of the vocational education system.

There is now widespread agreement on the importance of lifelong learning and the achievement of the national training and education targets for adults as well as for the young. But there has been little discussion about the implications of the proposed changes for adult learners, for further education providers, for awarding bodies or for higher education. And the Bill proposes to give the new body the power to impose payments for the accreditation of qualifications; the phrase, a levy on any "vocational qualification", is used without any definition of vocational qualifications. Unlike young students, many adults pay their own fees and do not use public funds.

Lastly, there is concern about the small size of the board and its composition. The right reverend Prelate commented on that and made a suggestion which I totally support. It needs to be representative of a wide range of interested parties, including FE, HE, professional bodies, employers and adult learners. A number of those questions must be addressed seriously in Committee.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, all of us who are concerned with education are delighted that it has become a major factor in the policies of all the main political parties. However, today's debate shows how sad it is that progress and improvement in English education are restricted—dare I say bedevilled?— by arguments that belong to history. Nowhere is this more true than when that frightening, devil-like word "selection" is discussed.

There can be no doubt that in the past—and it is sad that most of the debate has related to the past—selection meant entry to the grammar school without any satisfactory alternative for those who were not suited for that type of education. I point out to your Lordships that that was realised as early as 1938. In 1938 the Spens Report, on which the Butler Act was based, stated that secondary education had come to mean grammar school education, with little being done for children who could not benefit from that style of education. Spens stated: the establishment of parity between different"— I underline the word "different"— types of secondary schools is of fundamental importance". That was in 1938.

We never achieved that parity and, as has been mentioned many times in the debate, unlike the whole of continental Europe, apart from one state of former west Germany, we decided that the answer to these difficulties was the area comprehensive school. It is an interesting historical fact, an interesting tale of what might have been, that, while some of our neighbours—notably the Netherlands and Germany—refined, developed and improved the tripartite system of the Butler Act, we abandoned it entirely. I am honest when I say that my own party bears a large measure of blame, since it did little to refine or improve the tripartite system when it held power in the 1950s. I suggest that many of our problems spring from that decision.

I was a headmaster for 17 years and a school teacher for more years than I care to remember. I can say from my experience that it is difficult in one school to provide highly specialised courses in advanced mathematics as well as to teach a variety of modern languages unless there are sufficient pupils of the ability and interest to benefit from such courses. We are not all capable of learning Russian, French and German. If a set is to be viable there must be enough people in that set to make it worth while to employ a teacher to teach German, Greek, Latin or whatever.

Equally, it is hard to run demanding and expensive vocational and technical courses unless one has a concentration of pupils of the ability and interest to benefit from such courses. Let us imagine a situation in which one is trying to sustain in one institution—as we ought if we are to compare ourselves with our continental neighbours—courses in Russian, French, Spanish and Italian and also to provide courses in technical and vocational subjects which are of the same quality as those on tap in Germany and Holland. The point I am making is that at present in English education the butter is spread too thinly. All education suffers and talk of improving skills becomes mere rhetoric.

As a headmaster I was responsible for specialist subjects as well as the manner of setting and streaming. I can assure your Lordships that, even in a school where the pupils are of broadly similar ability, that is a nightmare task. Imagine trying to do that when one has to cover the whole gambit of education. Of course, the problem is further compounded if schools are required to take all their pupils from one geographical area. Inevitably, the school merely reflects the problems or virtues of the area; Richmond is better than Hackney.

I support the Bill. It is not my ideal Bill—if I were the Minister, I could improve on it in many ways. Vanity makes me say that. But I support it because it sets out to break the rigid structures of the past. My hope is that, by allowing schools more flexibility in their choice of pupils, we shall secure a situation in which especially, and most especially at post-16 level, schools will be able to specialise in different styles of courses. Some may specialise specifically in technical and vocational courses while others specialise in more narrow academic courses such as modern languages and so on. I emphasise what other noble Lords have said: such is the norm in the whole of eastern and western Europe.

I make three points about that. First, apart from that one state which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, mentioned, the whole of Europe has a system of selection and choice. Secondly, it is agreed generally by noble Lords opposite as well as by my noble friends that in many ways, the education system, particularly in Holland and Germany, is better than ours. Thirdly, I assure your Lordships that our continental neighbours, left and right, would be utterly amazed at the way we have argued about these matters. We are uttering the cries of the past when 21 miles across the Channel, people who hold much more radical views than noble Lords opposite are quite happy with a system of selection and choice. Therefore, it is reasonable for those of us on these Benches to ask why noble Lords opposite are so much against that when the French, German and Dutch socialist parties all welcome a system such as this Bill offers us.

We are not talking about the old style of selection. We are not—and I repeat not—talking about grammar schools and nothing else. The idea of sheep and goats has gone. We are thinking of a humane style of analysis so that each person can find an institution and course appropriate to his needs. That is crucial to our society and we should all work to secure that. We should not allow the political nostrums of the past to govern our thinking. We accept that for music and sport; why not for everything else?

My belief is that one school or college cannot cater for all needs. That has been shown to be an illusion. And yet in some eyes that has become more than a mantra. It has become an article of faith which is not open to discussion. At times when I talk to some noble Lords opposite, I feel like Galileo. "Behold it moves", I say, "and yet they will not listen". They have the dogmatism almost of the Holy Father.

The results are obvious to all. When we praise our comprehensive system—and I had sympathy with it when it started—how do we explain that our vocational and technical courses are not as good as those of our neighbours? How do we explain that schools are restricted in their choice of subjects? A school which I govern in Somerset cannot provide more than two modern languages and yet in the modern Europe, we should be teaching our pupils three or four languages.

That is particularly true of languages. Your Lordships will notice how Latin and Greek have almost vanished from the curriculum.

I suggest to your Lordships that this Bill offers hopes of a change and I suggest that it will be a change for the better. I urge your Lordships to support it.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, in this Bill the Government have offered us diversity. I hope sincerely that they will offer us also an element of choice on some issues. I can only pick and choose the matters which I think are important in the Bill within the time available to me. First, I should like to ask the Minister a number of questions, simply for the purpose of clarification.

