§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Baroness Blackstone.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 176AA:
§ After Clause 96, insert the following new clause—
§ REPORT ON TRANSPORT IMPLICATIONS OF SCHOOL ADMISSIONS ARRANGEMENTS
§ (" .—The Secretary of State shall lay a report before Parliament one year after the commencement of this section which examines the operation of this Part with a view to assessing the implications for the school transport service, the distance which pupils travel to school, and the environmental impact of the new arrangements for school admissions.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 176AA standing in the name of my noble friends. The amendment places an obligation on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the implications of this part of the Bill for the school transport service, the distance which pupils travel to school and the environmental impact of the new arrangements for school admissions.
§ There are several areas within the Bill which have the potential to increase the cost of school transport. The amendment draws attention to some of those and asks the Secretary of State to report to Parliament not only on the cost to local authorities of providing school transport arising out of changes made in the Bill but also on the environmental impact of those changes.
§ There is increasing concern about the damage to children and to the environment as a result of the school run. Thirty years ago it was said that 90 per cent. of children walked to school. The figure is now much smaller, perhaps 20 per cent., with most children of primary-school age being accompanied by an adult. The long-term physical development of youngsters who are driven rather than walk to school is of concern. Noble Lords may remember that a recent study showed that in children who carried heart monitors for a week the heart-beat hardly raised during the course of the week. They were not taking the exercise which is the essential foundation for health in later life, unlike those who, like myself, were forced to play games every day of the school week, whether we liked it or not. It is also a 1122 matter of concern that children lose the opportunity to develop as independent individuals if they are always accompanied to school.
§ The amendment focuses on the cost and the environmental impact—the damage done to the environment if more cars are on the streets. We have frequently debated in this House the impact of the school run on congestion on our roads in the morning rush hour, when it has the most impact. We have also debated the effect of that congestion upon the environment and on peoples' health.
§ Several areas of the Bill have an impact on transport costs, including reducing parental choice via class size limits so that children have to travel further to school; school organisation, if the new school planning system does not work; but, in particular, the admissions policy. We feel strongly that admissions policies ought to ensure that there is a local place for every child and that there should be an end to the great distances that some children travel in the name of parental choice.
§ Finally, I should like to make a different point. This Government, I am happy to admit, are convinced of the importance of an integrated transport system and of integrating government policy across different departments. At a local level, county councillors and others who have responsibility for education have grappled with the problem of school transport and how to provide it in a period of increasing school choice. They also have the responsibility, in most cases, for highways and transport in general. They have therefore had to face up to the need to combine thinking on education with thinking on transport and the environment. Many councils have environmental policies which stretch right across their various departments.
§ The amendment seeks to ask whether it is time that, at a government level, a similarly integrated approach on matters of the environment and its major concomitant—transport—should be undertaken. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to present a one-off report to Parliament on the operation of the new school admission arrangements. The report would assess the transport, distance and environmental impact of those arrangements.
I understand the noble Baroness's intentions in tabling this amendment. But we do not believe it to be sensible for the Bill to require such a report. Protecting our environment is a high priority for this Government. In the election manifesto we made a commitment to put the environment at the heart of government, and that is exactly what we are doing.
I note also that the noble Baroness referred to our integrated transport policies which again we are now pursuing. In general, we are working to reduce car dependency. The noble Baroness will be pleased to know that that includes targeting the "school run". However, there is a danger of falling into the trap of assuming that the more distant the school, the worse are 1123 the consequential environmental effects. I am sorry to say that many parents still drive their children to school even when the journey is less than one mile.
Again, I accept what the noble Baroness says about the need for young people to take exercise and no doubt she is right in drawing our attention to the study which showed that the heartbeat of young people was not raised during a whole week. However, it could well be less harmful to the environment for those children to use public transport or to cycle to a more distant school. The interaction between a school's admissions policy and the use of public transport, walking or cycling is a little more complex than one might immediately anticipate.
My officials are working closely with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on drawing up measures to encourage admissions authorities, parents and children to consider more environmentally friendly means of getting to school, where that is feasible. It is also important that parents have their preferences met where possible. We recognise that that must be balanced by a number of considerations, including ensuring that children do not have to travel unduly long distances to find a suitable school place. There are other disadvantages to that, as well as environmental ones.
Where schools are oversubscribed, many admission authorities give priority to children who live nearest the school—sometimes measured by the safest walking route. Others give priority to children resident within a defined catchment area and others take account of transport routes. Admission authorities will continue to be able to use those oversubscription criteria.
We must of course consider how we monitor the success of our policies within this Bill. But schools' admissions arrangements and the operation of the school transport policy are local matters. Environmental considerations are essential. But the Government are tackling them in a comprehensive and coherent manner, and not piecemeal. We do not see that a report for Parliament, which this amendment would require, adds to the Government's overarching environmental policies. Therefore I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, though in some ways I found it disappointing. She mentioned again the commitment of the Government to the green linkage between policies pursued by various departments. But it is difficult to find in this legislation any evidence of that approach. It seems to be entirely based on the organisation of schools and not take into account the environmental impact of those policies, which is what one would expect the Bill to do if it had been subjected, for example, to some kind of environmental audit.
It was for that reason that we sought the possibility of an annual report; that is, to show how one aspect of the Bill may affect environmental considerations. On the other hand, I am glad to hear that her department is getting together with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. School 1124 transport is an extremely important subject. It is extremely costly, however we provide it. There are those who believe that it would be better to do it all by free school buses and others who have totally different points of view.
I do not believe that we will get any further today and therefore, despite my disappointment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Clause 98 [General restriction on selection by ability or aptitude]:
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 176B:
§ Page 75, line 10, at end insert—
§ ("( )any selection by ability consequent upon section (Admission arrangements: selection procedure);").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 176B, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 176C to 176E and 177A to 177D.
§ Clauses 98, 100 and 101 deal with selection, both generally and for the so-called specialist schools. The arguments of medieval scholastics as to how many angels could dance on the head of a pin were models of clarity compared to the tortured thinking that lies behind the clauses that we are now to consider.
§ We all know that the Government and the noble Lord opposite hate selection by ability. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, reminded us in trenchant tones the other night of his dislike of selection by ability. It was beautiful 1960s stuff and I like to hear it. But the problem is that Her Majesty's Government face the need to increase and improve standards in education. Therefore, in spite of the purity of their view in relation to selection, they see the need to have some sort of selection for their specialist schools, presumably designed, since they were introduced by the previous government, to improve standards. To a degree therefore they are impaled on the horns of their own dilemma; that is, a dislike of selection, yet having to introduce some selection and pretending that it is not selection at all. Our amendments are designed to help them away from that confusion of thought and to introduce rationality and reality into what is at present confusion and uncertainty.
§ Amendments Nos. 176B and 176C are direct and clear. We nail our flag clearly to the masthead. They would allow schools, subject to the approval of governors and a ballot of parents, to introduce selection by ability—straight and absolute.
§ Why do we do this? The Government have talked often of the right of parents to decide, and shortly we are to consider a whole raft of clauses relating to the votes on grammar schools. The Government's attitude to selection is that it is not wholly bad; otherwise they would presumably have abolished grammar schools by an Act of Parliament. But they have not done that. They have said that they will allow parents to decide either on a whole county ballot or on a ballot related in a different way to schools. In other words, they have acknowledged parental choice over the question of 1125 selection. However, it surprises me that they do it only one way. Surely logic and decency would require what my amendment suggests—the same right for other schools and parents apart from grammar schools.
§ I have to mention again that there is a myth unique to England—it is a myth—that selection destroys society and disadvantages the less able. As I said in an earlier debate on the Bill, that is disproved by the experience of Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and many other countries. If one says that selection is so evil that one cannot allow people to decide on it, one has also to say that we are in such a distinct society that what can occur a hundred or so miles across the Channel or the North Sea cannot occur in England. That is a myth, and socialist governments in Holland, Germany and Austria seem happy to live with selection. Strangely, if one compares the results, up to university level those countries actually do better than we do. So my noble friends and I put it straight on the face of the Bill. If you can have it one way, why not the other? I expect that I will get the old dogma thrown back at me. But remember Austria, Germany, Holland and Belgium. I put it the other way round so that one can see it one way or the other.
