HL Deb 07 April 1998 vol 588 cc617-717

3.3 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Last May the Government put forward a vision of a modern Britain which the people welcomed in overwhelming numbers. We made it clear then that education was at the centre of the vision.

We argued that everyone should have the skills and self-confidence to help build a successful economy and a healthy society. We promised everyone, not just a few, the opportunity to make their contribution. And we committed ourselves to working with others in a relentless pursuit of higher educational standards—providing pressure and support, identifying and spreading good practice, and, where necessary, finding more money.

We have already shown that we meant what we said. We have established the standards and effectiveness unit in my department, and the standards task force, and identified priorities for action. We have set challenging literacy and numeracy targets for all our 11 year-olds. We have exposed under-performing schools and LEAs to scrutiny, and worked to put things right. We have published excellent Green Papers on children with special educational needs and on lifelong learning.

We know that this requires cash as well as commitment, that is why last July's Budget announced an extra £1 billion for schools, compared with the £182 million increase planned by the last government. Over £500 million from the 1998ߝ99 standards fund will pay for more teacher and governor training, more books and more equipment. Building on our New Deal for Schools—worth about £2 billion over the life of this Parliament—this year's Budget provided a further £90 million for schools' capital to help reduce infant class sizes, and tackle obsolete boilers and outside lavatories.

The School Standards and Framework Bill before the House today complements all these efforts. With the Teaching and Higher Education Bill now in another place, it takes forward our manifesto commitments to strengthen education in England and Wales. Our consultations last summer on the Excellence in Schools White Paper and its Welsh counterpart made it clear that we really wanted to know what people thought. We emphasised our view that partnership and understanding are better than command and control. We listened, and learned, and responded.

The Bill is much the better for it. And as a result of those consultations, and scrutiny in another place, I know that it comes to this House more widely and warmly supported than any education Bill for many years. I shall be asking this House to endorse it so that the Government can get on with the important and exciting policies it proposes.

I now turn to the detailed contents of the Bill. Part I complements the substantial start we have already made on redeeming our historic pledge that by the end of this Parliament no five, six or seven year-old should have to learn in a class of more than 30. That objective is long overdue. All children need the best possible start to their school career. Getting the basics right will underpin their enthusiasm for learning and their prospects of achievement later on.

We shall fund the running cost aspects of this by transferring resources from the assisted places scheme. This is a policy for the many, not the few. We have already announced the allocation of £22 million in the coming academic year, which will benefit over 100,000 children. This will rise to £100 million a year by 2001 when we will deliver our pledge. The Budget last month provided £40 million extra capital to pay for the extra classrooms that LEAs will need to establish more and smaller infant classes.

Clauses 1 to 4 empower the Secretary of State to set limits on the size of infant classes; to set timetables for compliance with those limits; and to pay grants in support. They require LEAs to draw up plans to meet the pledge, and LEAs and governing bodies to exercise their functions so as to achieve them.

These clauses work with the admissions provisions later in the Bill. We have already made clear in another place that we will expect LEAs to use this opportunity to enhance, rather than to constrain, parental preference. We will expect them to expand provision in popular, over-subscribed schools. And children will not be forced to travel unreasonable distances to school because other schools are full. Where necessary, funds will be provided for extra teachers and, in some cases, extra accommodation. Taken together the extra resources we plan, our commitment to parental choice and the proposals in this Bill give us a historic opportunity to make a difference for young pupils. We intend to grasp it.

Clauses 5 to 19 implement other aspects of the Government's standards programme. Much, of course, does not need legislation, and is already well under way. Clause 5 places an explicit duty on LEAs to carry our their functions with a view to promoting high standards in schools. Let me make clear from the very beginning the balance we wish to strike here.

LEAs can encourage schools and challenge them to do better. They can help identify good practice, build partnerships and use their own resources effectively. We consider this a core role for LEAs—the contribution they can make has been ignored for too long. But high standards remain first and foremost the responsibility of individual schools. Every school can improve. Every school should be setting itself challenging targets. We expect LEAs to intervene only in inverse proportion to success. Schools in difficulty need to be helped to improve. Good schools need only be allowed to prosper. Clause 119 of the Bill provides for a code of practice to clarify this relationship. We have now published a draft of this key document for consultation, and placed copies in the Library of the House and in the Printed Paper Office.

Clauses 6 and 7 provide the mechanism for reviewing and raising standards in each area. They require each LEA to prepare an education development plan, setting out how they will work to raise standards, based on consultation with schools and others. My right honourable friend will regulate the contents of plans to ensure that they cover the essentials—including clear targets for improvement—and monitor progress against them. They will provide hard evidence of the capacity of each LEA to get to grips with the issues in its area, in partnership with others.

Clause 8 empowers the Secretary of State to take action if the LEA is failing to perform any of its school responsibilities to an adequate standard. Where necessary, he will he able to direct the LEA's officers to take specified action; or direct them to transfer the function to others—for example, an improvement team, another LEA, or a private sector provider. He can specify the objectives to be met and require LEA members and officers to co-operate with whoever takes over the function. This is a robust provision: we shall tackle underperformance wherever we find it.

I particularly commend to the House the important and radical proposals on education action zones taken forward by Clauses 10 to 13 of the Bill. Education action zones will help raise standards in schools in challenging circumstances, rural and urban. They will provide new and exciting ways for clusters of schools, LEAs, parents, business and community organisations to work together. As test beds for new ideas in a properly controlled environment, zones will have priority access to departmental funding and initiatives. They will be able to adapt the national curriculum to meet local needs—more opportunities for work-related learning or a sharper focus on literacy and numeracy. Each zone will be run with the help of a forum which will set challenging targets and put forward ambitious, innovative plans for meeting them.

There has been considerable interest in this initiative. We have received 60 full applications and have, therefore, decided to accelerate our timetable for the introduction of zones. With an additional £10 million for the education action zones programme, that represents a fivefold increase on our original plan. Subject to the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, we hope to expand the EAZ programme during this Parliament.

It may help the House if I clarify something at this point. We welcome the strong endorsement of EAZs in another place at Second Reading last December. But nothing the Government have done since then to set up the first EAZs this autumn depends on parliamentary approval of this Bill. If Parliament agrees, however, the Bill will help schools make the most of this initiative. Clause 13 will allow zones to attract first-class heads and teachers through the use of flexible contracts, which recognise the importance of experience and high performance. If they wish, governing bodies will be able to contract with a forum to provide specific services relating, for example, to staffing or the curriculum. They could also formally cede the majority of their powers to the forum.

We expect education action zones to identify much good practice. Some of it will have implications over time for the education service as a whole. Education action zones will help us invent the 21st century school.

Clauses 14 to 19 strengthen the capacity of LEAs, and ultimately of the Secretary of State, to intervene in schools causing concern.

In future, LEAs will be able to issue formal warnings to schools where standards are unacceptably low. LEAs can already appoint additional governors, or suspend the school's right to a delegated budget, where a school is failing. The Bill will now allow this where a school has serious weaknesses or has not responded satisfactorily to a formal warning—that is, before problems become so acute that a school fails. The Secretary of State will in turn be able to appoint additional governors—including the chair of governors—in a school requiring special measures. He will also be able to direct an LEA to close a school in these circumstances.

I repeat that responsibility for standards rests first and foremost with schools themselves. The powers are carefully graduated: prevention is better than cure, and gentle nudges early on will always be better than late recrimination. LEA action will need to be based on clear criteria, as the code of practice will emphasise. But these clauses provide necessary safeguards against drift and delay.

The Government, too, will play their part. Parents expect us to provide leadership and commitment, and create a culture of high expectations. So does the taxpayer. If there is to be more money for education, the levers must be in place to ensure that every penny counts: children get only one chance.

I turn now to Part II of the Bill and the new framework for schools. This is a modernising Bill. Parents and many others sent us a clear message both before the election and in response to our White Paper. They wanted us to move on from the divisions of recent years and concentrate on what really matters—raising standards and increasing opportunities for all. Of course, the framework within which schools and LEAs operate is relevant to that. But it had become the preoccupation of too many. We agree.

Clauses 20 to 22 establish three new categories of mainstream school—community, foundation and voluntary, as well as community and foundation special schools. Those categories will accommodate all existing state schools, including former grant-maintained schools.

All schools will have a choice of category to suit their circumstances and aspirations. To minimise disruption, that choice will be phased. GM schools will make their choice first, and move to their chosen category when the new framework is introduced. Parents will he able to steer that choice if they wish, and any disputes will come to my right honourable friend for resolution. All other schools will initially be assigned to the nearest category to their current status. We would normally expect schools to be content with their allocated category, but they will be able to publish proposals to change it after a year's experience of the new framework.

We have worked hard to minimise unnecessary upheaval for individual schools while ensuring that basic principles of fairness and partnership apply. In particular, the new categories preserve the broad pattern now for Church, GM and county schools on the employment of staff, the ownership of premises, religious education and collective worship.

We have also worked to build understanding and support for what we propose. The whole House will wish to note the comments of the grant-maintained schools joint monitoring group on 10th March: We would like to take this opportunity to put on record our support for the constructive approach that the Government has adopted towards the Bill during its Committee Stage…We also support Ministerial statements that 'schools control schools' and that financial delegation should reflect the current GM model". The draft code of practice has received the broad support of the GM interests, as well as of other key partners.

I am also very pleased that the Churches have worked closely with us on this, and accept that our proposals will safeguard their significant contribution to the education service. Within the voluntary category, existing aided and controlled schools will retain their present characteristics. We have agreed with the Churches sensible arrangements for the composition of Church school governing bodies, for admissions, staffing and other protections for the religious ethos of schools. We have amended the Bill on those points in another place, and will do more when we reach Committee stage in this place.

From now on, all maintained schools and LEAs will enjoy a new partnership in which the clear role of schools in running themselves is understood. The Bill's proposals for school funding and admissions demonstrate that we envisage a partnership of equals, based on good practice and good will.

Clauses 44 to 52 develop the local management of schools regime. All maintained schools will be funded, fairly and consistently, through LEAs. Accordingly, Clause 122 dissolves the Funding Agency for Schools.

Within this framework we intend to bring the level of financial delegation to all schools as closely as possible in line with the level currently enjoyed by GM schools, while ensuring that LEAs retain sufficient funding for their essential functions. This will give all schools equal freedom to use their funds in the drive to raise standards. We shall ensure that schools understand more clearly how their budgets are calculated and can buy back services from the LEA in a straightforward way. We shall issue a detailed consultation paper in due course, and will continue to listen as we develop the underpinning regulations and guidance.

On school admissions—Part III of the Bill—many parents have had to cope for too long with a bewildering patchwork of conflicting arrangements. They and their children deserve better.

Clauses 79 to 98 provide the framework for open and fair admissions to schools. Everyone must have regard to an admissions code of practice. LEAs and schools will have to consult each other every year on their admission arrangements. My right honourable friend will appoint independent adjudicators to decide disputes between admission authorities. Disputes over religious and denominational criteria will come to him for resolution.

For the benefit of parents, LEAs will publish information about local admissions. We look forward to parents once again having a single, sensible, mutually agreed timetable for making their applications to schools in their area. The constitution of appeals committees will be modernised, to make them completely independent of LEAs and governing bodies.

These clauses also prohibit schools in future from introducing selection by ability. The adjudicator, having regard to the code of practice, will have the power to end existing partial selection where he concludes that it is not in the best interests of other local schools, children and parents. The code will cover giving preference by aptitude—which the Bill will permit—in subjects to be specified in regulations, up to a maximum of 10 per cent. of a school's intake.

There is one further example of our commitment to local decision-making based on partnership. For decades many local proposals for opening, closing or changing the character of schools have come to the Secretary of State for decision. The process is often slow and less than transparent.

Clauses 23 to 33 provide for these decisions to be taken locally in future. They establish a school organisation committee for each LEA area in England. The committee will include representatives of the LEA, the Churches, the Further Education Funding Council for post-16 provision and schools. It will agree a school organisation plan for meeting emerging needs, adding or removing school places. LEAs will determine their own unopposed proposals, but the committee will decide the remainder in the light of the plan and of guidance from the Secretary of State. Where the committee cannot agree, the decision will be made by one of the independent adjudicators who also deal with admissions issues. In Wales, however, the Secretary of State will continue to consider contested proposals until the Welsh Assembly is in place.

I shall summarise briefly other proposals in the Bill. Parents and governors are essential partners in our work. Clauses 35 to 43 give parents more places on school governing bodies, simplify the constitutional arrangements of governing bodies, and emphasise governors' role in raising standards.

Clauses 99 to 102 implement our manifesto commitment that decisions on the future admissions policies of the 165 traditional grammar schools will be a matter for local parents. If a significant number of parents raise a petition, a ballot will follow. Where parents vote for change that will be implemented through the new arrangements for school admissions and organisation. The Bill prohibits LEAs and schools from using public funds for propaganda purposes and will ensure that, where ballots occur, parents have access to balanced information.

Clauses 103 to 104 require all schools to have home/school agreements cementing the vital partnership between parents and schools. They will clarify expectations on attendance, discipline, homework and standards of education. They will not be used in the admissions process itself.

Clauses 105 to 106 strengthen the arrangements for 14 to 16 year-olds to undertake work experience and spend time in further education colleges. I hope the House will welcome this renewed emphasis on employability. Greater flexibility in the learning options available to young people will also support the Government's wider policies on social exclusion. We shall have more to say on social exclusion as this Bill goes forward.

Clauses 107 to 109 regulate school meals; I have heard them referred to as the "chips clauses". Children who have eaten properly are more likely to learn properly too.

Clauses 110 to 116 introduce sensible arrangements for nursery and other early years provision. We have already swept away the bureaucracy of the nursery vouchers scheme. We announced last month that every four year-old in all but one LEA will have a guaranteed nursery place by September this year. The other, Thurrock, will do so from January 1999. The Bill requires all LEAs, working in partnership with schools, voluntary and private sector providers, to secure sufficient nursery education provision for children in their area, rigorously inspected.

The Bill helps further education institutions and LEAs in Wales to work together effectively. It prevents LEAs from reintroducing the assisted places scheme at local level. It halts the steady loss of school playing fields in recent years. Finally, following a free vote in another place, it abolishes corporal punishment for all pupils in independent schools and children in nursery education.

This is a wide-ranging Bill which implements our manifesto commitments last May, taking full account of intensive consultations since then. It puts individual schools firmly at the front of our drive to create a world-class education service and raise standards for all. But it promises that LEAs and the Government will be there with them, to provide pressure, where necessary, investment and support.

It recognises the commitment of many to improve. But it also provides the levers for tackling underperformance and failure. It introduces a new school framework to end division, promote fairness and foster partnership, and give a stronger voice to parents. It is a framework which the Government are confident will stand the test of time. We are convinced that these proposals are the best way to release the enthusiasm and imagination we need to raise standards and tackle the real issues that face us. Our children deserve no less. I look forward to our debates on this vital Bill. I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

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

3.27 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I hope the whole House will join with me in welcoming to our debate today the noble Lords, Lord Hattersley and Lord Dearing, who are to make their maiden speeches. Both noble Lords, in their very different ways, bring much experience to debates, particularly on this subject. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, will forgive me for describing him as a colourful character. I know that the subject of education has been an abiding passion of his, and indeed of his wife, for many years. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is of course the architect of the considerable piece of work that underpinned the Bill that we discussed a matter of weeks ago, and will underpin many of the debates that we shall hold in the future.

If this Bill was subject to a test akin to the Trade Descriptions Act it would fail completely. The Government claim that the Bill is about raising standards and is not about structures. However, on any reading of this Bill, clause after clause deals with structures, not standards. There is a massive increase in bureaucracy and a massive increase in central control. It is now clear that new Labour has given way to old Labour in a big way. The politics of envy are back with a vengeance and, as has become the hallmark of this Government, mean-spirited politics abound.

Much that is best in education is at risk. The survival of grammar schools would be at the mercy of a biased balloting system. Over a thousand schools will lose their grant-maintained status and will be made subject to local government intervention, having democratically voted, school by school, for their own autonomy. If Ministers' responses in another place are anything to go by, selection is subject to an incomprehensible debate full of gobbledegook, which, on the one hand, is underpinned by the personal animosity towards selection of the Secretary of State and many of his old Labour colleagues and, on the other hand, by the confusion presented by the Bill, which appears to preserve the degree of selection which exists at the moment, until, that is, either the powers of the adjudicator are exercised and/or the one-sided balloting process is triggered.

If noble Lords want some amusing reading, I recommend the debates on the Bill in the other place on the distinction between ability and aptitude. If children can be selected on the basis of aptitude in order to match appropriate education, what is so evil about selecting children on the basis of ability? Can the Minister tell us whether, if a child has an aptitude for maths, science and technology, it is not true that that same child will also have an ability for those subjects?

People should be in no doubt about the policy behind the Bill. It is the socialist's dream: egalitarianism and statism. It means that some of the most successful aspects of our education system must be sacrificed on the altar of socialist dogma.

In the Bill 133 clauses and 31 schedules will give rise to 53 sets of regulations, 13 sets of guidance and two substantial codes of practice. The availability of draft versions of the codes of practice and drafts of many of the regulations are essential if this House is to perform its duty as a revising Chamber. In particular, where any regulations, when enacted, affect the future existence or future structure of a school or alter the provision of education for children at a school, the draft version of such regulations should be available to the House before Committee stage. That specifically includes the code of practice and regulations on admissions and all the regulations concerned with the future of grammar schools.

There are so many measures in the Bill that it is difficult to flag up all the areas upon which one would wish to comment. Some of my noble friends will concentrate on specific clauses. For example, my noble friend Lord Pilkington will address the issues of a burgeoning bureaucracy; my noble friend Lady Seccombe will speak to those clauses which deal with grammar schools; and my noble friend Lady Byford will address the issues which relate to governors.

I will say just a brief word on the subject of bureaucracy. I personally have never supported the taking of industrial action in education. However, it was significant that the reason for such disquiet among teachers who recently balloted for such action was the level of bureaucracy. The irony of the Government's response yesterday will not be lost on noble Lords. It was to promise a code of practice—yes, my Lords, another code of practice—to assist teachers in reducing the burden of bureaucracy. And yet, with the level of burdensome activity that will be spawned by this Bill, with its endless co-ordinating committees and numerous forums, where minutes will have to be kept and disseminated, and an educational development planning system which involves a paper chase starting with the school, via the local education authorities, up to the Secretary of State, then back to the local education authorities and back to schools—and all of this paper-chasing to be repeated if the Secretary of State is not satisfied with any aspect of those plans—it will take more than a code of practice to convince teachers that the Government mean business on this issue.

As far as Wales is concerned, I should welcome it if the Minister could list clause by clause all powers reserved to the Welsh assembly. The Minister kindly did that on the previous Bill and I hope that she will write to me on this matter. Meanwhile, the Bill gives us a foretaste of things to come. For example, as I understand it, the Secretary of State for Wales has the power to vary these provisions, so that it could become a very different system from that intended for England. Will the Minister clarify for the House whether the powers ceded to the Secretary of State for Wales are to be devolved to the assembly? Is it the Government's intention to apply to Wales any of the secondary legislation flowing from the Bill in advance of the assembly being established? Not only will I and my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy be deeply interested in the Minister's reply, but I suspect that so also will the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I shall not take sides on the issue of whether Wales should think differently, but it seems extraordinary that a Bill should come before the House which is apparently to apply to both countries and yet we are on the eve of the establishment of an assembly for Wales.

The interventionist nature of the Bill gives much cause for concern, not only for schools generally but especially among church schools. Why, for example, is it necessary for church schools to have to allow 14 days to elapse while seeking local education authority approval for candidates on a list for the appointment of a head or a deputy head? It is a ludicrous proposition. Are the Government suggesting, for example, that Lambeth, Islington or Hammersmith and Fulham local education authorities have a monopoly of wisdom in these matters? Are, for example, grant-maintained schools such as the Oratory, that highly successful school which is educating the Prime Minister's sons, and La Retraite, a Catholic girls' grant-maintained school in Lambeth which has gone from strength to strength since gaining its autonomy, not to be trusted to make staffing appointments without reference to local education authorities?

Has it not occurred to the Department for Education and Employment, and indeed to Ministers, that, where schools have been responsible for their own performance and their own management without reference to or interference by the local education authority, except by invitation, they have managed the appointments of staff remarkably well? Although there have been a number of helpful meetings between those representing Church schools and the department, some concerns still remain and we shall return to a number of detailed points at later stages of the Bill.

The Government's proposal to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds, while laudable in its aim, is not without its problems of implementation. So many questions on this were left unanswered in the other place. What does happen to the 31st child wishing to attend a village school which is many, many miles away from another school? What does happen to the 31st child wishing to attend a church school where there is no alternative church school in the area? Why could the Government not presume in favour of classes of 30 for five, six and seven year-olds while introducing some flexibility, even if it is controlled flexibility, for a school to accept one or two more children as long as it is underpinned by a consensus agreement of head, staff, governors and parents—or are they, too, not to be trusted?

Clauses 10 to 13, a mere four clauses, introduce proposals for the establishment of education action zones. I welcome the involvement of the private and voluntary sectors as partners in education. In fact, I am delighted that it was a Conservative government which pioneered such partnerships with the establishment of city technology colleges, which were the brainchild of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, who is, sadly, unable to be present today, and in the subsequent development of technology colleges and specialist schools under my noble friend Lord Patten and my right honourable friend Gillian Shephard. They have been enormously successful, and I am delighted to say that the city technology colleges are to remain unaffected by the Bill.

However, I cannot remember such a wilful pre-emption of the will of Parliament as there has been over these proposals. This is one example in a long list of examples where power really has gone to the head of the Government. The contempt shown for Parliament and its processes is palpable. The Bill received its Second Reading on 22nd December. Bidding documents were sent out in January, not with the intention of informing interest groups which may he considering the proposals but inviting applications for the establishment of education action zones, with a closing date of 20th March. During that time, the Bill was still being considered by the other place. Extra finance for action zones was announced in the Budget, followed by a formal Statement to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Education, stating that five action zones would be in place by September this year, with a further 20 being up and running by January 1999.

I have asked on what authority that definitive Statement was made to both Houses, but to date I have not been told. This policy has yet to be discussed by this House and there are many questions to be answered about the implementation of what could be a far-reaching proposal which, if thought through properly and introduced on a more appropriate timescale, could be extremely exciting—although I have to admit to some reservations about a merger of such a large number of schools.

In just 18 weeks' time the first five action zones are to be in place, affecting up to 100 schools. Six of those weeks are taken up by school holidays. The Bill is unlikely to have received Royal Assent before July. Heads and staff will have to cope with planning for the coming academic year. Complicated contracts with private companies and/or other providers will have to be drawn up. New curriculum plans will need to be agreed. The action forum will have to be in place. The sharing and/or re-allocation of responsibilities will need to be determined. Plans for disapplication of teachers' pay and conditions will need to be drawn up; and parents, teachers and other school staff should be consulted. Much of this information should be worked out in outline and in some detail at the time of the application.

For example, what say will parents have, or have they had, in the drawing up of applications? I spoke to a parent recently in an area where I believe an application has been made and she was completely unaware of it. What assurance have parents been given that all this rushed activity will not interfere with the education of their children? Is the Minister really saying that all of this can be achieved in such a tight timescale without any disruption to the work of heads and their staff and the running of schools? If so, there must be a great deal of fallow time in the life of a teacher—a point I simply do not accept.

This is no way to introduce what could be an interesting approach to providing education with a view to raising standards. In fact we shall bring forward amendments to allow single schools to be run in partnership with the private and voluntary sector but with the consent of parents and on a timescale which is appropriate for such a change.

One of the most incongruous aspects of the Bill is that, where education is failing, the Government are prepared to free schools from the national curriculum, from national pay and conditions of service, and even from local authority control; and yet grant-maintained schools or grammar schools which have proved beyond doubt that they not only can manage without intervention by local authorities but also produce high quality education are to be brought back under control. Where is the logic in that?

One has to take at face value that the Prime Minister is content with the education his sons are receiving at the Oratory School. If so, why is it that he is prepared to see the particular form of home school agreements, which I presume he signed, outlawed by the Bill? And why is it that the instruments and articles of government are not to be tailored to the needs of each school, with the option of adopting model forms only if schools so wish?

There are so many contradictions in the Bill. The Government claim that they want high quality education. Yet they set up mechanisms to destroy the most successful grant-maintained and grammar schools. They oppose selection on the basis of ability. They support selection on the basis of aptitude. They agree to allow selection to continue where it presently exists, hut then put in place measures to discontinue selection. What are we to make of that?

They allow parents within areas where there are grammar schools to petition and ballot for their demise but make no provision for parents to endorse proposals to change school structures, including the formation of action zones; and they deny the right of grammar schools to oppose a ballot. They exhort, quite rightly in my view, local authorities to pass more resources down to schools. Yet they have created a massive and costly increase in bureaucracy for local government with little promise of extra funding. They argue for greater simplicity. Yet they have created an unbelievably complex, convoluted and contradictory Bill. They argue that the Bill is about standards not structures, and yet, as we can now see for ourselves, it is about structures and bureaucracies.

Mr. Blair and Miss Harman have abandoned education in their respective local authorities and have sent their children to highly successful and autonomous grant-maintained and grammar schools. Yet they deny that right to future generations of children. What hypocrisy.

The Department for Education and Employment, LEA officials and egalitarians everywhere will rejoice in much of the Bill. The abolition of assisted places, which benefited many children from low income families preceded the Bill; and selection, the autonomy of grant-maintained schools and the very existence of grammar schools by the introduction of a rigged balloting system are all threatened.

It is a politically motivated Bill, egalitarian, statist and centralist in its philosophy: what cannot be done for everyone shall be done for no one. We shall fight vigorously to minimise its effects.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I begin, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, by looking forward to the maiden speeches. I happen to be the leader of a local education authority. The week before last we were privileged to have the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, open a new secondary school—the first secondary school built in my borough for over 30 years. He treated us to a splendid speech which addressed the parents, the teachers, the governors but most especially the pupils who were all present. If we are to hear half the speech today that we had then we are in for a treat. I suggested to the noble Lord that perhaps he should make his maiden speech in this debate today. His only concern was that as it was his maiden speech he was not allowed to be controversial. I should love to know what he would have said but feels unable to say.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, will feel no such inhibitions. If he wishes to be controversial, I am sure that we shall all—perhaps I should say all but one of us—look forward to his speech today.

I thank the Minister for the helpful and fairly detailed way in which she explained this massive Bill. It was no mean task to achieve in the relatively short time available to her. In responding for my party on the Bill, I am conscious that there will be many important aspects with which I shall not be able to deal today, although it is to be hoped that some of them will be referred to by my noble friends when they speak.