What do we mean by a selective school and by selection for ability and aptitude. Ability for what? Aptitude for what? Are we talking only about doing well in the league tables, because that is what will make schools popular and that is what will make parents choose those schools? That is the only information parents have; that the children who go to those schools do well in GCSEs. Is "success" measured by that limited criterion of success in purely academic subjects? If so, are the Government convinced that that will really prepare children for life and work in the 21st century?

I draw your Lordships' attention to the Government's own White Paper, Learning to Compete. In that there are identified six different characteristics which will give children and young people the ability to compete in the world of tomorrow's business: the ability to communicate, applied number, information technology, working with others, problem solving and self-motivated learning and relearning. I have set those down on the left-hand side of a piece of paper. On the right-hand side I have set down the core curriculum subjects for GCSE. They are English, maths, science, one modern language and design and technology. I identify a mis-match.

I am not saying that good teachers with intelligent pupils cannot use the core curriculum subjects to teach the skills and knowledge which young people will need. But I wonder whether parents who are making the choice about which schools are successful should not be given access to more information. Should they not have information, based on Ofsted inspections, on how well each school is doing not only in relation to academic exams but in relation to preparing its pupils for the portable skills and flexibility which they will need if they are to take up the responsibilities of adult life and be suited to employment in the 21st century?

I should like to ask the noble Lord what the Government mean by a "selective school". I am not entirely sure whether that is the same as a specialist school as defined in Schedule 1 to the Bill. In the Bill, a selective school is defined as what the Secretary of State says or will say a selective school is. The Secretary of State is very coy. Until we have given her authority to implement the decision, she will not tell us what it is to be. It seems to me rather insulting to Parliament that Parliament should not have the opportunity to know what the Secretary of State has in mind until legal authority is given to her to implement the legislation.

I gave notice to the noble Lord that I should be asking about four subjects, and I use them only by way of an example. Can a selective or specialist school be a school which is selective for children with ability in the arts or in music? Can it be for children who are good at football? Can it be for children who are good at engineering? Finally, can it be for children who have an aptitude and a desire to learn the whole range of academic subjects in the context of the Christian tradition? That last question is important.

I turn now to my concerns about the issue of selective admissions. My concern—and in this I join with many noble Lords—regards what will happen to those children who are not selected. My concern is pragmatic, non-political and non-doctrinaire. I want an assurance that the Government will guarantee that enough non-selected places will be available within a reasonable travelling distance for every child who is not selected for a selective school.

My second worry is that the Government are focusing too much on the top 30 per cent. and ignoring the bottom 30 per cent. In that context I take the liberty of quoting from a letter which I received from the director of education of Business in the Community. He says that, this nation can no longer afford an education system which is world class for the top 30 per cent. reaching higher education, [but] leaves nearly 30 per cent. functionally illiterate and almost unemployable in the 21st Century. This so called 'tail' of underachievement undermines the UK skills-base for investment, creates a costly dependent group living in relative poverty and threatens social cohesion". My own experience of working with very deprived children from Tower Hamlets each summer is that when we ask them whether they want to write a postcard home to Mum a significant number have to dictate what to write on the postcard to one of the voluntary helpers. I am talking of 14 and 15 year-old children; in other words, young people. They cannot read or write. I believe that those children have been betrayed by the schools and by the local education authorities. I believe that it could be described as a form of child abuse not to teach those children the basic skills that they will need to survive in our society today and tomorrow.

If some schools have selected pupils, other schools will have a concentration of less able pupils. Can the Minister give the House an undertaking that non-selective schools will get the resources they need to cope with that concentration of less able children? Those children, too, are entitled to an education which will give them a reasonable chance in life.

I turn next to behaviour and discipline. The good behaviour and discipline statement is an admirable idea, though it is in need of one or two improvements. In my view, it is absolutely essential that pupils and staff—pupils in particular—must participate in the formulation of that policy. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to which I believe the noble Lord referred, strongly recommended such participation. It is important because young people then have the feeling of ownership of the policy and it addresses their real needs. There is need for a clear statement of objectives in the policy statement and it must include the legitimate interests of children as well as adults; for example, protection from bullying.

I move on now to sanctions for unacceptable behaviour. In that context I should like to try to distinguish between the two categories of pupils to whom sanctions are particularly applicable. There are those pupils who misbehave, and do so probably regularly, because they have emotional difficulties or because they have an unidentified learning difficulty. Indeed we heard this evening—and I have seen the figure before—that that could amount to as much as 18 per cent. of those who regularly misbehave in school. The other category covers pupils who misbehave simply because they are naughty. They do not have any particular problems but they are tempted; they are naughty; or they are "trying it on". Those two categories of young people need different responses.

Some experts on the sentimental end of the spectrum said in a meeting which I attended recently about this Bill that there was no need for punishment and no need for any kind of sanctions. That is nonsense. All children and, indeed, all of us sometimes overstep the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour. In that context, I am going to stick my neck out. I will stand any noble Lord a drink in the Bishops' Bar after tonight's debate if he can honestly stand up and say to me that, if there were no penalties for doing so, he would never leave his car on a parking meter over and above the time paid for.

Noble Lords


Lord Northbourne

I do not see any takers in the Chamber. So it must be accepted that teachers must not be left entirely without sanctions.

Corporal punishment has rightly been excluded. But I want to say that I believe that exclusion is a lousy sanction; it is a very bad sanction indeed. It is damaging to the child because it interrupts his or her education; it puts the child at risk on the streets; and it is ineffective because it is, in effect, legalised truanting. The suggestion that the exclusion period should be extended by 45 days in any one year is, I believe, a very grave mistake. Structures should have ensured that damaged and emotionally disturbed children and those with special educational needs were picked up much earlier in their school careers. Indeed, they should have been picked up in the primary schools.

Clause 28 designates a twice excluded child as a "disqualified person". That would be a disaster for children and those words must be struck out of the Bill. In my view—and, indeed, that of the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby—those children should never have been allowed to get that far. The fault lies with the adults concerned. Those children who are emotionally disturbed and those with special educational needs should have been identified at primary school level.

I say to the Government, finally, that it would pay much better to provide resources to achieve the identification of those pupils and give them the help they need while they are still at primary school than to have to provide very expensive special education for them when things have gone badly wrong in secondary school.