§ We then move on to Clause 100. It sets out in subsection (1) what is known in the trade as banding: each school should contain representative groups of all levels of ability. Here again one sees the problem that Ministers face as they try to adapt an ever-ageing ideology to a changing world and as they let their sociological ideals, belonging to those passé days of the 1960s, govern their educational thinking. Perhaps I may remind them—I hope not in too painful a way—that they have had to introduce these elaborate systems of banding because it has proved impossible for them—nor do they want to at the moment—to maintain the pure position of the area comprehensive.
§ I remind noble Lords opposite that the arrangement back in the 1960s, which was supposed to be the great argument for comprehensive education, was that banding would occur automatically because children of one area would go to one school and, as a result, one would get a variety of abilities. Why did that break down? It broke down because the parents did not like to be told to go to the school in their area; it broke down because the Government were not prepared to bus children from school to school; and it broke down because the area comprehensive was often too reflective of the sociology of the area and the children of certain disadvantaged areas also had disadvantaged schools. Therefore, the old pure gospel of comprehensive education—go to your area school and you will be with the people of your area—broke down. Furthermore, even noble Lords opposite do not like selection by house agent, which became a feature of the area comprehensive system.
§ So what do they do? They evolve this complex system of banding. What it means in reality is that in a school of 1,000 to 1,500 children one has to work out various ranges of ability. If one has a certain percentage at the top, one has to have a certain percentage at the bottom—all put on the surface of the Bill. I suggest to noble Lords that this will be a complex process. At least 1126 the area comprehensive was simple and understandable, although it was a dreadful system. First, IQ tests are a fallible instrument. Noble Lords who have dealt with them will know that some reflect different skills. For example, in schools of which I have been in charge, I have used IQ tests which put too much emphasis on mathematical ability. Someone else might put too much emphasis on literary ability. Therefore, precision in regard to who are the best pupils and who are the worst becomes difficult.
§ There will be arguments about this—considerable arguments—because on the basis of this system parents will be refused and schools will say to the parents, "Sorry, we have filled up our 10 per cent. higher ability range. Your child is too clever for us"; or, "Sorry, we have filled up our lower range. Your child is too dim for us". Then there will be arguments. I can assure the Committee that there will be arguments because parents have smelt parental choice, they have had it, and they want their children to go to what are often over-subscribed schools. Then the adjudicator and the admissions forum is brought in. It will be a nightmare. In fact, you might even side with the area comprehensive by the time you have finished.
§ So our Amendments Nos. 176D and 176E allow schools to decide their admission arrangements without being subject to ideology and remove the artificial rules requiring over-elaborate prescription. In other words, we open the thing out. The suggestion, and what I am putting on the record, is that the Government are still too attached to old dogmas and that they are not prepared to look across the Channel at selective systems which have produced better education for the less able. In the end they will suffer for it, as we have suffered for it over the past 30 or so years. Remember, the Bill has been put forward because of many failures in English education which have resulted from the failure of the comprehensive system to satisfy the less able. My government failed to tackle the comprehensive system because it had been too strongly entrenched. This Government will not do it because, on the whole, they are attached to it and prefer the elaborate and prescriptive method of banding.
§ Then we move on to the specialist schools. Although the noble Lord said late the other day that selection by ability is always hopeless, we are to have some selection. But the Government are carried screaming to the altar. The Government know as well as I do that if you say that a school specialises in languages and admits a certain percentage of its pupils on that basis, pure logic demands some test in that subject. Are they good at languages and science? Will they benefit from a specialist school in languages and science?
§ I say that the Government are dragged screaming to this position because they are trying to avoid reality. In this clause they never use the phrase "selection by ability". They talk of "aptitude". In the dictionary, "aptitude" is a synonym for "ability". But what do they mean if they say that "aptitude" is not "ability"? Are they saying it is just "interest"? Are they so terrified by the word "ability" that they almost approach it with garlic in their hand? If they mean that "aptitude" is "interest", will they judge that a child should go to a 1127 school specialising in languages because he smiled when he saw a French book or that he should go to a school specialising in science because he gave a little laugh when he saw a Bunsen burner? If they really mean that children should benefit, surely they need some kind of test to show that the child has some ability in French, or science, or mathematics, or whatever it be.
§ Our Amendments Nos. 177A to 177D face the reality. They remove the tortuous thinking of subsection (2). They allow a wider range of subjects. Prescribed subjects are mentioned on the face of the Bill. If people are going to do science it will not be enough just to do one science subject. One needs to look at an amalgam. Science subjects tend to go together with other subjects. If people wish to take science and there is a specialist school, then ability in mathematics is very important. One of the reasons why I was very bad at physics was because I could not do maths. If I were put in a specialist science school, it would have made a nonsense of the word "specialisation".
§ Our amendments also remove the 10 per cent. limit. How can a school be called a specialist science school—one assumes that the average entry to a school is sixth-form, with six classes of 30, making 180 pupils—if only 18 are chosen for their specialism in science? That is a tiny number. What do these specialist schools involve? It would be far better to follow the logic of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the other night. He said that he did not like selection by ability, so why have specialist schools? They seem to me to fall between two stools. They will neither fulfil the dogma of comprehensivism nor be truly specialist.
§ Therefore, we are trying to deliver the Government from the horns of their dilemma. In the 1920s the late dictator, Stalin, faced the same problem. In the aftermath of the revolution in Russia an egalitarian philosophy prevailed over standards of education. The late dictator, Stalin, introduced school uniforms and selection by ability, which had been a feature of the Russian system. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, knows, the Russian schools do a lot better than the schools in his local area.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I am delighted. During the time I spent near the noble Lord's area, his party was making great efforts to get rid of one or two of those schools. But I know that it will not want to do so now.
The fact is that the Government want to have their cake and eat it. They have accepted the partial failure of the local comprehensive school, but they have tried to maintain it in another and more elaborate form, demanding greater bureaucracy and making it a recipe for conflict. Parents will not understand banding and there will be disputes. The adjudicator will have more work and it will cost more money. The Government see 1128 the need for specialist schools, but cannot accept that in full. It is another sorry chapter in a sorry Bill. It is framework rather than standards. I am sorry I have to say this, but at least the noble Lord knows my ideology as I know his. I beg to move.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, these amendments were originally brought forward at the Committee stage and withdrawn. Noble Lords on the Conservative Benches have a very strong attachment to selection by ability. We are very aware of that attachment and the ideological difference between us. I do not believe that we should dispute that there is such a difference. The Government do not share their attachment.
These amendments are a direct attack on the Government's policy on selection. They are intended to completely reverse the present effect of Clauses 98 to 101, which implement the widely-welcomed commitment—which I emphasise—that we gave in the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, to rule out for the future any new selection by ability. The amendments would allow schools to propose just that. Indeed, I believe that they are pretty close to being wrecking amendments.
The new clause set out in Amendment No. 176C puts in place an entirely new mechanism for the introduction of selection—and not just partial selection by ability, but total selection by ability—running completely counter to Clauses 103 to 107 on grammar schools. It would allow a grammar school, which had been required to discontinue its selective arrangements following a parental ballot or approved statutory proposals, to seek to reintroduce full selection. Amendment No. 176B presses home the attack by making these newly-created selective arrangements a permitted form of selection by ability.
Amendments Nos. 176D and 176E seek to widen the Bill's definition of banding so as to permit even more selection by ability. There is no question but that admission by banding is admission on the basis of ability. But we believe that banding is compatible with the principle of comprehensive education, provided it is done in the way presently envisaged in the Bill. Clause 100(1)(b) of the Bill says, in effect, that if banding is to be lawful, it must not lead to substantial over or under-representation of any particular level of ability in the school's intake.
Amendment No. 176E would remove the safeguard of subsection (1)(b) and so would sanction banding which is inconsistent with the comprehensive principle. What is more, Amendment No. 176D would allow schools to admit only high ability pupils if they so wish. That is simply unacceptable to us.