The Minister referred to the Bill having received a general welcome in another place. As I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I found it hard to detect any signs of a general welcome. The noble Baroness started by suggesting that old Labour had turned into new Labour and stated that the Bill was dominated by socialist dogma. I am not sure what dominates and distinguishes new Labour, but I am quite certain that it is not socialist dogma. The noble Baroness referred to a paper chase. I thought that that came rather rich from a party which introduced nursery vouchers. She referred to pre-legislative work in the introduction of education action zones. I thought that that, too, came a bit rich from the party which introduced nursery vouchers and extended the assisted places scheme to under 11 year-olds in the face of a general election which was virtually certain to reverse such a move.

My party gives a general welcome to the Bill. In another place we voted for it at both Second and Third Reading. I think that it is a better Bill as it leaves the Commons than when it arrived. But there are still many much needed improvements to be made, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that we have an important role to play in this House.

My honourable friend in another place, Don Foster, described the Bill at Second Reading as a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. I cannot think of a better phrase so I shall borrow it. Our intention is to make the good in the Bill better, improve the bad, and at the very least give a facelift to the ugly.

Inevitably most of our considerations on the Bill will concentrate on issues about which we are not entirely happy and about some of which we are very unhappy. Therefore I wish to begin by referring to some of the issues in the Bill which come into the category of good. I welcome the emphasis on partnership and co-operation, components that are long overdue and very necessary. I welcome the recognition of the LEA's statutory role in raising standards; and the concentration on standards, although I shall say more about structure and framework later.

We welcome the drive to reduce class sizes. I shall say more about that later. We welcome the introduction of base line assessment; we welcome particularly the final end to nursery vouchers; and, last of all, we welcome the end of corporal punishment. We shall, I hope, hear no more on that subject following the passage of the Bill.

I turn to some of the general concerns we have about the Bill. Here, perhaps I do have a little more in common with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The Bill, once again, gives yet more powers to the Secretary of State. The Labour Party in opposition joined with us during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988 in deploring the fact that the measure gave some 500 additional powers to the Secretary of State. I have not yet done the calculation on this Bill but I would guess that there are something approaching another 100 powers being given to the Secretary of State—yet more centralisation.

So much of the Bill is again left to regulations, to codes of practice, to guidance notes, and so forth. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that that is not acceptable. If it is to happen, such documents must, at the very least, come before the House.

The other area typified by the Bill, but more particularly in the regulations, the codes of practice and so on, which will follow, is the tendency of this Government to be so prescriptive in what they are doing—telling people how to do things, not what they should do. As I have said previously in this House, the role of the politician in education is to provide the framework and the resources and to set the targets. But, above all, it is to let the professionals do the job for which they have been trained. I can reflect this in my own household. I happen to be married to an infant schoolteacher. I am the leader of her LEA. It is my job to provide the resources, and she does occasionally remind me of that. However, it is her job to teach her children how to read and I would not presume to tell her, as a politician, how she should do that-1 simply do not know. She has been trained and she does it very much better than I ever could.

I now turn to some of the specific provisions in the Bill; I shall omit quite a number. I have already referred to the desire to reduce infant class sizes, which we wholly support. I wonder what is the view of the Conservative Party on that now. I can remember, not so many months ago, being attacked from the Front Bench of the Conservative Party when I proposed the reduction of class sizes and being described, I believe, by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is to speak later, as "old Labour". That did wonders for enhancing my reputation on the Benches which are now opposite me, but I wonder whether there has been another change in Conservative Party thinking and whether these proposals are old Labour or new Labour or simply proposals which have always come from the Liberal Democrats.

We feel that the Government are not going far enough. We would wish to extend the drive to reduce class sizes to all primary school classes. I remind your Lordships that there are some 480,000 children aged under seven in primary schools but 780,000 aged over seven in those schools. We wish to see the programme extended, and in time, one hopes, it will be. In the meantime, although we strongly support the reduction in class sizes, we have concerns about the effect on the rest of the school.

In common with many of your Lordships we have concerns about how the policy is to be implemented, how rigidly it is to be applied—a point which has already been made—the effect in rural areas, and also about that infamous 31st child to which I am sure we will refer time and time again. These are crucially important matters but I do not wish to lose sight of our overall objective which is to achieve a reduction in infant class sizes.

Another concern I have, which perhaps belongs here, is that the Government seem very willing to legislate, for instance, about nutritional standards for school meals but very unwilling to legislate about minimum space standards in classrooms. I think, dare I say it, that that is an even more important issue. It may or may not be that children do or do not learn better with or without chips but I think it is undeniable that they learn better with a proper educational environment. That is something to which we shall return.

We welcome the proposed inspections of local education authorities. As I said earlier, I am leader of one such authority. I see nothing to fear and quite a lot to be gained from such inspections but I have to recognise that Ofsted has no experience in inspecting LEAs. I hope that the Audit Commission can also be engaged in partnership with Ofsted in such inspections. I believe that the Audit Commission has a very valuable role to play.

The proposals for educational development plans are welcome. I am sure that many LEAs already have them but it is important that they should be promoted. I shall have more to say about the role of the LEAs, particularly in relation to target setting, but I am conscious that we are in the midst of the consultation period on EDPs, which I believe ends on 8th May. That will coincide with the start of the Committee stage of the Bill. I wonder if the Minister can say at what stage she will be able to come to the House with the results of the consultation. It would be especially useful if the Government were able to say what they intended to do as a result of that consultation. In that way our consideration of this aspect of the Bill could be informed by the results of the consultation and the Government's plans relating to it.

Next, education action zones. As the Minister will know, those proposals received a very enthusiastic response from my colleagues in the other place. I have to say, perhaps because I am from an LEA, that I am a little more cautious than they are, or perhaps I am just more cautious because I am in this place and not in the other place. I recognise that there is a great potential for education action zones. I am sure that at later stages of the Bill we will pay very close and positive attention to trying to get them more clearly understood and recognised, particularly the role of the LEA.

One specific concern to which I hope the Minister can respond is the need for an exit strategy. It may well be, in some circumstances, that a school will wish to, or need to, leave an education action zone early. What provision will there be to enable that to happen, by consent if that is appropriate? What is to happen at the end of the period of the education action zone when there will inevitably be some mismatch between schools within the zone and schools, probably in the same LEA area, which are not in the zone?

I turn to the rather more controversial and perhaps the "ugly" part of the Bill, and that is the framework. Our attitude to grant maintained status and grant maintained schools is well known. For many years we had that in common with the Labour Party when it was in opposition. It follows for us, although apparently not for the Government, that we now also oppose foundation status. We will return to that, I am sure, in greater detail. I am especially concerned about what I think it has to be said is the changed view of the Government on creating foundation special schools which, at an earlier stage in the Green Paper, they were suggesting were not appropriate—for reasons set out very well in that Green Paper—but which they now seem to feel are appropriate. We disagree. We believe there should simply be voluntary schools and community schools, and that community schools should all come within the framework of a light touch local education authority.

School organisation committees are possibly a good idea. They have a role to play, but it should be an advisory role. For better and sometimes for worse, the local education authority is the democratically elected authority and it should be the authority with the power. There is a valuable role for an advisory body and the partnership which we all welcome, but it is an advisory role. I regret, therefore, the establishment of what is in effect a quango to override the views and wishes of the democratically elected local education authority. We shall return to the membership of the school organisation committees.

I turn next to the other area where we on these Benches used to feel we had something in common with the Labour Party when in opposition. I refer to the whole issue of selection and partial selection. We all recall the speech of the present Secretary of State, not when he was the firebrand leader of Sheffield Council, but only a few years ago at the 1995 Labour Party conference—the "Watch my lips" speech. He must now regret ever having said, "Watch my lips: no selection by exam or by interview." I look forward to the Minister's explanation of exactly how the Bill implements probably the clearest pledge given by the Labour Party in opposition so close to the general election. I cannot see it. I think it is clearly a broken promise and one we shall expose and oppose as strongly and as vigorously as we can.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, although from an opposite standpoint from mine, we look forward to interesting but, I suspect, not very illuminating debates on exactly what is the difference between selection by ability and selection by aptitude. I believe that such selection is wrong, and using a different "A" word does not make it right.

I turn now to admission arrangements. It is an enormously vexed question, particularly in smaller LEAs in larger conurbations. Last year, I believe, there were 62,900 appeals against allocation of school places. Those parents felt it was worth going through the anguish and trauma because they were so dissatisfied with the offer that had been made to them, or, in an increasing number of cases, because they were dissatisfied that no offer had been made to them. There must have been many more parents who accepted, albeit unhappily, the offer made to them.

Present admission arrangements are a nightmare. In outer London particularly and some other conurbations, the Greenwich judgment forbids LEAs giving preference to pupils living within their own area. The effect of that judgment has been devastating. In large numbers of LEAs now, over 20 per cent. of the secondary pupils come from outside the area. In some LEAs, it is much higher than that and in some schools it is considerably more than half. I speak with experience of my own LEA.

While we would not wish to discriminate against such pupils, it is increasingly hard for parents within an LEA to understand why their child cannot get a place at their local school—be it selective or non-selective—when a child who lives many miles away can get a place. In my borough in south west London, we have children travelling from Brighton every day to school. That cannot he right. I accept that the solution is difficult, but it must be found and the Bill is an opportunity for us to try to find it.

I have not dealt with many other important aspects of the Bill and I do not have time today to do so. For example, there is the whole question of home-school agreements, to which we shall return; and the role of governors, an increasingly onerous one but one we shall need to debate further. There is the suggestion of having parents' representatives on education committees. In one sense perhaps that is hard to oppose, but it smacks to me of tokenism, serving very little purpose. There is the whole wide area of nursery education and nursery provision which is different from having four year-olds in reception classes. There is the increasingly important and vexed area of exclusions, to which I know we shall pay much attention. I am uneasy about the role of the proposed adjudicator which seems to me rather akin to that of the Department of the Environment inspector in planning appeals. Here we are not talking about planning appeals, but about children's education. That seems to be inappropriate.

The most important area which I shall deliberately not talk about is special educational needs. I shall not do so, not because I have nothing to say but because it is extremely important and I know that my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood intends to refer to it in her speech. My noble friend Lord Addington will move amendments at a later stage to promote our views on it.

In conclusion, we will approach the Bill as a constructive opposition should. We will oppose vigorously those aspects with which we fundamentally disagree. As I said, most of those aspects are ones on which the Labour Party was once in agreement with us. But where we broadly agree—and that is on the greater part of the Bill—we will propose amendments to improve the Bill still further. We want the Bill to leave the House in a better state than when it arrived.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Hattersley

My Lords, it is 34 years since I last made a maiden speech. Back in 1964, I was buoyed up by the brash confidence of youth and total ignorance of how many mistakes it is possible to make on such an occasion as this. Unfortunately, today I enjoy neither of those advantages. The height of my ambition is to make a wholly unmemorable maiden speech.

My apprehension is increased by the fact that since I took my seat in November, many noble Lords have stopped me in the precincts of the House and told me, in the nicest possible way, that I am a known constitutional reformer. I plead absolutely guilty to the charge. That is the product of a misspent youth. At the first political meeting I attended at the age of 11, the local Member of Parliament—second only in my hierarchy of heroes to Sir Leonard Hutton—said, when asked about the House of Lords: "Don't mend them; end them". He became a Viscount four years later.

I say in my own defence that I am not at all convinced that a Chamber of the British Parliament which is based on patronage is much of a democratic improvement on one which is based on heredity.

Having said all that, I hope that I may be allowed to make a couple of comments about the Bill, including my appreciation and understanding of the honour it is to be able to do so as a Member of your Lordships' House. I see absolutely no paradox in having reservations about the institution and unashamed admiration for many of its Members, not least of whom is the other maiden speaker who is to follow me this afternoon. We met over 40 years ago at a lecture given by Professor Milton Friedman. He, having kept the rest of the audience in awe, was totally destroyed when a young man at the back said, "That's all very well, Professor Milton Friedman, but it doesn't make any sense to me". The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may not find that all noble Lords' speeches are exactly of the kind she would welcome and applaud.

I wish to ask my noble friend three questions about the Bill. I understand perfectly well that my duty is to be uncontroversial and that duty I shall do my best to observe. Much of the Bill I applaud and welcome and I look forward to supporting it. As a Member of Parliament for over 30 years for an inner city, I particularly welcome the provisions that concentrate on action areas of special need, nursery provision and reduction in class sizes, all of which intentions are particularly important to areas of special deprivation.

However, while I welcome much of the Bill, there is one part which I find nearly incomprehensible. I ask the Minister three questions which I believe obey the rule of non-controversiality because they are more to do with logic than ideology. They concern, of course, Clauses 93 to 97. I was very nearly reconciled to them when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, described them as the beginnings of a socialist El Dorado—very nearly reconciled, but even on this ecumenical occasion, not quite.

My first question concerns Clause 97, the clause which allows selection not according to ability, but according to aptitude. Can my noble friend give us a definition of aptitude which is different from the definition of ability? She knows, because she is the great expert on these matters, that in practice whichever test is imposed produces virtually the same result. The same children go to a selective school whether they are chosen because of ability or aptitude. She knows too that choosing on aptitude or ability produces a hierarchy of schools in a specific area. I am sure that both my noble friend and the Government are opposed to the creation of hierarchical schools for many reasons with which I shall not weary the House this afternoon.

My second and third questions concern Clauses 94 and 99 to 101. Is it the Government's view that it is possible—I do not say "desirable"; I say "possible"—for comprehensive schools and selective schools to exist side by side within the same catchment area? That is the presumption upon which some clauses seem to be built. It seems to me to be a matter of logic rather than idealogy that if some schools are selective, by definition those which are next door to them cannot be comprehensive. I shall be grateful if my noble friend will offer me her expert opinion on that matter.

Finally, I have a question in relation to the whole of Chapter II, perhaps the whole of the Bill. The Secretary of State told us time after time that the Bill, like the policy, is based on the nostrum that the Government are concerned with standards, not structures—an idea which, in my view, he recklessly stole from an embarrassing little book on political philosophy from Mr. Peter Mandelson. Surely structure and standards cannot be separated. We may disagree across the House and perhaps on the Front Benches as to the best form of structure and organisation, but we choose the form which we prefer because we believe it produces the best results. There is no distinction between structure and standards. The Minister came very near to saying that in her introductory remarks this afternoon. Many of us will feel immensely reassured if she can confirm that the drive to change structures is intimately related to the drive to improve standards and that the two things cannot be separated.

I do not propose to occupy my final minutes with a litany of praise for those many parts of the Bill with which I agree. There is enough Back-Bench sycophancy in the other place to occupy two Houses of Parliament. I therefore content myself with saying to my noble friend that I ask my questions today in a rhetorical sense in the knowledge that one day I will be able to return to them in a more robust form when the obligation to avoid controversy no longer confines me. All I do today is express my thanks for your Lordships' courtesy and repeat what a great privilege it is on this occasion—and a few others in the future—to speak in such distinguished company.

4.13 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I have the privilege of being the first of your Lordships to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, on his maiden speech. I must tell him that his ambition was not realised. I cannot imagine that anything he said would be unmemorable and I am sure that his first speech in your Lordships' House will remain with us. In particular, the questions addressed to his noble friend on the Front Bench will remain with us during the debates on the Bill, especially in relation to aptitude and the placing side by side of non-selective and selective schools. His first point in relation to standards is one that I want to take up later.

I thank the noble Lord for a speech which was full of the wisdom, experience and native wit which we have come to expect from him. I look forward to his enlivening your Lordships' proceedings in the future. I look forward also to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, many of us have sat at his feet in the past and we look forward to doing so again in this House.

I must first declare an interest. I speak as the chairman of the Church of England Board of Education and chairman of the Churches Joint Education Policy Committee. I shall therefore be speaking in this Second Reading debate from the perspective of Church schools. The School Standards and Framework Bill is the most significant piece of educational legislation since the Education Reform Act 1988 and, arguably, since the 1944 Act.

The Churches were major partners in the 1944 settlement. They have continued to make a distinguished and distinctive contribution to the total education provision in this country. Church schools today are widely acknowledged as providers of excellent education. I welcome the Government's support for Church schools and their intention to preserve their place and character. I am grateful to the Minister for articulating those intentions yet again this afternoon.

When the proposals for consultation were published last year, the suggested framework raised considerable difficulties for Church schools. In particular, the placing of controlled schools in the foundation category with former grant-maintained schools was an unhappy arrangement. Grant-maintained schools have deliberately chosen to leave the local education authority; controlled schools had resisted that temptation and decided to stay with the authority. It was not surprising that that was seen as a difficult proposal.

Other proposals affected the foundation governor balance of aided schools, the religious education arrangements for different categories of schools, the powers of the adjudicator and a range of other issues. The proposed framework meant that, in the Church's view, a substantial shift was taking place which might well jeopardise the future of Church schools. That view was at first resisted by the Government. The Secretary of State assured Church schools in a letter to the Daily Mail last August that they had nothing to fear. Continuing and strong representations were made and the force of the arguments (coupled with media coverage) resulted in a number of changes which are embodied in the Bill.

From the perspective of Church schools it is now a very much better Bill than as originally proposed, as the Minister said in her introductory speech. The categories have been changed so that Church-aided and controlled schools together form the voluntary category. Other issues, many of them quite detailed, have been resolved in consultation. The level of consultation between civil servants of the Department for Education and Employment and the staff of the Catholic Education Service, the Church of England Board of Education and the Free Church Council has been high. That has been matched by consultation at ministerial and Church leader level.

The Churches believe that the majority of our concerns have been met. I thank the Minister, her colleagues in government and the staff of her department for their willingness to listen and to work in partnership with the Churches. I also express the thanks of the Churches for the changes which have been made in the Bill to meet our concerns.

A number of concerns remain, to which I shall refer in a moment. But before doing so, I move from framework to standards and pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. A proper framework is essential for the delivery of standards; the two cannot be separated. The Churches make no apology for the energy we have expended on getting the framework right, particularly in relation to Church schools. Of course we share the aspirations of the Government and the country as a whole for the raising of standards and believe that we need to get the structure right in order to do so.

Church schools are widely regarded as excellent schools, delivering high standards not only of test and examination performance but also of personal development, growth and maturity. I should like to dwell for a moment upon that aspect of education.

People are not tools to be improved and honed in order to make a contribution to a better economic performance. It is a travesty of education to see it in such terms. Each of us is an individual, unique and distinct, with personal dimensions of existence which characterise who we are and where we belong. The significance of the spiritual and moral dimensions and the framework of values in which they are set cannot be overemphasised—self-worth, self-confidence, belonging to a community, learning from mistakes, a sense of purpose and many other elements which are key in educational development and in the ability to learn.

The debate over spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is not peripheral to educational attainment and achievement but at the heart of it. Church schools, undergirded by a community of faith with a common sense of belonging and a shared belief, are able to focus on education in a wide sense, providing a framework of shared values and pastoral concern in the setting of a belief system. That is perhaps something of the secret of their success. In the Churches, we are broadly satisfied with the developing system for monitoring the delivery of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and we wish to continue emphasising the supreme significance of this whole area of education.

Mention of the significance of the individual leads me on to the importance of measuring achievement against potential. To measure achievement in absolute terms and to be dominated by the tyranny of the league tables may well lead a school to exclude subtly, by one means or another, those whose performance may affect such tables. I am thinking here, for instance, of those with special educational needs—I look forward very much to the contributions from the Liberal Democrat Bench on this theme—and those with behavioural difficulties. They need as much attention as any youngster, and responsibility to them should not be abdicated for the sake of a better position in the tables. The majority of schools, voluntary and county, resist this temptation, but we need to be reminded of the importance of this issue.

I indicated earlier that the Churches have a number of continuing concerns. I should like briefly to mention them. The concern mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is not one that we share with the same intensity as she expressed. I refer to the matter of the 14-day period for consultation with the local education authority on the appointment of staff to aided schools. When it was a consultation that had to take place after the meeting of the appointing committee, it was a much more difficult issue, requiring a 14-day delay before a member of staff or a head could be appointed. Now that it takes place at the shortlisting stage rather than at the appointment stage it causes fewer difficulties for the Churches.

However, a number of important concerns do remain, not least the Human Rights Bill and its consequences for voluntary, and particularly aided, schools. The Human Rights Bill embodies in British legislation the European Convention on Human Rights. The Churches, as I made clear in the debates on the Bill, support its thrust but we are concerned that its provisions may work to the detriment of the Churches. Among these issues are those relating to Church schools. This matter was brought up at the Report and Third Reading stages of the Human Rights Bill. During those stages the Lord Chancellor said that it was entirely right that a governing body should appoint or dismiss a senior staff member of a school whose beliefs or way of life were not appropriate to the school concerned. An amendment embodying a similar provision was passed in your Lordships' House at Third Reading.

I saw the Home Secretary over this issue and he invited me to write to him so that he could discuss whether this Bill—the School Standards and Framework Bill—was an appropriate place for some of the safeguards which your Lordships inserted into the Human Rights Bill. I have written in response to his invitation. I should like to ask the Minister whether she is in a position to comment on whether such safeguards are intended in this Bill.

Let me briefly mention a number of other issues. First, on the issue of class sizes, the Churches support this policy but we do have concerns about the impact both upon schools and upon children. This issue is giving cause for great concern among heads and governors. There are practical issues of implementation and there are uncertainties in relation to funding. It is of great importance that these issues should be quickly resolved. Many Church schools serve an identified area or community. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has already said, what will happen to the 31st child in such schools? We need urgently to have answers to the questions that we are raising.

There is an issue over the part of the Bill relating to schools that are causing concern. At the present moment, under existing legislation, the Secretary of State has power to appoint an education association to run a failing school. That power originates in the 1993 Act. At that time we were able to secure two safeguards for Church schools: first, where an education association was to be appointed to conduct a Church school, the appropriate diocesan authority was to be consulted; secondly, where the school in question was a voluntary school, at least one member of the education association was to have experience of voluntary schools.

The power to appoint an education association is to be replaced by the power of the Secretary of State, in extreme circumstances, to appoint additional governors. In the case of a Church school, these governors will be additional to the existing governors, and that includes the foundation governors. Since the foundation governors are already present, we do not press for the Secretary of State's additional governors to include people with voluntary school experience. However, it has to be remembered that if additional governors were appointed by the Secretary of State to an aided school, the foundation majority would be lost. Moreover, where the Secretary of State exercises this power to appoint additional governors, the diocesan authority's power to appoint additional governors is lost. In the circumstances, in order to maintain the status quo, we would wish to see on the face of the Bill a requirement that the Secretary of State should consult the appropriate diocesan authority before appointing additional governors for a Church aided school.

We have continuing concerns in the area of the change of school category. We remain concerned about the proper level of diocesan or Church authority involvement in decisions of schools to change category. We are also concerned about similar involvement in changes within a category. With the new category of voluntary now proposed, changes from controlled to aided or aided to controlled would be within a category. But we would wish to be clear on what level of diocesan involvement there is to be in decisions to move within a category.

The Bill will produce a new regime on grant funding for aided schools and also on the recovery of state-funded assets when school sites are sold. The Churches accept the principle of recycling embodied in this part of the Bill but we have concerns about the details of such arrangements and will be raising those concerns in Committee.

Mention has already been made of school organisation committees. There will be a number of groups on the committees. Our understanding is that each of those groups will have a single vote. So the Church of England group will have a single vote on the Committee and the Catholic Church group will have a single vote. Decisions, therefore, are required to be unanimous. That means that the Churches have virtually a veto in that their vote is required to secure that unanimous decision; otherwise the matter is referred to the adjudicator.

It was on this understanding of the voting procedure that we accepted the concept of the school organisation committee in principle. However, we are concerned that the voting requirements are to be left to regulations. While we can accept the Government's assurance that regulations will make the provisions which the Government say they will, the Churches' position is nevertheless vulnerable because, whatever the first regulations provide, they can always be changed in the future if perhaps the rights of the Churches are found by some to be inconvenient. We look, therefore, for these voting requirements to be on the face of the Bill and not left to regulation.

There is an issue, perhaps a rather surprising one, in relation to collective worship. Since the Education Reform Act 1988 all schools are required to have an act of collective worship, and in county schools this must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character unless a SACRE has determined otherwise. Surprisingly, in voluntary schools there is no such requirement. This gap is perpetuated in the Bill. In community schools and in foundation schools without a religious character, the worship must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character. In voluntary schools and foundation schools with a religious character, the Bill, as previous Bills, is silent as to the character of their collective worship.

It may be that this is prescribed by the school's trust deed, but that is not always so. The trust deeds of Church of England schools do not invariably contain express provision for collective worship. There is therefore an anomaly here that secular schools will be required to have a broadly Christian collective worship but schools with a Christian religious character will not. For that reason we shall be seeking provisions in the Bill so that collective worship for schools with a religious character is clearly stated to be collective worship which is in accordance with that character. That will not force unwelcome changes on Church schools in multicultural areas; it will merely endorse and validate the existing practices in Church schools throughout the country for which at present it is impossible to point to any clear statutory justification.

I have indicated the areas of concern and we shall be returning to them at Committee stage. I believe that this Bill is vastly improved on its original proposed form. I look forward to working in your Lordships' House to improve it yet further.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, I rise with much diffidence and anxiety, but reassured by your kind words of greeting for which I give my thanks. I am conscious that it is the tradition of the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, said, for a maiden speech to be brief and non-controversial. I am delighted to be able to speak briefly, but to be non-controversial in education will challenge all the expertise that I developed in 33 years as a civil servant when one's proud aspiration—if one was persuaded from one's cupboard to speak—was then to sit down in the sure knowledge that one had said absolutely nothing of any significance whatever.

While I am new to this game, I have to confess that my apprenticeship goes back 40 years to when, on one occasion in 1958, I sat in the Officials Box as a private secretary to Lord Mills, the Minister of Power. He was dealing with the Committee stage of the Opencast Coal Bill. He came to a particular amendment and delivered himself of the very full and expert brief kindly provided by his officials. He thankfully sat down. Lord Ridley, who was well known to be expert on that Bill—whereas it was equally well known that Lord Mills was not—thanked Lord Mills for his long speech, but asked for clarification and amplification. Then followed one of the most agonising ages of my life. Lord Mills rose to his feet to respond. He looked anxiously at the long text that he had been given. I sat there totally unable to help. The silence grew and grew. Then inspiration descended on Lord Mills. He looked Lord Ridley in the face and said, "I thought I had made myself perfectly clear". He said a few more words and sat down and thus outfaced Lord Ridley, thanking him most courteously for what he had said and promising to read Hansard.

That experience taught me much of the character of this House: its courtesy, kindliness and understanding and that a Minister, however gifted—of course, I know from my Civil Service years that all Ministers are outstandingly able and gifted—occasionally needs a little time for reflection. That is the point I shall return to at the conclusion of my remarks.

Mindful of the need to be non-controversial, I carefully scripted my speech last week only to realise to my horror yesterday, reading the evening papers, that the subject I had chosen was leading to industrial action. I found myself looking at my notes this morning in much the same spirit as Lord Mills and thinking what on earth shall I do? I came to the conclusion that perhaps at small risk I might address one or two points in the Bill.

