HL Deb 02 July 1998 vol 591 cc908-48

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 61.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 142:

Page 48, line 28, at end insert ("and, in particular, preventing all forms of bullying among pupils").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 142A not moved.]

Clause 65 [Exclusion of pupils: duty to inform parents, etc.]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 143:

Page 51, line 18, at end insert— ("(6) Where regulations under paragraph 4 of Schedule 11 require the governing body of a maintained school to establish a discipline committee, references in this section and sections 66 to 68 to the governing body of such a school shall be construed as references to their discipline committee.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 66 [Functions of governing body in relation to excluded pupils]:

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 143A: Page 51. line 35, at end insert— ("( ) Where the relevant person in subsection (2) is the parent, the governing body shall also allow the pupil to make written representations and to appear and make oral representations at a meeting about the exclusion.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now come to a series of amendments which deal with disciplinary procedures. This amendment stands alone. It suggests that, the governing body shall also allow the pupil to make written representations and to appear and make oral representations at a meeting concerning his or her exclusion from the school. Our view is that it is a matter of good practice and also of principle.

At present, the right to make representations to the governing body following a decision to exclude a child permanently attaches only to the parent or to children who are 18 years or more—in other words, they are not children but adults. Yet the right to attend the hearing where the future of one's education is at stake is a matter of natural justice. Although in some schools and authorities children are encouraged to attend, it is far from the normal pattern. A Children's Society project, working with disaffected children in south London, observed recently that it had never been successful in persuading the school to allow either the child or the worker in that project to attend the hearing.

There is also a connection with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the United Kingdom Government in 1991. The Committee on the Rights of the Child—the international body responsible for monitoring governments' compliance with the convention—specifically criticised the failure to respect the right of children to attend such hearings when it examined the UK Government in 1995.

From my own experience I know how valuable it can be to have the child present when discussing the child's behaviour and the potential for exclusion or, after exclusion, whether the child can return to school.

There are many reasons why children are their own best advocates. For example, if parents have less linguistic facility than their children they may be less able to explain what is going on than their children. There are some children—perhaps a small minority—whose parents are incapable of reaching school and whose problems arise from the child's own need to look after the parents. There are also parents who are addicts of one sort or another. The child's ability to attend school is very much affected by the parents' behaviour.

As I say, I have witnessed the effect of this in a particular case where one of those conditions applied. In all these cases it seems very sensible to allow the child, even if quite a young one, to try to explain what is going on to the governing body or to the committee which the governing body has set up for the purpose.

For all these reasons I am hopeful that the Minister will look with some sympathy on the ideas contained in this amendment and the two later amendments which I shall speak to. It is an important series of amendments. I hope that the Minister will be able to make some suggestions or a response which shows that the Government understand the points that we are making and their importance. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I begin by emphasising that there is nothing in law to prevent the governing body from permitting a pupil under 18 to attend the meeting when they review his or her exclusion. In many cases governing bodies already permit excluded pupils to attend these meetings. I understand the case that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is making. We propose to use guidance to encourage schools to allow older pupils to attend the governors' meeting to present their own case. In the kind of case which the noble Baroness cited, I am sure that the school would want to invite the child to attend.

It will not be appropriate in every case, particularly where younger children are involved, to suggest that a pupil should attend the governors' meeting. While the amendment before us would not force the pupil to be present at the governing body hearing, I am a little concerned that, by placing this right on the face of the Bill, we might create an expectation that the pupil should be there. That might lead to governors drawing negative conclusions about a pupil who exercises his right not to be present. The noble Baroness would certainly want to avoid that.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, agrees that the use of guidance represents the best way of allowing children to be present and to give their views without placing too much pressure on all excluded pupils to make representations. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. It goes some way towards achieving the objective that we were seeking. However, she did not respond to the points about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is quite important. According to the convention, the child shall … be provided with the opportunity to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly or through a representative or appropriate body in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law". One could certainly make a procedural rule which would be acceptable under national law. I do not want to oblige the Minister to respond again because that is not within the rules of Report stage. Perhaps she will write to me on that point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 144: Page 52, line 28, leave out subsection (9). On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 67 [Appeals against exclusion of pupils]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 145: Page 52, line 34, leave out ("registered").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 146: Page 52, line 44, leave out ("either").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 146 and 147 are examples of where the presence of a child might be extremely useful, particularly if it makes it possible for an appeals panel, in dealing with an exclusion, to direct that a pupil can be reinstated if he or she complies with reasonable conditions set down by the panel. If one is to discuss what "reasonable conditions" might be, then it is extremely helpful to have the pupil present at the hearing at which the matters are determined.

I refer again to the incident of which I have personal experience. If I remember correctly, the pupil was a pre-O-level child of perhaps 14 or 15 but well below the age of 18. It proved useful to discuss with the child how she should behave and the school's expectations of her if she were allowed back again. Such discussion enabled her to agree those expectations so that she could attempt the process of obeying. She knew clearly why those provisions had been set and why she had to obey them. The process enabled the disciplinary procedure—it is difficult because none of us wishes to exclude more children than we must from school—to be taken forward in a more humane way, involving the child as well as the board of governors and other responsible adults. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I sympathise with the intention behind these amendments, which is to increase the likelihood that an appeal panel is able to direct reinstatement. However, while the notion of introducing conditions is attractive in theory, I fear that it may be unworkable in practice. I am concerned that by allowing the appeal panel to place a condition on a pupil's readmission we might inadvertently make it more difficult for pupils to be successfully reintegrated following a permanent exclusion.

An obvious condition of reinstatement would be that the pupil does not repeat the offence for which he or she was excluded. Under the existing arrangements, if an appeal panel is persuaded that an excluded pupil's behaviour will improve, it can reinstate him or her. If in the event he or she nonetheless misbehaves seriously again, he or she can be excluded again. Importantly, however, under this model his or her parents retain their rights of appeal.

Under the proposed amendment it appears to me that a pupil could be permanently excluded simply because the head teacher considers that the pupil had breached the conditions of readmission. Parents of pupils whom the head teacher had already tried permanently to exclude without success would be left with no right of appeal against this second exclusion. I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that this cannot be right. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Lady Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, the Minister has drawn attention to a possible defect in the wording of the amendment. We shall consider the matter carefully. However, there is an additional advantage of the procedure we suggest, provided that we can find a framework which is correct. Often those permanent exclusions are surrounded by publicity. When the school re-admits the pupil it looks as though the school is somehow giving way to pressure from a tearaway or group of tearaways. I use language that no one uses any more, but the Minister knows what I am talking about.

It is better for the child and for public relations if it can be demonstrated clearly that return to the school is accompanied by a series of conditions which the pupil has accepted and which oblige the pupil at least to maintain a tolerable level of co-operation within the life of the school and of obedience to the ethos of the school.

I hope that the Minister will consider whether she can come back with other suggestions. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 147 not moved.]

Clause 68 [Exclusion of pupils: guidance]:

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 148: Page 53, line 9, after ("guidance") insert ("subject to section (Making and approval of general guidance on exclusion of pupils)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment relates to guidance. We have talked tonight and on a previous occasion at some length on the subject; I do not wish to do so today. The amendment deals with social exclusion. The Government have taken note of the Social Exclusion Unit report. I believe that they are ensuring that such guidance has statutory force. Their intention is to end the inappropriate use of exclusions for minor incidents.

It is an important area. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a little more detail on how the Government wish to give effect to the report through guidance and the provisions of the Bill. For example, the Social Exclusion Unit recommended that local education authorities be informed after one day when a pupil has been excluded for more than five days. I am not sure how that will be dealt with. There is a view that the issue should be spelt out more clearly in the Bill.

In a sense the amendment probes how the Government wish to give effect to the findings of the social exclusion report through the Bill and through guidance. I look to the Minister to put some flesh on the bones. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful for the spirit in which the noble Baroness moved the amendment. I promise that I shall not drone on about guidance. She asked me specifically about exclusion and referred helpfully to the social exclusion unit. Perhaps I may respond to that aspect of the argument.

The Social Exclusion Unit was concerned that, while the majority of schools use exclusion rarely and responsibly, a small minority was excluding pupils much more readily. Under the amended legislation the head teacher and the governing body will be required to have regard to the new guidance on exclusion, strengthening a parent's case when it comes to an independent appeal. This provides an important additional safeguard for parents.

I fully recognise the importance of consulting on the guidance on exclusion, in particular now that head teachers, governors and LEAs will be required to have regard to the guidance. We intend to issue draft guidance in the autumn to a wide range of interested parties for consultation, and will take full account of the responses when finalising the guidance.

However, as I hope the noble Baroness now recognises, the role of the various pieces of guidance varies considerably. The code of practice on admissions, for example, will offer practical guidance on the entirely new functions which LEAs, governing bodies, appeal panels and adjudicators will have to discharge once the Bill receives Royal Assent. By contrast the exclusions guidance will build upon the roles and responsibilities which are currently set out in Circular 10/94 (Exclusion from School). Therefore, we shall be taking account of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit. We shall be building on the existing rules from Circular 10/94. We shall consult widely. In advance of the consultation, I do not think that it is possible for me to go further than that.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. It is helpful to people outside the House. The amendments are tabled partly in response to local authorities and others which have concerns about how guidance will work in practice. Social exclusions from school have been a controversial area. We all wish to see them used sensibly.

We shall consider the Minister's reply carefully. Many people will be keeping an eye on the situation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 149 not moved.]

Schedule 19 [Required provision for religious education]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 150: Page 194, line 24, leave out ("provide") and insert ("prescribe").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government agreed at Committee to consider an amendment identical to Amendment No. 150, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. The noble Lord argued that his formulation made it clearer that pupils did not have to take part in the same daily act of worship. Paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 20 to the Bill provides, as does current legislation, that schools may provide separate acts of worship for pupils in different age groups or in different school groups. We have reflected on the wording and have decided to accept the noble Lord's alternative. He looks rather surprised.