7.35 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, I should like to begin by picking up the gist of comments of a number of my noble friends. I had supposed that Mr. Blunkett's pronouncements last week signified that the policy gonks from Walworth Road had undergone a sudden conversion. However, thanks to the honesty of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and the elucidation from my noble friend Lord Skidelsky, I see that the instincts of the more cynical side in my nature—that the focus groups at Millbank Tower had revealed some advantage in muddying the water a little—are likely to be a little more reliable.

Having got that off my chest, perhaps I may turn to the Bill. Notwithstanding the putative risks of salmonella advanced by noble Lords opposite, I am broadly content with the Bill in all its parts. I recognise that eggs are a dangerous subject in a political sense but I would even go as far as to say that this particular egg is entirely fit to eat. The basis for my reaching that conclusion stems from my firm belief that the role of parents in the upbringing and education of their children is exceptionally important.

My impression is that there is general agreement about this across the political divide, and, as an aside here, I wonder to what extent the American research highlighted in last week's "Panorama" programme, demonstrating the significance of a mother's role in determining the behaviour and academic performance of her children, especially her sons, may in due course impact upon the development of education policy.

This general precept of the importance of proactive parental involvement in their children's schooling has to be juxtaposed, in policy terms, with the part to be played by the education process with respect to preparing children for adult life. Here, I suspect, I echo some of the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and my noble friend Lady Young. As a parent of school-age children, I sometimes despair at the capacity of our education system to appreciate this. Indeed, at the height of the troubles at the Ridings School, I was quite frankly appalled by some of the bland pronouncements that were bandied about, seemingly implying that schools are not and should not be guardians of their charges' morality.

Above all else, education is concerned with people—real parents and children, with their attendant hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future. With that in mind, it is nonsense to suppose that time spent at school should simply be a matter of acquiring knowledge within the framework of the curriculum. The ethos of a school, pastoral care and the learning of lessons for life are in many respects even more important in so far as they equip our children for adulthood and living usefully within society. In reality, it is the interaction of these elements, together with the purely academic, within the upbringing of our children that makes the individual achievement of our hopes, dreams and aspirations possible. It is just as much nonsense to presume that parents, in sending their children to school, base their judgment on academic criteria alone. Again, the ethos of a school and the ways in which it reflects the values and beliefs of the parent concerned are an equally critical factor.

Accordingly, my judgment of the Bill hinges upon the capacity of its provisions to add impetus to the process of empowering parental involvement in the education of their children, which has been such a significant feature of the Government's previous reforms in this area. I turn, first, to the dread subject of selection. I accept that the evidence as to its merits or otherwise remains inconclusive, although many noble Lords have expressed their support for it within rather than between schools. The observation from Christopher Woodhead that, In secondary schools setting by ability, particularly in Years 8 and 9, is leading to more effective teaching and therefore to higher standards", is of mild relevance here. That said, there is a dichotomy—one that I suspect I share with the noble Lord, Lord Morris—of how best to achieve the aim of driving up standards (no one would dispute the desirability of that) and maintaining choice and diversity without compromising principles of universality and equality of provision.

If I were to analyse the Bill's proposals with respect to selection in an historical vacuum, I could well be drawn towards the reasoning of noble Lords opposite. However, they do not exist in a vacuum. They are underpinned by the Government's previous reforms—league tables and so on—by Ofsted's watch-dog role and by the voluntary nature of the proposals. These mechanisms provide safeguards with respect to the maintenance and improvement of standards among all our schools and the protection and enhancement of parental choice. It seems to me that they go some way towards addressing the concerns of various noble Lords with respect to "sink" schools.

There are more compelling reasons for supporting the Government here. Common sense suggests that disaffection, in an educational sense, is a function of comfort. Any child who is not stretched or engaged by his or her schooling is much less likely to benefit from it than the child who is constantly stimulated by the process. This view is endorsed by Christopher Woodhead who states: The classrooms where children make most progress are those where teachers have high expectations of all pupils and where the bulk of the lesson is taken up by the teacher explaining, questioning, pushing back the frontiers of the children's knowledge". As a principle, selection accedes to the concept of the child as an individual in ways that the comprehensive system is hard pushed so to do. In our modern age there exists a detectable sense in which our children are growing up very much faster and earlier than was the case, say, in my youth. They are perhaps being required to take on the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood at a much younger age. That being so, selection has the advantage of affording schools a mechanism that lends credibility to a child's sense of individuality and independence. This is equally important for parents in so far as it encourages their engagement in the education of their children.

For many of the same reasons, I am supportive of the Bill's provisions with respect to baseline assessment and target setting. The usefulness of these measures lies in their capacity to identify the differences in the abilities and aptitudes of children as a means of planning their future education on an individual basis. The key word here is "difference". What is important above all else is that our education system should recognise the individuality of our children and the individuality of their talents. I am grateful for the confirmation of my noble friend the Minister that this is the intent of the Bill's provisions here.

Finally, I turn to the Bill's provisions with respect to discipline in our schools. There exists a widespread concern that problem behaviour in our children is on the increase. Although it is difficult to quantify this, the circumstantial evidence of recent events would seem to favour such an interpretation.

In this context we should not lose sight of the fact that the causes of ill-discipline and problem behaviour are exceedingly complex, involving a wide range of influences, from the environmental (to include parenting skills and school ethos) through to the neuro-biological. As the recently released POST technical note entitled Treating Problem Behaviour in Children states, While there is broad agreement on this long list of contributory factors, there is much scope for debate over their relative importance". However, there is a growing body of evidence, as exemplified by the American research to which I have already referred, that the role of parents in this area is absolutely critical. In this regard, the POST note further states: Home Office studies emphasise the importance of family relationships, parental interest, consistency of discipline, etc. to the behaviour of the children and that deficiencies in these areas predispose towards behavioural problems, delinquency and ultimately crime". On this basis there is considerable merit in education policy seeking to establish greater levels of partnership between parents and schools in the upbringing of children. I concur with the views of my noble friend Lady Perry here. My interpretation is that the Government's proposals, particularly with respect to the imposition of the duty upon schools to draw up discipline policies and the establishment of home-school agreements, will do much to generate and cement such partnerships.