On more than one occasion I have quoted the remarks made by Disraeli about 125 years ago that the future of the people of this country rests in the eduction of the people of this country. We must all applaud a Bill whose purpose is to raise standards. I have spent the past few years arguing that our standards must match the best in the world.

But when I say that, I have a particular concern that in raising standards we should have regard in particular for that 20 per cent. who succeed least in our educational system. As the investment one has in one's education becomes more and more important to one's life, the danger is that, unless we are careful, we shall have a fractured society in which we have 20 per cent. who have lost out as a result of our inability to serve them well in their years of compulsory schooling.

As I read the Bill it struck me that there are three particular sections which appeal to me in that context. The first is its concern in Chapter I with class sizes in the first years of schooling, for it is in those early years that the battle for the beginnings of mastery in the basics of literacy begin to be won or lost. If good progress is not made in those early years the child is handicapped and tends to retrogress in relation to his or her peers because of the gap between him and them in the ability to master our national language. More time with the teacher will be particularly valuable to those children.

Linked to that are Clauses 103 and 104 which are about home-parent agreements. I rank the involvement of parents in the education of their children, in partnership with the school, as being outstandingly important. Perhaps the greatest gift that a parent has to give to a child, apart from parental love in these years, is to be constructively, patiently, lovingly engaged in supporting the school in the education of the child. So I welcome the concept of bringing parents into that kind of relationship with home-school agreements. Paper is fine; but what matters much more is the action of people. I admire so much those head teachers and teachers who go "on the knocker" after school to meet parents and to ensure that they are involved with the teachers in the education of the children.

My third and last reference to the Bill relates, I believe, to Clauses 105 and 106, which give a broadening of opportunities for 14 to 16 year-olds which is so important. Those clauses are concerned with work experience which is valuable to all, giving in controlled, thought-through circumstances an opportunity for 14 to 16 year-olds to take part of their education in a further education college. I have in mind here those young people who have felt that the normal school education had nothing for them. They had, as it were, switched out. They were destined to leave at 16 with the conclusion that education was not for them. What a disaster for their lives!

These openings of opportunities at 14 to 16 years of age give a second chance to kindle interest and enthusiasm and the realisation that the basics of formal education are relevant to the business and enjoyment of life. When I was working in the educational world of schools, I remember contending for the introduction of a version of that impossibly named GNVQ for children between 14 and 16 years of age. I was rather disappointed that the last government would not go with me in the rapid introduction of that opportunity for 14 to 16 year-olds in order to help these young people and to rescue them. I concede that I was wrong to be in haste. They were right to say, "We must pilot this carefully. We must get it right before it is launched". I now believe that with the opening up of the opportunity with FE colleges who can offer the skills which are so essential if this initiative is to succeed, particularly in areas such as engineering and manufacturing, we can now move forward with confidence. They are the three points that I want to make to the noble Baroness in relation to those who are most in need of our support.

From my old trade as a civil servant perhaps I may presume to offer a word of counsel. We should take a little time to get it right. We have a history of being, understandably, in haste but getting it wrong. I believe that spending a little time on getting the procedures right will greatly benefit this well-intentioned Bill.

4.40 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on his admirable maiden speech. He comes to this House with wide experience in the Civil Service, industry and education. We are all very conscious that at the time of the passage through this House of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill his name was constantly bandied about. His report has been constantly referred to and has been read with admiration by all those who follow educational matters. It is a particular pleasure to hear him today. We look forward to hearing him on many occasions. I should like to put to him one question. When I read his entry in Who's Who I was interested to note that his recreations included car boot sales. I was not quite sure whether his interest was as a buyer or seller. He may wish to have a conversation with a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House, whose personal living arrangements have been much in the news, as to whether he might offer him a little advice as a result of his hobbies.

I also offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, to whom I also listened with great admiration. I often read his articles in the newspapers and magazines with very great pleasure. I assure him that I did not believe his speech, which was splendid, to be written either by Mr. Mandelson or Mr. Campbell.

We have before us today a Bill of immense length and complexity. It is almost impossible to master the whole of it unless one has an army of research assistants, which I do not, let alone read and digest all of the documents that go with it. The best that one can do in a Second Reading speech is to try to draw out some of the principles of the Bill—or should I say prejudices?—which lie behind it. We can expect a long and contentious Committee stage as we attempt to examine the Bill in detail—and examine it we must. Like so much of what the Government have produced by way of legislation, many of the important details have been left out or remain uncertain. This kind of policy is now known in Mandelsonspeak as transparency.

The noble Baroness has introduced the Bill this afternoon. I congratulate her on covering so much of it in 25 minutes. As is the custom of this House, I thank her for it. We are very pleased to see her here. Only last week we were all touched to see her parading as Cool Britannia and explaining to us that it was from 1st May that the country had become innovative, excellent at engineering and high tech and able to develop everything that the 21st century and beyond would require. That is a tremendous achievement in 11 months. As she read her speech this afternoon I had the feeling that she also believed that the education system had started on 1st May and would transform everything, if it had not already succeeded in doing so in those 11 months. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Tope, echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, which was a classic example of the Labour/Liberal Democrat pact on so many matters. That was also well illustrated in some of the extraordinary episodes during the proceedings on the Teaching and Higher Education Bill that has just passed through this House. I agree with my noble friend Lady Blatch that this is not new Labour but in reality old Labour. We shall see as it proceeds.

I turn to the constitutional issues raised by the Bill. There are at least 53 sets of regulations under the Bill which are still to be tabled. They leave out a great deal of what we have to discuss. I was interested to hear the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon on this matter. I have no doubt that others will make similar comments. During the passage of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill noble Lords found it difficult to discuss much of the Bill because it was simply a skeleton. At times the debate descended into almost a farce. I wonder if we shall see the same thing today.

My noble friend Lady Blatch set out so clearly the problems raised by education action zones. I understand that decisions on these must be taken by April. One wonders whether there is any point in debating them at all in your Lordships' House or whether all of the decisions have already been taken and noble Lords are just here as a rubber stamp. I believe that education action zones are one of the more interesting and important developments in the Bill. They are to do with standards. It would be a very unhappy course of events if our remarks were to be of no account at all because all of the important decisions had already been taken. For a House, whose principal function is to revise Bills, to be left out in this way is a constitutional insult.

The Bill is entitled "Standards and Framework". I agree with other speakers that there is considerably more about framework than standards, although exactly the opposite was promised in the White Paper Excellence in Schools. I am driven to the conclusion that, just as the Labour Party believed for very many years that it could solve all the economic problems of the United Kingdom by a great state plan, it now believes that by this Bill it can solve all of the educational problems by a huge plan all laid out in embarrassing complexity.

We have seen one change after another from the Labour Party. It was entirely opposed to the tripartite system. It was a great believer in comprehensive schools which were brought in with very little experience of them and which it now claims have failed entirely. It now intends to go for something else: community schools, foundation schools and voluntary schools. That will lead to further upheaval in the education service. I would have thought that that was the last thing that it needed.

In this framework there are 66 powers for local education authorities and 77 powers for the Secretary of State. That is a good deal to put on poor teachers who at the end of the road are responsible for delivering what takes place in schools. I am hardly surprised that some threaten to strike. Like my noble friend Lady Blatch, I have never supported teachers who strike, but I understand their exhaustion at the volume of regulations to which they are subjected.

I cannot resist mentioning that the long arm of the Secretary of State has reached down into school meals and school lunches in Clause 107. I shall be delighted to see what comes out of this. I offer a piece of free advice. When the school meals service reaches the proper nutritional standards Ministers should remember the old proverb that one can take a horse to water but cannot make it drink. The truth of the matter is that governments can only provide the circumstances in which high standards can be achieved. All those who take an interest in educational matters know perfectly well that high standards depend more than anything else on the head of the school and the standards that he or she sets, the expectations that he or she determines for the pupils, the leadership that he or she gives to the staff and the co-operation that he or she can inculcate in parents. No exhortations, plans, or anything else, are a substitute for those basic facts.

As we know, good schools are consumer-led. Parents identify with them, as of course we know the Prime Minister and Mrs. Harman have done. Perhaps I may offer a word about school governors. They have an important role to play. I have been a governor of independent schools and maintained schools: of a grammar school and of a secondary modern school. There is much that a governor can and should do. If one has a had head teacher it is difficult for any governor to put right the difficulties that a school faces. It is no use pretending that sending in a few new governors will put the school right. Schools do not work in that way.

If the Government really want high standards—I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, and accept that they would like to see high standards—we need to look at their track record. In the Teaching and Higher Education Bill they have signalled the end of Oxbridge as internationally renowned universities. The report in The Times of yesterday merely confirms the fears we all had during the passage of that Bill.

The Government have already disposed of the assisted places scheme which meant so much to a number of poor children who benefited from independent schools. I think today of a girl who has just got a place at Oxford, who would unquestionably have failed to get anywhere had she been left in the area in which she lived.

The Bill signals—it is no use dressing schools up in another name—the ending of grant-maintained schools, regarded, of course, as good enough for the Prime Minister's children, and I am not surprised. Although they represent only 6 per cent. of all schools in England and Wales they amounted to 50 per cent. of the top 100 schools in the A-levels list. They have increased spending on additional staff, books and equipment.

I have been honoured to be a patron of a grant-maintained school in Lambeth called St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Nearly 90 per cent. of its pupils come from the ethnic minorities. It went grant-maintained in 1993. It has no sixth form. It takes pupils up to GCSE. It has raised its standards. In 1993 only 19 per cent. of pupils achieved A to C grades. But since then, despite difficult circumstances, it has raised its standards and the percentage of pupils achieving those grades has risen to 35 per cent.

To go to that school is to be inspired. It has a wonderful head; a sense of purpose and order; and there is pride in being at the school. What is wrong with that? It is good. Why should we apologise for grant-maintained schools? The Minister read out the letter from the grant-maintained schools organisation that I have also received. I sometimes wonder what lies behind such things. I know, as many of us know, that when ballots were being held for schools to go grant-maintained, teachers, schools and parents were subjected to an endless stream of abuse, and propaganda against the exercise. I suspect that they are being subjected in a similar way now that the Bill is before us.

I make no apology for the success of the grant-maintained schools. I think only of the children who attend them, and the upheaval that the Bill will cause them. They will lose their independence. They will have LEA-appointed governors. There will be restrictions on their admissions criteria, and their financial autonomy is ended. It is easy to talk about co-operation: we all want to see it. It is a pity that we did not see a bit more co-operation when we were in government and Labour controlled many local authorities. There was not much co-operation then from anyone in respect of anything that they did not want.

Let us turn to the grammar schools. They will be subject to ballots. We do not know how the ballots will work. I must read the Minister's speech carefully because it was complicated and difficult to follow. Apparently 20 per cent. of parents will trigger a ballot, but we do not know who will be entitled to vote, what will be the circumstances of the voting, and who will monitor it.

One thing of which we can be sure—bad as it will be for the pupils—the staff will be the ones who will be judged. Just imagine being subject to a vote on whether one's school has done well enough. What would be one's first thought? "I don't think I am going to stay in this school much longer. Not only will there be a vote this year, I may be subject to a vote in five years' time". That will result in total uncertainty for the pupils and for the staff. I am at a loss to understand how that is expected to raise standards. I hope that someone will explain it during our debates. It is the most unpleasant way of trying to finish off the 161 remaining grammar schools.

I remember the ending of the direct grant schools. Everyone on the Labour Benches thought what a good idea that was. But it seemed to convert them all into independent schools, and Labour was very annoyed about that. Perhaps the same thing will happen with the grammar schools. I do not know. I know from the point of view of the children who, after all, should be our first and only concern in all this—let alone the staff—that it is a very bad policy.

We shall all enjoy the debates on aptitude and ability. It reminds me of one of the essays that I was asked to write when I was an undergraduate: "What is the difference between aptitude and ability? Discuss". I feel that we may have a long and interesting debate on that subject, but perhaps the Government have the answer to that question. It will be interesting to hear it.

I shall deal briefly with Church schools. I support what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon said about the Human Rights Bill. That is an important matter. It interlocks with this Bill. I shall be interested to hear what amendments the Government will come forward with to protect the Church schools from the effects of that piece of legislation.

Church schools, too, are to change their status. I am astonished by the complicated arrangements which, at the end of the day, will mean that someone called the adjudicator—it is difficult to find out how he or she will be chosen; for what length of time they will be in office; what their credentials will be—will determine all these difficult issues such as the Church schools' admission policies about which parents worry so much. No doubt we can return to that point in Committee.

I should like to mention home/school agreements, with which I agree; the problem of exclusions; and the whole issue of nursery schools, but time does not allow. I shall conclude, because the right reverend Prelate mentioned the point, with the issue of religion in schools. Like many people, I was concerned by the reported remarks of Michael Barker, who I understand is regarded as the Government's leading expert thinker on this issue, suggesting that global citizenship might replace religious values in schools. I hope that that is not the case. Many of us believe that spiritual and religious values have a real place in the education of every child. I shall return with amendments on that issue in Committee.

This is an unfortunate piece of legislation. It will not raise standards. It will unsettle thousands of children, to say nothing of the teachers. It is so far removed from the reality on the ground that it is difficult to bridge the gap. I say those words, not in anger but in sorrow. I have been around this track before, and no doubt we shall go around this track again. There was a moment when we might have reached agreement on education policy. That moment is not now. This is not a good Bill and I look forward to the Committee stage when I shall challenge the Government on some of its detail.

5 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, today's debate has been enhanced by the two excellent maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that the characteristics of this House are courtesy and kindness. His speech indicated that he would add not only to that but to its wit, humour and wisdom. My noble friend Lord Hattersley, in his typically rumbustious, untypically short, but typically very-much-to-the-point speech, underlined his reputation for being a speaker we do not wish to miss. We look forward to hearing both noble Lords on many occasions.

Unlike the two noble Baronesses opposite, I welcome the Bill. It is only one of several measures—some legislative, some administrative and some financial—which underpin the Government's claim to put education at the head of their priorities. As was said by the right reverend Prelate, it is an important Bill, probably one of the most important for many years. For me, it is particularly important because it sets the framework for an education system which allows children to begin with nursery and progress through primary, secondary and then further and higher education.

Previously, the school system failed the needs of the nation. There is no legitimate reason why British school children should do less well than their peer groups in other countries. I am sure that they are not innately less intelligent. On the whole, however, British children have not performed as well as those peer groups. Fewer have left school with qualifications and the drop-out of those proceeding to further and higher education has been greater. Surely, that must have something to do with the structure of the system as well as the schools themselves. I hope that the Bill will redress that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made much of the fact that the Bill deals with structures. It dealt more with structures than standards, she said. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the right reverend Prelate also referred to structures. Like my noble friend Lord Hattersley, I believe that structures are very important and inseparable from standards. I hope that the structures now being put in place will be a great help in raising standards throughout the system. They should certainly break down the barriers between systems, particularly between the grammar schools and other schools. We have tried previously to establish parity of esteem; I hope that this time we will succeed.

The Bill is complicated. In that respect, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, although there was little else in her speech with which I agreed. It is not possible to deal with all its clauses today and therefore I shall pick out only one or two for comment. It is important to include nursery education and I welcome that. Nursery education has not been given the required attention, yet research shows just how important early learning is to future progress. I therefore welcome that part of the Bill. No doubt as we proceed through the various stages we shall need to look closely to ensure that enough is being done. However, that part of the Bill, the guidance on the early years, published last year, and money made available in the Budget are to be welcomed.

The second important area on which I wish to comment is the concentration on standards. LEAs and the schools have a duty placed on them to improve standards. I welcome the enhanced role given to local education authorities. I know that that may not be a universal reaction across the House, but I believe that it is important. It is especially important when a clear role of improving standards and providing a framework has been given to LEAs, together with the responsibility to provide a three-year rolling development plan.

While schools retain a large amount of autonomy, surely it is right for local education authorities to have an overall strategic approach to all the schools in their area. I welcome the idea of the rolling programme, which must take into account not only standards, targets and other school issues, but also wider issues which impinge on educational demands. I refer to issues such as demographic, ethnic and changing economic and social factors which are important in the planning of education provision. Balancing the roles of the LEAs and the schools is crucial if the system is to be effective.

On first reading the Bill I thought that it was grudging in the scope that it gave to LEAs. However, the draft code of practice on LEA/school relations clarifies what the balance will be. As we look closely at the provisions we shall have to take into account the draft code of practice.

There are bound to be tensions in many areas—for example, admissions—which need a co-ordinated policy across the LEAs. Admission policy should not be looked at separately from the planning of places. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, commented on that issue. It appears that a number of separate bodies will deal with related problems and I wish to ask my noble friend whether that is necessary.

Furthermore, there are likely to be tensions in respect of exclusions. They affect not only the school involved, but also other schools in the area which might be expected to take in the excluded children. I believe that all noble Lords are concerned about the growing number of exclusions. I understand that the latest DfEE statistics show that in 1995ߝ96 the number of permanent exclusions was 12,500 from primary schools and special schools in England, an 18 per cent. increase on the previous year. That is very important and something which we must take great care to get right. But surely it is an area where the LEA must have a role above that of an adviser. Again, I ask my noble friend whether she feels it appropriate at this time to remove the LEAs' right to overturn exclusions. That is very much part of their strategic role.

Very much welcomed on this side of the House, although I accept not on the other, is the ending of the assisted places scheme and the use of the money to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds. Smaller classes have a central contribution to make in raising standards. As my noble friend said, surely it is right for money to be spent on the many and not just the few. I believe that spending money in that way on five, six and seven year-olds will be much more beneficial in raising standards across the board.

This brings me to the whole question of admissions and parental choice. There should be a genuine choice for parents to select the school for their children. At present, in many areas, it is more like schools selecting their pupils than parents selecting the school. However, we must recognise that it is difficult to match the choice with the number of school places in the right schools at the same time. It requires very careful planning to balance the two.

However, I am glad that for the five, six and seven year-olds, for the primary schools, there will be no conflict between parental choice and providing a place. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is shaking her head. She asked what would happen to the 31st child of a village school. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon also raised that point, as did other noble Lords. I draw their attention to the point made by the Minister responsible for school standards, Stephen Byers, in the Standing Committee on the Bill in another place on 19th February, when he said that by September 2001 no child will be in a class of more than 30 pupils and where possible children will be in their preferred schools. In rural schools, he added, extra money will be provided for a new teacher so that a child can attend the local school in a class of 30 or fewer. He also said that extra teachers and some additional capital resources will be concentrated on schools which are popular with parents so that more children can attend those schools but in smaller classes.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Is the noble Baroness saying that the Minister in another place has said that, for example, in my own village, which has a three-class school, for the 31st child in the infant/junior age-range class the school will receive another teacher for one child?

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, my noble friend has said that funds will be available to appoint additional teachers so that no child shall be in a class of more than 30. That does not necessarily mean that it will be 30 and one child. There may be other divisions. The important point is that that commitment has been given by the Government and funding will be made available to ensure that the promise is fulfilled.

On the broader issue of parental choice, it is often a matter of perceptions about schools. If a selective grammar school is in the area, it has been the perception in the past that that must be a better school. I am glad that that will now no longer be true because selection by ability is to be abolished by the Bill. I believe that that is a very important reform.

There are many aspects of the Bill which time does not permit us to comment on. We must wait until later stages of the Bill to examine in some detail the underlying principles of the various provisions. But I underline that this is an important Bill. It is an important step forward in improving standards and I hope that it will meet the expectations of parents who well deserve to have those expectations met.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, it would be presumptuous for someone who is such a new Member of your Lordships' House to say more about the two excellent maiden speeches that we have heard than that I enjoyed them as much as any of your Lordships, and that was a very great deal indeed.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, that this is an important Bill. It is an enormous Bill. Nevertheless, it still leaves a huge amount to be revealed in the form of regulations which will, sooner or later, be vouchsafed to us. Somebody like myself can focus only upon one aspect in a Second Reading speech. I have very little difficulty in choosing that aspect. I wish to concentrate upon the effect which this Bill has upon grammar schools and grant-maintained schools.

My noble friend Lady Young spoke of the importance of dealing with the reality of matters on the ground. I trouble your Lordships this evening only because I come from the county of Kent. That is a county finer in its cricketing prowess and tradition than Yorkshire. We have another claim to distinction. In 1973, we were successful in defeating the best—or more accurately the worst—efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who was then Secretary of State for Education. She sought to outlaw grammar schools. We hung on to our grammar schools because we had a very vigorous Conservative education authority in Maidstone. In 1974, we were left with them and we now have some 23 left in the county, of which four were in my former constituency, which I had the honour to represent for 23 years.

Those grammar schools in my constituency and, indeed, throughout the whole county, are excellent. They are supported passionately, and not only by those who have benefited or expect to benefit from them but much more widely. We have 88 grant-maintained schools, of which 59 are secondary schools.

Yet the effect of the Bill is to provide for the ultimate demise, or at least to facilitate the ultimate demise, of the grammar schools and to signal the imminent demise of the grant-maintained schools. I believe that that is deeply misguided and will not enhance the standards of eduction or the teaching structures of our country.

I say that as someone who has always sympathised with the argument that through creaming off the best you affect prejudicially those non-selective schools which are left with the remainder. I have always had sympathy with that argument. If I were a teacher in a non-selective secondary school, I should have been tempted at least to feel disappointed by that and perhaps even bitter. But, after thinking about the matter a good deal, I have reached the conclusion that the force of that argument is not nearly so great in terms of overall educational policy for our country as is generally claimed for it by its proponents.

I should like to detain the House a little by resorting to a local illustration. It is local in the sense that it is local to my former constituency and to my home. The small town of Cranbrook in the Weald of Kent has two maintained secondary schools—one at each end of the town. Cranbrook School is a selective grammar school and Angley School is a non-selective school, except for the fact that 15 per cent. of its vacancies at year seven are now selectively offered.

No one has ever been turned down as an applicant for Angley School and certainly, as I understand it, no one will he turned down in the forthcoming year. So here is a microcosm, your Lordships may think, which might give rise to the kind of adverse situation which is classically put forward by those who object to selection and claim that selective schools cannot co-exist with non-selective schools in the maintained sector without disadvantage to the latter.

I am no expert on the matter. That is why I am slightly diffident about appearing so high on today's list of speakers. Indeed, I have been placed too soon after distinguished experts. However, as a friend and a neighbour of both those schools, I can see that the excellence of teaching at Cranbrook School—a selective grammar school—is now matched by the excellence of teaching at Angley School. I say "now matched" because, since Angley became grant maintained in 1992, it has formed its sixth form, it now sends its children to universities and it has just had what can only be described as an outstandingly successful report from Ofsted.

Indeed, Ofsted found that 95 per cent. of Angley's lessons are more than satisfactory or satisfactory which, as I understand it, is much higher than the average. Moreover, its GCSE success rates are rising and at a rate which is significantly higher than the national average. The report also says that parents' pride in the school is well justified by the facts and that a rigorous culture of competition developing pupils' full potential is well established. The truth of the matter is that those two schools now co-exist and compete quite happily together, without, I believe, resentment or jealousy.

None of those things happened until Angley became grant maintained. They did not happen when the school was wholly under the control of the authority at County Hall, enlightened though that authority was. They happened because inspiring leadership at head teacher level—and it must be said at governor level—has been allowed its head, and given its chance. It seems to me that the Bill puts that freedom and independence immediately and dangerously at risk.

It is easy to see who has benefited from that change. Those who have benefited are, first and foremost, the children of Cranbrook and those in the surrounding villages in its catchment area. I even venture to suggest that Cranbrook School has benefited from the competition, which is now increasing, from its neighbour at the other end of the town. However, I have a question for the Minister who is to reply to the debate; namely, if those are the people who have benefited, who has suffered from this co-existence of different schools?

Our nearest maintained school is eight miles away in one direction. It just happens to be a grant-maintained school. Indeed, in another direction, and also eight miles away, there happens to be a grant-maintained school; and, in a third direction, there is yet another grant-maintained school which is also about eight miles away. They are all doing very well. They cannot be said to have suffered. I ask the representative of the Government who wish to make this change: who has suffered in that instance? What is the justification for the proposed changes?

I regret to say that I believe the effect of the Bill in this context will be the slow demise of grammar schools and the meting out of more summary execution to those which are grant maintained. I have great difficulty in understanding the argument against grant-maintained status. I am going by what was said by the Prime Minister before he became Prime Minister and, indeed, by other people who are members of what is now the Government. That argument seems to be based on the idea that it is unfair to those who choose not to throw off the bureaucratic yoke because they will not keep up thereafter with those who have got rid of it. That seems to me to bring into our schools the notion that no school should advance faster than the slowest, even when the slowest have freely chosen not to go faster. The education of our children should not be governed by the principles of a wartime convoy. I believe that our education ought to be a voyage of discovery and not an exercise in keeping safely together.

I realise that it may seem churlish to deal with an enormous and undoubtedly well-intentioned Bill by focusing upon one sector with which I strongly disagree. However, that is all that is open to one in these circumstances. In their search for higher educational standards in the context that I have identified, I regret to say that the Government have shown neither aptitude nor, if they wish to take refuge in a hitherto undefined distinction, have they shown ability.

5.25 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, before I begin my speech, I must apologise to the Minister for inadvertently missing part of her introductory remarks. I am really sorry for having been discourteous to her in that respect. Like other speakers, I should like to express my pleasure at hearing two wonderful maiden speeches. They were not perhaps controversial, but no one could accuse those maiden speakers of not being trenchant.

I am tempted to tangle with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who never holds back from being controversial when she feels strongly about something. However, I shall try to be brief because, rather like the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, I feel that I have been placed far too high on the speakers' list today, full as it is of experts. Therefore, I shall do as my noble friend indicated when giving a general welcome to the Bill: I shall concentrate on the effect of the Bill on education for pupils with special educational needs. I should like to make it clear that the term "special needs" covers a very wide range of problems affecting children. But what I am about to say refers mainly to those students who, for whatever reason, are likely to be low achievers, including those with learning difficulties. Indeed, when I look at the list of speakers, I see that there are other noble Lords who will probably address their remarks to some of the problems of these children.

The whole tenor of the Bill is claimed to be improving standards and measuring performance. But that immediately causes some concern to the parents of children with special needs. There is often a very real difficulty in measuring the progress of those special needs children who progress more slowly, and not so far, as children with average or above-average capabilities. Yet almost all can make some progress. The academic or vocational achievements which demonstrate that progress are of great importance to less gifted pupils; indeed, they are of greater importance to them than their achievements are to those who are more gifted.

Surely it must be the duty of schools and local education authorities to encourage the progress of less able students and those with learning difficulties, just as much as that of their more able contemporaries. Yet, in much of this Bill, there is little specific mention of the needs of the less able and little written provision for consulting the relevant voluntary organisations and groups which represent their interests.

Can the Minister reassure the House that the definition of "children" in Clause 6 of the Bill, which deals with education development plans and which, like many people, I believe is one of the most important clauses in the legislation, specifically includes children with special educational needs? Further, would it be the expectation of the Government that the LEAs should consult special educational needs groups under subsection (6)(c) of that clause?