Amendments Nos. 151 and 152 have been tabled at the suggestion of parliamentary counsel. They do not affect the sense of the provision which relates to the period by which former grant-maintained schools must revert to their home LEA's locally agreed syllabus for RE. They simply tidy up the wording of Schedule 19 ensuring that this sub-paragraph in respect of foundation and voluntary schools with a religious character mirrors the identical provision at paragraph 2(4) of the schedule which applies to schools without a religious character. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, while the noble Lord, Lord Tope, recovers from the shock of what has just been said, perhaps I may put two questions to the noble Baroness. The first arises in relation to Amendment No. 150 which inserts "prescribe" and deletes "provide". It then inserts that syllabus shall be treated for the purposes of sub-paragraph (2)(b) as an agreed syllabus adopted for the school or (as the case may be) those pupils". Perhaps I may confirm that my understanding is correct. Is it correct that where a grant-maintained school has adopted a syllabus from another local authority, not its own—that was one of the freedoms of grant-maintained schools—or a different agreed syllabus, for the purposes of transferring to a foundation school it can transfer that same syllabus which shall be deemed to be the agreed syllabus? If that is the meaning of the amendment I welcome it.

I should like to put a second question that is not related to the same amendment but is concerned with the same subject. In sub-paragraph (3)(b), which appears just above the provision that is to be altered by the amendment, reference is made to foundation governors making arrangements for securing that such religious education is given to those pupils in the school during not more than two periods in each week". I do not take issue with that. That is probably the usual time that is taken up by religious education in any school. But is it right for the Government to prescribe that it shall be not more than two periods a week? It may be that a school wishes to teach religious education for three or even four periods a week. It is normal for governments to prescribe minima but not maxima in terms of how many periods are devoted to the teaching of any particular subject.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I do not understand what the second question has to do with the amendment. However, perhaps I may deal with the first question. Section 382 of the 1996 Act permits grant-maintained schools that were formerly county or controlled schools to select an agreed syllabus adopted by any local education authority.

They are not confined to the syllabus adopted by the authority for the area in which the school is situated. It makes no sense for some schools but not others to have this right under the new school framework. We suspect that relatively few former grant-maintained schools have actually taken advantage of it, but those that have must revert to the locally agreed syllabus within a period to be prescribed by order. I am afraid that I shall disappoint the noble Baroness in that respect. We shall consult on the period but we expect that it may be five or seven years. That will allow schools to ensure that pupils who have started with one agreed syllabus do not need to switch part-way through their school careers. Similarly, it will not prevent schools from changing more quickly if they prefer that to using different agreed syllabuses with different year groups.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may put one more question. Given that we are legislating and that this amendment will be passed today, has there been any consultation with the grant-maintained schools on the proposition that the agreed syllabuses that have been adopted will have to be abandoned as they become foundations schools? This is another loss of autonomy for those schools.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, grant-maintained schools have been consulted on every aspect of the Bill. I should be extremely surprised if they had not been consulted on this particular issue.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I have now recovered from my shock. I thank the Minister for Amendment No. 152 which bears a striking resemblance to an amendment that I moved in Committee. I thank the Minister not only for listening but for hearing. I hope that she has not found it too painful and suggest that now we have begun the process it can continue. Maybe the Minister will listen with even greater attention to further amendments that I move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 151: Page 194, leave out line 26 and insert ("that syllabus shall be treated for the purposes of sub-paragraph (2)(b) as an agreed syllabus adopted for the school or (as the case may be) those pupils."). On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 70 [Requirements relating to collective worship]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 152: Page 54, line 2, leave out ("all pupils") and insert ("each pupil"). On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 153: After Clause 74, insert the following new clause—


(".—(l) Where a building is to be provided for a foundation or voluntary school and the building—

  1. (a) is to form part of the school premises, and
  2. (b) is to be constructed partly on land held by the governing body and partly on land held on trust for the purposes of the school by persons other than the governing body,
the governing body shall transfer to those persons the land held by the governing body on which the building is to be constructed.

(2) Paragraph 1 of Schedule 22 does not apply to any transfer required by subsection (1).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 153 and speak to Amendments Nos. 154 to 161. We come back to land transfers. This group of amendments consists mainly of technical amendments to the provisions for the ownership and disposal of land for voluntary, foundation and foundation special schools. Amendment No. 153 introduces provisions for voluntary and foundation schools to reflect those introduced in 1993 for grant-maintained schools. Amendment No. 155 is a technical amendment to correct an omission. Where governors of a grant-maintained school received grants when the school was first established they would have been required to transfer their interest in the site to trustees. This amendment provides that when trustees sell such land they will be subject to the same rules which apply to disposals of land which has benefited from other types of grant-maintained school grants.

Amendments Nos. 154, 156 and 157 are technical amendments which correct references in the Bill to disposals of land "under" paragraphs 1 and 3(1) of Schedule 22. These paragraphs do not confer a power to make a disposal and therefore the correct reference should be disposals "within" these paragraphs.

Amendments Nos. 158 and 159 correct an error in paragraph 4 of Schedule 22. This paragraph already enables LEAs to apply to the Secretary of State to have surplus land that was transferred to a school when it became grant-maintained returned to the authority in circumstances where it is surplus and is needed as a site for a new or transferring school. This technical amendment extends that element of these provisions which relates to group foundations. Amendments Nos. 160 and 161 are very technical amendments. They make clear that we are dealing with disposals of land which has been either provided or enhanced with public funds as set out in paragraph 3(1) and (2). It is only such land that is subject to control in these clauses. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, in addressing these amendments the noble Lord referred to the disposal of land when the school enjoyed a grant-in-aid in order to build the facility, whatever it might be. Let us consider a grant-maintained school that has a facility, be it a sports field, a completely free-standing building or part of a building that has been wholly provided either by voluntary subscription or quite independently of the state. If that is disposed of on transfer to foundation status who is the beneficiary of the moneys?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness is referring to a case where there are two separate pieces of land, one of which is part of the school at the time of transfer to grant-maintained status and one of which is subsequently acquired through private provision. Is that the distinction that the noble Baroness makes?

9 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I was not comparing them. I understood that the noble Lord addressed only a facility in a school that may have been disposed of where grant in aid was part of the contribution to producing that facility. My example related to where the state had no part in resourcing the facility that might be disposed of by a GM school on becoming a foundation school. Who will be the recipient of the money?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, where it is clear that the facility has been acquired subsequent to the transfer which involved local authority resources, it would normally revert to a trust. I believe that that was covered, in part at least, by the correspondence that I provided to the noble Baroness. I shall check on that, and, if necessary, I shall write to her again.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 22 [Disposals of land in case of certain schools and disposals on discontinuance]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 154 to 161:

Page 201, line 26, leave out ("under") and insert ("within").

Page 202, line 45, at end insert ("or any grant paid under section 216(2) of that Act;").

Page 203, line 25, leave out ("under sub-paragraph (1)") and insert ("within sub-paragraph (1) or (2)").

Page 204, line 6, leave out ("under") and insert ("within").

Page 204, line 23, leave out from ("land") to ("and") in line 27 and insert—

  1. ("(i) held, or held on trust, for the purposes of a foundation, voluntary or foundation special school by the governing body or the trustees of the school, or
  2. 917
  3. (ii) held by a foundation body for the purposes of the group of schools for which it acts,
is not required for the purposes of the school or (as the case may be) those schools;").

Page 204, line 35, after ("school") insert (", or (as the case may be) one of the schools, mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(a)").

Page 205, line 30, leave out ("held by them for the purposes of the school") and insert ("falling within paragraph 3(1) or (2)").

Page 206, line 8, leave out ("held by them for the purposes of the school") and insert ("falling within paragraph 3(1) or (2)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 83 [Code of practice]:

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 161A:

Page 61, line 24, at end insert— ("( ) The code of practice shall enable schools or admission authorities to interview parents or pupils (or both) as part of the application or admission process.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 161B, 161C, and 163A. I am surrounded by such expertise that I feel that I am receiving support. I am sure that noble Lords will all agree with the amendments. I shall make two general points to start with. First, there is an ideological divide between the Government and us regarding central direction. As I have said many times from this Dispatch Box, we prefer schools to have some initiative in their choice of the most potent elements that make a school successful.

My second point is more personal and anecdotal. I am sure that noble Lords opposite are tired of hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and myself talking about our old days in school mastering and "school mistressing". A school is a community. A school can be either a successful community or an unsuccessful community. One of these amendments is an ideological one with which I shall deal separately, because I do not want to embarrass the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, with ideological conflict at this stage of the evening, but it will come.

Amendments Nos. 161A and 161C relate to community. The admissions procedure forbids schools to interview parents. I assume that the Government introduced that provision for ideological motives. They thought that the school might look for better off parents, for instance. I am puzzled as to why they are doing it. I should be interested to hear the Minister tell me why the Government do not want schools to interview parents. The schools are not looking at their suits, whether they drive a large motor car, whether they are clean or dirty, or anything like that. When you interview parents you are looking to see whether they relate to the school and you relate to them; whether you feel that you can have a sensitive working relationship which will release the fullest potential of their children.

As a former head master, I would find it amazing if one did not see the parents and the child to discuss matters. The idea that one makes decisions without regard to people is wrong. You could qualify the provision and say, "You can't decide admissions on the following criteria", but I find it amazing that a school is not allowed to interview except for the purpose of deciding religious denomination.

I will not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, by talking about Durham again, but when I went to my school in Crook the head master had my grandmother and myself in to have a little chat. He wanted to see whether I related to the school. I had been evacuated. That seemed to be natural. But Her Majesty's Government have decided to forbid that. My first question is: why do the Government forbid it? Why cannot the school talk to parents? Why cannot they have a little interview? The parents could say, "We do not like the laboratories", or "The toilets are not very good", or whatever it may be. It might be, "We do not like you". At the moment that is forbidden. Amendment No. 161A raises the question as to why there should be a total prohibition on interviewing parents except to discover whether they are Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Moslems, or whatever. That is amazing as regards the community of the school.