All in all, the Government's proposals in this Bill are a further step on the road towards establishing a much more parent centred system of education. They add impetus to the principles of enhancing choice and diversity—as in the measures for selection and grant-maintained and grammar schools—at the same time as ensuring that the drive to raise standards yet further (via baseline assessment, the setting of targets and the empowerment of Ofsted to inspect LEAs) will be facilitated. All of these are welcome developments and I am entirely happy to support them.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, in preparing for this Bill I was not certain whether I was to start the proceedings on behalf of these Benches or end them. I therefore started by asking myself what was not in the Bill. It is interesting to note that a number of other noble Lords have started from the same premise and many of us have reached the same conclusion.

A notable exclusion is any reference to the introduction of a general teaching council, which I should have thought was one of the most obvious measures that the Government could support in order to raise the professional standards of teachers. Many noble Lords have emphasised the important role of the teacher in the classroom as the front end of the education system. I am amazed that that provision is not included in the Bill. I hope that it is not too late for the Government to take this on board, given remarks made recently by other education Ministers.

Also absent from the Bill is any real provision for dealing with some of the disorganising influences which will be let loose. My noble friend referred to the difficulties of local authorities as regards planning school places. That point was emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cordoff.

Noble Lords


Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. I cannot read my writing.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

It is said with a Scottish accent!

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I do not mind her Scottish accent; it is charming.

I refer to the 50 per cent. enlargement possibility mentioned in the Bill. However, there is another problem here; namely, the interaction of changes in entry qualification and school size with the budgetary process. Can the Minister indicate an annual date in any budget year by which changes for the following school year have to be notified to the relevant authorities? If there is no date, I do not see how local education authorities will manage their budgetary processes.

As regards the more general matters in the Bill, we have had some interesting discussion about choice of schools as against the power of choice by schools. It is my understanding that the Government have admitted that parental choice is overridden by the abilities of schools to select pupils for their academic ability. I do not think there is any reason for us to discuss this matter further as it is set down in the Bill. However, many of us feel that is a dangerous element in the Bill and we shall no doubt wish to make that clear in seeking to amend various parts of the Bill.

I and other noble Lords were concerned about the provision as regards selection and primary schools. That seems to me to be absolutely contrary to the valuable ethos which has been built up by primary schools; namely, they are the basic local schools where children from all social backgrounds and levels of income come together simply because they live in the same area. I admit that may not be the case in the more difficult and dangerous parts of our inner cities. However, that is no reason to set about destroying those schools in the many parts of this country where they achieve exactly the purpose I have referred to.

Who takes the decisions about changes in schools? It is interesting that Mark Carlisle, Secretary of State for Education, said in 1979: It is our belief that local education authorities and local people—not central Government—are best placed to determine the most suitable form of secondary school organisation in their area".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/6/79; cols. 1120 to 21.] That was quoted in the House of Commons briefing on this Bill. I do not think that any noble Lords on this side of the Chamber would quarrel with that. When choice over change is given to parents whose children are currently at a given school, the alteration in school characteristic becomes most dangerous. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, made that point neatly. I shall not emphasise it further.

Some interesting remarks were made—there were not as many as I had hoped for—about the general nature of education. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon raised the point. The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, mourned the decline of community schools and referred to their value as educational institutions. On the whole, perhaps noble Lords felt defeated by the detail of the Bill, finding it difficult to relate that to the broad requirements of education. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was an exception.

I turn to the clauses which caused the most argument—and most amusing and knockabout argument it was, too. My noble friend Lord Tope expressed fluently our views on the principles of selection. I do not need to repeat them. I am not sure that I join with the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, on the salmonella part of the curate's egg. The noble Lord expressed himself with his usual panache and fluency. No doubt the points will be made again by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton.

However, we had a spirited argument about comprehensive versus selective schools. Many noble Lords who defended the Bill in this argument defeated their own objective. They referred to the fact that the situation was not good when we had grammar schools; we then changed the organisation and it was still not very good; so we propose to change the organisation again. No doubt many noble Lords are familiar with the well known words written by Petronius more than 2000 years ago about reorganisation. He said that reorganisation can be a wonderful method for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation. That is the argument which many hold against the series of Bills since 1979 which have sought to change our educational process. We are not sure whether there were 21, 19 or 18, but there have been too many.

I apply that response to the amusing suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that all noble Lords sitting on this Bench are dinosaurs. I cannot see what good there can be in returning to some previous situation because one is not happy with the current position. Perhaps I may take this opportunity on behalf of the education authority with which I am associated, and most other education authorities with which I am familiar, to deny categorically that there has been any unfair participation of education authorities and their officers in the election processes which have or have not determined movement from local education authority to grant-maintained schools. I believe that it was a most unwise comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I hope that she did not mean it in quite the way it sounded. I shall read in Hansard tomorrow what she said. It seemed an uncharacteristically disagreeable comment.

Rather than changing constantly from one organisational mode to another, I believe that we should concentrate on what is wrong with our educational process today and direct our efforts towards ensuring that some of those wrongs are put right in the classrooms. Noble Lords from all Benches have made a number of suggestions. I agree that the main problem that we face today is under-achievement by those of average and below average ability. I add only one point. We are storing up real problems through the comparative lack of success of boys in our schools. I cannot think of anything more dangerous than to leave large numbers of young men with insufficient educational attainment at the age of 16 or 18. That is dangerous for society and for them. We should ask ourselves why that is occurring and spread good practice to ensure that such under-attainment ceases.

I could continue, but I shall not; I have spoken at reasonable length. A number of interesting points were made. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady David, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, and others suggested that we shall have a considerable number of amendments to the Bill. I began to be thankful that three days have been set aside for Committee stage.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, it is four days.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, four might be better or worse, according to one's point of view; five would be over-egging the pudding.

My noble friend Lord Tope said that we had some reservations about the section of the Bill on discipline. We shall return to them later. Almost everyone agreed that the words "disqualified person" attached to school children are utterly unacceptable. I hope that the Government will respond today by indicating a willingness to consider a better phrase. To describe someone of seven, 12 or 15 as "disqualified" seems terrible. We seek to encourage young people to be good citizens, not to consider themselves as disqualified before they even reach adult life.