Like the noble Lord's other amendments, Amendments Nos. 177A to 177D are intended completely to reverse the effect of the existing clause and so to overturn the Government's policy, this time on admission by aptitude.
The amendments remove the 10 per cent. limit on admission by aptitude and so would allow unlimited selection by this device. They remove the stipulation 1129 that schools may admit by aptitude only in subjects prescribed by the Secretary of State and so would enable schools to select by aptitude in any subject. But more than that, by removing the safeguard that any testing for aptitude must be designed to assess an aptitude for one of the prescribed subjects in which the school specialises, they would make it possible to test for other aptitudes of any kind, however remote from any specialisation, or indeed to test for general ability.
The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has raised again the issue of aptitude against ability and the distinction. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that the distinction has been drawn by successive governments, including those of the party opposite. That distinction has been enshrined in legislation since 1944. The last Education Act enacted by the previous government, the 1997 Act, refers in Section 10 to admission arrangements,admitting only pupils with high ability or with aptitude".But even more telling, the previous government commissioned research on the strength of their belief that ability and aptitude are different. Launching the research in May 1996, the then Secretary of State said,To help specialist schools which want to identify pupils' aptitude for a specialist subject as opposed to ability, I am announcing today a government-funded research project. The National Foundation for Educational Research will be developing tests to identify technological aptitude as opposed to ability at the age of 11".Perhaps I may return to the amendments. The effect of Amendments Nos. 177A to 177D would be to introduce a selection free-for-all in which any school could select and test for any percentage of its admissions on any basis it liked, under a nominal cover of selecting by aptitude. This is yet another attempt by the Opposition to bring back unfettered selection by ability.
I am somewhat reluctant to enter into the debate that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, had with my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey on the previous occasion. But I wish to say a few words about the impact that selection by ability had in the past. All too often, failure at the 11 plus meant that the vast majority of pupils were condemned to an educational environment where expectations and, consequently, opportunities, were low. Add to this the sense of failure for the majority of pupils. That cannot be right in today's competitive global environment which calls for a highly skilled workforce. It cannot be fair on pupils themselves.
The Earl of Dartmouth
My Lords, does the Minister consider that British schools as presently constituted provide a skilled workforce able to compete in the global economy?
§ Baroness Blackstone
No, my Lords. After 18 years of Conservative government, this new Government are committed to raising standards in our schools and to repairing some of the damage done by our predecessors. That is what we shall do. That is what the Bill is designed to bring about.
The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, also referred to systems abroad and implied that every system in Europe is selective. Perhaps I may remind him that Sweden and other Scandinavian countries in particular have had 1130 non-selective comprehensive systems for many years. Their systems are extraordinarily successful in educating not the few, but the many. That is what this Government are absolutely determined to do.
This package of amendments is, as I have pointed out, no less—
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, before the Minister concludes, can she seek to justify why she has put on the face of the Bill that schools can continue to select according to aptitude or ability up to 10 per cent. of their total intake? What is the magic of that figure? Why not 15 per cent. or 20 per cent.? Is the Minister arguing that if 20 per cent. of a school's intake were selected for aptitude or ability, that would distort the whole balance of the school? Does she not appreciate that the trend in education is towards more specialist schools? That will be the way of the future. If the Minister restricts selection to just 10 per cent. of an intake, she is setting herself and the Government against a trend which most parents and children want.
§ Baroness Blackstone
No, my Lords. I do not accept what the noble Lord has just said. We believe that selection by aptitude for specialist schools should be restricted to a relatively small proportion of children. We want to maintain the comprehensive principle by which we can ensure that children are given the maximum possible opportunities and not labelled too early as failures.
The amendments are a blatant attempt to reintroduce the previous government's "grammar-school-in-every-town" policy which failed miserably. No one wanted that system. When the previous government produced their White Paper proposing it, it was universally condemned. The House will appreciate that there is no way in which the Government can accept these amendments which, as I said, would bring back the divisiveness and the neglect of majority interests associated with the Conservatives' pro-selection stance. For those reasons, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down and before the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, tells your Lordships how he intends to proceed, was not my noble friend puzzled by the noble Lord's failure to address the question of parental choice in the context of selection by ability? Is it not a logical point that selection by ability is selection by the schools and that that is completely contradictory to the possibility of parental choice which—I must point this out since the noble Lord was disparaging about the 1960s—has been a commonplace among those of us who have taken an interest in education since at least the 1960s? As the noble Lord also made disparaging remarks about the earlier comprehensives, was not my noble friend puzzled that the noble Lord did not reflect on what schools would be like in areas where a selective school was introduced? Would not those other schools be area non-selective schools or what used to be known as area 1131 secondary moderns? It seems to me that the noble Lord did not address any of the logical consequences of his remarks. Was not my noble friend surprised by that?
§ Baroness Blackstone
Yes, my Lords, and I am grateful to my noble friend. I was surprised on both counts.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, perhaps I may begin with some details. The noble Baroness has still failed to address two points. I raised the complex issue of banding and of how the tests would work. The Government have forbidden parental interviews, but if a school is to admit so many pupils of high ability and so many pupils of low ability tests will have to be carried out before children enter the school. I suggest that the Government are facing a certain contradiction in that they seem to be against interviews or testing before entry to a school, which would limit parental choice. Banding limits parental choice. What tests would they use? I am sorry that the noble Baroness did not face this problem although I can understand why because it is very complex. However, I hope that at some point we shall know how the Government intend to do this.
I am not worried about a conflict between aptitude and ability. That is a problem more for the Government than for me. There will have to be pre-entry tests in schools specialising in academic subjects, such as science or languages. Aptitude and ability are inextricably linked in that case. I did not think that the comments made about technology covered my point although I accept that that is a different case because technology is a vocational type of subject. The problem facing the Government is that they are against testing before entry. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, wants total freedom of choice, but banding will prohibit that. There is an appeals procedure—
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way so that I can point out that I do not want total freedom of choice; I want comprehensive schools. I am completely consistent on that point. Freedom of choice leads to complications which we need to think through. What matters is the fundamental commitment to comprehensive schools.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, we know where we stand. My noble friend will refer later to certain of the points mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. My noble friend has some examples that will interest him.
The Minister referred to a skilled workforce. I must underline the comments made by my noble friend Lord Dartmouth who is no longer in his place. We cannot be complacent about a skilled workforce. I remind the Minister that when the West German state was faced with the problems that also faced our state in the early 1960s—namely, that the Gymnasium enjoyed greater prestige than the other schools—money was spent on those other schools. The British state could have done that instead of going comprehensive, except in limited areas. In Germany, people are now happy for their child to attend either a Gymnasium or a Realschule or whatever. We must accept that as a fact. It is insular of the noble 1132 Baroness to assume that a country which is generally acknowledged to have a more skilled workforce than ourselves has a selective system of education. I am sorry that the noble Baroness is so dogmatic that she can dismiss the point so easily.
I am very interested in the 18 "misspent" Tory years—
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I do not pretend to be an expert on Germany, but is it not true that there is no national system in Germany? Education is run by the Länder and some Länder such as Land Rhein-Hesse have always based their whole education systems on the Gesamtschule, the comprehensive schools. I should have thought that that was also true of Brandenburg and of the Länder in what used to be the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I cannot speak with authority on the former East Germany, but I believe that only one state in West Germany, with perhaps a little bit of another, had a comprehensive system. Of the states of the former West Germany, all but Hamburg and, I think, one other used selective education. Indeed, when a comprehensive system was suggested, it was voted down in one or two states. However, as I said, I cannot speak with authority on eastern Germany.
The Minister referred to the "misspent" Tory years. I shall be interested to see this year's GCSE and A-level results because all of those children were educated under Tory control. I hope that the noble Baroness will not show total hypocrisy and say that this Government are doing well in office if the results are good. I would say that given the Minister's view of those "misspent" 18 Tory years, the results should be terrible. I hope that the noble Baroness will pay attention to that point in the middle of August when the results are published. However, the Government are in power and I am not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. I76C not moved.]
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Clause 100 [Permitted selection: pupil banding]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 176D and 176E not moved.]
§ Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 177:
§ Page 76, line 31, leave out ("approved or otherwise determined") and insert ("have fallen to be implemented").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 101 [Permitted selection: aptitude for particular subjects]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 177A to 177D not moved.]
§ Clause 103 [Designation of grammar schools]:
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 178:
§ Page 78, line 2, leave out (", 106 and") and insert ("to").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 178 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 179 and 182 to 185. Perhaps what I say is a hostage to fortune but I hope not to take up 1133 too much of your Lordships' time with this group of amendments. The amendments are entirely technical and are designed to clarify one or two issues and correct two cross-references. My noble friend Lady Blackstone has written to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to explain their purpose.
§ Amendment No. 178 amends the reference in Clause 103(4)(a) to the procedures for altering the selective admission arrangements of grammar schools so that it includes a reference to the new Clause 105 which the Government introduced at Committee stage in response to recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. Amendments Nos. 179, 182 and 183 make it clear that some parents who are eligible to sign a petition, and would be eligible to vote in a ballot if it were held at that same time, may riot be eligible by the time the ballot is actually held. This is particularly likely in the first year of operation when petitions could be raised during the school year 1998–99. We propose that no ballots should be held before September 1999. It follows that some children will have changed schools in that time or reached the end of their last year of compulsory schooling and their parents will no longer be eligible to vote in the ballot. These three amendments remove any misunderstandings about eligibility. Amendment No. 184 simply clarifies that a parent must appear on the school's list as a registered parent of a registered pupil.
§ Finally, Amendment No. 185 corrects a cross-reference in the Bill. Clause 105(5) concerns sections of the regulations which will determine whether a parent is resident for the purposes of subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b). However, subsection (1)(a) does not mention residency but subsection (1)(c) does. The cross-reference therefore needs to be adjusted to remove the reference to subsection (1)(a) and include a reference to subsection (1)(c). I commend the amendments to the House.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 104 [Procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements]:
§ Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 178A:
§ Page 78, line 37, at end insert—
§ ("( ) Before any ballot under this section takes place, the local education authority or authorities within whose areas the relevant grammar schools referred to in subsection (2)(a), (b) or (c) are situated shall—
- (a) prepare and publish outline proposals for the reorganisation of schools consequent upon a successful ballot including an estimate of capital expenditure, setting up costs and predicted annual revenue costs, and
- (b) send a summary of such proposals to all eligible parents.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 178A I speak also to Amendments Nos. 178B, 179A to 179H and 186A.
Put simply, excellent schools should not be treated in the same way as others. One of our priorities over the next few months is to identify ways in which excellent schools can simply be allowed to get on with what they do well without undue distraction. So why not give them greater freedom to continue to achieve high levels of attainment and active encouragement to share the secrets of their success with other schools?
Those are not my words but the words of the Minister for School Standards, Mr. Byers, in a speech made only in the past week.
§ What is the reality? We go back to the politics of envy. Out goes the assisted places scheme. We are now considering a Bill that ends existing grant-maintained schools, engineers the demise of grammar schools, ends selection and increases bureaucracy and central control. Government actions do not match government rhetoric, but that is not a new phenomenon, as we have discovered over the past year.
Despite the warm words of Mr. Blair and Mr. Byers, Mr. Blunkett and unreconstructed Old Labour are in the driving seat on education and this Bill is their vehicle. This is very mean-spirited politics. Even Mr. Andrew Adonis, special adviser to Tony Blair on education at No. 10, comments on page 40 of his book A Class Act: The Myth of Britain's Classless Society that,
The direct grant scheme succeeded, without any fanfare, in opening up many of the best independent schools to ability rather than wealth. It is a sad irony that in destroying the direct grant schools on the altar of equal opportunities the 1974–79 Labour Government succeeded only in denying opportunities to many poor children and increasing the number of fee-paying parents".
History is about to repeat itself. One has only to listen to the Ministers' responses to hear the egalitarian message, in particular the unequivocal message from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, last Thursday evening. But Mr. Adonis went on to say at page 55 of his book:
The comprehensive revolution, tragically, destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price. Middle class children now go to middle class comprehensive schools, whose catchment areas comprise middle class neighbourhoods, while working class children are mostly left to fester in the inner city comprehensives their parents cannot afford to move away from";
that is, unless one's name happens to be Blair, Harman or Boateng, to name but a few of the members of the Government.
§ What hypocrisy! First, they enjoy the privilege and then close the door of opportunity to all others.
§ Only today the Government announced awards to 75 schools of excellence, designating them beacon schools. Torquay Boys' Grammar School was among the list. I am not surprised. What a good school it is. What must the parents of the children of that school think to be given such a boost one day by the Government who on the same day mount a war of attrition to end the life of that great school?
§ It is also a supreme irony that one argument used by the Government is that where selective education takes place children not selected are deemed to be failures. We heard the argument trotted out a moment ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. But also featured in the list of 75 excellent schools are two secondary modern schools, the grant-maintained Aylesbury High School and Ashton on Mersey grant-maintained school; deservedly so because they are outstanding schools. I understand that they are not the only secondary modern schools in the list. Those schools have earned such a reputation in an area where selective education 1135 takes place, quashing yet another myth that is perpetuated by those who are prejudiced against selection.
§ There are many bright young pupils for whom a fast-track academic education is educationally appropriate. Bright young children from low income homes whose parents cannot afford independent education have been helped by two important rungs on the ladder of opportunity: the assisted places scheme and grammar schools. We know that the assisted places scheme has been abolished and that the demise of the grammar schools is more or less assured by the rigged balloting system proposed in the Bill.
§ At Committee stage noble Lords on the Liberal Benches accused the Government of duplicitous behaviour in that the Government lacked the courage to do what the Liberal Party would have done; that is, to seek to insert clauses into the Bill to abolish grammar schools. Instead, they resort to a balloting system in the guise of "Let the people decide" which will prove equally threatening to the existence of these fine schools. As for letting the people decide, the franchise for schools in what will be a whole LEA ballot area will allow all parents of children aged nought to 16 to petition and vote, whereas with any smaller group of schools the franchise is restricted to parents of children attending schools where five or more children have been selected for a grammar school place over the past three years.
§ It is scandalous that the parents of children who attend the very grammar schools under threat are denied a vote in the ballot. How, for example, can the Government defend a situation where the parents of children attending the outstanding King Edward schools in Birmingham or the excellent schools on the Wirral are disfranchised from voting when the very existence of their schools is at stake?
§ Amendment No. 178A is fundamental to those arrangements. It requires LEAs to prepare and publish outline proposals and costings for the reorganisation that will have to follow any successful ballot before a ballot takes place. In some parts of the country, reorganisation resulting from the closure of all grammar schools in an area will be substantial. We know already from preliminary work done in Kent that the costs will be considerable.
§ The issues already identified include the size and location of grammar school buildings and their unsuitability for translation from selective to completely non-selective schools in a short timescale. Who owns the buildings? Will the Government give the money to purchase them or lease them back, or will they forgo that cost? There is the spectre of substantial split-site arrangements; the costs and turbulence caused to LEAs in relation to the grammar and many other schools in the area; the pre-emption of capital and revenue spending; home/school transport arrangements; single-sex grammar schools; and the resistance of parents to mixed arrangements.
§ There is a knock-on effect for non-selective church schools which have not been consulted. I understand that in Kent 12 such schools have been completely cut 1136 out of the consultation procedures. There is the effect on parental preference; the retraining of teachers. There are many other issues of concern about these proposals. My amendment describes the information which must be made available to parents who are being asked a simple question. The consequences of signing such a petition should be made known.
§ Amendment No. 178B requires that 40 per cent. of eligible parents should sign a petition to trigger a balance. The consequences of a single ballot are serious. Therefore the hurdle to be overcome should be such as to rule out a purely vexatious attempt to trigger a ballot.
§ Amendment No. 179A provides for parents being asked to sign a petition to know that when they sign they are agreeing to close a specific number of named schools. Amendment No. 179B requires a register of eligible parents to be published.