A more specific worry is associated with the proposal to allow some special schools to have foundation status, particularly as it seems to differ from the Government's recent expressions of intent. The fear has been expressed that as the funds for foundation schools may be top-sliced from the total funding available, special schools which do not have foundation status, and indeed services for children with special needs in mainstream schools, may be relatively less well funded. The Minister in her opening speech reminded us that foundation schools are to be equally funded with others. Can she reassure us that the top-slicing effect will be nullified as a result?

In general, funding for pupils with special needs has become a contentious matter in recent years. Have the Government any specific proposals in the context of this Bill, or of the recent Budget, for better funding directed particularly towards special needs pupils?

I now turn to the thorny matter of admission and exclusion policies. With ever-increasing pressure on schools to achieve academic excellence, the danger has increased of schools using their admissions policies to exclude children of lower ability. Circular 6/96, which encouraged selection of up to 15 per cent. of pupils on general ability, added to these pressures. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, that selection by aptitude is difficult to distinguish from selection by ability. I am worried about the effect of either provision on the children I am discussing.

Although, in theory, it is unacceptable for schools to reject pupils because they have special needs, nevertheless there is anecdotal evidence that parents may be deliberately persuaded that certain schools would be "more suitable for your child" than others. Will the code of practice on admissions respond to the worries of concerned parents of children with special needs? It is obvious that problems with admissions are linked to difficulties with exclusions. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, referred to that matter. Here, again, there is evidence that children with special needs, and particularly those with emotional or behavioural difficulties, are being excluded more frequently. While only 2.8 per cent. of children in mainstream schools are statemented, about 18 per cent. of all those excluded have statements of special educational need. Parents are concerned that some unstatemented children are excluded who in fact have special needs which ought to be considered.

I am sure I do not need to emphasise in your Lordships' House the problems which may face such children if they are permanently excluded from mainstream schools, and the danger that vulnerable young people may drift into delinquency. Indeed, the matter touches closely on the policies of the Government to reduce social exclusion. In the Committee stage of the Bill in another place the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ms Estelle Morris, responded to the concerns of several members of the Standing Committee on this matter by referring to the work of the recently established social exclusion unit which she said is expected to further the Government's policy in this area. She indicated that further proposals on exclusions in general might follow the report of the social exclusion unit. Can the Minister give us any indication of how Government thinking on this matter is moving?

In conclusion, I do not wish to suggest that there are no good things in this Bill from the point of view of pupils with special needs. To take one example, the proposals for financial delegation offer the opportunity both for local schools to manage the special needs budget and for increased transparency about the amount delegated to schools and how it is spent. We shall listen carefully to what the Minister says in answer to the points that I have raised, and no doubt other noble Lords, will raise. We may raise further points in correspondence and, if necessary, we shall produce proposals at a later stage or assist others in doing so.

5.34 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, this is the most complex Bill it has ever been my duty to read. In many clauses there is reference to regulations to be set by the Secretary of State, so that one does not know what the final effect of these clauses will be. It is therefore extremely difficult to comment intelligently on the Bill. What effect will that have as regards transparency for the public who have to work with the subsequent legislation?

There are many intentions of this Bill which seem good—for example, the reduction in infant school class sizes. However, I would not have achieved that by phasing out assisted places which I believe have helped many children from poor families to succeed. I refer also to LEA responsibility for promoting high standards of education; the governors' and head teachers' responsibility for promoting good discipline; the responsibility for collective worship and good religious education; the provision for home/school agreements with parents; widening opportunities for pupils to undertake work experience, or to take part in further education, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned in his excellent maiden speech. I refer to the expansion of nursery education; the continuation of local management of schools with governors and head teachers responsible for the financial management of resources.

As a former chairman of a large local education authority and a governor with many years' experience of LEA schools and colleges, I felt that many of those things were already happening without the need for incorporation in a new Bill. With all these new regulations and the need for regular reports to the Department for Education and Employment, it seems to me that this Bill is a recipe for increased bureaucracy, and that at a time when all those involved in the education service have been saying, "We have had enough change. Leave us alone to make it work to the benefit of the children, and please reduce bureaucracy so that we spend less time filling in forms and more time attending to the provision of good teaching". This Bill does not seem to respond to any of those pleas.

I read in associated paperwork that the Government's policy is, that intervention should be in inverse proportion to success". However, that is not the spirit of the Bill. All the actions that are put forward seem to me to allow and even encourage increased intervention either by LEAs or the Secretary of State. I believe deeply in the principle of subsidiarity so that people nearest to the need for action take responsibility for that action whenever possible. Obviously where things go badly wrong at a local level there will be a need for intervention. However, I hope the Government will do all they can to keep that to a minimum. Often good advice from the LEA inspectorate can help inexperienced governing bodies when unusual problems arise. It is important that that is available in an atmosphere of mutual trust long before the problem becomes serious. Parents, governors, heads and staff of a school will be only too aware of the details of local problems. Those views must be given full consideration. I am glad that today the noble Baroness supported that.

At this point I wish to point to a gap in the provisions for governors of primary schools. In the past parish councils have nominated governors of those schools. Perhaps I should declare an interest as president of the Essex Association of Local Councils. I believe that parish councils are a good indicator of local opinion. Most people know one of their parish councillors personally and can take their troubles to him or her. I hope that the Government will reinstate the position of parish councillors as governors of primary schools.

I am very sorry indeed that grant-maintained schools are to be abolished. In my experience, they have been a great success locally, with governors responsibly improving facilities for the pupils of their schools. Only recently I opened a new science laboratory at a local comprehensive school, which I believe would have been very much more difficult to finance under the old LEA rules. I hope that as much freedom as possible will be given to foundation school governors, and indeed to all school governors, to spend their money in the way that the school needs most.

Most schools today provide work experience, which helps children to envisage what a career in industry or commerce might be like for them. Without practical experience, that will be very difficult for a child still at school to imagine. Work experience must, however, be properly planned, and that needs careful liaison between the school and local industry and commerce so that pupils carry out worthwhile tasks and are not used as dogsbodies, which might put them off for good. Linked courses with further education, which again have existed for some time, are also very important to enable pupils to use expensive equipment not available in schools to acquire new skills and understand how electronics can remove drudgery at work today. Both these types of valuable experience need careful local liaison before being put into action, but I wish them well, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.

As might be imagined, I very much regret that the question of the existence of grammar schools has again been raised. They exist to stretch very able pupils, and their staffs have that particular matching expertise so that, in my experience, they are very successful. In Essex, where I was some years ago chairman of the education committee, we made the 11-plus voluntary, so no child need take it whose parents do not desire it. Many parents prefer that all their children go to the same comprehensive school, so that only about 5 per cent. from among the top 10 per cent. go to the selective schools in Essex. That means that 95 per cent. of those at LEA schools go to the comprehensives, which can really deal with all abilities. Many today pursue a policy of setting by subjects in the older years, so they, too, see their pupils succeed in many different ways. It seems to me a great pity that this sense of insecurity should again be raised for grammar schools, where excellent standards—which the Government say they wish to encourage universally—are already in action.

The impact of local ballots is difficult to assess before detailed regulations are available, but I understand that schools are not to be allowed to defend themselves publicly when they are the very ones who know most about the arguments in favour of their existence. If a ballot succeeds, out they go, with no appeal, whereas, if it does not succeed, the whole question can be raised again in five years' time. Once again, the attention of the staff of the school will be diverted from teaching their pupils to concern about the school's very future existence.

I like the Bill's reference to parental preference, which I believe is a vital ingredient of a school's success, and I am glad that the Minister emphasised its importance today. I also like the subsequent right of appeal. If parents gain admission for their children to the school of their choice, they will work with the staff of the school for the future successful development of their children. Staff and parents will have shared aims. However, flexibility must be exercised in admission procedures, as my noble friend Lady Blatch emphasised, to allow that to happen wherever possible and also to allow whole families to go to the same school where the parents wish that to happen. These kinds of arrangements engender mutual trust and loyalty, which is fundamental to good, broad education for pupils. For the same reason, I am strongly in favour of the home/school agreements in the Bill, laying down the school's aims and values and the shared responsibilities of school and parents in pursuing those aims throughout the child's school life. I like the idea of the pupils themselves sharing those responsibilities, too. I am appalled, though, that there seems to be no provision for all parents to sign these agreements. Every teacher knows that the presence of just two or three disruptive pupils in a class, if not properly controlled, can ruin the education of the rest of that class. Often those are the very pupils whose parents have not bothered to sign the agreement or who cannot be persuaded to do so. Surely those agreements should be universal in the interests of all the children and should be compulsory before an excluded child is readmitted to school.

It is said that the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions. Perhaps the Government's intentions in formulating the Bill were good. Much of it is worthwhile, but too much is difficult to understand, is overburdened with regulations and will take teachers' attention away from the education of their pupils, surely their most important task. Where does that lead, in view of the construction of this Bill?

5.45 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in welcoming so much that is in the Bill. There is the commitment to reduce class sizes coupled with providing the requisite funds; there is the commitment to high standards and the placing of a specific duty on LEAs to promote them. More generally, the LEAs are given a bigger role to play—perhaps not as much as they had two decades ago, and different in kind, but highly welcome nonetheless. In that regard, I join with other noble Lords in saying that a statutorily based education development plan is much to be welcomed. I must add, however, that the current obsession with statistical data is mystifying. Clearly we must measure where we can. However, much, if not most, of what we value in education can be observed but not measured. Equally, performance can be adapted to achieving what can be measured in schools—notably tests and exam results—without doing anything of great educative value. I know that my noble friend is on record as agreeing with that. It would be excellent if she could make the point to Ofsted.

I, for one, continue to see local authorities as centres of democratic legitimacy—no less so than is the House of Commons. In that connection, although I can see the case for them, I hope my noble friend can reassure your Lordships that education action zones will not weaken democratic accountability. I must add that the history of this century shows that local education authorities have been the originators of the best new developments in schools in the same way that central government, and nowadays Ofsted, have not. I agree that we must ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to deal with so-called failing governing bodies and LEAs. But we should not be starry-eyed about the efficacy of central intervention in all cases. Since an important point of departure in the Bill is the monitoring of how well schools and LEAs are doing, it is a pity that it contains no similar provision with regard to Ofsted.

I understand that the Government want school governing bodies and LEAs to have a collaborative relationship. As I read it, that is not in the Bill itself, and it is not obvious that it will have a statutory underpinning. I hope, therefore, that we are not inventing a recipe for conflict here. More generally, we must examine in detail in Committee the composition of governing bodies and their mode of behaviour, not least the role of parents. We must look particularly at Clause 9 and the role of parents on LEAs and their relationship to parents in general.

Another problem which the Government are to be congratulated on facing is that of admissions. There is a sense in which the problem of admissions is insoluble and all we can achieve is the best of a bad job. Complete freedom of choice, certainly in the short run, is not compatible with no overcrowding. Some choices, such as restricting the distance a child has to travel, may not be possible at all. Other choices to do with desired subjects to be taught can be met only at great cost. We have wrestled with these problems for years—the previous government had to do so too—and although we must spend more time on them in Committee I doubt that we shall make much progress. What I will say in anticipation of my later remarks is that neither schools nor LEAs must be able to use admission policies as a form of covert selection.

I welcome the introduction of a code of practice and an adjudicator. Above all, each locality needs a rational admissions structure largely set by the LEA and not undermined by foundation and voluntary schools.

There are two areas fraught with difficulty which I am glad to see Ministers have not shirked. One is discipline. Power and responsibility are placed where they should be—with the governors and the head, but with a back-up lying with the LEA in the case of maintained schools. I am not sure I fully understand the new categories of school, but I am interested to know whether there are schools for which no back-up powers will exist. I am also unclear whether there are schools to which the clauses on exclusions do not apply. My general view is one with which I hope we can all agree. There can be no education without discipline and while the teacher will wish to do his or her best for all pupils there comes a point when disruption is so damaging to the interests of most pupils that exclusion, though regrettable, becomes necessary.

Another difficult subject is religion. Again, the Bill does what it can to please the various interests. I do not see it as threatening the interests of religion. It may offend the rest of us, but we are able to bear compulsory religion for the non-religious with a degree of tolerance. I, for one, have never had any difficulty with the view that all children should have read the Bible and be acquainted with the best hymns. The problem of collective worship in a school where none of the teachers is a believer remains, but again it always will.

I refer to the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I speak as an example of what used to be called old Labour but is now called Labour Gold. The noble Baroness and I joined your Lordships' House at about the same time. I know that her remarks were intended to be heartening. I have searched the Bill and I can find nothing in it to reflect what I might call democratic socialist philosophy. Perhaps the noble Baroness can find it; I shall read the Bill again.

I turn to the subject of comprehensive schools. It is not a phrase, I might say, which looms large in the Bill. I think that I have read through the whole Bill once and I do not recall the phrase "comprehensive school" appearing anywhere. The Minister's officials may have the Bill on disk. Perhaps she will ask them to do a proper search. I shall try again. A grammar school is defined, but not a comprehensive school. Perhaps in due course we should rectify that omission. It was the policy of the Conservative government to give schools an increase in the power to select by ability or aptitude. We in opposition were against that. I remain opposed. I hope that I am right that the Bill brings to an end immediately so-called partial selection by ability. Perhaps my noble friend will reassure me.

On the distinction between aptitude and ability, again I can only echo what has already been said. Both seem to involve selection. The former seems acceptable to Ministers; the latter not. As far as I can make out, one is to do with something specific and with potential; the other with something general and actual. Perhaps I may quote the Minister in another place who stated at col. 648 of the Official Report, With ability, we are talking of where a child is already. With aptitude, we are talking of a child's scope for development in the future of an innate talent in a particular area". I am not sure whether it is because I lack ability or the necessary aptitude, but that makes no sense to me. I wonder whether my noble friend can explain it better and tell your Lordships the scientific basis for the distinction. To me, selection is selection, and selection by aptitude still endangers the comprehensive principle. As the Minister knows even better than I do, underlying the whole question of selection and choice is the social composition of schools. Inner city schools in particular—the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to them in his admirable maiden speech—have enough problems achieving a balanced intake without adding to their difficulties by introducing new forms of selection no matter how they are disguised.

What the Minister has to answer is how the Bill strengthens comprehensive schools. On the face of it, it makes life more difficult for them, not less. How, in particular, will it be ensured that the permitted forms of selection are not social class based? Who is responsible for monitoring all that, and how will they proceed? What about enforcement? I know about the code of practice, but that is not the same thing. Again, can my noble friend set out the statutory basis.

I am aware of past and present ministerial statements on the grammar schools. My right honourable and honourable friends now appear to have settled on a position that grammar schools based on selection by ability can continue if that is the wish of the majority of parents who are affected. Such a view is very far from the expressed policy of the Labour Party throughout most of its modern history. But policy can evolve. I cannot refrain, however, from anticipating what the advocates of selection might say. If grammar schools can stay so long as that is what most relevant parents wish, why cannot new grammar schools be brought into existence if that is also what most relevant parents wish? In other words, there seems to be a lack of logic in the Government's position, although not in mine. I am very clear that the grammar schools are immensely damaging to the education system of this country and that what this country requires is a complete system of comprehensive education. If noble Lords on the other side of your Lordships' House will reflect on the history of the issue, the originators of comprehensive education were not doctrinaire socialists but a number of Conservative local authorities who had to face certain problems and saw comprehensives as their solution. It was not dogmatic then, and it is not dogmatic now, that our children should all go to the same schools.

There is no need to go into the details of how the wishes of parents will be decided, who are the relevant parents, how the voting procedures will be initiated, what resources will be required, and so on, except to say that it looks as though it will be a bureaucratic nightmare. However, I find it paradoxical that noble Lords opposite refer to the ballots as being rigged. As I read it, it will be practically impossible for anyone to get a grammar school abolished on the basis of the way in which the Bill is set out. We must look at all these questions in Committee, especially since much will be provided by regulation. If your Lordships do not consider those matters in Committee, we shall not have a chance to become involved.

My noble friend and other noble Lords will be aware of my wife's, and my, lifetime commitment to comprehensive education. I hasten to add that our commitment is no more than that of my noble friend the Minister. But I do not wish to conclude on a critical note. I congratulate the Government on two other matters. They are right to have given priority to nursery education and to have found the funds so that for four year-olds, if their parents so wish, a place of good quality will be provided. I do not see that as incompatible with meeting the pledge on class sizes.

Lastly, we have the triumph of the abolition of corporal punishment in all schools, a debate led in this House by my noble friend Lady David. We have waited a long time for that: eventually what is right will always win.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, this has been, and will be a long debate. I apologise if I have to leave a little early.

The education Bills coming before your Lordships' House get longer and longer without becoming less frequent. I should have thought by now that this dismal sequence would have given Ministers for Education some pause for reflection, if indeed they ever have time to think, as to whether the centralising policy which has been pursued over the past 10 years and which is intensified by the Bill is the right way to achieve better schools.

I am a liberal, not an egalitarian. Not a liberal in the sense that the Liberal Democrats use that word—they seem to be more dirigiste even than the Government. But I am liberal in the sense of believing in maximising freedom of choice. I believe that as a matter of principle but also as a matter of practice. I do not think that centralisation will work. Therefore, I am convinced that one day we shall have to liberate education from the strait jacket of central government controls, both financial controls and bureaucratic controls. I hope that I will still be here when that happens.

My noble friend Lady Blatch dealt most ably with the many objectionable features of this Bill. I intend to concentrate on Chapter III, the education action zones. I have every reason to support them, since I argued ardently for them, without success, in the past. I called them education enterprise zones, which hark back to the successful economic initiative taken by the first Thatcher Government. My idea was that the lowest performing schools in deprived areas could be leased out to educational trusts freed from detailed regulation. The advantages I saw were to target efforts at improvement on the schools which most needed it, but above all to create models of success which could become beacons for failing schools elsewhere. Freedom to innovate was the key advantage I saw of establishing those kind of areas.

Interestingly enough, the then leader of the Opposition seemed to be thinking along similar lines. In a speech at Ruskin College on 16th December 1996 he suggested that successful schools might take over failing schools. I would not have put it quite like that, but there was a germ of a good idea there which might easily have been fitted into the framework of education action zones as I envisaged them. But this subversive idea has been kicked into touch—certainly there is no trace of it in this Bill.

What we have here is what I have come to expect from the Department for Education—a good initiative strangled at birth by red tape. To start with, the curious definition of a zone: a zone is defined not as a geographic area, which is what most of us would expect, but as a collective of schools of up to 20. That puts paid straight away to the idea of leasing out or trying to turn round individual schools. Each zone, thus defined as a collective, is to be managed by an education action forum, an extra bureaucratic layer made up of local worthies, which will receive £750,000 from the Government. The forums are to be graciously allowed to apply to the Secretary of State to vary national curriculum requirements, teaching contracts and staff salaries, but that is not an automatic condition of setting up a zone.

Then we turn to the tendering process, which is a nightmare. All proposers have to provide detailed information on their strategies for improving the educational performance of the zone. All individual schools have to agree to become part of the zone. Proposers have to demonstrate that they have audited the strengths and weakness of each individual school in the zone before they can make a bid. They have to put forward an action plan linked to the LEA's education development plan. They have to provide financial statements of a detailed kind, and so it goes on.

Some of those requirements are reasonable enough, I do not dispute that, but cumulatively the whole set up represents a massive barrier to entry except for one body: the local education authority. Education action zones are explicitly intended to raise standards in areas where current approaches are not working, yet those responsible for the current approaches alone have the organisation to run the zones and the information to make successful bids. It is hardly surprising that all the bids in the first round of tendering—and there are 60 odd bids—except one, are LEA-led. That is a natural consequence of the requirements that have been created. They can expect to get an extra half million pounds or more from the Government, which of course is a great incentive. The role of the private sector is limited to coughing up matching funds and providing management expertise so that they can claim that the schools, or the forum, or the zone, whatever it is called, will be more efficiently managed. No educational body, no body with any distinctively educational philosophy to contribute, can get on to the first rung of the bidding ladder that has been set up. No wonder the noble Minister used the words "carefully controlled circumstances" in connection with the education action zones. No wonder she talked about "identifying" good practice rather than creating good practice. The Government say they want innovation, but they are too scared to give up control. From such nervousness nothing new or interesting has ever come or can come.

In setting up this deterrent machinery, the Government have failed to learn anything from the experience of the charter school movement in the United States. The charter of 1991 granted businesses, non-profit groups, community leaders and parents the right to apply to the state for a charter to operate a school. Charter schools are now the fastest growing reform movement in the United States. But the lesson from that experience has been that everything depends on the conditions of the charter. If these are too onerous, no one applies.

One of the most successful charter schools in recent years is the Springfield School in Massachusetts, run by the private operator, Sabis School Network. The Massachusetts' statute is so framed that it allows charter schools to opt out of most state school requirements, including those covering the curriculum and, very importantly, teacher tenure and dismissal. Springfield was a real sink school when it was granted charter status almost three years ago. Sabis fired a lot of incompetent teachers but did not become selective. The point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that success does not necessarily depend on selection. Because I am a liberal, I think that schools should control their entrance policy, but I agree that success does not necessarily depend on selection. At the time when Springfield school became a charter school it had 360 pupils and was placed 41st out of 42 schools in the district. Today, still non-selective and with 750 pupils, it ranks third in the district—up from 41st to third in two-and-a-half years. Sabis has not put in a bid to run any action zone in this country. It finds the system complex to the point of being nonsensical.

This is a missed opportunity, killed off by the Department for Education and Training, that graveyard of hopes; by the LEAs whose monopoly is threatened; by the teaching unions—by all those who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are and above all in keeping control of the system as it now is. I accuse the Government of a lack of courage in facing up to those interests, but when this experiment fails, as I believe it must, I trust that they will come forward with another Bill which offers more hope and which we, on this side of the House, could support.

6.09 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, when I was preparing for this debate I did not think, for one moment, that I would be sitting with a new noble friend on my right hand. It is a particular pleasure for me on these Cross-Benches to have Lord Dearing alongside. I am sure that he will be alongside throughout this Bill and for many of our other debates on education and training. And, indeed, it was a pleasure to listen to my former colleague in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley.

I wish to say something first about the form of the Bill, a little about the form of its scrutiny in another place and then something about its content. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, flagged up what I might say about its form. This massive Bill is unique in an important sense in terms of legislation in these Houses of Parliament in that it gives a taste of what is to come. It is a piece of primary legislation drafted for England and Wales, but it is drafted in a period of transition. That explains some of the aspects of the Bill in terms of regulations, codes of practice and the difference as it applies to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Secretary of State for Wales. There I should declare an interest. As chairman of the Welsh Language Board, I have responsibility for a strategic overview of Welsh medium education and therefore work for the Welsh Office for two days a week. But when I rise in this place I do not speak for it and would not in any sense try to do so.

Some of the aspects to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred will be relevant throughout the stages of our debate. The Bill depends not just on one White Paper, Excellence in Schools, Command 3681, but on another even more substantial White Paper, because it is bilingual, Building Excellent Schools Together, Adeiladu Ysgolion Ardderchog Gyda'n Gilydd. I say that for the benefit of my other friend and colleague in another place, now the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who will also, no doubt, take part in our debates. There are significant differences in the White Papers; they are not merely textual, although it is not for me to say, as someone who used to teach literature, that anything is merely textual.

The title of the White Paper is interesting. The Welsh version insists on "Building Excellent Schools Together", emphasising the partnership which is so much the in-word of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Ron Davies, and also his colleague, Mr. Peter Hain. More of him in a minute. The White Paper is also a unique document. It is the first White Paper specifically dealing with Welsh education since 1927. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will no doubt correct me if I am wrong on that. It is the only major post-war document which deals specifically with education in Wales. Therefore, it has within it commitments to a decentralised education structure and a partnership with the teaching profession. It also has a deep commitment to increasing standards. The argument we have as between Wales and England in terms of the framework legislation is how one goes about fulfilling the aspiration of raising standards. The question is to what extent intervention and what forms of intervention, centrally determined, are helpful and to what extent it is possible in a nation of 3 million people to practise other forms of strategic development with similar results. That is a point of view which I know the Welsh Local Government Association takes, as the authoritative voice of Welsh local government. I shall come to it in a moment.

The difference between the legislation as it applies to the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has been clearly set out by the Secretary of State for Wales in another place when speaking on the transfer of powers to the national assembly for Wales in the Government of Wales Bill, which will visit us fairly soon on the back of this Bill.

The position at the moment is that functions have been transferred to or located with the Secretary of State for Wales under current legislation by Order in Council. This Bill transfers functions under primary legislation, and that will be the future pattern, so far as I understand it. That is the answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I am sure that her noble friend on her Front Bench will be able to confirm that in detail.

What happens in the context of the Bill in the transitional stage is worth considering in some detail, not now at Second Reading but later in Committee. There are different regulations enabling LEAs in Wales to establish organisational committees and enabling the Secretary of State to appoint adjudicators in different ways. The clauses in Chapter II provide for the Secretary of State to take a different approach in publishing proposals to establish and prescribe regulations as regards various types of school. Again, there are the important delaying powers in the establishment of the education action zones. It may well be the case that the national assembly will not choose that particular model of school improvement where there are problems. It may adopt another model more in keeping with community commitments.

Similarly, the issue of the sale of school playing fields does not apply to Wales. The code of practice in relation to the admissions authority differs. So it continues through the Bill, particularly in Clauses 117 and 118, which strengthen the link between further education institutions and the rest of the education system in order to provide better partnership in full-time and part-time education between the FE sector and schools.

Similarly, relationships between the LEAs and schools may be subject to a different code of practice from that applying in England and Wales. The powers relating to other aspects of the legislation may be transferred by orders and regulations which will then be transferred from the Secretary of State to the national assembly. All that indicates how at present we produce primary legislation in the context of the UK Parliament.

That brings me to my next point. I know it is not conventional for this House to be severely critical of what goes on in another place, but it seems to me that the attempt at scrutiny of this important piece of primary legislation, so far as it affects Wales, was inadequate. There was one speech at Second Reading from Mr. Barry Jones, a well-known government supporter and one speech from Mr. Cynog Dafis, my honourable friend the Member for Ceredigion. The Education Minister for Wales, Mr. Peter Hain, was present on the Committee, for relevant clauses. So far as I can see, no other Member for Wales was on the Committee or took part in the debate. There were further debates on Report stage, with a distinguished contribution again from my honourable friend Mr. Cynog Dafis.

It seems to me that the authorities of these Houses of Parliament need to consider carefully in future how they deal with the substantial body of primary legislation affecting England and Wales together which will be introduced in both Houses in the context of the national assembly. How will they ensure that the scrutiny of such legislation carried out by Members of both Houses is sufficient to enable the assembly to feel satisfied that its attitudes and position in relation to the administrative responsibilities which it will carry out by regulation will have been sufficiently scrutinised at primary legislation stage? I flag all that up because it is relevant to the Bill and will become even more relevant as we move on to the Government of Wales Bill after Easter.