The parents and the school are not allowed to enter into an agreement as to how the child's education should go ahead. As a former school mistress, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, would say and, as a former school master and head master—I was a head master not a head mistress—I would say that it is crucial that the parents, the school and the pupil get on; that they have a mutual, sensitive, co-operative relationship.

When I interviewed parents the pupil was there as well. I used to talk about the school and ask the pupil whether it was the school to which he or she wanted to go. One used to ask the parents whether it was the school to which they wanted the child to go. One would ask, "Do you like me?". Out of that would emerge the agreement described in Amendment No. 161C. I am interested to know why the Government think that such sensitive, caring agreements are not possible. The Government may believe that they are possible or they may agree with me.

We now enter the more controversial areas. Amendment No. 161B provides that: The code of practice shall not require schools that are over-subscribed to keep open vacancies specifically to accept disruptive children". I introduce that point merely because to do so would cause enormous controversy. Perhaps your Lordships can imagine a situation in a tight-knit community where tensions exist. There is a good school to which many parents wish to send their children who are being refused in order to admit disruptive children. I am not saying that disruptive children should not be cared for. I am merely pointing out the sensitive social relations which could occur, particularly in tight-knit communities where everyone knows everyone else, as in Somerset where I live. I can assure your Lordships that such action would cause enormous distress. I am not saying that it is wrong, but I am asking whether the draftsmen have thought about what happens in a community where everyone knows everyone else.

I move to Amendment No. 163A, which the Government, from their ideological position, will find easy to deal with. It inserts the words: or would be incompatible with the school's own admission arrangements". One does not have to be a genius to say, "If it were admitting its academic criteria". I do not believe that there is anything wrong if a school adopts such a policy and it works. I believe in flexibility and I believe that it works. However, we have fought the matter during the 10 days in which we have dealt with the Bill and therefore I shall not dwell on it. I merely point out that centralisation is strong. The adjudicators make a judgment examining the admission arrangements and so forth.

I conclude with what is the most passionate part of my presentation. The school is a community. To reject Amendment No. 161A and, to a degree, Amendment No. 161C denies the community status. I remind the House that almost 60 years ago headmasters and headmistresses of village schools used to see parents, talk to little Charlie and admit such children to the school; it is part of the essence of any community exercise in admitting children. Yet Her Majesty's Government have decided to legislate against that. I find it amazing. I beg to move.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I appear to have been implicated in the amendments by their presentation as though I might support everything that is proposed. There appears to be some confusion about people's intentions. I would not want to see children being interviewed for a school before it has been decided that they have a right to attend the school. It is a case of it being the choice of the parent, the area in which they live, there being a place at the school and so the child will go there.

In most school communities the head teachers set up a system which enables the parents to visit them and the teachers to discuss many of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. We are concerned that if it is set up in a certain way children or parents who seem less desirable might be excluded from the school. If we are providing state education for all our children we cannot allow that to happen. Therefore, I have a difference of opinion.

In many schools, head teachers and teachers try to build the best relationships they can with the parents. I am now moving into the area that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said people were fed up with, but at least we bring our experience to it. I was chair of the governors of a first school and I know that the head mistress used to visit the homes of the children who it was known would attend the school. She tried to build up a rapport in order to ensure that the children knew her and were not afraid of going into school.

One of the big problems with parents building a relationship with the school is that for many people school is not a happy place. They feel intimidated and threatened the moment they walk through the door of a school. It is important that we recognise that and do everything that we can to enable parents to feel comfortable and feel that they have a right to talk to the teachers and get to know them. I do not believe that any of us would think that that was the wrong thing to do. However, many of us would be really concerned if we thought that because we did not like something about someone whom we were interviewing, that meant that the child would not be able to attend that school. That would be quite wrong and I should not support anything which did that.

Baroness Young

My Lords, is it or is it not a fact that city technology colleges interview parents before admitting pupils? If it is, as I believe to be the case, will the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, tell the House whether that interview is conducted along lines similar to those proposed in Amendment No. 161A, moved by my noble friend Lord Pilkington?

My second point is in relation to interviews with parents. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, it is invaluable for a school to talk to the parents of the child. If we are really seeking to find a way to deal with truancy and parents who are not as supportive of their children at school as they might be, it is absolutely essential that the school should talk to the parents of the children; otherwise, it is extremely difficult to build a good relationship. One needs the parents to support the school and the teacher in what the school is trying to achieve.

I believe that it is far more valuable to interview parents before the children come to the school. I entirely take my noble friend's point. After all, the school may not be the first choice of the parents and they may not like the prospect before them. Therefore, it is even more important that they should have the opportunity to discuss those matters. That is absolutely essential if we are genuinely trying to achieve something to which, as I understand it, the Government are deeply committed; that is, a good relationship between teachers and parents.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the interim guidance on admissions has some paragraphs which are dedicated to some of the subjects under discussion on these amendments. I am thinking in particular of paragraph 33 which deals with challenging behaviour. It says that: Some schools with spare capacity may find that they are required to admit an undue proportion of pupils whose behaviour can be challenging". Other schools may be unable to take a share of such pupils as they are over-subscribed. It states: It is highly desirable that schools and the LEA should together agree strategies about how local admission arrangements might work to allow all schools to admit a more even share of such children". Where that can be agreed between admissions authorities, that is extremely good. Certainly, the local education authority, as the major admissions authority, should work together with the smaller admissions authorities. That will be extremely valuable. I am reminded of many of the fears that people had when we first created grant-maintained schools. It was feared that they would not take their share of such children. I am pleased to say that grant-maintained schools more than rose to the challenge. I was particularly interested in schools in cities in, for example, Liverpool and Birmingham which made a real contribution to meeting the needs of children with challenging behaviour.

However, I am disquieted that there is to be a requirement, because that word "requirement" means rigidity and inflexibility, for schools that are over-subscribed—we are talking about very popular schools—quite deliberately to keep places vacant for such children should they come along. It will be very difficult if in one document the Government are saying that parental preference should be enhanced and that popular schools should be expanded while on the other hand in this document, which will become policy in due course, those schools are required quite specifically to hold vacancies on the off-chance that a child or children with challenging behaviour may come along.

Paragraph 34 goes on to state: Admissions authorities can decide that they should refuse to admit a child where there arc places available"— therefore, we are talking about a school which has places available and is probably a school which is not very popular— unless it is to the normal year of entry, where to do so would prejudice the provisions of efficient education or the efficient use of resources". I am not absolutely certain what that means unless it means that in the course of a year, the burden on the school would be so great that it did not have the money to pay for an extra teacher. In that case, it is understandable.

It goes on to state: We envisage that this will only be used in circumstances where a school has a particularly high concentration of pupils with challenging behaviour". Therefore, we have a situation where the family comes along mid-year with a child who apparently has challenging behaviour—and I shall come to that particular point in a moment—who has specifically chosen to go to that school but is to be turned away because a view is taken either by the local education authority and/or the school that the burden on the school is sufficiently great that that child should not be given a place. Again, parental preference is being reduced, not enhanced. Therefore, there is another problem in that respect.

I have in mind a child with challenging behaviour who has never been to a school and who has perhaps just moved into an area, having previously been in an inner-city area where the secondary schools, for example, do not have a great deal of knowledge about individual children from primary schools. It is not always the case that primary schools readily admit that child A or child B is particularly challenging. Indeed, it can sometimes be said that children do not become challenging until they move into secondary schools. So how are schools to know? If they are not allowed to interview and are not allowed to meet the parents and the family, in what circumstances can a subjective judgment be made? It seems to me that any such judgments must be objective and can only be so if the school has evidence; and it can only have evidence if it has received very clear reports from the feeder schools, social services or some referral agency. But, in the main, it is important to interview the children.

There are some very disquieting aspects of the document; indeed, in places it is conflicting. My last question on admissions encompasses all the amendments and deals with the status of the forums. There is nothing in the document other than paragraphs headed "Forums" to show that they will exist. There is no reference to what their status will be and no reference as to who will resolve problems. After using the forums, together with all the consultation that takes place, who will resolve the disputes at the end of the day if the admissions authorities are unable to agree between themselves and with the forums? When referring to other aspects of the document it is clear that the adjudicator would resolve such disputes. However, it is disquieting to note that it is the adjudicator without any reference to the school organisation committees. It is important for me at least to know the status of the forums and who, at the end of the day, will resolve the disputes which cannot be settled between the admission authorities and the forums.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has not learnt very much about me if he thinks that I am embarrassed by an ideological conflict. I have no hesitation in agreeing with him that there is an ideological divide, as he put it, between us. We are opposed and have always been opposed—David Blunkett said this before the election and, indeed, since—to selection by ability or by interview. The whole issue of interviews is being presented as if the only community of any significance was the school. Of course, the school is a community and an important one. However, it is also part of the wider community and we have to maintain a balance between the proper autonomy of the individual admission authorities, whether they be schools, groups of schools or LEAs, and the interests of the local community as a whole.

In our view we have been perfectly consistent on interviews as part of the admissions process; indeed, as I said, that consistency dates back to before the election. We set out the position in the White Paper Excellence in Schools and repeated it in our consultation document on admissions from which the noble Baroness quoted. In order to protect their particular character, Church schools may have reason to interview pupils or parents in order to assess denominational or religious commitment. However, we believe that interviews with parents for wider purposes as part of the admission process run the risk of being over-subjective and that the results of such interviews risk being misinterpreted.

The whole point about our approach—and we would not have published such a long consultation document if this were not so—is that, as far as possible, admissions should be decided against published objective criteria rather than subjective judgments. The admissions process that the noble Lord and the official Opposition—the Conservative Party—support is one that would discriminate against less articulate parents. That is the fact of the matter. That would be selection under another name, selection in disguise. If the noble Lord thinks that he can get away with presenting the provision to this House as being an issue of the school community, he is either being naïve or he is being disingenuous because that is not the way in which the world works.