§ Amendment No. 179C is important. It requires that a ballot to close all grammar schools in an area should be deemed successful only if there is a majority for the proposition, and when at least 40 per cent. of eligible parents vote for such a proposition. If that formula is acceptable for trade union recognition in the workplace, it is surely good enough for a ballot which signals the end of a whole category of outstandingly successful schools.
§ Amendment No. 179D requires that the terms of the question on the ballot paper should make it clear that a number of named schools will close if the ballot is successful.
§ Amendment No. 179E calls for a moratorium of five years between the failure to secure the requisite number of signatures on a petition in any year and the next opportunity to collect signatures. That would go some way towards minimising what can only be described as a relentless war of attrition on grammar schools which would serve only to destabilise parents, teachers and non-teaching staff, and, most significantly, would disrupt the lives and the education of the children at those schools.
§ Amendments Nos. 179F and 179G extend the franchise to feeder schools where any parent has applied for a place at a grammar school in the area in any of the three previous years. It should enfranchise at least those people who aspire to their children attending a grammar school.
§ Amendment No. 179H suggests a 15-year interregnum between ballots, which would allow for only two generations of a school's intake, and, again, would minimise the relentless war of attrition.
§ Amendment No. 186A extends the period following a ballot within which an LEA must have fully comprehensive, non-selection in place. Practical difficulties and disruption will be caused to the education of children going through the school. To refuse the amendment will display, on the part of the Government, a real contempt and disregard for thousands of pupils, their teachers, and their parents.
§ Before the election, Mr. Blair and other members of his now government claimed that grammar schools were secure and that there were no plans to affect their future. 1137 We now know differently. The thrust of the Government's education policy, manifested in the previous debate on selection, is a levelling down.
§ This group of amendments seeks to address the unsatisfactory procedures which the Government are planning to put in place which will give rise to a relentless war of attrition until all our grammar schools are no longer part of the education scene. They are schools which have served our country so well over the centuries. I beg to move.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
My Lords, the whole purpose of the Bill, as stated by the Government, is to raise standards of education in schools, as confirmed by my noble friend's quotation from Mr. Byers. The standard of education in grammar schools in Essex is first class, as proved by any league table published. In those circumstances, why single them out among all schools for the questioning of their very existence, as in the clauses we are considering? All that can achieve is to divert the attention of staff, parents and pupils from the overriding aim of providing a good education for the pupils. It is a return to old Labour with a vengeance. I should prefer the wholesale removal of the clauses questioning the existence of the grammar schools, but, in lieu, I wholeheartedly support my noble friend's amendment.
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
My Lords, I shall touch briefly on something said by my noble friend Lady Blatch about cost—something I do not believe the Government have borne sufficiently in mind should they proceed with abolishing some of the grammar schools. The Government may not know that the King Edward Foundation schools in Birmingham—there are five of them—own not merely the land upon which their schools stand but all the playing fields. They are expensive tracts of land in valuable parts of our city. In addition, they own a large number of private dwellings. In the previous debate we heard about cost being a deterrent to doing even what was right. I wonder whether the Government recognise that the cost of this move will be far greater than they thought.
Having read the Bill and listened to the Minister, I cannot avoid the suspicion that the Government do not know what they want or are anxious to hide at what they are aiming. The situation reminds me of the old game of "shame" and "hooray". About a month before people were deciding how to vote in the general election, many of the fears of parents interested in a grammar school education for their children were lulled by the statement of none other than Mr. David Blunkett who said,Existing grammar schools will face no threat to their continuance, or to their ethos or to their quality".So new Labour now supports grammar schools—hooray; but the Bill clearly threatens the existence of grammar schools—shame; there will be a vote on the continuance of grammar schools—hooray; but the ballot will be rigged—shame; selection will still be allowed—hooray; but not by ability—shame; grammar schools may exist—hooray; but grant-maintained schools will go—shame.
1138 Let us be clear about the importance of grammar schools to our country. Britain needs its bright children, from whatever homes they come. That factor seems to have escaped the Government altogether. Since at least the 16th century, and in the case of the Birmingham foundation since the time of Richard II, grammar schools have been the bridge over which clever children from poor homes have received an academic education.
One would have thought that that would be a worthy aim. Do not let us bother about the kind of homes from which children come; if they are clever and have ability, let us take them to the limit of that ability by giving them an academic education. But, dear me, no: the old dogma of socialism is alive and well and must be adhered to. Equality must be imposed on everything from wealth to intelligence quotient.
Yet we should aim at equality of opportunity, not simply equality. A far higher authority than Blair, Blunkett or Blackstone decreed centuries ago that human beings are different and are unequal. Some are brainy; others are not. Some work hard; others slack. Some are good with their hands and absolute duffers at everything else. Of course they all have value to society, but not all are equal. It is ludicrous to suppose that the bright and brainy will not be held back if we lump everyone together. It may lead to equality but it will be equality of mediocrity.
The Bill proves that Labour has not changed its spots, read Blunkett pre-election as one will—although there is a glaring illogicality about the belief that if all children go to the same kind of school a happy state of equality will prevail. Unless all children with high and low intelligence ratings are taught in the same class, there will be a new elite because there will be streaming. Some would be taught in A classes; others in B classes. Goodness me, how awful and unequal that would be! It would be wrong. We cannot have that. So then what?
I must say a few words about the ballot system imposed by the Bill. Unless it is radically changed, it will be the most unfair and unjust system ever devised. As my noble friend reminded the House, in Birmingham it is proposed that only the parents of primary school children will be allowed to vote. No parents of grammar school children—they surely know far more about the benefits, the pluses or minuses, of grammar school education first-hand—will be allowed a say. What about those of us who have benefited from a grammar school education? My parents could never have afforded to send me to a private school; they could not have afforded to pay for my education. But I went to a grammar school; and I should be failing that grammar school if I did not use this opportunity to say how much I benefited from that, and how much I wish to see similar benefits given to other children in the future.
I am not allowed to vote on this issue. That seems to me wrong. We should be able to vote from our knowledge and experience of grammar school education. Why cannot commerce, business or the universities have a vote? They are extremely interested in bright children receiving the education they need. But those bodies are not allowed to vote.
1139 The question of whether or not grammar schools should continue will vitally affect our whole country. It should certainly not be decided on rigged ballots. Experience, not dogma, should guide voters. Since the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, when an education Minister in another place, destroyed her first grammar school in the 1960s or early 1970s, I have watched with interest and some dismay those schools as they ceased being grammar schools and became comprehensive schools. I have looked in vain for one single grammar school transmogrified into a comprehensive which is better than the old grammar school, producing better results and giving children a better chance. Why get rid of excellence because of dogma?
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Baroness to give an example. In my own town of Dorking, Ashcombe School, part of which was a grammar school and part a secondary modern, now gives a grammar school type of education to anyone who wishes to come to the school. It has excellent results, in the top tier of the ratings.
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
My Lords, the noble Baroness destroys her own argument. She said that the school now gives a grammar school education. That is what I seek to defend. My belief springs from my knowledge of grammar schools not only as a former pupil but as a member of a local educational authority. I have had much to do with grammar schools. I repeat: I have yet to see one which has been improved by its change to a comprehensive school. I give strong support to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, there are many amendments in this grouping which I saw for the first time only just over three-quarters of an hour ago. Although not an expert in the field, I agree with everything that has been said. I am particularly attracted to Amendments Nos. 179A and 179D which require the names of schools facing abolition to be published. If accepted, the amendments would at minimal cost allow parents thinking of voting for the abolition of grammar schools in their area to contemplate the consequences of casting their vote in this way. Faced with the idea of closing down named schools with a great reputation and possibly a proud and ancient tradition, some may be inclined to think again.