On home-school contracts, real doubts must be expressed as to whether or not they will be used as part of the admission process. We believe that those contracts should be part of activity in school after children have been admitted. In that context, I find it difficult to understand what is meant by parent-centred education. I am not sure that education should be centred firmly on a specific aspect of the general partnership which surrounds education. I have no doubt that education is for pupils and not for parents.

The baseline assessment provision has been widely welcomed. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, drew attention again to the danger of the assessments becoming yet another qualification or reason for refusing applicants to a school.

Finally, I cannot bear to use the acronym for the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority. Someone will have to consider how to improve it. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon referred to it most delicately. He suggested that we should solve the problem by broadening the remit of the new authority to cover the whole of the school's curriculum. That might be a good way round the problem. Like the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, we hope to improve the Bill.

8 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a member of a local education authority. The debate has been very wide-ranging and informative. The Bill is one of the major measures of the last Session of this Parliament. Like many other speakers, I shall also refer to the various parts of the Bill.

The Bill's stated intentions are: to provide greater power to extend the selection of pupils by schools and the specialisation of schools in terms of subjects; to allow the funding agency for schools to create more grant-maintained schools; to extend the assisted places scheme to children of primary age; and to change the framework of school discipline.

The Minister intimated that the Government intend to seek to restore Clause 3 at the next stage. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, will forgive me if I ask at this stage whether a similar Labour ambush can be arranged in this House. My understanding is that the Conservative Whip on the Committee was locked out, and then failed to count correctly when it came to a vote. I therefore ask whether it is possible to have similar co-operation from the Government in order to ambush the defeated Clause 3 when they seek to reintroduce it.

My noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris referred in detail to many parts of the Bill which, it is agreed, need close scrutiny. My calculation is that there have been 18 new education Acts since 1979; and, as previous speakers remarked, this Bill includes amendments to the Education Act 1996.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, accused the Opposition Benches of being negative. Perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness that the Government, too, have changed their policy on many occasions, in some cases in line with points raised during the passage of the initial legislation. I refer for instance to the matter of the national curriculum, when the Government had to climb down, having wasted public money and having caused stress and distress to teachers and pupils alike in our schools. On those areas of the Bill where there is agreement, we shall table a range of amendments to secure the best possible success.

Many speakers raised concerns and questions regarding selection and the rejection o pupils because of their lack of ability or aptitude. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede raised an important point about parental attitude to education to which I shall return later. This area also caused concern to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, whose knowledge and background in education will contribute greatly to our debates at later stages of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, posed a question as to why there were so few girls' schools to meet parental demand. In my experience, parents of daughters are happy for them to be educated apart from boys more frequently than the parents of boys wish their sons to be educated apart from girls. That produces a problem for those who have to provide education. We cannot force girls to be educated with boys at all times; however, their leavening influence is to be desired by those who, like myself, produce only boy children.

The changes proposed and the issues raised were stressed very clearly by my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. She made an extremely important contribution relating to the way in which schools are perceived by very many parents.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon referred to the large number of church schools in this country and the large number of pupils educated in those schools. It is extremely important that during the Bill's passage something is done to tackle the lack of proper control or consultation that will emerge as a result of the proposals in the Bill as it stands unamended, and were the Government successfully to reintroduce the defeated Clause 3.

Many speakers referred to the report of the Audit Commission and the devastating effect of what has happened. No organisation concerned with the education of our children can fail to share the concern of the National Association of Head Teachers that the sort of proposals placed before us by the Government will lead to gridlock. As my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale said in referring to parents, siblings with special needs need to have access to schools; siblings with special needs need resourcing. How can we justify wasting public money on a system that would increase the problem already referred to by the Audit Commission? Perhaps the commission should do a survey on effectiveness, efficiency and economy resulting from the Government's policies and proposals in the Bill.

The changes will affect all schools; and all schools will suffer if finances are made available to allow schools to extend their premises and catchment area, and, worst of all, if advisory funding is extended to additional schools in a locality. How can it be fair, in an area where parents are already complaining and struggling in relation to the level of resourcing for schools, to allow, without adequate consultation and without heed to the effects on adjacent schools, an increase in assisted places at the cost of existing schools? That cannot be a sensible use of public resources.

The extension of the assisted places scheme to primary school children is proposed as against reducing class sizes for half a million other children over a period of years. As my noble friend Lady David said, those excluded pupils referred to in later clauses include large numbers of children—by Ofsted's calculation some 75 per cent.—who have unmet special needs.

Turning to resources and the result of the proposals before us, it is extremely important to examine whether those resources should be spent on ensuring special needs measures. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to the importance of tackling problems before they become too great. It is very important that those resources are spent on primary school children and are not dissipated as a result of a government whim to mess up the planning system for schools, affecting 90 per cent. of parents and children in this country.

In seeking to examine the whole issue of pupil exclusion, perhaps the Minister will tell us, at a later stage if he does not have the information to hand, whether any links between family poverty and low levels of achievement in our schools have been detected as a result of HMI or Ofsted work. Has any work been done on the correlation between the number of free school meals and levels of attainment by our pupils? Perhaps we could be given full details.

University entrance figures show that the system is successful. Many speakers referred to the increased number of pupils leaving the comprehensive system, as well as the grammar school and independent systems, who go into higher education. When he replies, will the Minister tell us whether the press reports are correct that the Government's answer to their failure to create a climate of high quality, highly paid, highly skilled job opportunities for graduate leavers is to reduce the number of graduates rather than to carry out the policy which is their responsibility? They have the responsibility to increase the number of job opportunities at that level for graduates.

I ask that because during the debate I have been concerned that some speakers have implied that there is a small amount of butter to be spread either generously for a few or widely and too thinly for the many. From these Benches, we reject that approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, made an important point, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, about the importance of a general teaching council. My noble friends Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Monkswell referred to the need for the overwhelming number of our children to be given good, high quality education. Fragmentation will not achieve that objective. Parents of statemented pupils will have a choice if there is fragmentation and greater selection in the education system: the parents of statemented pupils will have a back-up guarantee. But what about the 18 per cent. of pupils who the Government know have special educational needs? Most, if not all of them, achieve low levels of attainment when measured by selection procedures. Are we really going back to a situation where a family which has regard for its neighbourhood and community and has three children whom it wishes to see educated in the same local schools will no longer be able to do so?