What has been our approach to this difficult problem? David Blunkett in his introduction to the consultation document states, There can be nothing more difficult for a Secretary of State for Education and Employment than the balance to be achieved in providing guidance on admissions". We decided that the most effective way to tackle specific admissions issues was to draw up a statutory code of practice which sets out practical guidelines on admissions issues and to which all admissions authorities and others must have regard. It does not constitute a blueprint for admissions. These must be a matter for local determination in the light of local circumstances. In cases of dispute, however the adjudicator must have regard to the advice in the code.

The Bill's purpose is to provide a clear, underpinning structure for school admissions based on local consultation, determination and adjudication. There are a host of detailed, complex and interrelated issues that will need to be built into that structure locally, but it would simply not be sensible to address these on the face of the Bill. As noble Lords know, we are consulting widely on these issues with our draft interim guidance on admissions. We shall wait to see the result of that consultation before determining what guidance we shall finally give. This consultation will inform our way forward on the code of practice.

I ought not to leave the issue of interviews without responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She asked me about city technology colleges. City technology colleges can indeed interview parents but they have in general agreed to modify their practices to have structured discussions with pupils to assess their subject aptitude. That is clearly what city technology colleges are about. New admissions legislation does not apply to city technology colleges, although they may be part of forums for the determination of local policies.

I turn now to the issue which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, addressed of difficult children. Of course this is a sensitive area. Our intention is not to reduce the opportunities for parental preferences to be met by requiring schools to keep places open for any reason. But there are undersubscribed schools which have a high proportion of difficult children, or which are striving to drive up their standards from a relatively low base, where admitting some pupils with challenging behaviour can be particularly detrimental to the school achieving its targets. It is with that in mind that we have proposed that such schools could refuse a child admission if they can demonstrate that to admit him or her would prejudice efficient education or the efficient use of resources at the school. But these children must find a suitable school place. We expect that this issue will be raised in the admissions forums. Surely the best way forward is for all schools and admissions authorities to work together with everyone seeking to play their full part.

I turn to Amendment No. 161C. As the House will know, the Bill already includes a provision which will require all maintained schools to have a written home-school agreement, drawn up in consultation with parents. The agreement will explain the respective responsibilities of the school and of parents, and what the school expects of its pupils. Parents will be asked to sign a declaration in support of the agreement. That will include expectations about the standards of education the school will provide, the ethos of the school, regular and punctual attendance, discipline, homework and the information schools and parents will give to each other. Schools will be required to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State in drawing up their home-school agreements. We shall, as always, be consulting on the draft guidance.

However, we do not believe it is right to allow admission authorities to base their decisions on whether a parent has signed or is willing to sign. We uphold the principle that an admission authority should not be able to attach conditions when making the offer of a place: Clause 109(4) does not allow that to happen. The provision reflects the consultation that the department carried out last year which showed that 86 per cent. of respondents who commented on the use of the home-school agreements in the admission process were not in favour of using them in this way. It is therefore not appropriate for the admissions code of practice to include a provision of the kind suggested in the amendment.

Amendment No. 163A is very interesting. The wording is similar to the wording that existed in the articles of government for grant-maintained schools. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, smiling. Those articles are holy writ so far as she is concerned. However, what she has forgotten is that the previous government removed it by order, with effect from September 1996. Why did they do that? There is an interesting silence. They did it because it was not appropriate. They were wise to do that. To put it on the face of the Bill would be a retrograde step even by the standards of the previous government. I am astonished that the noble Baroness should think it appropriate to revive a provision that was rejected by her own government when she was in office.

The amendment would disapply the duty on admission authorities for voluntary aided and foundation schools to meet expressed parental preferences where to do so would be incompatible with the school's own admission arrangements. It waters down the duty to meet parental preferences. We have heard a lot of talk from noble Lords on the Official Opposition Benches about parental preference within the past few minutes. Yet this amendment would actually weaken it. We want as many parents as possible to have their preferences met, recognising that there will inevitably be disappointed parents where schools are over-subscribed.

The effect of this amendment would be to allow all foundation and voluntary schools to override parental preference, even where they have enough places to meet all the preferences. That would throw parental preference out of the window. The legislation already allows denominational and grammar schools to do so in order to preserve their character. It is right that the exceptions should be strictly limited to those cases.

I am afraid the truth is that the ideology in these matters is entirely on the Benches of the Official Opposition. They are determined by one means or another, by hook or by crook, to reintroduce selection, and to introduce it where they failed to introduce it over a period of 18 years. We are determined not to let them.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I thought the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, shared my liberal and pluralistic view of society. I have been disillusioned. I realise that the old ILEA is writ large.

I find it an insult to my former profession to think that schoolmasters look at parents coming to the school and, if they are wearing poor clothes and are rather deprived, turn their children down. I say sincerely to the noble Lord that, during all my career—albeit in privileged schools, but one school which in its history had taken the deprived Jewish people of Eastern Europe, and took immigrants—that did not happen. I say this with some indignation. The noble Lord is accusing people like me of looking at parents, looking at their clothes and their children's language, and refusing them. All I can say, as a matter of personal conviction, is that in the whole of my career I never did that. I hope that the noble Lord may allow—not publicly but somewhere—that I did not do that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that deserves a public response. Of course I did not say, I have never believed and never would have said that the noble Lord had done that. What I said was that interviews have been used for the purpose of selection, whether social or academic. The noble Lord has given me an absolute assurance that he has never done so. He had no need to do it; I never had any doubt about his integrity as a head teacher.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, nor did many of my profession do so. I must stand by my profession. The noble Lord is accusing my profession of saying that they wanted the smart people. I am not prepared to accept that. I leave the personal side of it, but I feel it very strongly. Many school teachers who read this debate will also feel it. My indignation is rare, but I feel strongly about the point.

I wish to move on. What we saw tonight is old-fashioned "statism". The state knows best. I thought that had died. What we are talking about is the right of a school. A school is a community and in the end—if I become indignant, it is because my life was concerned with schools—the relationship and future of the child is related to the school. The document on admissions forbids an interview. The assumption of the noble Lord and the reason he justified it was that the interview was used as a method of social discrimination. I disputed that and I still dispute it. Within the mass of the school teaching profession, people trust in the relationship between the pupil and the school. One cannot detach, as the noble Lord tried to do, the community at large from the school which the child enters. That will be his or her community.

There are many qualifications that Her Majesty's Government could have made about the proposal. However, they decided, in the true tradition of statism, of the old ILEA—which I thought the noble Lord had forgotten—that people were so bad in the teaching profession that they would judge by the suit that was worn or the language people spoke. Those in the teaching profession are not like that; they relate to people and try to enter into a community. Her Majesty's Government are trying to ensure parental choice, but inevitably some parents will not get the choice they want. It is crucial that a relationship is then established between the child and the school so that the parents feel confident.

On the whole, I have had an amiable relationship with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but I believe he has failed to see the reason behind my amendments. I accept his attack on my trust in and devotion to selection. I believe in selection. But the main and crucial point of the amendment—Amendment No. 163A—does not conflict with articles of government but relates to selection, to a degree.

The amendments I stress are Amendments Nos. 161A and 161C. I say to the House that I can see no reason, beyond the prejudice of the noble Lord that teachers will judge pupils by the suits they wear, that school teachers cannot interview parents and children. If the noble Lord wishes to put qualifications on that, it is open to him to do so on the face of the Bill. He should do so on the understanding that he and his noble friends have proposed the admissions procedure but they have not allowed for this.

I must say to noble Lords opposite that they take a tough attitude. They are assuming that I have a hidden agenda in this. I have acknowledged to the House that I believe in selection. What I am saying is that pastoral sensitivity demands allowing parental interviews. If the Government wish to put qualifications on it, it is up to them. However, the noble Lord used a Gatling gun to attack me. I had to rise to indignation because it was not just me; it was most of my profession. The noble Lord was saying that school masters would choose the fancy end of the social scale. He is wrong to do that. It is wrong not to give more consideration to these amendments and I am disappointed that a liberalism was abandoned in which I know the noble Lord believes.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down—with the leave of the House—perhaps he or the Minister can explain what it is in Amendment No. 163A that is already being done by the Government. Amendment No. 163A simply says that a child can be refused entry to a school if it is incompatible with the school's admission arrangements.

I remind the noble Lord of the arrangements for entry to the Oratory. The parents whose children are entering that school must sign a binding agreement. If they do not, it becomes a condition of entry. That pertains to this day and was not outlawed by the previous government. I am not sure therefore that I understand what the Minister said in response to these amendments and perhaps he or my noble friend can explain.

9.41 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 161A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 17; Not-Contents, 39.

Division No. 3
Annaly, L. Glentoran, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Attlee, E. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Blatch, B. Seccombe, B. [Teller.]
Byford, B. [Teller.] Selsdon, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Wharton, B.
Dixon-Smith, L. Wise, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Young, B.
Addington, L. Judd, L.
Blackstone, B. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Borrie, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Carlisle, E.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Maddock, B.
Chandos, V. Monkswell, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Puttnam, L.
Dubs, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Ripon, Bp.
Rix, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Russell, E.
Grenfell, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hardie, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tope, L.
Haskel, L. Tordoff, L.
Hayman, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.] Whitty, L.
Winston, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.49 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 161B and 161C not moved.]

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 162:

Page 61, line 26, after ("matters") insert (", including the interpretation of the law,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 163. In Committee we discussed at some length the effects of the Greenwich judgment. I and other noble Lords referred then to the unpopularity of the effects of the Greenwich judgment among many parents and to the difficulties it is causing not only in outer London and in metropolitan areas but also, increasingly, in the new unitary authorities which have become relatively small LEAs. I am not returning specifically to the Greenwich judgment because this amendment does not seek to reverse the Greenwich judgment in any way. It does not deal with the effects of the Greenwich judgment, but rather, in a sense, offers some compensation for the effects of the Greenwich judgment. It is, in effect, reintroducing recoupment. I suppose that I have a sort of interest to declare in that my own local authority was a considerable beneficiary under the system of recoupment when it existed.