If the Government resist these two modest amendments, it will tend to indicate that they are anxious to discourage parents from reflecting upon the admirable aspects of our grammar schools and their proud and possibly long traditions.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, my brief point is addressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. In moving the amendment, she placed great emphasis on the disruption and chaos—I am not sure that she used the word "disruption", but it is what she meant—which will be caused by a democratic and rational system for change. I think that we would all admit that there are 1140 two views on selection. Those views have been argued eloquently. We may not have agreement on that. However, what would the noble Baroness say about the hundreds of grammar schools which were abolished by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher? There seems to be somewhat of a contradiction. The noble Baroness puts it both ways. When the noble Baroness replies, perhaps she will deal with that important point.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, earlier today the Government were clearly defeated on a point of principle. As the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Ripon said, the vote was on a principle, and the Government were behaving in an unprincipled way. The House decided that by a clear majority.
I believe that in these clauses the Government are behaving in an unprincipled, and I think rather shameful, way. Unlike some of my colleagues, I shall not particularly argue the case for or against grammar schools. Some people are for them; some people are against them. I am very strongly for them. But that is not the issue. The issue is that before the election, the Government certainly gave the impression that grammar schools would be safe in their hands.
A few years ago, they were much more absolute. When I was Education Secretary, the party opposite was going to abolish grammar schools. That was the view of old Labour. It was the view of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and his colleagues. It was not so much old Labour as antediluvian Labour. They were against selection and against grammar schools. I do not agree with that view but I do respect it. I know where they are coming from. Previous Labour Education Secretaries were explicit about the matter. They brought in legislation to do away with grammar schools. They were quite principled about it. I did not agree with it but at least one knew what they were saying and in what they believed.
This Government are devising a system which will allow other people to decide whether or not grammar schools survive, under the pretence of democracy. That is shameful. It would have been better to have had a provision on the face of the Bill which abolished all grammar schools. We could have had a vote on that and the Government have such a large majority in the other place that it would have been carried. Why did they not do that, because that will be the effect of the legislation they are proposing?
It will be extremely difficult for grammar schools to survive because the electoral system which is to be devised will be rigged against grammar schools. First, there will be two electorates. In an area as large as Kent, people who live as far as 40 miles away may be asked to vote about the fate of a school of which they have never heard and which they do not even know exists. Is that reasonable and fair? I do not believe that anyone would think so.
Of course, by its very nature, the children who go to grammar schools and the parents who want their children to go to such schools are likely to be in a minority in almost any area because of the system of selection. As I said in a previous debate, the Liberal 1141 Democrats still believe in the teaching of John Stuart Mill. At least I think they do. I see some of them nodding. Not all the Liberal Democrats believe in his teaching and I do not expect members of the party opposite to believe in his teaching. But in his great essay on liberty, the one thing he argued against was the tyranny of the majority. That is exactly what is being invoked by the Government in order to abolish grammar schools. They are rigging fancy franchises to achieve a majority in order to destroy a school instead of doing it themselves. They want grammar schools to be found dead in the library with no fingerprints on the dagger, no trace of footsteps leading and no hint of any possible guilt. It is all being done by mother democracy.
That is shameful. Some of the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch seek to install safeguards. Surely in our democracy we are used to electoral lists, are we not? Even trade unions have electoral lists of members so that they know who is going to vote. Who is going to prepare the electoral lists of all the eligible people? Who will check that the people who have signed the petition are residents and that that is their proper signature? Who will do all the things which we are well practised in doing in running our democratic process? The answer is that very little will be done as regards any of those matters.
Therefore, I believe that this is a shameful process. The position of the Liberal Democrats is much more frank and honest. They have always been against grammar schools. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is no doubt no longer a Member of the House of Commons because he resisted the four very successful grammar schools in his area and they have survived him.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is aware that I am leader of the LEA with a majority of 36 over all the other parties. His party, the staunch defender of grammar schools, which fights every election on the issue of grammar schools, now has only five of the 56 councils in the London boroughs.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, I am extremely glad that the noble Lord has managed to reconcile the conflict within his own breast of the Liberal Democrat Party being against grammar schools and having an LEA which still runs four excellent grammar schools. I am delighted to know that. He must have struggled with his conscience and won.
I conclude my remarks by saying that this is a shameful process. If the Government want to abolish grammar schools—and that is the purpose of these clauses at the end of the day—they should come out of their corner and say so. They should be honest about it. They are abusing democracy by these processes.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him to deal with the point which is similar to that which I raised with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We would all agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was very much opposed to grammar schools. There is no doubt 1142 about that at all. The noble Lord has used the word "shameful" several times on the basis that this Government are doing things which are against their principles. Would he comment on what the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, did, because she literally abolished hundreds of grammar schools? Grammar schools were very much against her beliefs and principles.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, I dealt with that on the last debate but perhaps I may remind the noble Lord of what I said on that occasion. That was not the most glorious episode in the life of my former colleague and Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. As I said on the last occasion, when I was Education Secretary, I mentioned to her on two occasions that she had abolished more grammar schools than anyone else. When I did that I ducked, because she did not like to be reminded of it. However, that does not justify the process which the noble Lord is being asked to support this evening. If the noble Lord is against grammar schools, he should table amendments to the face of the Bill which will abolish them. It should not be done in an underhand, devious, tricky little way in the name of democracy.
§ Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
My Lords, the point which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, makes about the validity of the ballot is interesting. He casts doubts upon it because he says that the parents of children at grammar schools will be in a minority in the electoral school.
However, it seems to me that the real point is that the impact which grammar schools make on the whole system makes it important that there should be a wide electoral school from parents of children throughout the school system. That is very much my own experience as a parent in Birmingham or children in the Birmingham school system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Knight, has referred to the five King Edward grant-maintained schools in the city. There we see children selected at 11. Many have already been to primary schools which are well known for coaching children towards the 11-plus exam. It is hardly surprising that the children who do best in those exams at 11 also do well in their examinations at 16. Those who do not do well in those schools are weeded out and are certainly not encouraged to take A-levels. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the A-level grades of those schools are better than those of the comprehensive schools in the city.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the noble Lord is particularly close to the King Edward schools. Does he rejoice in the possible demise of some of the finest schools in the country which are in Birmingham?
§ Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
My Lords, the King Edward schools in Birmingham has had a negative effect on the school system as a whole in the city. I have no doubt about that whatever. In effect, children have been creamed off from the comprehensive system in the city. That has meant a denial of choice for thousands 1143 of children who are not attending true comprehensive schools. That is a tragedy at a time when the city, through its chief education officer and the resources made available by the city council, as was confirmed by the recent Ofsted report, is really beginning to see improvements.
I welcome the opportunity for parents in the city to be balloted on this matter. The amendments proposed would put many hurdles in the way of a clear, straightforward and easily recognisable ballot by parents in the city. I very much hope that your Lordships will reject them.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, although the amendments are specific, we have got up to our usual antics of having a broad general debate on the subject of comprehensives, selection and related matters. Therefore, I could not resist the temptation to join in. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, slightly misunderstands her own amendment, Amendment No. 179H, on the 15-year point. It is not that only two cohorts would be protected; if there cannot be a ballot for 15 years then as a matter of elementary arithmetic, 15 cohorts will be affected. It is a mistake to divide 15 by eight. The point is that 15 entry classes will be affected. That is my only contribution to the technical point.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is correct in thinking that some noble Lords, myself included, would have liked to see on the face of the Bill a straight end to selection. He is wrong to use the word "Neanderthal". The expression that I have had to point out to noble Lords before is "Labour Gold". I am the main representative for Labour Gold in this House, but I do not resile from the views I hold. I believe that the comprehensive principle is right. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I thought that the riposte made to her was a complete misinterpretation. The noble Baroness said that within comprehensive schools we have academic education across the whole group of people, and that is what we want. My eldest child, who has not, to say the least, been entirely unsuccessful in his life, went to a school that was an amalgamation of two secondary modern schools. All the children in that school, who would have been told under the earlier regime that they were failures because they were at a secondary modern school, were told that they could be a success. Other schools in Haringey were a combination of secondary modern and grammar schools. The grammar schools were not destroyed, but the other schools were enhanced.
Noble Lords opposite, and the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, in particular, demonstrated in their speeches the tremendous advantage of having a grammar school education. We want good education for all and we do not see any schools being destroyed. I know nothing about the situation in Birmingham, but I believe that those schools in Birmingham will change and will not be destroyed. What will be destroyed is the selective system. This is not a matter of destruction, it is a matter of change.