Finally, I turn to the issues of content. The Bill emphasises the differences between the educational system of the Principality and that of England. The Welsh Local Government Association has emphasised the need for greater flexibility on the face of the Bill in order to ensure that the national assembly is able to execute the functions which will be devolved to it effectively. There are certain exceptions within the system which are worth highlighting.

Foundation schools, as they are called, are not regarded by the WLGA as being a vital category in terms of administration in Wales. That is despite the fact that the grant-maintained system was conceived by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, a distinguished educationist of the Conservative Party. It was not a system that achieved a universal welcome in Wales. It may well be that in the context of the national assembly he may be able to use his powers of persuasion to make these ideas more acceptable. But at this stage, the distinction between foundation schools and community schools is not very valid in terms of administration in Wales. WLGA feels that such a category is not required.

Similarly, WLGA feels strongly that the specific grant approach adopted in Clause 3 in terms of class size initiatives is not the most effective way of operating. It is a bureaucratic system and there should be greater flexibility.

My final point is that, as we visit this Bill in detail, we will need to look at the way in which this kind of framework legislation can provide for diversity of education systems in both England and the Principality of Wales and how we can be assured that this House and the other place deals with those issues in a balanced and fair way. We have a traditional commitment to education in all parties in Wales. That commitment has often been rhetorical. We have not been able to address the standards issue. We are keen to address it, but it must be addressed in a way which meets the community attitudes of Wales, not necessarily in the way set out in the detail of the Bill.

6.20 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, I have a confession to make. Despite a lifetime spent working in schools in both the maintained and independent sectors as teacher, headmistress and governor, I find the Bill as it stands confusing and disappointing. Of course we all want to continue the improvement in our schools—I say "continue" because the Education Reform Act 1988 made a good start. I did not necessarily agree with all the subsequent legislation, but overall the last government constructed a framework which was working.

I was pleased to hear the Minister's assurance, when she took up her post last year, that the new Labour Government were concerned with standards, not structures. Why then are we offered so many prescriptive and constraining clauses? This Bill is not so much a framework, as a straitjacket.

Bad schools which are failing their students need to be controlled and closely monitored. But schools which are doing well need space to develop, to be creative, to innovate. The head teacher and the senior staff must have some freedom to plan for themselves. I so agree with the eloquent remarks of my noble friend Lady Young on the importance of teachers and especially head teachers. I worry that the sweeping powers proposed in this Bill for local education authorities to intervene in schools will bring back all the bad, bureaucratic, formulaic practices of the past.

Each LEA will be obliged to produce an education development plan for the provision of education for children in its specific area. That EDP must then be submitted to the Secretary of State for approval. Think of the time that will take; think of the number of new forms that will have to be filled in by the schools; think of the paper that will be wasted; but think particularly of the teachers who are already overburdened by paperwork. I am horrified by the bureaucratic demands made already by the DfEE on teachers, taking up time that the teachers should be spending with pupils, preparing lessons for them, correcting homework and undergoing in-service training.

I mention teachers. They are the ones who deliver education. Good teachers need to be enabled, not constrained. Yet in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill reference is made to LEAs, the Secretary of State, government, financial management, work-related learning and partnership arrangements. The word "teacher" does not appear once. When all is said and done, the teacher is alone in the classroom. It is the teacher who needs support and encouragement. In one of the forest-worth of DfEE paper guidelines which accompanied the Bill entitled, Early Years, Development Partnerships and Plans, I found the word "teacher" at the very end of an annex, Staffing: a qualified teacher should be involved in all settings providing early years education within an Early Years Development Plan". What a marvellous point!

One of the most muddled sections in the Bill concerns, as we have heard already, admission procedures. It is a basic fact that even Mr. Micawber would have understood that if 500 11 year-old children apply for the 150 available places in a school, some selection procedure must be applied. It does not have to be on academic grounds—for many children throughout the country it is not. Every school should make the most of that which is its characteristic. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is not in his place. I should like to have said to him: what about a specialist music school not being allowed to select its pupils on musical aptitude and ability? What sort of orchestra would it have?

Diversity and individuality are important. Teachers, students, parents and governors can be proud of the characteristic of their school. In the CTC where I am privileged to be chairman of governors—the Landau Forte College in Derby—we do not interview parents; we ensure that our comprehensive intake reflects a true cross-section ability within the City of Derby. We are in competition—if we thought in that way—with four independent grammar schools and several other specialist schools. But we are not worried. The teachers are confident. The governors are supportive and nobody has a hidden agenda. We have the highest aspirations for our students, whatever their IQ on entry. Whatever they are able to do—their aptitude or ability—we expect the very best of which they are capable. And it is surprising how much better those students do than they thought they might on entry. By all means call the admissions procedure "structured discussion"—I believe that is the new phrase—but I beg the legislators not to confuse aptitude with ability.

Finally, in relation to the future of grant-maintained and grammar schools, I should have thought that a government declaring their commitment to excellence in schools would encourage and enable schools that are patently doing a good job. All the evidence indicates that standards rise fastest where schools themselves take responsibility for their own improvement"— so says the Government's White Paper, Excellence in Schools. Work-related curriculum is important. In-service training is important. Everything must be geared to improving teaching and learning, with a special emphasis on learning because I am afraid that some teachers think that when they have taught something, the students have learnt it. That is not always true. Learning is about much more than just knowledge and skills. Attitude and spiritual value come from the school's ethos and atmosphere. The duty and responsibility of government is to help teachers, not to overburden them with needless demands. I was looking forward to, "education, education, education"; I fear we may just get, "bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy".

6.29 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Further Education Funding Council. There are one or two clauses at the latter end of the Bill which refer specifically to the contribution that further education colleges might make. However, I do not propose to reflect on that matter because I think it is not the central issue with regard to the Bill. I want to concentrate on those issues which have exercised the majority of those who have contributed to the debate.

Like many other speakers, I am a somewhat battle-scarred warrior of the endless debate in British—predominantly English—education over selection versus comprehensive schooling. I say freely that the temptation is enormous—I am not quite sure whether I am able to refrain—to make the whole of my speech on that dimension. The encouraging aspect of the Bill is that it points to ways in which constructive action can be taken to improve education in this country without revisiting that old battleground.

It is a fairly marginal battleground now. Of course the Front Bench opposite has to rally its forces with the clarion calls of how to defend the grammar schools. How many grammar schools are there? There are just over 160 out of 24,000 schools in this country. How many grammar schools are there after 18 years of Conservative government? How many grammar schools have disappeared under previous Conservative administrations? The simple fact is that the rallying cry is inherently a spurious one. It is not one that will run with the populace out there.

In a consuming society in which parents care about the opportunities for their children, if you believe that such parents are going to hand over to others the arbitrary selection of their children at the age of 11, defining for the majority that they are failures at that age, you are not living in the real world. The concept of the grammar school is bound to imply the selection of a limited number and the rejection of a greater number. Conservative politicians have argued vociferously in debates in both Houses about the principle of defending grammar schools—we heard that eloquently from the Front Bench opposite again today—but when it comes to action when they are in power, and when they are before the electorate, the issue becomes relatively small scale. And so it should be.

The real point was made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in his maiden speech. In a number of reports he has identified just what the issues are, and we are grateful for that; namely, that selection and rationing of educational opportunities for a limited number does not meet the needs of a modern society to which we all need to contribute. In days past, when it was possible to think that the development of our society and of our economy could be advanced by limited numbers having access to privileged education and limited numbers having access to higher education, selection, which was after all a rationing process, was the order of the day.

It is clear that a modern society needs mass higher education and the previous Conservative government made enormous strides towards that. But the narrowness of selection implied by grammar school education, where 10, 15 or, at the absolute maximum, 20 per cent. had the opportunities to advance their life chances, must be seen against a background where we already have more than 30 per cent. entering higher education. Why is that possible? It is possible because we have an education structure in our schools which is not highly selective but is based predominantly on the comprehensive principle.

I say therefore to my friends who have expressed anxieties and addressed questions to Ministers about the issue of aptitude versus ability that those are marginal issues compared with the real points the Bill seeks to address. It is clear that unless we educate the broad mass of our population adequately we will not enjoy the fruits of a developing economy and, more importantly, our fellow citizens will be massively disadvantaged in their life opportunities.

The particular dimensions of the Bill which are directed towards those who are significantly disadvantaged were paid lip service to in a slighting manner by some of my noble friends who suggest that there is nothing in the Bill of a redistributive nature. I say to them that they are wrong in their interpretation. To get smaller classes for all primary school pupils is a significant advantage in educational terms. Resources have been redirected from the assisted places scheme, which enabled relatively few to participate in the advantages of private education, such as they are, to ensure that all our children have equal opportunities at the early stages of their school lives. If there is one aspect of educational research on which both sides can agree—I pay tribute to those Conservative educationists who have long recognised this fact—it is the research which says that the early years are critical and that good society and intelligent government need to invest adequately in those early years. That is a significant aspect of the Bill.

Our education system in the past has manifestly failed to deliver adequately in those terms. Illiteracy in our society is a long-standing problem. One million adults are functionally illiterate. That was the case under the old selective system too. The inadequacy of our education system to guarantee the fundamental skills for all our children and subsequent adults is the greatest blot on our society's record. That is why the problem needs to be rectified.

I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said about the limitations of the education action zones and I recognise that there are many points to be teased out in how those are to develop. But let us give great credit to the Government for introducing this initiative in the Bill. I have heard doubts in the past about initiatives of this kind in other areas of government policy where it was felt that government were pushing out the boat but were not quite sure how the boat would come home. Under the previous administration the development of the single regeneration budget posed to local authorities a whole new way of approaching central government. There were many, not least on my side, who were uncertain whether the issues would be confronted successfully. On the whole, however, those developments have been responded to in positive terms because of the rapidly changing attitudes of local authorities.

It is not the case that local authorities are run by hidebound ideologues with insufficient capacity to learn. Of course, there are people with strong principles. We would not expect activists in politics, whether in the lower House, in this House, or in local authorities, to be anything else but committed on their principles. But local authorities have had to learn a great deal in terms of the changing demands made on them by central government in recent years. I have not the slightest doubt that they will be able to respond significantly to the opportunities created by the education action zones. That is against a background where the concentration of resources directed towards quite clear and specific problem areas should surely be welcomed by my noble friends on these Benches as a very clear identification of directing resources where they are most needed. I listened carefully to what was said in a rather pessimistic way about the potential of these zones. I maintain that they are an excellent principle with the capacity to lift the quality of education in areas where it is most needed.

A tremendously important aspect of the Bill is the extent to which there is emphasis on the increased role of the parent. Of course, one recognises that there are difficulties about the concept of the home-school contract. Who could not fail to appreciate that children from the most disadvantaged circumstances have less than a supportive home background? But that places an obligation on the school to engage with the parent and the parent to engage with the school and send out the strongest possible signal. That does not mean that it is going to be universally successful. It means that the Government are emphasising to the local authorities, schools and parents the mutuality of their obligations.

There are plenty of issues in a Bill of enormous length which occupied the other place for a considerable time. We have a great deal of meat, whether boned or boneless, to chew on throughout the Committee stage. There are concepts within the legislation which get us away from the rather sterile debate about selection versus comprehensive education and rather more towards the issues of standards in our schools which is what our nation demands and we are obliged to deliver.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, as the 17th speaker, I believe that it falls to me to assure the noble Baroness that if she chose this moment to have some much-deserved refreshment, the House would not begrudge it. I can assure her that I shall not be putting any questions to which she might have to reply. After all, the enthusiasm of her own party for the Bill is shown by the crowded Benches behind her.

It is a pity that I have to discuss a Bill when I have no sympathy at all for its basic philosophy, as expressed, since she is still here, by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. It is as possible for the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and myself to agree about the principles of an educational system as it is for Mr. Gerry Adams and the Reverend Ian Paisley to find themselves in common accord.

There is an illusion shared by some of my noble friends, notably—because she mentioned it—by my noble friend Lady Brigstocke that this is a government devoted to improving educational standards. They go back again and again to what Mr. Blair said during the election campaign or shortly afterwards; namely, "Education, education, education." I believe that they totally misunderstood his purpose. He was using the word in the same way as the Paris sans-culottes meant it—I bring in some French in order to ingratiate myself with the Prime Minister—"Bastille! Bastille! Bastille!" In other words, "Let's tear it all down!". If the Government had seriously intended to improve the standards of education, surely the first thing to do would be to look at successful schools—there are various ways in which their success can be demonstrated—and say, "We have a number of successful schools. Let us try to find out whether we can improve other schools by taking these as a model." Instead of that, and despite all the talk about standards and not structures, the Government propose, first, to get rid of the successful schools and then, presumably, to think of some new recipe for the schools that remain.

It is, of course, useless to enter into controversy with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, because his horizons—I know he has an interest—are so parochial. After all, if the object of the system is in part to compete with our industrial rivals or partners, is it not a surprising fact that most of them, in varying degrees, have different systems of education and that the comprehensive school is an English peculiarity?

The noble Lord may be right. It may be a desirable form of education. But let us hear some arguments in favour of it other than the brandishing of class consciousness to which some speakers who are not in the Chamber at the moment restricted themselves. The first thing to say is, "Can we make other schools better and have we got any models to bring that about?" The most obvious model, referred to by more than one speaker on this side of the House, is that of a school which is responsible for itself—that is to say, a school where only the teachers and the head can possibly bring about an improvement in standards and that any form of bureaucratic intervention, whether it be by the Secretary of State, city hall or wherever, is a detraction from that major duty.

In our debate on the equally unmeritorious Teaching and Higher Education Bill I pointed out, as did other speakers, that an enormous amount of time is being wasted in universities in filling out unnecessary forms, assessment procedures and all the other bureaucratic rubbish which has come in over the years when it could have been devoted to teaching and research. That began prior to the appearance of the Bill before us. We are now wanting to wish on the schools—teachers at current union meetings are referring to it—tasks which detract from their primary responsibility, which is to their pupils. If the Government find that insufficiently ambitious, there is the very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in his maiden speech. It is splendid that on this occasion I find something on which I can agree with the noble Lord. There is a real problem with what one might call the bottom fifth or 20 per cent. I say that because it is not confined to this country. The same phenomenon is observable in other advanced industrial countries. As technology improves and the complications of the industrial process become more difficult to meet, without specific training a number of people find themselves, for one reason or another, unable to participate in that advance.

The underlying factors may be ethnic, as they partially are in the United States and France. There may be other reasons—the industrial decline of once prosperous areas and so on. But surely a government able to say, "Here is a specific problem and we have something which will deal with it" would have elicited cross-party support which this Bill neither deserves nor will command.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, it is regrettable that noble Lords seem to boast about how little they agree with one another on this Bill when its main purpose is to try to find a middle way between what we have inherited from the former government and the previous ideologies of a full comprehensive system. That is what the Bill works towards and we should congratulate the Government on setting out on this path.

This is a very large and complex Bill. All of the Government briefing papers that I have received say that the single objective of the Bill is to raise standards. The Bill represents a variety of mechanisms to ensure that that takes place. I welcome the reference to maximum class sizes and the safeguarding of the religious ethic, school meal nutritional standards and in particular the parity of funding of various forms of school. I shall concentrate on two aspects of the Bill and then chance my arm by considering the difference between aptitude and ability, if I have time. The first issue is the school organisation committee. I suspect that the Committee stage of this Bill will spend a great deal of time looking at the powers of that committee and its relationship with the adjudicator. The vast bulk of the decisions to be taken by the SOC will be through discussion and agreement, and that is the aim of the Bill as I understand it. That is to be welcomed.

I received a letter from the Grant Maintained Joint Monitoring Group which asked specifically why at least one foundation school representative should be on the SOC as of right. I ask why all secondary heads should not be on the SOC as of right. I believe that to be a reasonable proposition. Can my noble friend the Minister tell me how the school organisation committee will address the issue of the cross-border trade in children who move in and out of a borough for different schools? Will there be a formal mechanism with the surrounding boroughs to deal with that? Finally, I ask my noble friend about the CTCs. I do not understand why they are excluded from the SOC. I believe that that will inhibit the ability of a local education authority to plan the education provision.

The second detailed issue that I should like to deal with is class sizes. I welcome the reduction in class sizes to 30 for five, six and seven year-olds. I particularly welcome the fact that that is to be funded by the abolition of the assisted places scheme. I am aware that the Minister for School Standards, Mr. Byers, has announced additional flexibility, to which my noble friend Lady Lockwood referred, to reduce the necessary travelling particularly for country schools in order to meet this commitment.

The Bill makes clear that parental preference must not, prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources", which includes the duty of the LEA to comply with the class size commitment. Given that the Greenwich judgment is still very much in place and that appeals have increased from 8,500 in 1994–95 to 63,000 in 1995–96, it is very good news for schools that LEAs will have a duty to comply with the class size commitment. I welcome the statement in the Bill that the power of LEAs to direct a school to admit a pupil shall be in accordance with the class size commitment and that the school must be a reasonable distance from the child's home. This is a question of balance. I am glad that the Government have adopted a flexible approach to that question.

I now venture into the question of aptitude versus ability. Some noble Lords may be aware that I am the only noble Lord who takes part in debates in this House to have attended a comprehensive school. I have been in this House for about seven years. As far as I am aware, I am the only noble Lord who has attended such a school. I can speak with authority that some comprehensive schools are highly successful, but some fail. The belief in a single comprehensive structure that will benefit all children is a romantic one. I do not believe that the comprehensive system ever was uniform or that it is particularly desirable to work towards that structure.

I now live in the London Borough of Wandsworth. In that borough there has been a big move towards selection and specialisation in schools, both grant-maintained and those still run by the borough. Certainly the parents that I know are very dissatisfied with the pressure to which their children are subject when they are 10 years old. They have to undergo a number of selection exams. Of course, where there is success there is failure, and a number of children fail the exams. However, parents accept and are appreciative of a degree of specialisation in some secondary schools. I do not believe that specialisation and selection go hand in hand. I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, take the mickey out of the Government about the difference between aptitude and ability. I heard a good number of speeches by Conservative councillors in the London Borough of Wandsworth who tried to explain the difference between aptitude and ability. They used that as a justification for introducing the specialisations of the secondary schools.

I give one successful example: the specialisation in technology. Unfortunately, it has been dressed up as a CTC in my borough. I believe that to have a specialisation in technology has raised the status of technology in my borough and for that reason has been of benefit. That is something that I welcome. I live in a borough of extremes. I believe that to go back to the romantic past of the comprehensive system is, also extreme. Fundamentally, this should be a local issue and local education authorities should have a rational admissions structure. It does not need to be a uniform structure across the country. Different parts of the country have different requirements. I believe that the debate about aptitude and ability is an entirely sterile one. It should be up to the local population in the widest sense to decide how local education should be structured.

I managed to find one matter on which I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I often follow the noble Lord in debates so I am happy that at last I have found one matter on which I can agree with him. He said that one should look to successful schools as models for future schools. I thought that that was precisely what the Government sought to do. They may have changed the names of the schools but they envisage a number of types of schools each with a different ethos. The fact that the Government seek to do that within an enhanced LEA framework is to be welcomed. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is in extremes in a number of matters, but I hope he recognises that that is what the Government seek to do.

I welcome the Bill. It represents another manifesto commitment that has been fulfilled. I hope that once the Bill completes its passage through this House there will not be another education Bill for quite some time. Perhaps I shall be disappointed in that regard. I conclude by congratulating my noble friend on the introduction of this Bill.

7 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, so many of my noble friends have made excellent points on the matters in the Bill that they find disturbing, that I see no reason why, at this stage in the evening, I should weary your Lordships by repeating them. I shall have plenty of opportunity in Committee for which I have already drafted 60 amendments including, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will be glad to hear, one attempting a definition of "aptitude" and "ability". I look forward to hearing some of the detailed matters we shall discuss then.

I am grateful to the Minister for telling us so much that is not in the Bill; that which is hidden away in appendices and regulations which we have yet to see. She put a great deal of flesh on the bones of this stark Bill, for which I am grateful. I am grateful also for her confirmation that the Government will be encouraging LEAs to allocate additional funds to popular primary schools and nursery schools in connection with the additional provision which will be necessary to meet the class-size objectives.

Many LEAs, if one judges them by their actions rather than by their words, have been disgracefully unsupportive of the best schools in their areas. To name one which I saw recently, Camden School for Girls is in appalling premises in appalling conditions, despite being one of the best schools in London. I hope that that is the type of problem that the Minister and her party will find themselves able to tackle through this and subsequent Bills.

I am also grateful to the Minister for what she said about further education. Again, something that is not on the face of the Bill is the involvement of the FEFC in planning school provision locally. That is a long overdue and well-justified reintegration of education provision in this country. It is right that the FEFC should be independent. It is excellent that it is now becoming an integrated part of the system. I hope that we shall see some amendments in Committee to put that on the face of the Bill rather than just in the Minister's speech on Second Reading.

I wish to concentrate upon two concepts which are reflected in various ways in the Bill. The first is the concept of variety or diversity in the nature of schools. It is clear from much that the Minister said today and from much that is in the Bill that the Government support and understand the concept of diversity. The Minister said that she supported and wished to extend parental preference. If there is not a diversity of schools from which to choose there is little point in having such preference. There are many good reasons why parents might want to choose between different schools. There are many different styles of education. Different sorts of schools suit different sorts of children. Parents are wont to express strong preferences for different styles.

I look at the three good comprehensive schools in Winchester. They are three very different schools, all of roughly equivalent academic standard, but the schools are run in very different styles. There is a great deal of potential choice for parents if only the LEA would condescend to arrange its transport so that people could take advantage of it. At the moment only those who can afford to spend the time and the money transporting their children to the school of their choice can take advantage of the choice which exists.

But I am disturbed that the Government seem to be continuing their old vendetta against grammar schools. I am no friend of grammar schools. I would not wish my child to go to a grammar school. By and large, I find them pretty boring places, but they have a function. They provide a particular sort of education for the children who are suited to it and for the parents who wish to have that particular kind of education for their child.

Grammar schools will occur anyway. If they are not provided by the Government or by LEAs under a selective system, they occur by parents choosing to move near to a school or within the catchment area of a school that has a reputation for being academic. That is a much more disruptive and unhealthy way of creating academically selective schools. You not only create the schools that are academically selective, you break the community. You "ghettoise" the communities which are within the catchment areas of the "academic unselective" schools, because you make the parents who have children who would be suited to an academic education move into the catchment area, if they can, of the school of their choice.

Children from the bottom 20 per cent. of the class are not always best served by being stuck in a school where they are in the bottom 20 per cent. The child's character matters much more than its particular academic ability. Many children in the lower 20 per cent. would do best in a school directed particularly at their own particular needs. Such children are often children of enormous talent, but not of straightforward academic talent. To be in a school whose whole ethos is directed towards dealing with the top 40 per cent. of the academic echelon must be a depressing and dispiriting experience for many such children.

One independent school headmaster when asked the rhetorical question, "What are the bottom 20 per cent. of the class for?", replied, "To employ the top 20 per cent.". If we look at the people who have created business and jobs in this country, how many of them have come from grammar schools'? Remarkably few. How many of them have been through rather strange and personal educational preferences, often leaving school early? A surprisingly large number. We have to nurture and look after the people in the bottom 20 per cent. because they form an important part of our society. Much of the future strength and innovation in our society will come from such people—those who do not fit into a narrow academic mould.

I am sorry that we are not to allow schools to emerge in our state system which specialise in looking after children of high, but perhaps narrow, academic ability, or children perhaps of not much conventional academic ability, but great width. We have that sort of breadth in our independent sector. No parent worth his or her salt would send a future Richard Branson to Winchester. They would send him, as he went, to Stowe or one of the other schools which provide an excellent education for people like him with his particular abilities. It is lucky for this country that he went to such a school and was not confined to the grammar school ethos. The creation of grammar schools and schools that specialise in the less academically apt pupil is an important part of creating variety in our schools system.

The second aspect upon which I wish to touch is information. An extraordinary revolution is going on in our better schools in the use of information about pupils: on how well they are doing; on value-added; and all sorts of other offshoots of the great work being done by Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon and others at Durham. When one gets into the sort of school which is using this information well, it is extraordinary how the excitement is infectious; how it has caught even the English and history departments which are not staffed by people who are used to using numbers, who are used to making broad value judgments about their pupils; and how much use they find they can make of this information in helping individual students and teachers improve in understanding what is happening and what is going on.

We are to have a whole new layer of this information coming from education development plans if we are careful, if we structure the way in which they are set up, if we ask them to collect information in the right way. We should collect a great deal of information about how schools can succeed and what it takes to make a school succeed. In the Bill I shall look for arrangements whereby that data are, first, collected properly; and, secondly, are made available to academics, along with Ofsted's data which should be made much more available to academics and which should be much more widely reported and discussed in academic papers than they are.

Something which we can see from what went wrong at MAFF with BSE is that although MAFF had excellent scientists, and was collecting a great deal of data about BSE, it kept it to itself. It would not let anyone else look at it. Over the past year or two independent scientists have started looking at the MAFF data, and we have seen that there is so much more information there; there is so much more to come from it, from people looking at it from different angles, from people criticising this, that, or the other aspect of it, and through not having been tied to decisions and pronouncements made previously. I should like to see the richness of academic intellect applied to all the information which we shall be collecting on how schools work and how schools perform.

Beyond anything else, I hope that it will help to stick a final pin in the ridiculous Liberal Democrat policy which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, propounded again today. I am delighted that he remembered the barbed remark which I made to him on the previous occasion. It is ridiculous for a party and a gentleman as intelligent as he to fly in the face of the evidence. The Ofsted report is clear that there is benefit in smaller class sizes in the early years, but no significant benefit thereafter. I can understand the noble Lord paying no attention to Ofsted because it is interpreting its own data and there may be a hidden agenda. That is one of the reasons why I should like to see Ofsted data opened up. But if, as I hope, the noble Lord has read all the original research papers on the Tennessee Star Project he will see that in later years an improvement can be made by lowering class sizes, but if an extra 50 per cent. is spent on additional teachers there is a 1 per cent. improvement in performance. It is a ridiculous waste of money to reduce class sizes by the numbers which are within the Government's capacity. In later years there are so many better ways of spending money. To have information and data, and to have independent demonstration that that is the truth, will be of great use to the Government in avoiding waste of money, and great use to schools in their care of pupils.

I look forward to the Committee stage, which will be long and arduous, with great relish.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, stranded at Crewe Station last Friday afternoon, awaiting a train to Euston, which never arrived (I will not mention the name of the operating company, but I overheard a disgruntled passenger say that it would be quicker by balloon) this delay, engendered by Stowe and others, gave me the opportunity to speed-read the School Standards and Framework Bill while my crotchety companion contented himself by reading the works of Lewis Carroll—a suitable accompaniment to the vagaries of our railway system.