Parents do not particularly mind children coming from just over the border. Indeed, in many urban areas the border is irrelevant to everyone except the local authority. But for the local authority, it is very difficult in terms of planning school places to have this degree of uncertainty. It is also in many ways very unfair. I use the example of my own local authority because I know it best, although I think it is typical of many. For very good geographical reasons, we educate a large number of children from the neighbouring borough of Croydon. Were those Croydon children to be educated in Croydon, Croydon Council would be receiving well over £100 per pupil more to educate its children in Croydon schools than we receive to educate the same children in Sutton schools. The reverse is true, again for very good geographical reasons. A number of our children are educated in Croydon schools and Croydon receives well over £100 more per pupil to educate those children than we would if they were in Sutton schools. That seems to be unfair.

This issue was raised on Report in the other place by my own Member of Parliament. He received a reply from the Minister, Stephen Byers, which I suspect will bear some resemblance to the reply I shall receive in a few minutes, which is that the Government have no wish to reintroduce recoupment. I understand that and I expect to hear that very shortly. Mr. Byers said in that debate: I can assure him"— my Member of Parliament that the concerns that he has just raised will be taken into account as part of that exercise".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/3/98; col. 3744.]

The exercise to which he was referring was the wholesale review of the SSA system. My purpose in raising this issue again tonight is not so much to press for the reintroduction of recoupment, because I know that that is not going to happen, but to urge the Minister to say a little more about how he expects this issue to be dealt with in the wholesale review of the SSA, as was promised by the Minister in another place some three months ago. I would hope that, three months on, the Minister is now in a position to answer it rather more fully than was possible in March at 4.15 a.m. I look forward with great interest to hearing the response that I am about to receive. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, simply as an academic exercise, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has made even an outside estimate of the cost to Islington, which has probably the largest exodus of children to other authorities in the London area.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I am not sure whether, within the rules of the House, I am allowed to respond to that. The answer is no. Until the next by-election, issues to do with Islington are not primarily my concern.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I shall deal with the two amendments in turn. Amendment No. 162 would give the Secretary of State the power to include guidance on the interpretation of the law in the admission codes of practice. As we have already said in response to similar amendments, although the Secretary of State can give his view about how the law should be interpreted, it is, and can only be, his view. A definitive interpretation of the law can come only from the courts. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will agree that it is not appropriate for a code to be given an authoritative status on matters of legal interpretation in the way proposed by his amendments. If he is not satisfied with that, he had better talk to some of his lawyer colleagues. Therefore, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw that amendment.

As the noble Lord rightly said, Amendment No. 163 is effectively an amendment to reintroduce mandatory recoupment for all pupils. The existing legislation gives the Secretary of State freedom to make inter-authority recoupment regulations where it is appropriate to do so. At the moment LEAs receive SSA support automatically for all the pupils at their schools. That is the answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who spoke about Islington, which gets SSA for all the pupils in its schools just as neighbouring boroughs do because that is what it costs them. That is regardless of the pupil's home address. Only for pupils with special educational needs who are expensive to educate and unevenly distributed between authorities do we need a system providing for direct payments between authorities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, recognised, we do not want to go back to the days of mandatory recoupment for all pupils who cross local authority boundaries to attend school. Trying to keep track of hundreds of thousands of pupils who crossed LEA boundaries to attend school created red tape, led to disputes which lasted for years and diverted precious resources which could have been better spent in the classroom to raise standards. The present system combines simplicity with fairness. This amendment would only create needless bureaucracy.

However, as Mr. Stephen Byers said at Report stage in the other place, we are in the middle of a wide-ranging review of education standard spending assessments. If local authorities feel that particular difficulties are being caused by the number of what I call "out-county pupils"—we have to call them "out-of-area pupils"—and have specific proposals for changing the education SSA formula in some way, we shall be happy to consider such suggestions along with other options for change.

The noble Lord will understand that I cannot go further. We are very satisfied with the system as it works at the moment. It is for those who are dissatisfied to make suggestions. We shall listen to them thoroughly and sympathetically and take account of them in any revision of the standard spending assessment. Fundamentally, we do not want council tax payers to finance extra local authority staff to try to run an expanded recoupment scheme. It is better to finance schools and pupils through the SSA system. I hope that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.

Lord Tope

My Lords, on Amendment No. 162 the Minister gave me the option of either withdrawing it or discussing it with my lawyer colleagues. I shall choose the former. As regards Amendment No. 163, I remember the days of recoupment very well. I remember the long delays recovering the money due to my council and the difficulties that went with that. I am not enthusiastic to return to that system. I suspect that that was clear from the way I moved the amendment.

I was trying to tease out—I am not too surprised that I failed completely—how the Government intend to put into effect what Stephen Byers said on Report in the other place about the concerns being taken into account as part of the exercise. Three months later, I do not believe that the Minister has added anything to that other than to say that the Government are extremely happy with the situation as it is. The Minister's own party, in many of the affected areas, is rather less happy, as indeed are all the political parties. That is not surprising. I do not intend to press these amendments tonight whether threatened with my lawyer colleagues or not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 163 not moved.]

Clause 85 [Parental preferences]:

[Amendment No. 163A not moved.]

10 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 164:

Page 63, leave out lines 41 to 45 and insert (", and

  1. (b) they are approved by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this subsection,
they shall have effect in relation to each of those schools despite anything in subsection (2).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 165, 167, 168, 176 and 177. Noble Lords will be astonished to hear that these are technical and clarificatory amendments aimed at removing any possible confusion to which the present drafting may give rise.

Amendment No. 164 provides clarification on two points. First, it prevents any implication that there is a general procedure for co-ordinated admission arrangements to be approved by the Secretary of State. He does so only in order to ensure that the duty to meet parental preference under Clause 85(2) does not prevent proper co-ordination. Secondly, it prevents any implication that the Clause 85(2) duty to respect parental preference is displaced completely where the Secretary of State approves co-ordinated arrangements. The duty continues to apply to the admission authorities in question, except where a situation is covered by a specific requirement in the co-ordinated arrangements.

Amendment No. 176—if I may take the amendment out of numerical order—makes clear that members of the local education authority may be observers at the hearing of an appeal panel considering the appeal by a governing body against an LEA's decision that the school should admit a twice excluded pupil. These observers cannot be present at the stage at which the appeal panel deliberates on the case it has heard and arrives at its decision.

I am sure noble Lords will agree that local education authority members should not be present when an appeal panel makes its decision on a case to which the LEA has been a party. Appeal panels must be seen to be impartial and governing bodies must have confidence that this is the case. In this respect, Amendment No. 176 would bring the procedures under Schedule 25—it is the schedule concerned with children excluded from more than one school—in line with those for admission appeals under Schedule 24, which is the general admission appeals schedule.

Amendment No. 177 is simply a tidying up amendment. It abridges the reference to the ways in which proposals to introduce banding may be given effect under Schedule 6. The phrase "fall to be implemented" replaces the existing reference to approved or otherwise determined.

Amendment No. 165 would bring in a sensible, and very limited, new regulation-making power. The Bill allows for occasions when a major change in circumstances leads an admission authority to vary the arrangements which it has already determined and which have therefore achieved local agreement. Where it wants to make a variation, however, the Bill currently requires that the admission authority must refer the matter to the adjudicator in every case.

Amendment No. 165 would allow for regulations to specify that this reference to the adjudicator would not be necessary for certain types of variation. It has the same purpose as the similar regulation-making power in Clause 89(1)(c) which allows the Secretary of State to specify matters which may not be referred to the adjudicator for determination. This amendment would work to prevent trivial variations coming to the adjudicator or those which are uncontentious, such as where a fire to a school might justify an immediate reduction in the school's published admission number. Amendment No. 167 is a consequential drafting change.

Finally, on Amendment No. 168, adjudication is an important element of the new admissions framework. The Bill gives the adjudicator—or the Secretary of State in certain circumstances—the power to hear objections to an admission authority's arrangements. If he upholds an objection, his decision is then binding on that admission authority.

In the majority of cases, it will not be necessary to spell out exactly what the admission authority must do to change its arrangements. In many cases, the change will be obvious. In many others, it will be sufficient for the authority to implement the adjudicator's or the Secretary of State's decision as it thinks appropriate.

We have stressed in our draft interim guidance on admissions the need for admission arrangements to be co-ordinated locally. Some objections that are referred to the adjudicator may have implications for the co-ordination of the arrangements of a number of schools. Where objections are made against several schools, allowing each of them to implement the adjudicator's decision in different ways could threaten the desired co-ordination. This amendment will ensure that the adjudicator and the Secretary of State have the power—it may not have to be used often—to specify precisely what the new admission arrangements should be. It clarifies the adjudicator's powers on an objection and ensures that his decisions can result in co-ordinated arrangements where a number of schools are involved. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I should like to refer only to Amendment No. 168. Where an adjudicator not only makes a determination but also a direction for a modification, whether that modification results in overcapacity, undercapacity, or some cost to the LEA—perhaps transport costs or even building costs, depending on the particular determination that is made—am I right in thinking that the LEA will be under an obligation to conform with the modification, because this is a right of direction, and will have to meet the costs? Is it right that those costs would have to pre-empt any other expenditure that the LEA might deem to be more appropriate at that time?

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I speak also to Amendment No. 168. The Minister referred to the amendments as technical. However, I believe that the issue raised by Amendment No. 168 goes further. There was considerable concern, when the provisions of the Bill were first made public, about the powers of the adjudicator. As a result of that concern, not least in relation to admissions to denominational schools, it was agreed that if there was any dispute in NSAC on the question of admissions on religious criteria it would be referred to the Secretary of State and not an adjudicator.