1144 The Government cannot win. I would like to see a straight end to selection, but the Government decided, and said to people such as me, that we have to be more modern. Old Neanderthals such as us have to look specifically to the people and take ballots. The moment the Government decide to have ballots they are accused of being underhand, devious, tricky, hypocritical, shameful, and so on, by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, et al. The Government cannot win.
As I have said before, I am doubtful about this because I am not convinced that the ballots will abolish any schools, and I do not like that. The notion that the ballots are rigged is quite ridiculous. It will be incredibly difficult to win a ballot for those who wish to see the end of selection, which is why I have doubts. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gets involved in the detail, she may be able to explain how the rigging would work, but I cannot see it at all. I see a democratic process. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is right, I do not like it; but my noble friends do and they are the up-to-date people. Therefore I live with what they have to say.
The relative decline of the British economy occurred long before the first comprehensive school was introduced; it occurred during the heyday of the view that if you could pay you could get an academic education. But the rest got what was coming and what was available. The notion that the decline of our country is connected with the rise in comprehensive education has no connection with reality, but it does highlight the problem which noble Lords opposite have. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said that we are about to see some very good GCSE and A-level results. I hope that we are, but where will those results come from? They will come from an overwhelming majority of comprehensive schools. I cannot understand the antipathy to the 1960s, but these schools were started in the 1960s, operated in the 1970s and were continued by noble Lords opposite in the 1980s and 1990s. In so far as there is achievement, it is due to all of our people.
I went to a grammar school. I view them rather like the so-called problem of the fastest gun in the West. The golden rule is never to say that you are the fastest gun in the West because someone faster than you will appear. I went to a selective grammar school. On the first day, all the boys who went there thought that they were very clever. By the second day, three-quarters of them were in forms B, C and D. As an A form boy myself, I knew they were inferior because that was the name of the game. No one told me that those boys might be as good as I was at least as human beings.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, when the noble Lord was extolling the virtues of all schools contributing to the A-level and GCSE results which we will be soon seeing, and also the published school test results which are likely to be the best in our recorded history, I hope that he will pay tribute to the 18 years of Conservative 1145 government and all the reforms that we introduced to achieve those results. I look forward to the noble Lord's speech on that occasion.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, the noble Lord is unfair; he has never heard me say a word against the government to which he refers. I am not saying that all that they did contributed to those achievements; I think the achievements were overwhelmingly those of the teachers and pupils.
Lord Joseph and I thought that the National Curriculum introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was too complicated and we rejected it at the time. The noble Lord will recall a vote in this House. Then his own government changed in our direction. I am not a uniform critic of his government—not everything they did was wrong; they did one or two things right.
I accept that some of the GCSE and A-level results will be from girls and boys at grammar schools, so I will not make that kind of stupid distinction either. I am simply saying that our education system, although not good enough, is largely a comprehensive system and it succeeds. If the system were 100 per cent. comprehensive we would achieve even more.
To finish my story about the fastest gun in the West, I then went to Princeton and, having thought how clever I was, I met people who were really clever; and that was when I started to learn the lesson that no matter how good you think you are and how keen you are to separate yourself from everybody else, there are cleverer people than you around. The sooner you learn that lesson, by going to the same kind of school as everybody else, and learning that there are lots of decent people around even if they are judged by some criteria to be inferior to you, the better. I hope that one day some noble Lords opposite will learn that lesson.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I am always happy to take part in debates about grammar schools and comprehensive schools. I agree totally with the last comment of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I have previously talked at some length about the fact that I went to a grammar school and that my children went to a secondary modern school which became a comprehensive school. Education is not just about academic attainment. Educating somebody for life is about educating them to understand the environment and the society in which they grow up. I know that I did not gain that at grammar school and I know that my children did. That is a very important point.
I was just reflecting that I achieved much worse A-level results than my children did and I received appalling advice about careers. They have gone to university and I did not. My post-graduate education came when I was very much older.
We have heard very emotive arguments this afternoon. I should like to mention some points that people are forgetting. The Minister talked about education in Sweden. I lived there for three years and that is where I became absolutely convinced that everybody can have a high standard of education if the resources are made available and if it is done through a 1146 comprehensive system. They have a highly skilled workforce from the man who comes to your flat or house to repair something to a young lady who can talk to anybody in a variety of languages in the equivalent of a Woolworth's store. That made a tremendous impression on me, as did the experience that I had in schools.
This is all about resources. Equality of opportunity was another argument advanced this afternoon. It is not equality of opportunity if you put all the resources into grammar schools so that the children who attend other schools do not get the benefit of the same amount of resources. If everyone got the benefit of all the resources that go to individual children in grammar schools, I am sure that all children would be doing very much better. That is what I want to see in education in this country. Indeed, I have been castigated by both sides of the House for wanting more money to be put into education. Adequate resources are the answer.
One argument that I found it very difficult to be comfortable with was that concerning rigged ballots. I am not absolutely certain that the Government have got it right. I believe that they are a bit muddled about where they propose to go on grammar schools. As someone who was a member of a local authority when the previous government said that if people did not take part in a ballot for the houses that they were living in to be transferred to another landlord they were voting "yes", I find the argument about ballots a little difficult to take.
I resisted the temptation to stand up and speak earlier because I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, would quote John Stuart Mill at me. Indeed, he managed to do so even before I stood up to speak. I hope for everyone's sake that no one provokes him to stand up and do so again. However, I wanted to make those important points, which I believe may have got lost in the arguments. Comprehensive schools do work if they have the same resources that we have seen put into some of the best schools—namely, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and a variety of others.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, as on the previous occasion when we discussed this issue, we have had a fair degree of rhetoric about what are rather mundane amendments. I do not object to that. I am as willing as anyone else to join in the arguments about comprehensive schools against grammar schools. I am as willing as anyone else to talk about selection by ability and to go back over the history of education in this country since the 1944 Act; or, indeed, earlier if anyone wishes to do so. However, I have an obligation to respond to the amendments, despite the tone of the debate, which I shall not be able to neglect.
However, I hope that I shall be forgiven for responding to the debate first. The gap between rhetoric and reality has seldom been so blatantly exposed as it has been during the course of the past 49 minutes. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, started by talking as if what we were doing here was somehow to undermine what Stephen Byers calls, "encouraging excellent schools". Nothing could be further from the truth.
1147 The truth of the matter is that we have done exactly what we said we would do before the election and have said, unceasingly, we will do since the election. I know that my noble friend, Lord Peston is unhappy about this, but we have not said that we would abolish all grammar schools; what we have said is that we will let local parents decide whether grammar schools should be abolished. If we are criticised for that and told by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that that is shameful, then I would ask him to contrast his stance and that of the noble Baronesses Lady Knight, Lady Platt and others—namely, that they want to keep grammar schools at all costs—
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister for giving way. Will the Minister consider that he has perhaps misread what we have been trying to say? We do not for one moment object to parents deciding such matters; we object to the very limited and rather unfair choice of a narrow group which will be allowed to vote.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I should not have allowed the noble Baroness to interrupt me in the middle of my sentence. I shall try not to do so again. However, when I read the Hansard report of her speech, I think I shall find that I am right to say that she was fundamentally delivering a most moving and clearly sincere defence of keeping grammar schools at all costs.
If the Government are told by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that it is shameful to consult local parents on the subject—indeed, he said so in so many words more than twice—and that it would have been honourable just to say that we are going to abolish grammar schools, I must put it to him that the argument on the other side would only be honourable in the same sense if the Opposition were to move to take out these clauses altogether rather than tinker with the franchise. I find tinkering with the franchise, with the obvious and quite clear object of ensuring that ballots will fail—I do not like to use the word "shameful" as freely as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, does—less than open and not up to the standards which I would have expected of the noble Lord and his colleagues.