Be that as it may, it might have been my speed-reading or the icy wind blowing along Platform 5 bringing tears to my eyes, but I am certain that I caught sight of only three reasonably substantial references to special schools or special educational needs, in Clauses 20, 93 and 116, out of a total of 133 clauses. I failed to read the schedules, for by then I was racing from Platform 5 to Platform 11 in an effort to catch a ghost train which was apparently on its way to London; but that, too, never arrived.

Before that breathless dash, I must confess to a twinge of disappointment, for the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the cover page begins: The Bill introduces a wide range of provisions relating to raising standards in schools and the establishment of a new schools framework". Rather like me on Platform 5, alone and palely loitering, pupils with special educational needs seem once more to have almost missed the train.

If this Bill exists to construct the framework of schools of the future, it is vital that consideration of the requirements of this large, disparate and special needs group is given as much priority as any other and discussed, therefore, at this early stage. Others of your Lordships will no doubt have things to say about different special groups. However, I wish to underline the statements made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, particularly about children with learning disabilities for whom a learning difficulty is a sine qua non. I choose to do that for, as I am sure your Lordships are only too aware, I have the honour to be the chairman of the charity for people with learning disabilities, Mencap—or to give it the currently politically incorrect title, the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults. Your Lordships will have noticed that children come first—as is the natural order of things—and our long-held view—long before 1971, when our children were, for the first time, considered to be educable—is that education means appropriate education for each and every child. If that can be achieved in an inclusive mainstream school, so much the better. If it cannot, and an appropriate education can be provided in a special school, many parents and pupils would put the right education in a special school well ahead of the wrong education in a mainstream school. The vital aim, as I have just said, is appropriate education for every child. Children go to school for their own benefit, not for the benefit of other children.

Mention of Lewis Carroll reminds me to follow the King's advice in Alice in Wonderland; I shall "begin at the beginning" with the provisions in the Bill for admission arrangements. Mencap welcomed the Green Paper on Special Educational Needs and the debate which that provoked. That document stated that: all government policies for schools will include an explicit assessment of the implications for children with special educational needs". Such a ringing declaration is welcome. We should intend virtue, if only to make it obvious when we fail to achieve it.

Unfortunately, the dilly-dallying of the King in Alice in Wonderland seems to have affected the Schools Standards and Framework Bill in its attention to these special needs. 'Unimportant, of course, I meant', the King hastily said.…'important—unimportant—unimportant—important, as if he were trying which word sounded best". I am happy to tell the Minister that the best word—indeed, the only word—is "important". It is important that the Bill provides more than adequately for special educational needs and I look forward to the reassurance that I missed something while shivering on Platform 5, and that intentions and practice alike will be honourable and the necessary amendments made as the Bill passes through your Lordships' House.

The then Department of Education Circular 6 of 1993, before the flood in another place, as it were, on admission to maintained schools, provided guidance on acceptable and unacceptable criteria for use in admission arrangements. The guidance made it clear that it was not acceptable for a school to refuse to admit a child on the grounds that it, the school, could not meet the child's special educational needs.

Still before the flood, the 1996 Circular 6 replaced its 1993 predecessor. This document removed the protection granted by the earlier circular and increased the percentage of pupils who could be "selected" without a "significant change of character" for the school. 'Do you suppose', the Walrus said, 'that they could get it clear?'. 'I doubt it', said the Carpenter, and shed a hitter tear". Just to add to the muddle, the Minister must be well aware that many schools argue that they have no special needs money unless that money is linked to statements. "We can't admit your child unless you get a statement"; or, "We can't admit your child unless he has an assistant with him"; or, "Try another school in the area better equipped to deal with the kind of difficulty your child has". 'That's the reason they're called lessons', the Gryphon remarked, 'because they lessen from day to day'. Such difficulties are, unfortunately, not well documented centrally, and although we know that they exist, we do not know the extent of them. Where there is a need for a statement and for the extra resources that go with it, fine; but I suspect that too often parents are dealing with excuses, not valid arguments.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to the Minister for the discussions which her officials have already had with my colleagues on this vexed issue. Can she assure me that the code of practice on admissions, dealing with these problems, will make it clear that it is unacceptable for children to be turned away on the grounds of special educational needs alone.

Finally, I would like to see a mechanism which would enable local education authorities to monitor admissions. LEAs need to be able to check whether schools are systematically admitting many more or many fewer children with special educational needs than a fair proportion of their intake would suggest. Such information would be extremely helpful and inform discussions about admissions with schools in any particular area.

As a society, we should be judged by how well we treat those who need a little extra care—just as schools should be judged by their competence and willingness to meet special needs. No longer should they be able to live in their Alice in Wonderland world of, will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?".

7.20 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, as there are so many speakers, I shall focus on only three aspects of this Bill and their implications for the quality of education in the years to come.

There are three inter-related concerns which I shall address. The first is the massive increase in the powers of intervention by central government and the LEAs. There is a deep fear that that escalation of intervention will threaten and curtail the freedoms of individual schools and teachers and opportunities for creative initiatives which have so often resulted in the attainment of excellence. I fear that this Bill is a charter for dirigisme and for bureaucratisation, as my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lady Brigstocke, have already emphasised so eloquently.

My second concern is the relationship between standards and structures. Although the Title of the Bill rightly puts standards first, the provisions relate almost exclusively to structures. Even more disturbing, the kinds of structures to be promoted are those which have been shown by research to be associated generally with the poorest standards of pupil achievement.

My third concern is that the Bill appears to sound a death knell for many of the schools which are currently providing a very high standard of education, such as the grant-maintained schools and grammar schools. If their contribution to the provision of high quality education for many pupils, often from lower income families, is to be curtailed, then this Bill will represent a betrayal of many children who certainly cannot afford to opt out of the state system in order to obtain the high quality education which is now available to them in those schools. If the future of such schools is jeopardised, the Bill could better be named the Framework for the Reduction of Standards Bill.

Before I develop those themes, I should like to express my sincere appreciation of some of the Government's recent initiatives which have beneficial results for the provision of education within the state sector. I wish to highlight two of those.

First, I warmly welcome the Government's agreement to allow some very deserving independent schools to opt into grant-maintained status. I am thinking particularly of some of the faith community schools, including the John Loughborough School in North London and some of the schools serving the Islamic communities.

Several years ago, I proposed, as a kind of pilot run, the Second Reading of a Bill designed specifically to enable such schools to be able to opt into state funding. Although, on that evening, there was strong support from a powerful array of noble Lords on the Back-Benches of all parties, the then government and Labour Front Benches were implacably opposed to the proposal.

Subsequently, a previous Conservative government had a change of heart and permitted opting in in the 1993 Act. However, schools such as the Seventh-Day Adventist John Loughborough School and the Islamic schools were not successful in achieving grant-maintained status. Therefore, I warmly welcome this Government's policy which has enabled them to opt into Government funding because those schools are clearly providing education which is desired passionately by their local communities. It was provided previously only at a considerable cost to families who could ill-afford to have to pay for the schooling to which they are entitled.

However, I hope that that new-found freedom will not be jeopardised by the provisions of the Bill. I ask the Minister whether those schools will retain their freedoms and whether other schools, new and old, will be able to opt in as easily to state funding in the future framework.

The second achievement on which I commend the Government concerns funding arrangements. I believe that the new provisions which require greater clarity and transparency are entirely consistent with the principles of accountability and are extremely helpful in monitoring the extent to which LEAs are passing on funds to schools in their areas or holding them back for their own objectives.

But I return briefly to the three issues which I have already mentioned. The first is the essentially dirigiste nature of this Bill. As I have indicated already, I believe that the Bill is misnamed. Although there is obviously a relationship between the framework of educational provision and standards of educational attainment, as my noble friend Lady Young has already emphasised, this Bill is far more about structures than about standards. For example, there are 133 clauses and 31 schedules dealing with structures—that represents 90 per cent.—and only about 10 per cent. deals with standards. The Bill will also confer 71 new powers or duties on the Secretary of State and give 66 new powers or duties to LEAs.

Moreover, the philosophy underpinning the proposed structural reforms does not bode well for the promotion of educational standards. The massive commitment and the involvement of LEAs in all state schools as a means of promoting standards flies in the face of experience and reality. For example, it is in those areas where LEAs have maintained most control over schools, and especially those areas which have been perpetually under Labour control, which have produced the lowest standards of attainment both in primary schools and GCSE.

The excuse is often made that the poor educational achievement in those schools is a function of the social deprivation of pupils' backgrounds. That is not the case. Research has shown that that under-achievement is not attributable to social factors in pupils' backgrounds as such. In a study undertaken by my colleague, Dr. John Marks and myself, of the exam results of the 250,000 school pupils from representative samples across the country, we found massive differences in pupil attainment in different schools even holding the social class factor constant with pupils from similar socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds performing very differently in different schools. In some areas, some schools within walking distance of each other in exactly the same neighbourhood from which pupils came out-performed others by a factor of three in the educational qualifications which they enabled their children to obtain.

Therefore, it is just not correct to explain away the under-achievement in many schools in many Labour-controlled LEAs by the simplistic suggestion that that is attributable to the social backgrounds of their pupils. Of course, there are many good comprehensive schools in such areas and I pay tribute to them. There are also many very good schools of other kinds which have been allowed to flourish, independent of LEA control such as the grant-maintained schools and City Technology Colleges.

One outstanding example of many I could cite is Emmanuel College, a Christian City Technology College serving the socially deprived area of Gateshead, which has an educationally comprehensive intake. Last year, 91 per cent. of its pupils achieved five or more Grade A starred to Grade C at GCSE. That is more than twice the national average in all schools.

The case for intervention has been made by the Government in the White Paper in order to address the problems of failing schools. But when we look at the Bill, we find that it makes provision for indiscriminate intervention which is not in inverse proportion to a school's success. For example, some of the greatest educational success stories in recent years have been the achievements of grant-maintained schools. They have been de facto the education action zones of the past 10 years. But now they are to be formally abolished and their independence and freedom for innovation are directly threatened by the changes to be introduced, including changes to governing bodies, GM schools already in existence and the abolition of opportunities for other schools to opt-out into GM status.

Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the establishment of the much-vaunted education action zones will permit such diversity to flourish or will there be an ideological commitment against freedom, diversity, innovation and the excellence which those principles often generate?

I also regret greatly, along with other noble Lords, the ideological bias against grammar schools latent in the Government's proposals which will jeopardise their future. The allegation is often made that the perpetuation of grammar schools undermines the efficacy of other schools in the locality—an allegation reflected in the notable maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. But research has shown that diversity of provision of different types of schools often enhances the attainment of all pupils in the area, not just those in grammar schools. In fact research has shown that selective systems as such out-perform comprehensive systems in the average attainment of all the pupils in their area.

Moreover, international research has shown that countries with a diversified secondary school system out-perform our comprehensive system by significant factors in the quality of education that they provide for pupils of all abilities. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether she will give assurances that the new framework which will be put into place will not be a vehicle for ideological bias against diversity of provision and the selection which must accompany such diversity?

For too long our educational system has allowed ideology to prevail over the commitment to the provision of high standards and an education which will enable all our children to realise their full potential.

I should like to finish with a salutary anecdote. During a recent visit to the war-torn Armenian region of Nagorno Karabakh, relocated by Stalin as an enclave in Azerbaijan, I took some gifts from children in a London primary school to 12 year-old children in the bombed out ruin of a school in the capital city Stepanakert. These Armenian children had spent months under constant bombardment, sheltering underground in basements and cellars. With the ceasefire, they were able to emerge and return to the ruins of their schools. When I met these 12 year-olds, they were huddled in a classroom without windows, without electricity and without light or heat in temperatures of minus 10 to 20 degrees. After the initial euphoria at receiving gifts, having been deprived of even essential supplies during long years of war and blockade, the children returned to their makeshift desks. Without any help from their teacher, each child wrote, spontaneously and independently, a letter to the British primary school children. They wrote in English. They all speak and write Armenian, which is a unique language with a unique script; they all read and write Russian—a totally different script and language. English is their third script and their third language. Yet their spelling and grammar were better than many British 12 year-olds. I shall give your Lordships two short, typical quotations which were written with perfect grammar and spelling. The first reads: Our capital city Stepanakert used to be a beautiful city, but it has been spoilt by bombing. But I do not want to write about sad things; I want to write about happy things". A second 12 year-old child wrote: I like to read foreign authors: Alex Dumas, George Sands, Mark Twain". I wonder how many British 12 year-olds would write that in English, let alone in a third language in a third script.

I should also add that those Armenian youngsters were not just focusing on foreign languages; they were also studying mathematics, including trigonometry, Armenian and Russian history together with literature, science, geography, art and music with virtually no teaching resources, but with standards comparable to their competence in English.

That anecdotal example of achievement of high educational standards by children deprived of all the luxuries of life, in a war zone, reflects less dramatic but more systematic evidence of high educational achievement in other countries and of relative underachievement by far too many children in this country.

It is imperative, therefore, that we subject both the current situation and the proposals for change outlined in the Bill to rigorous scrutiny in order to ensure that they will genuinely improve the educational standards for all our children. For too long, too much education has been sacrificed on the altar of ideology. We owe it to our children to question whether the framework for education, which will be implemented as a result of this proposed legislation, will achieve the ostensible objectives of the improvement of educational standards.

To the extent that those objectives can be shown to be achieved by the measures outlined in the Bill, I believe that they will be worthy of support. But, at the moment, I can see little congruence and much cause for concern. I will listen for reassurance, but fear that it may not be forthcoming and that many amendments will be needed as a damage limitation exercise to a Bill which appears excessively dirigiste, potentially destructive of many of the better aspects of the present system, and which offers little in the way of concrete measures to provide all our children with the education that they deserve and which our country needs.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I rise to speak with considerable trepidation, after four-and-a-half hours of debate, with a background in health rather than in education. However, I have become increasingly convinced that if we are to tackle many of the health problems of our nation, education is the basis of that approach. We need good education; indeed, its contribution to young people is incalculable, in health, in their personal lives and in the workplace.

The Bill has attracted a degree of criticism from noble Lords opposite during the debate. I was especially struck by their complaints about bureaucracy and the Bill's focus on structure. I believe that that is a little rich coming from the party opposite when one considers the massive burdens placed on teachers in our schools over the past 18 years by the previous government.

I am optimistic about the Bill. I particularly welcome the reduction in class sizes. I welcome the new category of schools which allows us to have a fair funding and accountability system but still retains a considerable degree of autonomy on the part of those schools. I also welcome the extension of the management of local schools on the same basis. I welcome the recognition of the role of LEAs and the part that they have to play in improving standards and supporting the performance of our schools.

I should especially like to focus on the role of LEAs in my remarks tonight. I have long been convinced that the LEA/school relationship is crucial. Of course, schools are in the forefront of improving standards, but LEAs can help enormously. Under the previous government their role was denigrated, diminished and undermined; and, indeed there was a threat of their complete marginalisation. I believe that that was a major error and I am delighted that that is now being put into reverse.

As my noble friend Lord Peston said, LEAs are democratically accountable to their local community and responsive to the views of their electorate. They can offer high quality support, advice and encouragement to schools. However, the question that I have to ask is whether those LEAs have been given sufficient powers in order to influence the maintained schools in their areas. In some areas, especially in relation to failing schools, clearly they do have sufficient powers to intervene. But I am not so sure about other areas; for example, on the agreement of targets with local schools, on local management of schools, on admissions and, indeed, when dealing with schools which may not be failing but which could certainly be described as rather complacent. I believe that there is a debate to be had in those areas as to whether LEAs will have sufficient powers.

Let us take as an example local management of schools. The draft code of practice has provided some very useful information. But I believe there is still potential for confusion between the statements of the educational leadership to be provided by the LEA on the one hand, and, on the other, the apparent expectation that much more money will be delegated to schools. We should not underestimate the importance of the ability of LEAs to use resources to target specific problems. There are a number of examples in Birmingham, my own LEA area, where that situation has occurred.

Another issue relating to LEA powers is to be found in the arrangements for admissions. The Government are not prepared to introduce the pattern of a single admission authority co-ordinating admissions to all types of schools in one LEA area. Instead, in addition to the LEA, individual governing bodies of foundation or voluntary aided schools will be the admission authorities. I must say that I foresee some hurdles getting in the way of the practical working of those arrangements in a city such as Birmingham, in which I take a particular interest. It would certainly help if my noble friend the Minister could make it clear how the new arrangements will improve on the current pattern, which I believe has led to disappointed expectations and an increasing number of appeals every year.

I have, instinctively, some sympathy with those who say that LEAs should be given more levers of influence over schools in their areas. However, I am just about persuaded that the Bill goes far enough. I am so persuaded for three reasons. First, it is clearly important that, while LEAs must have certain powers of intervention, they must also avoid the temptation to intervene too much in the day-to-day running of individual schools.

Secondly—and I agree very much with my noble friend Lady Lockwood in this respect—the code of practice on LEA/school relationships is a sensible framework in which to operate. Thirdly, it is clear from the recent report of the Audit Commission, which looked at the work of LEAs and which was published earlier this year, that the critical success factor for LEAs is their ability to act as agents of change and to be able to bring about improvement and excellence in their partners at school level.

The evidence in the Audit Commission report is that the best LEAs achieve that without wider powers. This has been achieved through creating the right culture, often driven by the efforts of strong leadership from the chief education officer. That has been clearly apparent in Birmingham where the inspired efforts of Professor Tim Brighouse, backed by a city council prepared to give support and resources, have paid real dividends. Indeed, the recent Ofsted inspection carried out on the Birmingham LEA stated—I suspect in spite of itself, and with gritted teeth— This is a very well run LEA with a sense of purpose and vision which delivers, in the main, expert and highly regarded services at a reasonable cost". That shows that with a highly regarded chief education officer, and with determined political, administrative and professional support, LEAs can achieve a considerable amount with their schools.

Not surprisingly, teacher and parental confidence in Birmingham's comprehensive system is rising. But the one blot on the landscape is the impact of the six grammar schools within the Birmingham system. Apart from the pressures and tensions on many 11-year olds to pass the wretched exam they have to take, the grammar schools have undoubtedly had a divisive impact on the whole of the school system in Birmingham. As so many children, and in effect their parents, are creamed off from comprehensive schools, it is not choice we are seeing but a denial of choice to thousands of children who do not, in effect, have true comprehensive schools. Of course that is exacerbated by the previous government's obsession with crude examination league tables. It is hardly surprising that children who do well in examinations taken at the age of 11 do well, in the main, in examinations taken at the age of 16 or 18. Earlier, noble Lords referred to successful schools, but such statistics ignore the success and the tremendous added value which many comprehensive schools provide for our children.

I welcome the opportunity being given to parents to be balloted on that matter. I just hope that there will not be too many hurdles put in the way of a proper ballot. I am certainly optimistic of the outcome. It is noticeable that when parents have been consulted by LEAs wanting to re-introduce grammar schools, there has been overwhelming opposition. This means, of course, that the process of balloting will be the subject of much debate. Given the different circumstances of each LEA, it will not be possible to be absolutely prescriptive. But, as regards Birmingham—and given the impact which the grammar schools have on the whole school system—I am convinced that the parents of all children at LEA maintained schools in the city should have a vote. Whatever the outcome of this issue, it is clear that the Bill will have a considerable impact upon governing bodies and teachers.

I acknowledge governing bodies as the unsung heroes of our educational system. The time, energy and devotion governors give to our schools is incalculable. I hope that in addition to the initial training which is offered to governors of schools, we shall underpin that by offering continuous opportunities for further training, support and development not just for individual members of governing bodies but also—this is important—for governing bodies as a whole.

However good a governing body may be, nothing is achieved without teachers. Many of the efforts being made to raise teaching standards are to be applauded. I particularly acknowledge the role of the teaching council, as set out in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill. I welcome the proposed powers to suspend or permanently ban teachers for professional misconduct and professional incompetence. But side by side with a vigorous approach to weeding out poor performers, we must encourage, boost and praise the work of teachers. If we are to boost our educational services and to attract and to retain high quality people into the profession, we now need less of the big stick and more of the carrot. We need less sermonising to teachers and more encouragement. We need to do less talking down to teachers and more talking up.

The Teacher Training Agency's "No one forgets a good teacher" campaign has succeeded in raising awareness of the importance of teaching as a profession. Last week the agency's hotline was reported as receiving 1,000 new responses a week. That is a good start but there is certainly no room for complacency. The context in which we can recruit new teachers more effectively is that of a nation which values and respects teaching as a noble profession to which our best and brightest aspire.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, it is with a certain temerity that I speak in this Second Reading debate as I have no experience of teaching and certainly I have neither the ability nor the aptitude required for it. I am, however, a consumer of educational establishments having been a pupil and a parent and currently as a grandparent. I also have a great interest in education in its widest sense and understand only too well the importance of a good, broadly based education.

This Bill before us is by any standards a massive one and deserves careful scrutiny. I feel that in Committee we shall be giving it just that, so today I want to concentrate on just one aspect that I view with immense concern—the future of our grammar and grant-maintained schools. Shortly before the election there was a by-election in the Wirral and a good deal of publicity was given to the Prime Minister's assertion that grammar schools would be safe with the Labour Party. This was repeated during the general election campaign and I have no doubt that the electorate believed those warm and comforting words. However, perusal of this Bill and statements in another place since that time make me fearful of their future.

Ten days ago I attended a concert in the new hall of our local grammar school in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is a school of exceptional distinction and has served countless generations of local boys. Parents from all backgrounds in the area have aspired to have their children accepted by this centre of excellence. Their results in the league tables demonstrate how the pupils flourish when those of similar ability are taught together. I believe that the pupils who are given this opportunity are privileged, but in addition I feel privileged that locally we have such spectacular facilities available for the brightest children.

I believe in selection wholeheartedly and overtly. I also believe that we let our children down if we take an opposite view. It is no good placing children of mixed ability together. Children are not stupid; they know who are the bright ones. In such a situation no one flourishes. The brightest languish as they are not stretched and the less academic struggle to keep up, often to their detriment. This was brought home to me most vividly when the eight year-old daughter of a friend went home after school exams and said to her mother that she had come last. But she added, "Don't worry Mummy, they are all much cleverer than me. Somebody has got to be last, I don't mind and some of the others would." I must tell the House that her parents found the right school for her and she has developed into the most capable, confident and obviously generous hearted woman.

I understand that in Birmingham there is a monstrous suggestion that grammar school selection at 11 could continue but that at 14 pupils of any ability would be accepted. That seems to me the worst of all worlds for pupils, teachers and anyone trying to organise a sensible timetable that would cater for all the differing standards.

I understand that some schools would be able to accept a percentage of children on aptitude but not ability. Not knowing the difference between them, I thought I would consult the thesaurus on my PC, and there I found under "aptitude" an alternative word—"ability". This seems to be dogma gone mad and leaves me in a state of utter confusion. Do the Government believe in selection as long as nobody notices, especially where their own children are concerned? How on earth do you establish whether a child has an aptitude other than by some form of testing? Maybe parents would simply be able to state, "My child has an aptitude for music", or whatever the distinct subject in which their chosen school specialises.

The Prime Minister said he was interested in standards, not structures. It is therefore strange that so much of the Bill seems to be about structures. Grammar schools have 500 years of experience in developing the highest quality standards; yet the Government are willing to let their future be decided by ballot. Once again I refer to the promise made before the election that the status of a school would be decided by the parents of children with an interest in the school. Now I am very concerned about who will be allowed to participate, as I understand that the parents of an 11 year-old, with perhaps seven school years ahead of him or her, may he excluded from the ballot.

Another area of concern is the length of time between ballots. If it were to be as short a time as only five years, it would make the lives of governors and teachers impossible as they tried to cope with forward planning.

In recent years, grant maintained schools have developed into highly popular institutions, with parents willing to travel many miles to give their children this special opportunity. We are delighted that the Prime Minister and Harriet Harman have taken advantage of this facility, giving support to these most successful schools and the grant maintained system in general. It therefore seems a bit rich to propose changes to the structure of the grant maintained schools by making them foundation schools, bringing back the local authorities just when the head teachers and the boards of governors have shown that they do not need such interference. These schools have proved themselves and should be left to continue as real centres of excellence. Indeed, I should love to see a real expansion of such schools.

It is no good bleating about the pursuance of high standards for all while at the same time setting about the destruction of tried and tested systems. New Labour's current passion is to modernise (whatever that means) everything that has served this country well. I believe that the Government will come to regret their actions on grammar and grant maintained schools. No doubt future generations will hold them responsible for vandalising very precious assets in our educational system. I feel that as the Bill proceeds through the House it is our duty to assist both the grammar and grant maintained schools to save themselves, and this we shall do with great vigour.

7.52 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, there should be few of us who are not prepared to congratulate the Government on promoting education as their number one priority. Many of their statements of broad principle on this are welcome. For example, from Labour's manifesto: Standards, more than structures, are the key to success"; and, Labour will never put dogma before children's education". I repeat that the Government are to be applauded on such sentiments. This persuaded me that I could look forward to reading the School Standards and Framework Bill. Clearly it would be a constructive measure that, free of any vested interest or political prejudice, would set about the task of delivering educational provision in which we could all have faith and of which we could all be proud.

It is with regret that I have found the Bill not to be quite as good a read as the rhetoric implied. In truth, it is difficult to be more than lukewarm about the way in which the Government's ambitions, so loftily expressed in advance, have been translated into action by its provisions.

At the outset, I acknowledge that some measures—for example, the general thrust of education action zones—are welcome. Others, far from representing an abandonment of sterile arguments about structure or dogma, are exactly the reverse. Leaving that aside, it is the methodology that underpins delivery of the Bill's provisions that causes me most concern. Early in its consideration in another place, the Minister for schools standards stated (Standing Committee A, 20/1/98; col. 27): I hope that the Committee will give the Bill the detailed scrutiny that it deserves. It is an important measure; it is one of the Government's flagship Bills". By any interpretation, therefore, the Bill lies at the very heart of government policy. All well and good. And, that being so, it is reasonable to suppose, particularly in the context of the Minister's invitation, that the terms of the Bill are fully formed and very detailed in character, certainly sufficient to enable satisfactory scrutiny. No such luck!

As my noble friend Lady Blatch has already indicated, the Bill is littered with seemingly endless orders, regulations, guidance and codes of practice. Of course, I have no complaint about such instruments being used where they deal with the minutiae of a particular clause's provisions. This should not be allowed to disguise the fact that, as a generality, their almost obsessive use in the Bill will lead to increased bureaucracy. For example, it may be that the concepts of education development plans, school organisation committees, and so on, have merit; but they, and the regulations by which they will be bound, will inevitably create a circuitous paper-chase from one area of responsibility to another.

More disturbingly in the context of the Bill, many of these regulations deal with substantive matters of policy. The tone is set by the very first clause, which, by regulation, seeks to deliver the Government's manifesto pledge of reducing class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds to 30 or under … No absolute commitment to 30 or under—one would have thought that it was an important and substantive detail of policy—appears on the face of the Bill. It is dealt with by regulation.