It appears that the Secretary of State is to be given considerable powers under this amendment to specify modifications in relation to the admission arrangements in question. I should like to have an assurance that those powers will not be used to change the character of the admissions policy of denominational schools which I believe is possible under this amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful both to the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness for their interventions. The cost of implementing the decisions of adjudicators will fall on the local education authority, if I correctly understand the question posed by the noble Baroness. The right reverend Prelate is right to spell out the fact that after discussion with the Churches it was agreed that because of their concern about the powers of adjudicators the appeal should be to the Secretary of State rather than the adjudicator. That was why on a number of occasions I referred to the Secretary of State rather than the adjudicator. It is also true that the Secretary of State at the moment is involved in Wales as part of the transitional arrangements for Welsh devolution.

The right reverend Prelate asked whether the implementation of decisions made by the Secretary of State could affect the character of the admissions policy of denominational schools. My immediate reaction to that is: as little as possible. However, I shall write to the right reverend Prelate in order to make the point clear.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may pose a question apropos the response of the Minister and the point raised by the right reverend Prelate. It is my understanding that denominational schools are linked with foundation schools. It is my understanding, which perhaps can be confirmed or otherwise, that the character of the admissions policy of foundation schools, just like Church schools, who are their own admissions authority, cannot be changed. Am I correct that they would be exempt from a direction by the adjudicator to modify their admissions arrangements?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, matters are referred to the adjudicator only when there is disagreement about admissions policies. That is the starting point. Therefore, nearly all decisions on admissions will be determined locally rather than by the adjudicator or the Secretary of State. Beyond that in nearly all cases the decision of the adjudicator will be simple and can be implemented in a straightforward way. Amendment No. 168 is very limited. It only provides that where it is necessary for the adjudicator to spell out what the admissions authority must do to change its arrangements he will have power to do so. This does not in any way change the duty of the adjudicator. It refers only to the implementation of his decision. Therefore, no change is proposed to which the question of the noble Baroness is relevant.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that was not the point of my question. The point of my question is: are foundation schools exempt from a determination and/or a modification direction by the adjudicator?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is not my understanding that any schools are exempt. A decision has to be made. If it cannot be made locally, it has to be made by the adjudicator. If I am wrong, I shall write to the noble Baroness.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 88 [Procedure for determining admission arrangements]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 165:

Page 66, line 4, leave out from first ("shall") to end of line and insert ("(except in a case where their proposed variations fall within any description of variations prescribed for the purposes of this subsection) refer the proposed variations to the adjudicator, and shall (in every case)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 166:

Page 66, line 22, at end insert— ("( ) as to the information to be published by foundation and voluntary aided schools and by schools maintained by the local education authority about the operation of their admissions policy in the previous year.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 169 and 170 which are on the same subject. Your Lordships will have noticed that the support of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is indicated on the Marshalled List. He is an expert in billing, as he reminded us at an earlier session of the Report stage. It is a great honour to have so distinguished a thespian as my supporting cast. I am grateful to him for his support.

Amendment No. 166 applies to Clause 88 which relates to the procedure for determining admission arrangements. It provides that regulations shall make provision as to the information to be published by all schools about the operation of their admissions policy in the previous year.

The following two amendments apply to Clause 91 which relates to the publication of information about admissions. The amendments require that the effect of the operation of the admissions policy on foundation or voluntary aided schools should be published, and that other schools should publish information about the operation of their admissions policy in the previous year.

The amendments are not designed to ensure that admissions policy is published, because the clauses already make provision for that. The point is to ensure that the operation of those policies shall be reported on at the end of the year so that local people can see not merely what are the admissions policies but how they have operated in their locality. That is important for all parents, but it is especially important for the parents of children with special educational needs. I shall now hand over to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, to complete the introduction of the amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Rix

My Lords, first, I must thank the noble Baroness for her kind words about my dramatic abilities. She is kinder to me, perhaps, than some of the critics used to be many years ago down the road. From the Minister's response to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, in Committee, I have reason to believe that the Government are sympathetic to the idea that mechanisms should be available to enable the monitoring of admissions arrangements to take place.

One of our concerns is that as a result of the more hands-off relationship envisaged in the draft code of practice on LEA/school relations, such mechanisms may appear in some schools to encroach upon their autonomy. We are therefore anxious that some formal mechanism should exist for securing information about admissions. The Minister may propose alternative ways of securing the same objective, but the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and I would welcome any government proposals designed to do this.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, similar amendments were tabled during the Committee stage. They would require regulations to include a requirement on each school to report on the outcome of the operation of the previous year's admissions policy and require publication by the school of information about the effects of that policy.

We understand that during the previous stage and at this stage of the Bill the main aim and motivation in tabling the amendments has been to ensure that information was readily available so that it could be judged and monitored whether there was any discrimination against children or the parents of children with special educational needs. The amendments go wider than that in terms of giving a general report on the admissions policy and its effect.

As regards ensuring that there is no discrimination against children with special educational needs without statements, the Government's position is clear. We are fully sympathetic to that aim and we have been forthright in publicly saying so. The guidance to which the noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred is bold and straightforward. The interim guidance clearly states that: children with special educational needs but without statements must be treated no less favourably than other applicants". It also emphasises that an admissions authority may not refuse to admit a pupil just because it feels unable to cater for his or her special educational needs. The reaction of the Special Educational Consortium and others has been to welcome that interim guidance.

Our commitment in this area is clear. We shall not allow children with SEN, including those with a disability, to be discriminated against. I repeat the promise to take careful account of the issues that have been raised in the general consultation on the future of SEN policy in our proposals on inclusion in mainstream education.

As regards the implications of the amendments, leaving aside the fact that they require a wide-ranging and non-specific report on the operations of admissions policy, we are not yet convinced that as regards SEN children the appropriate way forward is to put on the face of the Bill a requirement that such information should be published. If we were convinced of such a move, it would be appropriate for regulations rather than for primary legislation. I can give no firm commitment, but we should be happy to consider the issue further in the context of drafting regulations on which we shall be consulting. We do not believe that the amendments achieve the main motivation behind them and we believe that they are not appropriate for the face of the Bill. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw them.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he repeated his statement from paragraph 30 of the document making it clear that an admissions authority may not refuse to admit a pupil because it feels unable to cater for his or her special educational needs. If the authority feels not only that it is unable to cater but that it cannot cater for such needs, it does the child no favour to be required to accept. What will happen in the case of a school which cannot meet the special needs of the child?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is part of a general policy on improving access and inclusion of SEN children in mainstream education. Therefore, there are obligations concerning the provision of support and access which will be part of the whole policy. In relation to a particular example, access to a school of first choice may not be guaranteed if there were a genuine objective and clear reason for being totally unable to meet the particular requirements of the child. That would be true. But the intention is clear here that we should make that support and access available and the admissions authority would not be able to refuse a child with special educational needs of whatever sort.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I want to make only one tiny caveat. The implications of these amendments did not relate only to children with special educational needs without statements. They related to all children with special educational needs. Apart from that, I thought that much of what the Minister said was extremely useful to us and I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 167:

Page 66, line 33, after first ("of") insert ("any of").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 89 [Reference of objections to adjudicator or Secretary of State]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 168:

Page 67, line 32, at end insert— ("( ) Where the adjudicator or the Secretary of State decides that an objection referred to him under this section should be upheld to any extent, his decision on the objection may specify the modifications that are to be made to the admission arrangements in question.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 168A:

Page 67, line 42, at end insert— ("( ) Any decision of the adjudicator shall be taken with a view to promoting, for the admission authorities for maintained schools of any prescribed description—

  1. (a) consultation and discussion between admission authorities over the determination of admission arrangements;
  2. (b) the coordination of admission arrangements including common timetables and common application forms;
  3. (c) compliance with parental preference to the maximum possible extent;
  4. (d) the provision of efficient education and the efficient use of resources.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment sets out the criteria to which the adjudicator must have regard in resolving local disputes about admission arrangements. I should say at the outset that this is a probing amendment and my intention in moving it is to give the Minister an opportunity to provide further information about the role of the adjudicator in the admissions process.

We have already made clear our view about adjudicators, and I am sure that we shall return to that. But if we are to have them, we need to be clearer than we are at present about their role. That is because at present the Bill is silent on the factors which the adjudicator will take into account in reaching decisions. It is not clear whether the adjudicator will be required to have regard to the effect of his decisions on factors such as the supply of school places locally, parental choice and the efficient use of public money.

The department's interim guidance is not clear about how adjudicators will approach disputes; about co-ordination among admission authorities; and the compatibility of admission policies across LEA areas. It is not clear whether the Secretary of State's power to impose a common admissions system, as has recently been exercised in Hertfordshire but is to be repealed by this Bill, will pass to the adjudicator.

Will the Minister confirm that the DfEE's statutory admissions code, when it is issued early next year, will strongly encourage adjudicators to take into account the wider implications of decisions about an individual school's admission arrangements for other local schools? Will he confirm also that the need to co-ordinate admission procedures for the benefit of parents, children and the environment—for example, as regards travel to school—will be paramount in the Government's new policies on admission arrangements? I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am very fond of this amendment. I take it as being the Liberal Democrat Party's response to the consultation which has been provided in the consultative draft—the interim guidance on schools admissions. The noble Lord has looked at the key principles on pages 6 and 7 of the consultative draft; he has paraphrased some of the key principles there; he has added to them in other cases in a most helpful way. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord.

For example, paragraph (a) of his amendment which refers to, consultation and discussion between admission authorities", is very close to the words in paragraph 13 of the key principles. Paragraphs (b) and (c) are very close to the wording in paragraph 8 of the key principles. I have not yet found the equivalent in the key principles to paragraph (d) about the provision of efficient education and the efficient use of resources. But it is a valuable addition and contribution. We are grateful to the noble Lord for it and we shall include that formally in the submission from the Liberal Democrat Party to our consultation process.