This has been a very sad debate in some ways because it has failed to tackle the reality of the lives of 90 per cent. of parents in the community. They are not concerned about increasing choice, they are concerned that, if money is available, we should not have a situation where people who are not democratically accountable to anyone can, without regard to the needs of the adjacent area, waste scarce capital resources on building schools that are not needed while schools that are used, loved and valued by parents are crumbling from lack of capital investment. That is the kind of issue with which we cannot deal.

The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, cheered me up because he reminded me of someone for whom I had enormous respect, although I never shared his views on monetarist economic policy. That is the late Lord Joseph. I remember working with him when I represented the ACC on education matters. I discussed with him many of the proposals that went through. I remind your Lordships that Lord Joseph was an extremely interesting speaker on the subject of education. He would have differed from the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and would have shared the views of my noble friend Lady Blackstone. They are that the starting point of education is to motivate and attract the attention of the children whom you seek to educate. Yes, you can teach children to learn numbers by rote. It is possible, it is even essential as part of the learning process and the skills they acquire. But education goes beyond that to self-motivation and self-understanding. I recollect that—

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way and for her comparison with Lord Joseph, which I regard as an honour. However, I did not talk about rote learning.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I apologise if I confused the noble Lord's speech with that of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. It is difficult to read my writing at this stage. However, I intended offence to neither in making that statement. The comment stands, I do not have time to repeat it but I now attribute the remark to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff.

Lord Joseph was of the opinion that the first call on resources ought to be for children who under-achieve and those for whom much needs to be done. From these Benches, our view is that a great deal needs to be done. Some of it will be achieved by co-operation on the second part of the Bill. The first part will neither tackle the problem nor solve it but will make the system anarchic.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to a sort of dying situation. I believe that was her phrase. I take the view that this last gesture towards anarchy and market forces is something that we hope the Government will never see on the statute book. If we were to see it, like so much of the Government's legislation over the years, it would have to be rectified.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to an article which I suspect was in the Guardian. It claimed that the Government proposed to cut the number of students in higher education. I wish to make a brief recommendation to the noble Baroness. I do not often read the Guardian and I suggest she tries another paper. When I do read it, I am always amazed by what I find in it. I can give the noble Baroness an assurance that there is no truth in the allegation. It comes from a complete and utter misreading of the evidence which the Government put forward to the Dearing committee. That evidence is publicly available and the noble Baroness can look at it as and when she wishes.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, posed me a challenge at the end of his fine speech when he mentioned a verse from The Revelation. I was grateful for the presence of my noble friend Lord Elton immediately behind me, who informed me of the content of the verse. If I have got it right, I understand that my response must be to "spew you out of my mouth".

I look forward to the Committee and later stages of the Bill. There is a great deal of discussion that we can have and moments when there will be considerable agreement in the House. It is important that the House should perform its revising function well and properly when we reach those stages. I look forward to the detailed grammatical discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and others. I shall greatly enjoy listening to his drafting skills.

By way of introduction, I wish to say that I note the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and others raised and what they said about disqualified persons. I also note the comments from the noble Baroness that the provision was likely to have been drafted by a lawyer. She is probably right; most Bills are drafted by lawyers. I speak as one, but not one who could ever draft a Bill. I wish to give one brief assurance to the noble Baroness that I note her concerns and those of others. We shall examine the wording, without getting away from the principle of the clause, to see whether between now and the Committee stage or between the Committee and Report stages we can bring forward something slightly better.

In opening, I wish briefly to check the remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Morris, about lack of funding. I find it quite extraordinary that when he and the rest of his party are trying to establish their credentials for fiscal rectitude, they should complain that there is a lack of funding and say that, should they be in government, they would provide more. Let me make it quite clear that we have increased spending by up to 50 per cent. per pupil in real terms since we came to power in 1979. The party opposite cannot claim that it could increase funding, as I think the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition has done, by taking money away from the social security budget.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I just hope for the sake of my political reputation that he will agree that at no point in my speech did I make any spending commitment.

Lord Henley

It is not for me to defend the political reputation of the noble Lord. He might not have made any demands for further public spending but he did talk about a lack of funding and lack of resources. I shall look at his precise words in the Official Report. If there were a lack of resources and the party of which he is a member happened to be in government, and if he admitted that there was a lack of funding, surely he would do something about that funding. His right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in another place has said that yes, they would take money from the social security budget. I should just like to ask how they will do that and why they have opposed every single attempt that we have made over the years to make reductions in the social security budget. I should like to know just how they will manage.

I also make the point that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector made it quite clear that there is no relationship between funding and how well schools do. He made that quite clear in his report. There are schools with quite different levels of spending and LEAs with different levels of spending. Some are doing well and some are doing badly.

In passing, let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, with regard Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's report that I was rather saddened by what the noble Lord said. I recommend him to have a look at that report. He will note that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector in fact goes out of his way to praise those schools that have done well and those that are improving. He lists them by name. Last year we held a number of receptions to praise and thank those schools. I recommend the noble Lord to look at the report, if he has not already done so. I shall make sure that he receives a copy and will personally send him one. The reporting of that report is a matter for the press. Sadly, it will always concentrate on the more lurid aspects rather than point to the successes.

In the brief time available to me, I should like to address a number of questions. I dare say I shall not manage to address them all in the course of this evening. But, as always, I shall write, where appropriate, to noble Lords and try to deal with some of their concerns before we reach Committee stage.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon raised a number of concerns about the provisions in the Bill to extend selection and other measures such as adding sixth-form schools. He asked whether they should apply equally to voluntary schools as well as grant-maintained schools. I was interested in his proposal that voluntary schools should be given the same deregulatory freedom as grant-maintained schools to change their character. But I was not sure whether the right reverend Prelate's colleagues in the Catholic Church shared his views on that. It would be helpful to know just how far a proposal of that sort would have general agreement. Certainly I hope that between now and Committee stage we can come back to it.

Similarly, on the question of whether Church secondary schools would have to consult the diocese, I can give the assurance that Church schools will be expected to consult their diocese before making use of their new powers on selection or on a change of character. That will certainly be specified in guidance. But it would cut across a fundamental principle of the Bill as it stands if schools were required to obtain the consent of the diocese itself.