We are spoilt for choice for other examples but, at random, I turn to Clauses 99 to 102. These contain references to a number of regulations relating to grammar schools, specifically with respect to balloting procedures. Your Lordships will be aware that the potential electoral rolls for such ballots are a very important issue in the broad sweep of the educational debate, not just in the context of grammar schools. But it is to be determined by regulation which, so far as I am aware, has yet to be prepared, even in draft form. Therefore, the opportunity for the matter to be subjected to proper parliamentary scrutiny within the context of the Bill is severely constrained.

The difficulty is compounded by Clauses 79 and 80, which allow for the establishment of a code of practice relating to admission arrangements. These are a central issue, again not just in relation to grammar schools but in relation to the delivery of both standards and the total matrix of education provision. But the opportunity for their proper scrutiny within the context of the Bill is again constrained because of the absence of any draft code at this time. I acknowledge that Clause 80(3) allows for scrutiny of its terms by Parliament in due course, but I repeat that what is required is the opportunity to assess the matter in the context of the Bill, not in isolation from it.

This pervasive pattern of substantive matters of policy being determined by orders, and so on, is repeated time and time again throughout the Bill. I recognise, of course, that in their own way they are a mechanism for retaining decision-making power at the centre, part of the "centralising tendency" so despised by Will Hutton. They are part of the "command-and-control" culture. That is very un-new Labour, or so we have been led to believe, not least by the noble Baroness the Minister in her introductory remarks. It is all the more striking, therefore, that in among the confused patchwork of responsibilities for individual schools, LEAs, adjudicators, school organisation committees and the like a further significant theme of the Bill is a formidable extension of the powers and duties of the Secretary of State. Many other noble Lords have referred to this.

I do not dispute that, in the context of the provisions of Clause 8 with respect to failing schools, there is a reasonable case for this. It makes sense, not only for good practical reasons but also within the context of the Government's ambitions to drive up standards overall. But it is impossible to make the same sort of case for other provisions within the Bill. Clauses 6, 7, 79, 119 and 120 are particularly disturbing in so far as they have the potential for conferring upon the Secretary of State virtually unfettered powers to determine all aspects of education policy outside—this is the crucial point—proper scrutiny by Parliament. That is a case of interference, perhaps, rather than intervention. It seems to me that there are at least three aspects to this. First, this form of policy delivery is inimical to commitments contained in the Labour Party's election manifesto. That document states unequivocally that, Our system of government is centralised, inefficient and bureaucratic —and that, Local decision-making should be less constrained by central government, and also more accountable to local people". There is no room for any doubt there. But many of the provisions of the Bill are inconsistent with the sentiments expressed.

Secondly, the implicit inconsistencies of the Government's position here are, at least in part, a product of new Labour's own success. The Bill extends to both England and Wales. I touch here on issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. Clause 127(6) permits regulatory variation between England and Wales. But, as we are all aware, the assembly for Wales, with its responsibility for Welsh Office matters, is also in the process of being delivered legislatively. That being so, the Government are in something of a quandary because, to an extent, the making of regulations for Wales has to subsist in limbo until such time as the assembly is up and running. The powers in the Bill of the Secretary of State and the absorption of policy detail into regulation give the impression of being the mechanism by which the Government intend that this difficulty will be circumvented. Suffice to say, on that basis any anxieties we may feel about the absence of detail, the skeletal nature of the Bill, are but the thin end of a large wedge.

Thirdly, and possibly most importantly, as my noble friend Lady Blatch demonstrated so lucidly in her exposition of education action zones, there is a quite palpable sense—commentators are increasingly drawing attention to it—in which this Government believe that Parliament is no more than an irritation. EAZs aside, this was brought home to me most forcefully in a contribution on the last day of Committee in another place by the Minister for School Standards. Speaking to the Government's introduction of their amendment to establish the code of practice for the relationship between LEAs and the maintained sector, now Clause 119, he made the following observation: We have begun to consult. I make no apology for that. It is important that the various partners in the schools service have an opportunity to sec what the statutory code of practice—which we had not originally decided to have—might contain. We had the opportunity to discuss it earlier under the new clause moved by the honourable Member for Bath, which allowed us to begin consultation. In those circumstances, an exception to convention was wholly appropriate. Conventions are not written on tablets of stone and it is sometimes appropriate to progress in a sense of partnership instead of being stuck with parliamentary protocol."—[Official Report, Commons. Standing Committee A, 3/3/98; col. 796.] That speaks volumes.

I repeat that the Bill has good points, and I welcome them. But I cannot help feeling that the Government would have done themselves a favour had they listened to and legislated for their own rhetoric. Certainly many inconsistencies and incoherences could, and should, have been avoided by so doing. More disturbingly, the Bill, as an archetype of a legislative style, is deeply worrying in terms of both the capacity of Parliament to perform its proper duties of scrutiny and in terms of the proper chain of democratic accountability. I have no doubt that we shall do our utmost to improve it in Committee for the benefit of schools provision and, more importantly, for the educational and democratic expectations of our children.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on producing this mammoth Bill. To me it is a very welcome Bill. It is not surprising that it has to be so big considering the 20 education Bills—I have a list of them here—that the Tories produced in their 18 years in power, containing so much that we opposed. LEAs were emasculated. That meant the discouragement of good officers who had done so much to encourage good practice and build up the education service. So I am very glad that power is to be returned to the LEA.

The push for high standards is commendable, as is the responsibility of local government to fund again all maintained schools. There will no longer be two educational sectors. All schools will be brought together in a single family of schools, and that will be fairer for parents, pupils and teachers.

I welcome, too, that there is to be a code of practice for LEA and schools relations. It is important to state clearly what an LEA's new responsibilities will be as well as the duties of the governing body and the head.

The Bill is excellent in setting up structures to enable staff and parents to work in partnership to help pupils achieve their best. But partnership is not just a two-way process. The Bill and the White Paper on which it is based omit the core element of the education system—the pupils. Children are people. It is a natural condition of children to learn. Harnessing children's and adolescents' active collaboration in their own education, working with the grain of their innate intellectual curiosity, are long-standing pedagogic principles. The Bill is weakened by its failure to recognise the huge potential pupils themselves can give, not as passive objects, but as active players in the educational system. Provision should be made to incorporate Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child within education law. Listening to pupils can reduce pupil disaffection and increase their commitment to their own education, the school and the wider community.

Pupil participation and consultation should become part of the development of a school policy on discipline; hence, we hope, on exclusions. They should he consulted on home/school agreements. Although the intention is to involve parents more closely in their children's schooling, the children themselves are ultimately responsible for producing their own homework, for attending class, for understanding the school ethos and behaving well.

On structures, Clauses 20 to 22 re-establish the responsibility of the LEA for all maintained schools and present the three categories of community, voluntary and foundation schools. I want to make a point about special schools, which in fact was made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. The White Paper proposes that special schools should become community schools. The Bill says that they can become foundation schools. LEAs now have a duty to review their special education provision. They have continuing and significant responsibilities for meeting special educational needs, in particular those that lie beyond the resources of their own mainstream schools.

There is, therefore, need to be able to deploy provision in response to changes in the pattern of local need, changes in the expression of parental preferences, and policy changes, for example increasing inclusion. This does not always work well. Not all LEAs review, plan and make provision in this responsive way. But this cycle needs strengthening not undermining. The Special Education Consortium believes that foundation status for special schools undermines the ability of the LEA to deploy resources in the responsive way I have outlined. Can the Minister say how local provision can be planned in the light of changing local needs if resources are locked into foundation special schools? I presume that the Government's change of heart is closely linked to the responses of a small number of grant-maintained special schools.

I have another point about special schools, and that is to do with exclusions. The increase in exclusions is extremely worrying. My noble friend Lady Lockwood gave the statistics. Many would point to a link between the increase in exclusions and the introduction of the national curriculum, the publication of league tables, and the delegation of funding to school level through LMS. The timing of the increase in exclusions would support that argument.

Many would agree that there have been benefits from these now well established features of the educational landscape. But they have no doubt combined to make some schools more reluctant to devote resources to those pupils who are more challenging in terms of the curriculum, more challenging in terms of the organisation of the classroom, more costly in terms of staff time and expertise, and less likely to bring glory to their school when it comes to league tables. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, alluded to that.

There is great variation between schools. Some manage to exclude very few children. The White Paper quotes examples of schools that have adopted sound methods to engage all pupils and minimise the difficulties that lead to exclusion. By contrast, cases that attained a high profile in the media in 1996 and 1997 reveal that exclusions may sometimes be more about schools that are failing their pupils than pupils who are failing their schools.

Research shows that schools have problems identifying pupils who are demonstrating behavioural difficulties. Teachers were over-estimating the IQ of pupils excluded for behavioural problems, failing to recognise that they find it hard to engage in the curriculum. The Ofsted report on the implementation of the code of practice two years on shows that a significant number of schools do not put their pupils on the SEN register. This means that problems are not addressed through the staged approach set out in the code of practice. Does the Minister think that a case conference built into the exclusion procedures could help to ensure that all children's needs are adequately identified? As schools vary, so do LEAs. High quality support services, working in partnership with schools on provision for individual pupils, and on whole school approach, have done much to reduce exclusions in Merton and Newham, examples in two authorities. All this means keeping back adequate funds for them to innovate and help schools having problems.

Anxieties have rightly been expressed about the high number of children with statements who are excluded. Nationally, 2.8 per cent. of children have a statement but recent statistics, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, show that 18 per cent. of those excluded have a statement. A great deal of trouble is taken getting a child with a statement to a school that is appropriate. Does the Minister think it right that so many children, whose placement has been so carefully considered, are then excluded from that school?

The 45 day total exclusion for the year, brought in by the 1997 Act and, I am sorry to say, confirmed in this Bill, cannot be right, particularly for SEN pupils. Would it not be sensible to limit the days excluded to 15 in any one term? Could the Minister tell us whether changes in the legislation, which the social exclusion unit may propose, can appear while this Bill is going through the House?

My final point is to welcome the inclusion in this Bill of provisions to extend the prohibition of corporal punishment to cover all pupils in independent schools and nursery education. It was very heartening to see the overwhelming majority that voted for it in the other place. It was also good that the Independent Schools Association welcomed the ban in advance of the clause being accepted.

But from children's perspective this reform has taken far too long to complete. It is over three centuries since in 1669 a "lively boy" presented a petition to Parliament to protest at "that intolerable grievance our youth lie under, in the accustomed severities of the school discipline of this nation." It is 25 years since Baroness Wootton introduced her Protection of Minors Bill in this House to end all school beating. It was defeated by 67 votes to 51.

It is over 10 years since a series of votes in this House led the previous government to accept reluctantly that it must prohibit corporal punishment in all state-supported education. And it has taken far too long to complete the task and remove the discriminatory anomaly which has allowed corporal punishment to persist in a small minority of independent schools.

It has been an embarrassing blot on the face of the UK's education system, and we will all benefit from its complete removal. It is a great delight to me that this clause appears in the first big education Bill of this Labour Government.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I want to look at special educational needs, but I hope that my remarks will differ from his rather more than those of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Apart from that allusion to any work from Lewis Carroll, I shall not attempt to follow the noble Lord because he does it so much better than anyone else in the House.

At almost the same time as the Government published this Bill, they published their Green Paper Excellence for all Children. In that paper at page 7 they state: All Government policies for schools will include an explicit assessment of the implications for children with special educational needs". Yet there are many structures within this Bill that appear not to take account of children with special educational needs, and there is no explicit assessment of the implications for these children.

Will the Minister tell the House what assessment has been made of the implications for children with special educational needs of the new structures and codes of practice proposed in the Bill: school organisation committees, education action fora, the fora that will need to exist to ensure that the new admissions arrangements are carried out and the proposed code of practice on local education authority school relations. What assurances can the Minister give the House that children with special educational needs will be properly considered within these new structures and codes?

I come now to the question of clarity about delegated funding for special educational needs. In its report of 1997 dealing with the years 1996 to 1997, Ofsted, reporting on the special educational needs code of practice two years on, states that, The majority of schools are still confused about the LEA's funding arrangements for SEN. LEAs often do not inform head teachers and governors clearly as to the indicative allocation of funds to schools for SEN provision through their LMS formula … SENCOs are often unaware of the SEN component of delegated budgets". Ofsted attributes some of the confusion to weakness in communication within the school but often it is due to poor or imprecise documentation from the LEA". In their first report on the Implementation of the Code of Practice, Ofsted identified weaknesses in the reporting on the funding of SEN in the governors' annual report to parents. In their latest report they say that the situation has not improved.

Some LEAs do now publish an expected level for SEN expenditure within the delegated budget. This is usually expressed as a percentage of the headcount money allocated through the Age-Weighted Pupil Unit and a percentage of the additional educational needs element in the school's budget. This is helpful in providing a benchmark (not a ring-fenced allocation) and provides a starting point for discussions between schools and the LEA about what individual schools do actually spend.

Unless schemes for delegation and information about them make it clear both what is in the budget for SEN and what a school's anticipated expenditure on SEN might be, there will continue to be confusion about what is the school's responsibility and what is the LEA's. Parents are caught in this confusion when schools say to them that they do not have enough money in their budget to provide a particular level of support, but the local education authority says to the parents that the school does have that money.

Does the Minister consider that LEAs make it sufficiently clear to schools what is in their delegated budget for special educational needs?

There is a related need for the LEA to monitor the school's expenditure on SEN. This needs to be done in a standard way across all schools. Does the Minister consider that proper frameworks exist between schools and LEAs for monitoring how the delegated budget is used to meet special education needs?

Finally, I turn to special educational needs support services and delegation. The same Ofsted report refers to a reduction in staffing levels in LEA learning support services within the last year or so. The effect of this, according to the report, is that: for some schools in almost a quarter of LEAs in this sample there is no difference between pupils being at Stage 2 or 3, [of the Code of Practice] because either external support does not exist or the extent of support for schools is so minimal as to be almost non-existent. In fact Stage 3, as outlined in the Code, for these schools, does not really exist in practice". Yet provision at Stage 3 must be seen as crucial to the issue of preventing increased referrals for statutory assessment.

The provision of support services appears to be closely and inversely linked to levels of delegation. The more pressure there has been to delegate, the less local education authorities have been able to meet the need for Stage 3 input for support services. This issue is particularly acute in respect of Stage 3 support for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The Special Education Consortium, which has advised me in the matter, is aware that in one LEA a behaviour support service that was delegated to schools would have disappeared in the next financial year if the LEA had not taken it back out of the delegated budget. Not enough schools, all of them under their own budgetary pressures, were buying back into the service. The short-term funding that local authorities have sought through GEST or urban regeneration programmes disrupts the continuity of services and weakens their value to schools. Yet where LEAs do provide support services for children with EBD, there is the potential to reduce both referrals for statutory assessment and levels of exclusions.

My final question to the Minister is this. Does she consider that in general LEAs are retaining sufficient funding at centre to provide the services that can help schools to meet special educational needs?

8.22 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, coming at the end of a long list of distinguished speakers, I am sure noble Lords will be thankful that I shall not go through every single aspect of the Bill. I wish to start by indicating that I am concerned about the Bill because, apart from indicating in 42 clauses increased powers for the Secretary of State, this Bill is remarkably coy about the detail of its intentions. The Government talk of standards but nowhere more so than in relation to governors, as well as the LEAs. The Bill is full of structures, as both my noble friend Lady Blatch and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said. It is full of bureaucratic commitment and places extra burdens on schools.

In my remarks this evening I wish to refer directly to governors and their role. The booklet, Guidance on Good Governance, published in 1997 by the DfEE, was the product of a working party composed of representatives of education officers, the Churches, head teachers, governors and governor trainers. It set out five main areas of governor responsibilities: to deal with the curriculum—policy, delivery, monitoring; staffing—the numbers required, appointment procedures, selection of heads and deputies, conditions of employment, pay levels of heads and deputies; finance and budget; complaints, from whatever source; and a school prospectus and annual report to parents.

However, the new Bill envisages additional requirements for a number of governors within the system. They are to represent parent governors on education committees; to fill appointments to education action zones; and to fill additional governor places in failing schools. Above all, the composition of every governing body of a community school is to be increased by at least one. In the case of primary schools with between 100 and 600 pupils, the increase will be five.

I hear many reports of schools which are unable to hold parent governor elections because of the lack of candidates and of LEAs unable to fill all their places. Indeed, in a school of which my husband is a governor, two LEA places have remained unfilled for some time since last year. The need to find extra governors will obviously add an additional strain. I understand that it would mean up to 4,000 extra governors. Where will those governors come from?

The requirements for increased consultation with LEAs, with parents and with staff, imply—though it is not acknowledged—increased workloads for governors. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, back in his place because he paid great credit to the role that governors play. I wish to reinforce that. I remind the House that governors are not paid, they receive no attendance allowance, and in most schools they do not claim expenses. The Government have fallen into the trap of assuming that therefore their involvement has no cost implications. That is simply not true. Many governors are employed, many are self-employed. Particularly when meetings, consultations, disciplinary hearings and training sessions take place during normal working hours, someone has to bear the cost of their attendance. For example, the home-school agreement will be likely to cost every school in the land a minimum of one-and-a-half hours for three governors in a sub-committee, a further 10 to 20 minutes for the full governing body, and preparation time for staff on the management team, input from the secretarial function and the cost of reprographics. In his excellent maiden speech, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned the home-school agreements.

All the extra regulations will put additional burdens on governors in order to produce something which many governors feel, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing said, is already honoured by the 97 per cent. of pupils who behave properly within the bounds of their school and the curriculum. I do not know to what extent a written agreement will bring those who do not into the fold.

The Government have promised to use the moneys saved by abolishing the assisted places scheme—and we on this side .of the House are very sorry to see that happen—in order to reduce class sizes. However, the Institute of Public Finance, in its report, The Cost of Reducing Infants' Class Sizes, calculated that there will be a need for a further £250 million in funding. That reflects an extra £100 million for capital spending and the extra money required to pay the teachers needed to teach those pupils who will now remain in the state system. Will the Minister explain how governors can be expected to ensure compliance with class size limits if there is insufficient money to do so?

I now turn to the requirement in Clause 37: The governing body shall conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school". That is a simple two-line statement which the DfEE, Ofsted, the LEAs, governor training bodies and informed governors regard as covering an enormous responsibility. I refer to the report of the DfEE/Ofsted governors' conference in February 1997 entitled On Target for School Improvement. Among the themes identified for governor action were, in addition to the ones I mentioned: development planning, the use of comparative information, the use of best practice, the raising of parent and pupil expectations, better strategic planning and the setting of priorities. My goodness, what a lot our governors will have to cope with!

The role of governors is no sinecure. It requires skill, judgment, knowledge and, being unremunerated, it requires a level of selfless dedication, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge.

Finally, I have three questions on a matter of detail. Clause 13 refers to the disapplication of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act in education action zones. Those are to be set up for three years and may be extended to five. What does the Minister envisage will happen to the salaries of teachers who have been paid above the standard scale when the zone ends? Will they go on protected rates? If so, from where will those extra funds come? In the same way, if schools decide to opt out, will that position continue?

Clause 18(3) gives the Secretary of State power to pay a governor appointed to a governing body of a maintained school requiring special measures, such remuneration and allowances as the Secretary of State may determine". Will the Minister indicate the thinking behind that clause and estimate the likely effect on governors in general?

Lastly, paragraph 7 of Schedule 11 states that the LEA shall, secure that every governor is provided, free of charge, with such information as they consider appropriate in connection with the discharge of his functions as a governor; and secure that there is made available to every governor, free of charge, such training as they consider necessary for the effective discharge of those functions". Will the Minister make clear whether that means that from now on LEAs will be unable to charge schools for governor training and whether they will have to provide each governor with, for example, a copy of every consultation paper in place of the current practice of supplying one or two for the governing body as a whole?

Those are just a few items that I picked up from this huge Bill. It is full of bureaucracy, structures and a certain amount of confusion. But a huge extra responsibility is placed on schools and governors. We look forward to taking part in the forthcoming stages. We hope that the Bill will raise standards for all our children. But we are concerned that so much stress is placed at this stage on structures rather than on standards.

8.32 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, this has been a long debate but, as is usual in your Lordships' House, we heard original and humorous contributions as well as informative ones. I particularly enjoyed the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Hattersley. They were an education in how to raise controversial issues in a non-controversial way.

I also greatly enjoyed the original contribution of the noble Lord. Lord Rix. It reminded me of my childhood watching him when he performed on stage many years ago. I found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Peston—not for the first time in this House. The Minister gave a good introduction to the key areas of the Bill and it became apparent as the day wore on that many noble Lords agree that the intentions of the Bill are good. I should like to draw attention to five points.

First, I wish to refer to the raising of standards through partnership and co-operation, with particular attention being paid to failing schools and failing pupils. Many of us acknowledge that strife and conflict have, for far too long, dogged the lives of all key players in education in our country today. Secondly, I want to refer to the aim to reduce class sizes. As a teacher I have never subscribed to the research that purported to show that class size had nothing to do with the attainment of children. I taught in schools and know that those children who found life difficult achieved so much more when there were only 17 in the class learning maths than when there were 30. Nobody will convince me otherwise.

The other point I wish to raise is the wish to give local authorities a clear role in maintaining standards in our schools. I shall say a little more about that later. My fourth point concerns the aim to put standards before structures. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when discussing this issue, used the phrase "old Labour" and "new Labour". However, what comes to my mind sometimes with this Government is, "old Labour, new Tories". On that issue I felt the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, was extremely well put.

The fifth aim to which I wish to draw attention is that of building on the Teaching and Higher Education Bill, particularly in the area of raising the status of teachers and the teaching profession. There are other matters which we on these Benches particularly welcome. As my noble friend Lord Tope said, we are pleased to see the back of nursery vouchers. We welcome planning and the expansion of early years education. It is no secret to noble Lords who follow what Liberal Democrats say on education that we would like to go further than the Government. We would like to see early years education from the age of three. We would like to look more carefully at the integration of early years education and childcare. In that respect I very much warmed to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.

As has been pointed out throughout the debate, everything is not so rosy when we look at the detail of the Bill. Sometimes there is a lack of clarity. We heard much as to whether we will be able to clarify the difference between aptitude and ability. Sometimes we have seen outright omission and sometimes I feel that we are seeing a continuation of practices which we believed this Government wanted to see the back of.

This Government in Opposition opposed Conservative centralisation and massive powers being given to individual Ministers. We have seen various estimates of the number of extra powers given to Ministers in the Bill and it is likely to be almost 100. I listened somewhat in disbelief therefore to some of the contributions to the debate. The change of government can be extremely confusing in such matters. The Labour Party in Opposition strongly criticised the Conservative Government for giving powers to Ministers—admittedly, they went a long way in giving 500 powers to Ministers in the 1988 Act. But the roles have now been completely reversed and the Conservatives now complain about the powers being given to Ministers.

As Liberal Democrats we would prefer a Bill which establishes the framework but has a government which provides the resources for those who work on the ground in education—the professionals—to get on with the job. For all the Government's intentions to consult and work in partnership, when it comes to the crunch they are almost terrified of giving away power and of putting their trust in those who work in our schools, our education authorities and sometimes in parents, governors and pupils themselves. It is my experience that if we trust people and put clear structures in place, we will be rewarded. I can recommend that to the Government. They have got themselves in deep water not only on this Bill, but also in other areas where their intentions are good, but they cannot give way to those intentions by giving away real power and trusting other people.

I turn to some of the omissions in the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Tope said, we welcome the reintroduction of nutritional standards in schools. As someone who has been a governor of a first school, I am extremely upset that minimum space standards have not been reintroduced. To return to nutritional standards, I particularly welcome the ability of schools to provide free milk. I was a young mother in the days when the slogan was ringing around, "Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher". I am disappointed that the Government have failed to recognise the importance of space in enabling schools to function well, particularly in this age of information technology and all that goes with it. It affects the ability of mainstream schools to provide for special needs children.

I say that from the experience of being a governor in a first school. We were fortunate to have a lot of space but that was because the middle school on the same site as us had been closed. That meant that we were able to integrate into our school children with special educational needs, particularly those who needed to be in a wheelchair or had other equipment. Children with special educational needs often need extra people to help them with their everyday requirements in the classroom. Furthermore, we have parents and other people coming in to help in classrooms. This all means that we need extra space.

Despite the fierce debates in another place, and despite the fact that many amendments were proposed, many areas of the Bill are still unclear and show perhaps a little confusion. On the proposals to limit class sizes, the Government seem to be dogmatic about the number 30 and perhaps do not quite understand the knock-on effect that may have, particularly in rural areas and for siblings. Other noble Lords have illustrated this point very clearly. We are concerned about the need for flexibility when trying to have minimum class sizes and we are concerned whether there will be sufficient funding to carry this out. The proposals will often mean extra classrooms and extra teachers. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, had great faith that her government would produce enough resources. My past experience shows me that, however good their intentions, they may find that difficult, particularly when one bears in mind the predictions we have seen so far.

In debates in another place it also became clear that there was a lack of clarity surrounding the role of local education authorities. The different contributions we have heard today perhaps show that the role is not clear in the Bill. They have varied from people who think that far too much power will be given to local education authorities, to other people who think that not enough power will be given to local education authorities. My reading is that there is not a great deal of difference legally in the powers that will be given to local education authorities and it seems to me that many noble Lords did not understand what some local education authorities are doing today. The very best ones do have education plans, they do assist teachers in schools and they do try to develop new and innovative ideas. Local education authorities want a clear job description—that is only reasonable—and we shall return to that matter at a later stage.

Similar problems surround the responsibilities of head teachers, LEAs and governors, a point ably put by my noble friend Lady Byford. There are also problems in setting budgets—problems of consultation between governors and head teachers and how they are to be involved. But, oh dear, when it comes to selection, I just come to the conclusion that the Government have fudged on this issue. They said one thing in opposition and they are saying another thing now. What are foundation schools if they are not grant-maintained schools under another name? We have consistently made it clear that there is a role for local education authorities. We want it to be a light touch from local education authorities and we want to give as much power as is reasonable to individual schools. In this respect I very much agreed with the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, who clearly has a great deal of experience in that area.

We, as Liberal Democrats, very much believe in local decision-making and local accountability. That is very important when it comes to school status, selection and admissions. My noble friend Lord Tope referred to these matters in his opening comments and I am sure that we shall return to them at later stages of the Bill. During the course of the debate I listened with great interest to the contributions about grammar schools and comprehensive schools. I do not particularly want to get into that argument but I want to explain to your Lordships what I think are the values of comprehensive education.

I was educated in a private school until I was 11. I then went to a grammar school. After that I went to a teachers' training college. The very first course at that college looked at how we should provide for children with special educational needs. In my whole education up to that point I had never really come across that. At that point I realised that I had led a sheltered life. I did not know of the great variety of human beings who made up our society. At that point I determined that whatever education I gave to my children they would not end up in the same position as I did. With that in mind I made sure that my children went to a school which gave them some idea of who lived in their community. I believe that that is the best education in citizenship one can give to our young people today in order that they understand how they fit into the society.