The noble Lord knows perfectly well that we are working towards a statutory code of practice and that its final form will be settled next year, following the use of the interim guidance and the consultative process which accompanies it. To that extent, it would be entirely inappropriate for us to include his wording or ours on the face of the Bill at this time. It would stultify—indeed remove—the value of the consultation process into which we are entering.

I know, because I said it earlier, that the noble Lord is aware of the important point in this respect; namely that the adjudicator must have regard to the statutory code of practice in reaching his decisions. If and when the statutory code of practice reaches the same conclusions as the noble Lord has in his amendment, I think he will then be entirely reassured by that position.

While on the subject of the powers and responsibilities of the adjudicator, perhaps I may refer back to a question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when we were considering an earlier amendment. She asked whether there was special provision for the character of foundation schools. I am not sure that my answer was clear. I can tell her now that there is no special provision for foundation schools, but the fundamental principle which may reassure her is that the adjudicator's admission decision must reflect the school's existing character. If the noble Baroness is worried that the adjudicator may change the character of the school in question, she may set her mind at rest. That is not within the power of the adjudicator.

On the basis of the welcome that I have given to the noble Lord's contribution, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not sure whether the rules have been breached as we are now talking about a different amendment. However, I am grateful for the noble Lord's explanation, even though I do not understand what he means by "character" of the school. If a foundation school is its own admissions authority and its admissions policy has to be agreed, does the foundation school agree its own admissions policy and, thereafter, will it be open to an adjudicator to vary or modify it in any way? If it is not, is its admissions authority an absolute power to that school?

As I said, I do not understand the word "character" in this context; indeed, it would have to be defined for me. Presumably the modification of admissions arrangements does not necessarily mean changing the character of the school. If standard numbers or age ranges are changed, it is important to understand exactly what the Minister means by the word "character".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the character of a school is defined in statute. I shall write to the noble Baroness indicating exactly where.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I am sad and confused. I am sad that the Minister should apparently be so surprised that my amendment was so helpful. I have spent the past 10 days on the Bill trying to be helpful to the Government and very occasionally, they recognise that fact. Indeed, the noble Lord was so surprised at one of my amendments in Committee that he agreed to take it away and consider it; and tonight we had precisely the same amendment tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Therefore, I do not know why the noble Lord should still be surprised that I am helpful.

I am now confused because a little further on in his response the noble Lord offered to include something in the Liberal Democrats' response to the consultation. The Minister's help to us is extremely welcome. However, before he is really able to contribute to a Liberal Democrat response, there are one or two other steps that he will need to take first. If he wishes to discuss such matters with me later, I shall be only too happy to do so.

I made clear in moving the amendment that it was a probing amendment. I think it has probably probed even deeper than I thought in that we have discovered some secret inclinations of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that we had not hitherto suspected. I do not wish to press the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 91 [Publication of information about admissions]:

[Amendments Nos. 169 and 170 not moved.]

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth moved Amendment No. 171:

After Clause 91, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) The Education Act 1996 shall be amended as follows.

(2) In section 316 (children with special educational needs normally to be educated in mainstream schools)—

  1. (a) for subsection (1) there shall be substituted—
    1. "(1) Any person exercising functions under this Part in respect of a child with special educational needs who should be educated in school shall secure that the child is educated in a school which is not a special school unless that is incompatible with the wishes of the parent and the needs and ascertainable wishes of the child."; and
  2. (b) subsection (2) shall be omitted.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I moved and withdrew an identical amendment in Committee on 8th June. Its purpose is to ensure that any child with a statement of special educational needs will be educated in a mainstream school, provided that is compatible with his educational needs and the wishes of his parent. I stress again that it is only when the parent wishes it. I explained the details of the amendment at length, and the difficulties parents still encounter with some LEAs at cols. 824, 825, 826, and 827 of Hansard. I shall not repeat the arguments because I do not want to bore your Lordships rigid and I do not intend to divide on this amendment. I simply hope the Minister can give a somewhat stronger message to those LEAs which 17 years after the Education Act 1981 are still reluctant to offer a mainstream option to children with statements.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, has had to leave the Chamber but supports the amendment most warmly as she clearly demonstrated in Committee at col. 827 when she said that inclusive education when successful—I accept that it cannot be rushed or skimped—benefits both children with and without special educational needs. That surely must be the way to a better understanding and relationship in the adult world.

From the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at cols. 833 and 834, and an extremely helpful meeting with officials for which I am grateful, it became clear that before embarking on any possible legislation the Government wish to consider the responses to the Green Paper and the wider work of the disability task force which will, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, specifically review the present exclusion of education from the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act".—[Official Report, 8/6/98; col. 833.]

This is extremely welcome. I and others tried unsuccessfully to include education during the passage of the DDA. On rereading the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in Committee, I find that there is a strong message for the future. I have to accept—and the special education consortium accepts—that we shall have to wait until the responses from the Green Paper are received. But the task force may not report—unless the Minister can indicate to the contrary—for a considerable time. I hope we do not have to wait too long before resolving in law, if necessary, this problem of dilatory LEAs.

However, that is for the future. I very much hope that in the meantime the Government will send a strong message to the reluctant LEAs, whether it be with carrots, sticks or a combination of those. Carrots could perhaps be in the form of some incentive to LEAs, perhaps a bridging loan to those LEAs which provide a mainstream option; or there could be a stick, but rather more of a firm nudge than a stick in the form of a letter to dilatory LEAs; or perhaps a letter to all LEAs reminding them of their general duty to provide mainstream places where this is consistent with parents' wishes.

I look forward to the Minister's reply. The message for the future is clearly encouraging. I hope today that the Minister can offer a firm message for the immediate future and will at the very least be able to give a tangible reminder to LEAs of their general duty to provide a mainstream place, where it is a parent's wish, for any statemented child who would benefit from such an education. I beg to move.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I am delighted to support my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth, the rest of the supporting cast having made their exit into the night. That leads me to a point about my exit on Tuesday last from the Report stage of the Bill. I am happy to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, is reported in Hansard as saying that I had been called away on other business. Like a well known American, I cannot tell a lie. I must confess that I was called away to watch England lose in the World Cup.

On the other hand, that early exit lent some colouring to the Bill that is before us. For one thing, it quite clearly illustrated truancy on my part. It also illustrated challenging behaviour on the part of David Beckham, and, furthermore, exclusion by the Danish referee as he was sent off. However, it also supported this amendment moved by my noble friend, in that it offered choice. There was the choice that I could have stayed. There was choice in that David Beckham need not have lashed out with his foot, and choice in that the referee could have shown him the yellow card instead of the red one. That is all we are asking in this amendment. We believe that choice for parents and for pupils with special educational needs to attend the school of their choice is of vital importance.

Last year there was the sad case, which was lost in the courts, of the girl with Downs syndrome who wanted to go from primary to secondary school. She wanted to go; her fellow pupils wanted her to go; and her parents wanted her to go. But unfortunately the school concerned said that it did not have the necessary facilities available. She was rejected, and had to attend a special school. That seems to be in contravention of all the circulars that have been published. The Government should make some sort of reparation in this direction. We are perhaps initially seeking letters to LEAs, schools etc. However, we hope that further legislation will eventually be forthcoming

When I visited officials at the Department for Education with my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, I left with them a study that had taken place in California. I know that comparisons between America and this country are not totally apposite. However, of children with special educational needs—some with profound disabilities—who attended mainstream schools and were given the correct facilities and support there, it was proved beyond doubt that after they left school and went into the world outside they became a decreasing cost to the state in terms of the support that they needed. Their performance in later life was considerably enhanced by their being absorbed into mainstream schools.

I know that it is a tremendous bone of contention between parents as to whether to send their child to a special school or a mainstream school. The amendment that was accepted today in relation to bullying—about which I am so happy—will help to lessen the problems facing parents. Bullying has been a very real fear on their part in the past.

The question of choice should be uppermost in the Government's mind. As more support is given to mainstream schools, a great deal will be gained by pupils, and by their parents, if they are able to attend such schools if they so wish.

Lord Addington

My Lords, this is one amendment to which I should like to have put my name, but I was rather elbowed out of the way in the rush to support it.

To continue the sporting analogy, football is a rather strange game. I have always felt that a game in which you do not use the world's most complicated tool—that at the end of your arm—is bound to lead to odd aberrations in behaviour. The young gentleman who decided, rather strangely, when lying face down on the floor that it was a good time to kick his opponent was exhibiting very strange behaviour. I suggest that his only safety lay in his being shown the red card rather than anything else.

The debate about those with special educational needs attending mainstream schools has always been covered by a series of assumptions which have tended to be different depending on which part of the SEN world people come from. It depends on the appropriateness of the help that can be given to certain people. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, pointed out, there are certain groups where the case is proven that it is a positive aspect, provided there is sympathy within the school.

Other groups need more specialist help which may be provided in a more specialist environment, but we are arguing around the edges of the problem now. The amendment represents the compromise and agreement which have come from the SEN lobby itself. Surely it should be accepted, if not now, then very soon, or with other wording. What we are talking about is bringing the child on board with the parents and considering the appropriateness of the teachers. If those are all brought together, surely we will be able to integrate to a far higher degree.

In addition, if we start to pay attention to this matter with a true spirit, the interchange between special schools and the mainstream schools will become much easier. Most people with SEN problems will benefit from some mainstream education. It is silly to say that certain groups cannot be integrated; indeed, it may be a case of going outside the system to support units and then coming back in. An amendment like this must be included in the legislation at some point so that we can bring people in.