The right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords also mentioned their concerns about the new successor body to SCAA and NCVQ which at the moment it is proposed to call the QNCA. I gather that there was broadly a general welcome for the concept of bringing together the two bodies. That is very much in the spirit of the merger of the Department for Education and Employment, a merger which has gone very well and one that we should like to see extended.

With regard to the name itself, I quite understand that some people, for one reason or another, are worried about the acronym and how it might be pronounced. The right reverend Prelate quite rightly had other concerns of a more serious nature about its naming. I am prepared to look again at that when we come back to the matter at a later stage.

Perhaps I may just correct one noble Lord who spoke about Dr. Nicholas Tate having been appointed as chairman. He has been appointed now as chief executive designate of the new authority. We shall shortly announce the appointment of a chairman and we are looking very hard to make sure that we have exactly the right kind of chairman who will command respect from both the world of education and the world of work. I can also give an assurance to noble Lords opposite that we have kept their colleagues in another place fully informed about the selection process. In no way will they be seen as political appointments.

I understand that there are a number of concerns over the size and possible representation of the new body. My concerns and those of the department are so far as possible to keep it relatively small and relatively strategic and not to have it take up representatives of specific interests. As soon as one starts to produce a list of all the specific interests, one quickly finds that the body becomes far too large and unwieldy. Again, we can address that matter at later stages. But our desire is to keep it small and we hope that others can be co-opted on to specific committees for that particular body.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Walton, first raised the question of whether the Bill should include a general teaching council. Again, that issue was echoed by many other noble Lords, one of whom was, I understand, my noble friend Lord Beloff, from my own side. We should be happy to see teachers coming together to share examples of good practice and to promote positive images of the profession. But I must make clear that we would not wish to create a statutory body until there is a very clear view of the precise role that it should play and how its membership should be determined. I am not sure that that can be done in the space of the Bill. No doubt other noble Lords will wish to come back to this matter at later stages, as I said. It is perhaps a matter for later discussion.

My noble friend Lady Young raised a number of questions about the extent of the use of physical force and how far parents could go in terms of breaking up fights. Again, that is a detailed point to which I should like to return at a later stage. Clause 21 was added to the Bill in another place and provides clarification of the teachers' proper powers of restraint in that area.

My noble friend also had a number of concerns about assisted places at the British independent schools in Europe and the European schools. These are interesting proposals and it will be interesting to extend the assisted places scheme to give British citizens resident in the EU our support with those at some of those schools. Again, however, there are a number of issues which need to be addressed before we could proceed with such a scheme. In addition to the very great cost which it might have, there are obviously also difficult technical and legal issues, particularly when dealing with the circumstances of residents from so many other countries.

I should now like to say a few words about home-school contracts. I believe that point was first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, but it might have been mentioned earlier. Again, other noble Lords have concerns about the issue. Let me make it clear that the Bill leaves the details of the home-school partnership documents to the admissions authorities themselves, the LEAs or others which adopt them. Such authorities will be required, first, to consult and, secondly, to have regard to guidance that comes from my right honourable friend. I can assure the noble Lord that the guidance will contain advice on including a clear statement of the school's own responsibilities and on consultation with parents.

I can also make it quite clear, in terms of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about parents suing for breach of the home-school contract, that the Bill provides—in what I understand is Section 413B, subsection (6) inserted by Clause 30 (which I think must be last year's Bill, the Consolidation Act)—that home-school partnership documents cannot be used as a basis for legal action by the schools or parents.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, outlined his anxieties in relation to the FE sector and said that he would be tabling an amendment. I am grateful to him for giving me notice of that fact. I do not wish to comment in detail at this stage, particularly since his proposal is analogous to one of the recommendations of the FEFC's learning difficulties and disabilities committee—the Tomlinson Committee. The recommendations of that committee, including one that the FEFC should take a wider view of progression within the wording of Schedule 2 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 have now gone out for public consultation. In those circumstances, further comment before that consultation is finalised would be pre-emptive.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, voiced a number of anxieties in relation to Parts IV and V, particularly in regard to the Children's Consortium. She is right when she says that the concerns of the Children's Consortium have so far been relatively little discussed. That is not surprising as the consortium only raised those concerns with my department in the past month; that is, as the Bill was leaving the Commons. It has an eloquent advocate in the noble Baroness. I am sure that she will bring forward further detailed discussions on those matters in Committee.

I turn to the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, when he referred to specialist and selective schools. I suspect that there was a degree of misunderstanding by the noble Lord as to what they are. Specialist or selective schools can be different animals. A specialist school is one that has been so designated by the Secretary of State. It is one that will specialise, currently, in up to two—though two more are being added—different areas. First, technology, science and mathematics are specialised in at technology colleges; secondly, modern languages; and to come into existence will be arts colleges specialising in fine arts, performing arts or media arts and sports colleges, but not for one specific sport, so a student could not simply specialise in, say, football. They are secondary schools following the national curriculum but specialising in their own speciality. As specialist schools, if they wish—they do not have to—they will be able to select up to 30 per cent. of their pupils without central approval. They can select on the basis of aptitude in those specialisms or on the basis of more general skills or talents.

I turn now to what might be termed the meat of the Bill; it certainly took up most of the time in another place and has received a great deal of comment in this House. I suspect that it will also take up a bit of time in Committee. I refer to Clauses 1 to 18 or what were originally Clauses 1 to 19. They deal with extending choice, extending deregulation and developing grant-maintained programmes.

Originally I felt that there was considerable clear blue water between ourselves and the party opposite. Its hatred of any degree of choice or selection seemed clear in the statement made 18 months ago by the noble Lord's honourable friend Mr. Blunkett—"Watch my lips", we were told memorably. "Watch my lips. No selection by examination or interview." Since then we have seen a number of changes. We saw the noble Lord's right honourable friend Mr. Blair and his honourable friend Mrs. Harman sending their children to grant-maintained schools, to selective schools. And we have seen in Islington itself—I can pass this figure on to my noble friend Lord Beloff—that some 43 per cent. of the parents, not "barely a third", take their children to schools other than those in Islington.