I taught in a secondary school which became a comprehensive school while I was there. It is possible to keep up those standards and to make sure that the children are not separated and that they do not feel they are always failing. My experience is that children who fail academically can often succeed in music and in art. Mixed ability groups for those subjects mean that all children can be given the opportunity at some point in their school life to succeed. That is what all teachers and all educationists should be troubled to do.

There will be further debates on the Bill, but I want to conclude by talking about what I think will be the underlying principles for those on these Benches. We want to see true partnership which ensures that all the relevant players are consulted. We want to see real accountability. We see that as best done through democratically accountable bodies. I know that some professional bodies are also worried about these issues. We want to see sufficient resources to enable key players to get the back-up they require to raise standards. We are worried about restrictions on local action. We think that local action should be interfered with only where it is necessary to raise standards. We want to see greater flexibility surrounding the proposals on class sizes and we want a proper framework for the creation of education action zones, particularly the ability to withdraw from them.

Most noble Lords had positive things to say. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was perhaps the most negative in her contribution, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, accused us of agreeing with everything the government of the day do. I do not think she can have read of the haranguing that was given to the Government in another place by my honourable friends Don Foster and Phil Willis. As my noble friend Lord Tope said, we will be a constructive opposition. That means that you praise where you think things are good and you say where you agree with things, but we will vigorously oppose where we disagree. That is something which, in the short time I have been here, I have done. That is, what the citizens of this country expect from their Parliament and that is what leads to the best results for them.

We have been consistent in what we believe on these Benches. I am not sure that I can say that at all times for noble Lords on the other Benches. We want the best educational opportunities for all our children. Raising standards for all will do more to help the problems of school admissions than many of the bureaucratic matters that we shall discuss in this Bill, which says that partnership is the way forward. It is in that spirit that we shall debate this Bill at its future stages.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, the Minister will gather that there is some disagreement and worry on this side of the House as regards her Bill. So, before I get on to the rather more argumentative matters, I would like to say two things on which we can all agree. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Hattersley and Lord Dearing, on their splendid maiden speeches. They also know now what an arduous business it is if one gets involved in education in this House. Further, I believe that noble Lords on all sides support my noble friend Lord Swinfen and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in hoping that the Minister will give special attention to children with special needs.

I now turn to other things. There was a statesman in France in the 17th century who was possessed of the highest of ideals. He wanted to make France rich and prosperous and, more especially, to ensure that it performed better than its near neighbours, England and Holland. His method was to use the power of the state. He expressed it in detailed regulations, achievement targets, local committees, integration groups and overall plans. His name was Colbert and he failed. England and Holland, following more pragmatic policies, were more successful.

I am prepared to accept that this Bill starts with the best of intentions. I am assuming that its authors want to improve English education. But no one can doubt that its methods are those of detailed regulation, many committees and a multitude of overall plans. My noble friends Lady Platt, Lady Brigstocke, Lady Cox and Lord Northesk, have all pointed out the dirigiste nature of the Bill. Many teachers—and I speak as one over 34 years—will spend more time on committees and drawing up forms than they will in the classroom. I need not dwell on the number of regulations that are going to be issued around the Bill.

Perhaps I may look at the education development plan. It is just the first paper on guidance. It has 29 pages; lovely little diagrams and sample forms which will take many hours to fill in. The educational development plans are to be a key element in educational advance. The bureaucracy involved in the plans is immense. Each local education authority must prepare a plan for three years, which must then be approved by the Secretary of State. In effect, these schemes will require schools to set out a set of targets and priorities for improvement, so as to enable the department to understand the process which underpins the targets for educational advance". The department officials, will then advise the Secretary of State whether to approve or reject these plans". We are almost in the French system where the French Minister of Education used to say, "Give him a clock and a calendar and he could tell you what every school was doing." Knowing the speed at which the Minister's department performs I doubt whether some of those plans will be approved until 2006—or the next millennium.

The pattern for the plans will demand a great deal of form filling, much discussion at local level, committee meetings after school, meetings with the local authority and a lot more as well, and this for an already overwhelmed teaching profession in respect of which the Minister's honourable friend has said that he is going to reduce red tape. Wait until the members of that profession see this Bill and the regulations attached to it! Headmasters, instead of having the hands-on policy of running their school, will be chairing committees and running down to the city hall to discuss matters further.

I emphasise that this style of approach, as my noble friend Lord Beloff said, is in complete contrast with the policies of the previous government whose model for educational reform was the grant-maintained school. Noble Lords may laugh. They want to see the local authority writ large. But the grant-maintained school system, which we hoped would spread through large parts of the educational system, was designed to make the school responsible for its own money and its own staffing. It was to be freed from too much LEA bureaucracy and judged by league tables and rigorous Ofsted inspection. That was the model and this Bill is in complete contradiction to it. Therefore, we are justified in emphasising its bureaucratic nature.

The philosophy of the Bill is diametrically opposed to the policy of giving more freedom to schools. It is the complete opposite of that and its success will be judged on whether bureaucracy can achieve what the school cannot on its own.

Let us look at a further example of intense bureaucracy. I refer to the school organisation committee. There will not only be the education development plan. The area has to have an organisation committee which, as noble Lords know, consists of representatives of the local education authority, the Churches, the Further Education Funding Council and governors of various schools. I gather that there will be pressure on the Minister to ensure that some teachers and parents also serve on it. The draft regulations covering these bodies have not been given us. Getting draft regulations from this Government is like drawing teeth from a hippopotamus. They will never come, or not while we are discussing this subject in this House, unless we delay the Government.

These bodies are immensely important, and that is why we want to see the regulations. They advise on the size of schools, admissions policies and even on school closures. Decisions would have to be unanimous, which is another complex and time-consuming process. If noble Lords have ever sat on a committee that did not take a long time to achieve a unanimous decision then I congratulate them. There will be enormous disputes. If one alters school numbers or closes a school, it is a very sensitive area for teachers because of the question of jobs.

The right reverend Prelate referred to the delicate issue of denominational schools. I do not believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, got the point because that is where the numbers of 31, 32 and 33 matter. One cannot employ an extra teacher, but a devout person who wishes to go to the school of their faith will be refused because of the class size. Presumably, the school organisation committee might have to judge. One has then to decide whether a Church school will be allowed to expand. The school organisation committee has to judge. There are implications also for the finances of the Church since 15 per cent. of the capital cost has to be provided by the diocese. Suppose it has not got 15 per cent. There is an arena here for enormous dispute and expenditure of time.

So what happens when there is a dispute? There is the mysterious person called the adjudicator. We do not know much about him beyond the fact that he has a Latin name. He seems to me to have absolute power, subject to the Wednesbury rules, although, as the Minister knows, he would be subject to judicial review. His opinions or judgments have to be given in writing. I can see a marvellous opportunity there for litigation.

It is a tricky area as regards denominational schools. Let us suppose that on the school organisation committee the Church's representative had said that it did not want a reduction in numbers at the school. Once it goes to the adjudicator, unless the Minister decides to put on the face of the Bill protection for denominations, the adjudicator could overrule the Church. It is fortunate that this Bill does not apply to Scotland. Cardinal Winning has demonstrated in Glasgow that he is a doughty fighter when his schools are to be closed. Believe me, there are bishops in England who may do the same.

All over this Bill individual schools are subordinated to committees and plans. I do not believe that when teachers look at the Bill it will receive very enthusiastic support. Paradoxically, schools in the most deprived areas—the so-called worst schools where there are to be education action zones—are to be given more power. They can alter staff salaries and contracts, yet those powers have been removed from grant-maintained schools which are acknowledged to have performed well—well enough for a Prime Minister to send his children halfway across London to attend one of them. I endorse the criticisms made by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky about education action zones. When one deals with groups of schools the process is much more cumbersome and difficult. I hope and believe that we shall prepare amendments that allow individual schools to adopt this status.

After all this, the more successful schools do not receive support under the Bill. Grant-maintained schools become foundation schools and lose much of their independence. The 164 remaining grammar schools face the prospect of five-yearly ballots and their future is forever uncertain. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that I am amazed that there can be a functioning community only if there are comprehensive schools. For a party that loves Europe that kind of insularity amazes me. Germany, Austria, Holland and Switzerland do not have integrated schools. Do we have to say in true little Englishman style. "Come to us and we will show you how to be a community?" It is amazing that England appears to have this unique status that only comprehensive schools can make us like one another. It appals me.

We also have the funny business about aptitude and ability. I assume that that is put into the Bill because of schools that can admit on the basis of ability in certain subjects. How this is to be done I do not know. For example, if one takes science—physics, chemistry and biology—almost certainly one must have ability in maths. If one talks about ability in modern languages almost certainly one will have ability in English. At this stage one is selecting over five subjects or, in the case of a modern language, three. If that is not selection like a grammar school I do not know what is. No one can then stand up and say that one is restoring a comprehensive system when in reality one is trying by another route to have the assisted places that one got rid of in the state system. There is an illogicality.

I admit that there are good intentions in the Bill but, as one of my noble friends said, the road to hell is paved with such. What we have here are committee men rather than active teachers and hands-on headmasters. Its methods are those of French headmasters and mistresses. I am sorry but, seeing the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who always says that, for the moment I was carried away. Colbert failed to make France prosperous. Unless this Bill is extensively amended—the noble Baroness is aware that it will be—it will not achieve its ends. Our task on this side of the House is to save the Government from themselves. Once again they have fallen into the hands of the bureaucrats of the department. Be assured that the cavalry are on this side of the hill and will deliver them from their worst.

9.4 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Hattersley and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, for their excellent maiden speeches. My friendship with my noble friend Lord Hattersley goes back a quarter of a century. We have had many interesting debates about education over those years. I shall try to answer all of his questions. I begin with his question as to whether structure is intimately linked with standards. The answer to that question is that of course it is. Everything that I say in winding up the debate should reinforce that. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that we need to do all that we can to assist the 20 per cent. who have difficulty in succeeding in our education system, whether it be by reducing class sizes, helping small children to make better progress in literacy and all the other matters that they have to learn, whether it be through home/school agreements, which is an important part of this Bill in relation to parental involvement, or whether it be by those clauses, with which I am particularly associated as part of my own policy remit, to broaden opportunities for 14 to 16 year-olds to allow them to have some work experience and attend FE colleges. I shall always take the noble Lord's words of counsel very much to heart.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not answer all of the questions that have been put in this long debate. I shall try to focus on those matters that have come up most often in the debate. This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate on the issues covered in the Bill, and I look forward to the Committee stage and beyond. I was grateful for the general welcome that the Liberal Democrat Front Bench gave to the Bill. I am not sure that I liked the metaphor of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about facelifts for the ugly. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, have made much of their wish to see full sets of regulations. Whilst I shall not be tabling draft regulations, I have already sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, a number of documents on the specific elements of the Bill. I have also placed those documents in the Library. In doing so I have sought to be helpful to all Members of your Lordships' House. I hope that the significant amount of additional information on the provisions of the Bill has been and will continue to be useful throughout our discussions. I believe that a great deal more has been provided by the Government than was received by those who when in opposition took part in the passage of education Bills through this House. I clearly recall the Education Reform Bill in 1987–88.

It is just not true to suggest that this Bill contains an unprecedented number of powers to make subordinate legislation. It has always been recognised that many of the matters addressed in Education Acts are better dealt with in that fashion. There are some 70 such powers in the Bill. In the Education Reform Act, introduced by the party opposite, which was of similar length to this Bill, there are some 94 such powers.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have the Act in front of me. Does she agree that, in a completely new proposal, which was the formulation of grant-maintained schools, on the face of the Bill, clause by clause—from Clause 52 to Clause 105—were the details of the setting up of those schools? In relation to action zones we have four clauses, no regulations, and just some woolly, broad outline consultation document. There is a vast difference between the detail that is on the face of the Education Reform Act 1988 and what is on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I do not agree with that. When the Education Reform Bill was introduced, it had 147 clauses and 11 schedules. It totalled 169 pages. On Royal Assent, it had grown to 238 clauses and 13 schedules, totalling 284 pages. I do not intend to do with this Bill what the government of the noble Baroness did as regards that Bill.

The Conservative Opposition seemed to be having a little difficulty in making up their minds whether the Bill is "old" Labour or "new" Labour. That suggests to me that we might have it about right, with a subtle blend of the best of the two. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for describing us as pursuing a middle way. I think that he had got it about right.

I shall now take us through the various clauses in the Bill. The Government said that they would use savings from phasing out the assisted places scheme to reduce infant class sizes. As early as last year we made it clear that the savings would be for revenue expenditure. Sadly, the previous administration allowed primary class sizes to rise during their last years in office, leaving us with the scandal of 500,000 infants in classes of over 30 in 1997.

The comments of noble Lords opposite implied that parents presently have an inalienable right to get their child into the school of their choice. That is patently not the case, but this Government are determined that their policy on infant class sizes will boost parental preference, offering more parents the chance to get their child into the school of their choice. Extra teachers, and, where necessary, additional capital, will be targeted on popular schools offering high standards of education. The Secretary of State last month announced that £40 million of additional capital funding is also being made available this year. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that we shall be providing sufficient funding to meet our pledge on class sizes.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, we are aware that children in rural areas may have only one school within a reasonable distance. It is therefore important that they should be able to attend that school. Despite what the noble Baroness implied, children in rural schools should be entitled also to a place in a class of 30 pupils or fewer. That is why the Minister for School Standards said in another place that such children would have to be admitted and funding provided for another teacher. LEAs are being consulted on the practical difficulties there.

I turn now to education action zones. The noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Blatch, were concerned that we were pre-empting legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, used rather colourful language in arguing that that was a wilful pre-emption of the will of Parliament. That is entirely wrong. I could remind noble Lords opposite that this is not the first time that, in anticipation of parliamentary approval, preparatory steps have been taken in relation to implementing major government policies, whatever the colour of the government. But that is not the point that I want to argue here.

My point is that a good part of what we want to do can be achieved voluntarily. Notwithstanding that, we took care to say in the official's letter of 5th January: The legislation needed to create Action Zones was introduced into Parliament in December, and Ministers are hopeful that the high level of support that we found for the policy through the White Paper consultation will help to smooth its passage into legislation. In the meantime you should bear in mind that all of the references to legal powers within Action Zones are subject to Parliament's agreement. We refer to applications in this document which will he treated as expressions of interest until parliamentary approval has been given". The new legislation will give significant additional powers to governing bodies within zones enabling them to be more radical. Perhaps I may point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that it is needed to give zones the fullest scope to try out new and innovative ways of raising standards. The provisions on the face of the Bill allow zones and the action forum to be created and to give governing bodies particular powers to help zones to be innovative. For example, we will permit schools within zones to disapply the teachers' pay and conditions document, allowing them to find radical ways to reward excellent teachers, such as a bonus linked to performance. We are keen to see good forum partnerships developing to run zones. Perhaps I may reassure my noble friend Lord Peston that even if an action zone is led by a business, the LEA will normally be involved. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, did not like that proposal and did not appear to want the LEAs to be involved. The noble Lord is not now in his seat.

Contrary to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, the LEAs will retain their statutory responsibilities in the EAZ areas. In addition, each forum will prepare an action plan and financial memorandum to specify accountability for the duration of the zone. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, spoke of the establishment of deterrent machinery. We have received 60 applications to set up zones. That does not suggest that the machinery that he described has been a deterrent. Perhaps rather than his scornful denunciation of our actions, he might wait to see the results. He may well find that in freeing up existing arrangements to allow more experiments, interesting developments will occur.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, does not like educational development plans, but they are absolutely central to raising standards. Noble Lords opposite have made a great deal of the importance of standards as against structures, yet they appear to be dismissing the central plank of the Government's proposals to achieve just that. They have been welcomed by both LEAs and the teaching profession and they are in stark contrast to the proposals of the previous government which so singularly failed to raise standards across the system. They focused only on grant-maintained schools, as the noble Lord admitted.

As regards a more specific point about EDPs, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked when we could give him a summary of the results of the consultation. I am advised that it will take the department about a month after 8th May to consider fully the response. Therefore I expect to be able to elaborate on that in Committee or on Report during June.

I turn to the abolition of grant-maintained status and the new schools framework. Noble Lords opposite made much of grant-maintained schools and their wish that they should survive. Perhaps I may remind them of what has been said by the grant-maintained joint monitoring group which represents all the main GM organisations. The group wrote to me at the end of last week stating: We wish to place on record our support for many of the measures within the Bill. We join the Government in looking forward to the new framework, not backwards to old divisions. We believe, like the Government, that self-managed schools will play an important part in driving up school standards and securing financial prudence". The letter goes on to state: During the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons we worked constructively with Ministers on important points of detail. We were impressed with the Government's openness and willingness to listen to arguments and make changes in the Bill where necessary". That is what the GM organisation believes. Like us, it is looking forward to new partnerships within the new framework.

Contrary to what noble Lords opposite said, in no way does the Bill, by introducing the new framework, deny parents or their children who are pupils in grant-maintained schools the right to a good education. That is patently a ridiculous claim to argue. The grant-maintained initiative has demonstrated the extent to which schools can manage their own affairs and we wish to build on that. Again, contrary to what noble Lords opposite claim, schools self-management is central to our reforms. We want to increase budget delegation for all schools towards the GM level and to ensure that LEA intervention is kept to an essential minimum, a matter which the LEAs also understand. But the GM/LEA divide is not a sensible basis for a school system. Opting out has divided schools and LEAs and distracted them from their central task of raising standards. That is why we are committed to establishing a new framework for the organisation of schools. To do that, we must move forward from where schools are now. The new framework recognises the different traditions and aspirations of individual schools but it replaces privileges for a few with fairness for all.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness because I am most interested to hear what she has to say. Is she saying that grant-maintained schools have failed to raise standards? If so, how does she explain their success on any measurement that has been given in league tables? Does she really believe what she is saying; namely, that the new foundation schools will he as free to determine their way of conducting their business within the school as grant-maintained schools?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes, I am saying that I do not believe that a divisive system of allowing schools to opt out has raised standards overall, and there is plenty of evidence to support that.

Baroness Young

My Lords—

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, it will be very difficult for me to reach the end of this debate, with 30 speakers and as many questions having been asked, if there are too many interventions.

To answer the noble Baroness's second question, we believe that foundation schools will have virtually the same degree of autonomy as grant-maintained schools have had until now. Indeed, they will have many of the key characteristics of grant-maintained schools, as will voluntary-aided schools: they will own their own premises; employ their own staff; and take primary responsibility for their own admission arrangements.

Every school will have a choice of category. Grant-maintained schools will have that choice when the new framework is established and any school will be able to seek an alternative category from about a year after that.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the Government will not favour or promote any category and no category will have unfair advantages over another. I am afraid that the previous Conservative government could not in any way make that claim. Under this Government, every school will receive fair funding from LEAs through the new LMS arrangements. Every admission authority, school or LEA will be bound by a code of practice on admissions and every school will work in partnership with the LEA and other schools to raise standards.

On the relative performance of grant-maintained and LEA schools, I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it is true that on average, grant-maintained schools achieved better test and examination results than LEA schools. But it is true also that GM schools have tended to serve more privileged areas than LEA schools. That is the explanation. There are many good GM schools but there is no evidence whatever that those schools are good just because they are grant-maintained. It is true that the government of which the noble Baroness was at one time a Member lavished additional spending on GM schools and that may be another factor in relation to their relatively good results.

While I am addressing my remarks to the noble Baroness, I should say that the suggestion that simply changing the governors of a failing school will change everything about what that school does is a travesty of what are my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's views and intentions.

I turn for a moment to an issue raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon on the change of category by Church schools and diocesan involvement. Grant-maintained Church schools will be required to consult the appropriate diocesan body before choosing their category in the new framework. About a year after the new framework is introduced, any school will be able to seek an alternative category but I reiterate that the governing body of a Church school will be required to consult its diocesan body before doing so.

The place of city technology colleges was raised by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. The White Paper Excellence in Schools said that CTCs were to retain their status as independent schools. That means that like other independent schools, they will be outside the proposed new statutory schools framework. However, we have said that we shall develop a particular approach for CTCs so that they are part of the broad family of schools with fair admissions and funding. That is extremely important.

Perhaps I may now turn to the organisation of school places. I was a little surprised by some of the remarks made by noble Lords opposite. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, wants us to be less dirigiste, while the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, mentioned subsidiarity. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, claimed that this is a centralising Bill. However, we are devolving very important matters here in relation to the reorganisation of school provision. We believe that it is vital for local interests to have an opportunity to make their views known. We are introducing a new principle of devolving decisions to a local level, and I believe that that principle has been widely accepted. Indeed, our proposals are a practical means of achieving that aim.

The most important aspect of our proposals for the school organisation committee is partnership. There has always been a partnership in the provision of school places locally between the LEAs and the Churches, and more recently that has included grant-maintained schools and the Funding Agency for Schools. Our proposals give formal effect to that partnership. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is unable to support it.

I accept what some noble Lords opposite said; namely, that we cannot leave this matter entirely to LEAs. Indeed, we realise that to do so would fail to recognise the existing position of a whole range of players providing education locally; nor would it give sufficient credit to them for the advantages that their diversity brings to our school system, or give the necessary assurance to those who might object to the proposals.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and my noble friend Lady David mentioned the issue of special schools, especially foundation special schools. The White Paper Excellence in Schools proposed a single category for all special schools—that is both LEA and grant-maintained—but respondents to the document argued very strongly that parents with children in grant-maintained special schools who voted for greater autonomy for their schools were not being given the same rights as parents with pupils in mainstream grant-maintained schools. Therefore, we have responded by including a new category of foundation special schools in the Bill.

Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and my noble friend Lady David about exclusions. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, raised questions about admissions. The majority of children admitted to special schools will, as now, have statements naming the school. Of course, some pupils in special schools will not have statements, but the admission arrangements for foundation schools—where the governing body will be the admission authority—will be subject to regulations.

The noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Rix, were concerned that the Government should do the very best possible to support pupils with special needs. Perhaps I may reassure both noble Lords that the new structures will reflect that aim. I agree that we should be judged by our ability to meet special needs, including ensuring that they are taken into account in all education development plans.

The issue of linking designation of schools with a religious character to collective worship was raised. The right reverend Prelate raised a point which would relate the content of collective worship in Church of England schools or denominational schools to the religion or denomination specified. Hence it would be explicit that worship in a Church of England school should have a Church of England character, even when the school's trust deed is silent on the matter. One purpose of the order is to define the nature of religious education in a school whose trust deed is silent. I hope that our comments on that reassure the right reverend Prelate.

I now turn to admissions. I was grateful for what my noble friend Lord Peston and other noble friends said in welcoming the fact that the Bill sets out a clear framework to achieve fair school admissions locally. I think that the elements are clear: local consultation and determination of arrangements, and an independent adjudicator to decide disputes.

Noble Lords opposite made much of the argument that there is too much bureaucracy involved in this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath mentioned—I think even the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, alluded to this—a great deal of bureaucracy was introduced by noble Lords opposite, in particular as regards the national curriculum and national assessment. It took the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to rescue them from the mess they got into in that area.

I shall now say a few words about selection. The previous Government's White Paper on self-government for schools proposed extending the power of schools to select pupils—the "grammar school in every town" pledge. Only 2 per cent. of respondents supported the proposals and 69 per cent. were strongly opposed. That is why we are not legislating for balloting on new grammar schools. The noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Young, seem to have forgotten that the previous government certainly thought that ability and aptitude were different. Their final education Act referred to admission arrangements admitting only pupils with high ability or with aptitude. What is even more telling, they commissioned research on the strength of their belief in the difference between ability and aptitude. They launched that research in May 1996. The then education and employment Secretary said that it was to help specialist schools which want to identify a pupil's aptitude for the specialist school, as opposed to ability". Therefore the memories of those on the opposite side of the House are a little lacking tonight.

I say to my noble friends Lord Hattersley and Lord Peston, who asked about this matter, that the researchers defined "ability" as an all-embracing factor which suggests whether a candidate will be able successfully to undertake a course of study, and "aptitude" as being narrower, determining whether someone has the capacity to be trained and developed.

Noble Lords


Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, that may not satisfy them but that is what the researchers who were commissioned by noble Lords opposite—who now laugh at that research—came up with. As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has said, we want high standards for all children within a system which is able to meet their individual needs. I also appreciated what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the rich range of comprehensive schools already in existence, and the need to sustain that rich range.

I reassure noble Lords who mentioned partial selection that the Government are ending partial selection. We made that clear in the White Paper. There is to be no new selection by ability. The Bill provides for that. I say to my noble friends Lord Hattersley and Lord Peston that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State attaches a great deal of importance to the comprehensive principle. It is because of its importance that we shall end partial selection by ability. In that way we can have a genuine system of comprehensive schooling in operation, although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, deplores that.

I shall say a few words about grammar school ballots. This matter was mentioned by a number of those taking part in the debate. My noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham made it absolutely clear that perhaps rather too much attention is focused on 160 schools out of a total of nearly 24,000. I believe he reminded the House that more grammar schools were replaced by non-selective schools during the period when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Secretary of State, than at any other time. That was one of the best things that she did. The detail of how petitions and ballots about grammar school admissions will work is to be set out in regulations, and I do not wish to go into that now.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, who welcomed the enhancement of the parental role, that we are asking parents to decide about grammar schools and whether to retain them. Noble Lords opposite seem to want to have different rules about the extent of parental involvement in different circumstances when it suits their particular ideological prejudices.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised the issue of the assisted places scheme. Our position on that is well documented. The scheme was divisive and unfair, and we are phasing it out. We do not, therefore, intend to allow LEAs to devote their attention and resources to replicating it locally, and we introduced a new clause in another place to prevent that happening.

My noble friend Lady David, who has campaigned so assiduously for the abolition of corporal punishment in our schools, welcomed the decision, made by a large majority on a free vote in another place, that corporal punishment should be abolished in all schools. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I hope that we shall not hear any more on this subject.

Questions have been raised about a number of other issues which I do not have time to answer, being well beyond my time, including, in particular, provisions in the Bill for Wales, a question raised by the noble Baroness Lady Blatch and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, to both of whom I shall write.

I end by saying that the School Standards and Framework Bill is a very significant piece of legislation. The sections on structure are designed to raise standards for all. It provides important parts of the framework for our agenda for education, an agenda that focuses on raising standards of education for all children, whatever setting they are in. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, mentioned nursery education. It gives me particular pleasure, as someone who started my career concerned with the expansion of nursery education, to be taking a Bill through this House which will make nursery education available to all four year-olds. Investing in our young people is paramount, and I believe that the whole House should support our aim to raise standards. Our manifesto promised action in this area, and we are as good as our word. I am glad that many of the measures we intend to introduce in the Bill have been welcomed by at least some speakers in the debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

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