There will always be a degree of prejudice. I mention the demon word "dyslexia" again. I have come across teachers who have said privately to me, "I don't believe in dyslexia". You can then show them brain scans with different areas of electro-activity showing the difference between the two and they still say they do not believe it. One is rather under the impression that they believe that the world is round. But that goes on. Surely at some point we must have some such amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I had the privilege of taking the 1993 Act through the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, was very much involved. Part III decreed by law that the educational needs of the child should be paramount in all cases. If the parental preference was consistent with the educational needs of the child, it should be acceded to. Since then what has happened in the courts has thrown that into some confusion because it seems that local education authorities under the law can plead resources. Where problems normally arise is not in choosing mainstream education for a child with special education needs but choosing special education provision because it is a costly provision for the LEA. Because resources are always finite for the LEAs, they will want it to be cost-effective as well as educationally effective. I do not know how this amendment fits in with the provisions of the Act. I was disturbed by the case cited by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, mainly because the educational needs of the child, the parental preference, supported by everyone who knew that child, seemed to argue in favour of the child moving into mainstream education. I wonder whether the tribunal system set up by Part III of the Act was not effective and whether the review has thrown up a deficiency which needs to be addressed.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, without following the noble Lord, Lord Rix, too far down the path of footballing analogies, I must observe that I find it difficult to imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, could ever be elbowed out in any rush. However, the provisions in Section 316 of the Education Act 1996 say that a child with special educational needs must be educated at a mainstream school provided that is what the parents want. But—and it is a very important but—the section goes on to give local education authorities three reasons why they may legitimately not meet a parent's preference for a mainstream place. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, alluded to them indirectly. I do not think I need go through them. They are familiar to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.

There are strong and cogent arguments that the conditions built into Section 316 in practice make it possible for LEAs to override perhaps a little too easily parents' preferences for mainstream education. There is concern that, rather than safeguarding parents' rights to secure a mainstream placement wherever possible, Section 316 is now seen by some as an obstacle to inclusion.

The House will be in no doubt as to the commitment of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and indeed of the whole Government to the principle that children with special educational needs should be included in mainstream schools wherever that is what parents want and provided it is consistent with meeting the child's educational needs. That must be paramount. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We are determined to make progress in that direction.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for saying that one should not be rushed in this area. We want real and lasting progress. And it must cohere with the broader improvements that we seek for disabled people generally. The task force, which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment is leading, will therefore address such issues when it looks at the relationship between education and disability discrimination legislation. If that works and the continuing scrutiny of the education barriers to inclusion confirm a need to change these provisions, we shall be ready to do so. But the House will know how complex and sensitive this area is. If changes are made, we must ensure that they are the right changes and that they will work for everyone—for parents and children who want special schools; for parents and children who want mainstream schools; and for those parents and children who do not choose to express a preference for a specific school. It is essential that each child receives appropriate educational provision and that the schools they attend feel confident that they can address the pupil's full range of needs.

I hope that noble Lords will be patient on this point. I do not believe they will have to wait too long. I can give an unequivocal undertaking on behalf of the Government that we shall make whatever proposals we believe to be necessary to promote inclusion and to ensure that inclusive education is of high quality. Those proposals, if appropriate, will include the possibility of changes in the law. But it would be premature to give a definitive commitment until we have been able to consult on specific proposals. Our expectation is that we shall propose such changes. In doing so, we shall equally safeguard the rights of those parents who wish to express a preference, as some do, for a special school placement for their child. That is important.

It would greatly assist the Government's deliberations in this area if we can continue the department's most helpful dialogue with noble Lords in whose names the amendment stands. I know that my honourable friend, Estelle Morris, the Minister with responsibility for special educational needs, would value an opportunity to discuss this subject further and will be writing to noble Lords to suggest a meeting.

In following up the responses to our consultation on the Green Paper, we will also be drawing the attention of LEAs and others to the requirement of the law and reminding authorities of their general duty to provide a mainstream place if that is what parents want. We know that some LEAs and some schools are much better equipped than others to include children with special educational needs, and it will be a major part of our programme over the next few years to increase greatly schools' and LEAs' ability to provide properly for those children.

On the noble Baroness's more specific question, as we have said previously the timing of our follow-up to the Green Paper will be linked to the availability of resources. I cannot anticipate the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, but I can assure the House that we will be seeking to ensure that resources are included to support work on moving towards increased inclusion.

I hope that from what I have said the noble Baroness will be reassured of our commitment to do whatever is necessary to ensure that legislation works in a way that was intended and that she will therefore be persuaded to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Darcy De Knayth

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their support. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rix for his staunch and enlivening support. I agree very much with what he said about bullying. I hope that will help enormously. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his support once again. I regret that there is space for only four names on an amendment. The noble Lord said that the amendment has a lot to recommend it. I am pleased that the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, when I re-read him in Committee, said that the legislation will be forthcoming if it is necessary. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her thoughtful questions and support.

I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging the difficulties of Section 316 and the problems there have been with the loopholes. I note what she said about the task force. I hope that if the task force takes a lot longer than the Green Paper the Government will consider changing the law, if that is found to be necessary.

I am grateful that the Minister will be writing to noble Lords to arrange a meeting and to LEAs to draw attention to the matter. I feel that we have progressed a great deal today and I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 92 [Fixing admission numbers]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 171 A:

Page 71, line 17, leave out from ("of") to first ("the") in line 19 and insert ("fifteen working days of the date of the proposal").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 171A I seek to reduce the length of time mentioned in the Bill from two months to 15 working days. There is a requirement to lift the admission numbers to above the set limit, which is particularly relevant to small and medium-sized primary schools and those which have mixed-year groups.

The schools face difficulties when a child is newly moved into the area or a child qualifies for a priority place for a special social reason. In that regard, one of the schools of which my husband is a governor—and this is why I particularly move the amendment—has a one-parent ratio of 70 per cent. Therefore the movements in and out of the school during the term is very rapid and continuous. Obviously if numbers are set and more children want to come in, they would have to wait for two months. That is a long time to wait.

If the Government are going down the road of being very proscriptive, they must make arrangements to deal quickly with such matters. The amendment would ensure a more rapid response to the admission numbers. I hope that the Minister will consider it. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, where a proposal is made to an admission authority by either the governing body of a school or the LEA for an increase in admission numbers, enough time should be allowed for the proposal to be properly considered. The admission number for the school cannot be lower than the standard number. A child may not be refused admission to a school on the grounds of prejudice to efficient education or efficient use of resources unless the number of applications for admission exceeds that minimum number.

The standard number can be changed only in accordance with the provisions of Schedule 23, which requires the consultation of interested parties. Admission authorities may publish an admission number higher than the standard number if they want and must then admit up to that number. Where a proposal to an admission authority to increase admission numbers is rejected, the proposer may seek an increase in the standard number.

It is right that admission authorities should have proper time to consider the consequences of any proposal. We consider that two months is appropriate. The provisions in the Bill regarding this matter directly reflect existing provisions under the Education Reform Act 1988 and are consolidated in the Education Act 1996, introduced by the previous Government. There is no change in the legislation in this Bill and we see no reason to make such a change. Having explained that, I hope that the noble Baroness is able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response. I will think on it. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 172:

Page 71, line 33, leave out from ("the") to end of line 34 and insert ("coming into force of regulations under section 1 by virtue of which any limit on class size is to apply, or be varied, in relation to any such class.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 23 [Determination, variation and review of standard numbers]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 173 to 175:

Page 210, line 46, leave out ("limits imposed under section 1 which apply") and insert ("limit imposed under section 1 which applies").

Page 213, line 20, leave out ("limits imposed under section 1 which apply") and insert ("limit imposed under section 1 which applies").

Page 214, line 15, leave out from ("the") to end of line 17 and insert ("coming into force of regulations under section 1 by virtue of which any limit on class size is to apply, or be varied, in relation to any such class at the school.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 24 [Admission appeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 175A:

Page 218, leave out lines 47 to 49.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, paragraph 17 of Schedule 24 and paragraph 14 of Schedule 25 give the Secretary of State the power to make an order to, make such amendments of this Schedule as he considers expedient".

My understanding is that that applies however insignificant it may be or however substantial it may be. Therefore, without any understanding of the scope or the limit of any such amendments, I believe that this is a power too far. They may well be very minor amendments but these are schedules that go with the admissions provisions. It seems to me that admissions policies could be changed quite substantially if a Secretary of State is given such a free hand as to make amendments as he or she considers expedient. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, these amendments would affect the schedules which set out the statutory requirements for the constitution of appeals panels and the procedures to be allowed at an appeal hearing. Apart from the specific requirements set out in these schedules, all other matters relating to the procedure on appeals are determined by the body or bodies by whom the arrangements are made. Under separate provisions in the Bill, those bodies will be required to have regard to the guidance set out in a code of practice when determining the appeals procedure. Appeals panels, too, will be covered by the code.

f As in the present non-statutory code of practice on appeals, the guidance in the statutory code of practice is likely to be fairly detailed. As I have said before, we do not think that such detail should be on the face of the Bill. All that the Bill needs to contain is the essential basic requirements. However, I am a little puzzled by what the noble Baroness has said since what is in these schedules refers only to appeals, not to wider policies, so I do not think that the scope is as wide as the noble Baroness seemed to imply.

We cannot, however, rule out the need to alter these statutory requirements in the future or to add to them; for example, if there is evidence of abuse, or in the light of a court judgment, or on advice from the Council on Tribunals under whose supervision appeals panels fall. An example might be where we found there was a need for an additional mandatory safeguard for parents appearing before the appeals. That is why we think it is both sensible and necessary to have these powers. Without them, the statutory requirements for hearing these appeals could never be altered except by bringing forward another Bill. Clearly, that would not make much sense.

We have already responded to the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and amended Clause 135(5) in Committee. This now requires any order made under these schedules to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The provision in each schedule to allow the Secretary of State to make an order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure reflects that in Schedule 18 on exclusion appeals, which has already been approved by this House. We have already made the amendment recommended by the committee and I have explained why these powers are necessary. So I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I believe that I am satisfied with that reply. As I understand it, Sections 93 and 94 are included in Clause 135 as any orders coming under them will be by the affirmative resolution procedure. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 25 [Children to whom section 86 applies: appeals by governing bodies]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 176:

Page 220, line 5, after ("authority,") insert ("may attend, as an observer, any hearing of an appeal by an appeal panel;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 176A not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords. I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

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