I felt that possibly we had arrived at the position where the Labour Party was changing. But listening to noble Lords opposite we find that that is not the case; they are not in favour of any degree of choice or selection despite the fact that Mr. Blunkett said only the other day, in relation to grammar schools, that there was no threat to their continuance, their ethos or their quality. I dare say the fact that there is a by-election in The Wirral where there are six selective schools in the constituency may have affected his wording. I am grateful that noble Lords opposite have now made it clear that they still believe in his original remarks: "Watch my lips. Watch my lips. No selection by examination or interview". I imagine that more recent comments did not go down particularly well. We heard Mr. Graham Lane making it clear that he envisages, if Labour takes power, closing down every single selective school by the year 2000. We know therefore the views of the party opposite.

The noble Lord accused us of only being interested in school structure; he seemed to suggest that we had no interest in other matters. We believe school structure to be important and that is why we have done so much to get it right and are doing yet more. This Bill is not designed. as noble Lords implied, to bring back the old grammar school/secondary modern divide. As my noble friend Lady Perry made clear, we are not trying to force schools to go selective. We are trying to create a whole range of different structures. Some schools may want more selection; some may not; and some may wish to stay as they are. Therefore let us have some schools going selective, some going partially selective and some going grant-maintained either as comprehensives or selective schools.

The noble Lord said nothing in relation to the plans of the Labour Party for grant-maintained schools. I say to grant-maintained schools as a whole that if they listen carefully to what the Labour Party plans to do to grant-maintained schools it will make their flesh creep. I remind the noble Lord of what I understand the Labour Party is planning to do by way of taking away their freedoms—two LEA governors on the board and funding by the LEAs themselves—but allowing them to continue to call themselves something like a "foundation school".

Going back to the rich variety that we wish to see, let some schools remain comprehensive if they wish; let some remain grant-maintained comprehensives or LEA comprehensives; let some specialise. Again, we heard nothing from the noble Lord opposite about specialist schools. I have heard occasionally that the Labour Party supports specialist schools, but with the idea of selection coming into selective schools, I would be interested to know what degree of selection would be allowed to operate within a school's particular speciality.

All of us as parents know that children possess different talents and needs. That is why we want variety and choice in schools. There are many parents who want selection and that is why there are so many applicants to existing grammar schools. The simple point is that we want to allow schools to respond to what parents want; we are not suggesting compulsion.

My noble friend Lady Young made an interesting point about the effect of selection in Northern Ireland. We heard interesting comments from other noble Lords about the lack of selection throughout Europe, most of which has been proved conclusively not to be the case. There is selection in places like Germany in a system that is much admired by many in this country. On the subject of selection in Northern Ireland, one interesting piece of evidence in relation to the impact of selection comes from that area. There the system of grammar schools and selection still obtains. In 1996 52 per cent. of 15 year-olds in Northern Ireland gained five good GCSEs compared with 43 per cent. of pupils in England. That seems to indicate that everyone benefits from a degree of selection, not only the elite.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will give way; I have been challenged three times on this point. I do not claim to be a world expert on international education but my firm information is that the majority of the large western European nations—Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and France, together with the USA and Japan—base their education systems on the comprehensive intake system.

Lord Henley

My Lords, if the noble Earl does not profess to be a world expert on these matters, I suspect it would be better if he refrained from making comments such as "every other country has a comprehensive system", as he seemed to imply. It is clear that Germany does not; that France does not. My noble friend made that quite clear.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I happen to know a little about this. The position in France is comprehensive until 16 and then selective after 16. In Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium it is the old tripartite system from 11 or 13. Italy is somewhat the same as France, and Spain is more varied. But it is not a comprehensive system. The French system has certain peculiarities in that the less able are siphoned off at 14.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for adding his world expertise to assist mine.

We have seen a great many changes in education during the past 18 years. We are not ashamed of our record of the number of Bills we have brought before this House and another place. We have done a great deal to increase choice and diversity, to involve parents and to raise standards. The noble Lord, Lord Moms, said that the Bill does nothing to raise standards. But what about all the things we have done? What about the structural changes we have made, with grant-maintained schools, LMS and specialist schools? What about the national curriculum? What about the performance tables? What about testing, regular assessment and inspection—the vast comprehensive framework that we now have in place? That has done a very great deal and virtually all of it—virtually every single Bill that came before this House and another place to bring in those measures—was opposed by the party opposite. This Bill will yet further extend choice and diversity for parents—

Baroness David

My Lords, the Minister must be used to me challenging him on this matter. I was here before him and went through a great many—not quite as many as the noble Baroness, Lady Young—of those Bills. The Labour Party did not oppose everything that was put forward. It accepted some things—LMS and the national curriculum but not the prescriptive variety that was proposed. What happened later? The Government went back on the curriculum. They made it more flexible. They also went back on some of the testing. I hope the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will not continue to make that charge because it is quite untrue.

Lord Henley

My Lords, we shall argue another day about whether the noble Baroness has been here longer than I have. I am not sure whether that is the case. However, the simple fact is that the vast majority of the reforms we have made—the important structural reforms—have been opposed by the party opposite.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I referred to the late Lord Joseph. Will the Minister confirm that Lord Joseph opposed and criticised the Government's proposals for the prescriptive national curriculum in exactly the same way as noble Lords on the Opposition Benches did; that both the late Lord Joseph and those on the Opposition Benches were found to be right; and that the Government, at great public expense, changed back in line with the criticism that was made?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Baroness will frequently find that there are those on her Back Benches who do not necessarily agree with everything her party says. That happens very frequently. What Lord Joseph might or might not have thought is another matter. The point I was trying to get over is that we have brought in a large number of reforms. We have a comprehensive framework in place to raise standards, improve quality and provide a good service for parents and pupils. The vast majority of those reforms were opposed by the party opposite.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, perhaps I may—

Lord Henley

My Lords, I shall not take any more interventions. I have been speaking for 26 minutes and I see that the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip would like to go home to bed.

This Bill will yet further extend choice and diversity for parents. It will yet further raise standards and improve discipline in schools. It will further promote diversity between schools and thus increase choice by encouraging pupil selection, giving grant-maintained schools more power to develop their identities without central imposition. As I said, the Bill will do much to raise standards and improve discipline. I certainly expect a very lively Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading. I commend the Bill to the House.

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