There are so many mis-statements and illusions about what is being done here. Indeed, the words: "closed, abolished or demise" were used by so many noble Lords. None of these schools is going to be closed and none of them will be abolished. None of them will have its property taken away. Perhaps I may use the example of the King Edward schools in Birmingham, which was used by a number of speakers. We are talking as if the foundations of those schools will somehow be valued, taken away, expropriated, paid for, or something of that nature. It is no such thing. If the parents in Birmingham vote in a ballot—I get trapped into the jargon myself by the continuous mis-statements—for the change in the status of the King Edward schools so that selection is no longer possible, those schools will not close and their foundations will not change. All that will happen is that, in the first year, there will no longer be selection for entry to those schools. That is not abolition.
1148 I am not just talking about the future. It happened to me. I was a member of Haringey council during the years 1966 to 1968 when it went 100 per cent. comprehensive in a period of 18 months. We had a foundation school exactly like the King Edward schools—the Stationers Company School. It was a voluntary aided school; we did not control it. However, it agreed to come in with our abolition of selection and our creation of comprehensive schools. It had one reservation; namely, that it wanted to stay a boys only school, which we agreed to. So that can be done without any disruption. Indeed, there was no disruption at that time, as my noble friend Lord Peston well remembers because both he and I sent our children to the same comprehensive school.
However, all this rhetoric about closing, abolishing and killing excellent schools is far from the reality of what we propose, although I hesitate to call it that. I should perhaps say that it is far from the subtleties of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Perhaps I may deal with them as quickly as I can.
I should begin with Amendment No. 178A. A comparable amendment, with very little difference, was moved in Committee. We do not consider it sensible to require any party to a ballot to publish assessments of the likely organisation which might be put in its place. It does not matter whether they are called, as they were in Committee, "fully-costed proposals" or "outline proposals" as is the case with the current amendment. There is a perfectly good case to be made against this sort of information being provided by one participant in the process.
If there is a vote for change, there will have to be consultation on any changes to admission arrangements or any consequential proposals. Although the LEA—which is named in the amendment as having to publish these proposals—takes the lead, the governing bodies of individual schools have a crucial role. They are the admission authorities for foundation and voluntary schools. They will be able to publish proposals to alter such schools.
The noble Baroness asked whether the LEA would determine the plans in the event of a ballot for change to a whole LEA area's schools. The LEA is not the determiner of matters like this. The LEA is responsible for drafting the school organisation plan but it is for the school organisation committee to agree both the plan and any specific statutory proposals.
If local education authorities want to publish some kind of preliminary assessment of what might happen, they can do so in publications to their electors. Amendment No. 186, which we shall discuss in the next group of amendments, makes it quite clear that they can prepare and publish fair and reasonable assessments of the consequences of a ballot. But I suggest that it would be wrong to require them to do so.
We have had the revival of the cost of implementation argument. As I have made it clear that schools will not be closed or abolished, but that the change will affect their admission arrangements in the first year, I think your Lordships can put that into context and realise that 1149 compared with the changes which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, these changes to up to 166 schools in this country will hardly merit the alarmist fears that have been expressed.
Amendment No. 178B is another attempt by the noble Baroness to make the task of raising a petition and moving to a ballot ever more difficult. We have already proposed that the threshold for a petition should be 20 per cent. of eligible parents, or in the case of a selective LEA, 20 per cent. of the number of parents of children at schools in the authority. It is proposed that the figure should now be 40 per cent. I said in Committee that this can only be intended to prevent any change whatsoever. The noble Baroness is now proposing a figure of 40 per cent. rather than 50 per cent. as she proposed in Committee. In Kent, that would mean 200,000 validated signatures. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, said that little will be done as regards checking eligible signatories. However, the Bill provides for a ballot administration company to do that. That is more than was provided for under the noble Lord's grant-maintained school ballots.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, the noble Lord knows that that is not fair. He chided me on this in Committee. He got the position wrong. He was kind enough to say he had it wrong. He said that he would apologise to me shortly. I waited for the apology. In the case of the grant-maintained schools everyone knew exactly who was on the electoral list—the local authority, which often opposed the measure, and all the parents. Is there to be a full electoral list of all those people? Will the ballot company do that? We would like an answer to that. Will everyone be known who is eligible to vote for the petition and then is eligible to vote in the ballot? That is how we conduct elections in this country. Will we have all that information?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Yes, my Lords. I was responding to the noble Lord's specific claim—which I repudiate—that little will be done as regards checking eligible signatories. Of course there will be a list. I shall discuss later the separate issue of publication of the list when I deal with the relevant amendment.
Amendments Nos 179A and 179D are rather different, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, recognised. They seem to me perfectly reasonable amendments. Indeed, the draft regulations which were issued for consultation on 3rd June include the measures which the amendments would provide. Our only difference with the principal Opposition, the Conservative Party, is that we do not consider it is appropriate for this detail to be on the face of the Bill. The form of words to be used in the regulations is subject to responses to the consultation and will take into account any suggestions received—including the comments of the Opposition Front Bench—on this matter.
Amendment No. 179B is similar to one we discussed during Committee stage. This is where I shall discuss the list of all parents eligible to sign a petition. There are practical difficulties with the amendment and difficulties of principle. First, I shall discuss the practical difficulties. If a list of all eligible parents was 1150 published during the autumn term, that list might well be out of date by the next term, given that parents may in the interim have moved out of the area, or indeed moved into the area. After all, primary schools have reception classes where pupils are admitted at the beginning of each term.
At Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said it would be possible to bring lists up to date. Of course it would but that could result in enormous expense or, rather, a burden on the schools involved. Under our proposals, schools would have to provide updated electoral lists to the ballot company only when a petition has been received and the ballot company does not have the list for that term. As far as I understand the amendment it would result in schools having to tell the ballot company every time there was a change in the details.
The amendment also raises difficulties of principle. First, there is the principle of confidentiality. The amendment raises issues about parents' right to confidentiality. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, recognised in Committee that parents must have the right to remove their names from a list before it is made public. However, she has not provided for that in the amendment which is before the House.
Secondly, there is the issue of fairness. If the list were made available, it would give an advantage to campaigners with sufficient money to circulate material to parents. It could result in parents receiving very one-sided information. In relation to whole LEA ballots where there will be a register for local parents whose children do not attend schools in the area, the register will not be completed until four weeks after the petition has been validated. Therefore there are great difficulties both of principle and of practice with the amendment, although we shall seek by regulation to achieve what is possible in this regard. I draw the attention of the House to draft regulation 21, paragraphs (1) and (2). I draw the attention of noble Lords opposite to the fact that the provisions for the electoral list parallel what happened under grant-maintained school ballots.
Amendment No. 179C attempts to introduce a minimum requirement that any vote in favour of ending selective admission arrangements would require the backing of 40 per cent. of eligible parents. This is where I owe the noble Lord, Lord Baker, an apology because I said that in the grant-maintained ballots all abstentions counted as votes in favour of change. That was not the case. I apologise to the noble Lord for that mis-statement. However, under the amendment, 40 per cent. of eligible parents, as well as a majority of those voting, would be required to end selective admission arrangements. It will be noted that the amendment seeks to introduce no such turnout requirement for ballots in favour of the status quo.
As regards rigged ballots, that is certainly what is proposed in Amendment No. 179C. The ballot arrangements that we propose will be a two-stage process. There will be a petition where a threshold will apply, and following that—in other words, when the threshold has been crossed—a simple majority of those voting will be required.
1151 Amendment No. 179E is the amendment on a moratorium which I thought we had killed last time. I am astonished that it has been raised again. Under the amendment, which introduces a moratorium on petitions, it would be possible for a group of parents to raise, at the end of the school year, a phoney petition with only half a dozen signatures, or a petition that would have to be declared invalid because it had not been properly prepared. That in itself would prevent a further petition for the next five years. I am not good at sporting metaphors, but that seems to be kicking the whole matter into touch.
Amendments. Nos. 179F and 179G are relatively minor. They relate to the definition of a feeder school which in our proposed definition is one that has sent five or more pupils in total to one or more of the grammar schools over the previous three years. The amendment proposes that qualification even if just one person had applied to a relevant grammar school. Grammar schools do not keep records for that time in relation to who has applied. The amendments are entirely impracticable.
Amendment No. 179H provides for no further ballot for 15 years. The noble Baroness mentioned several times the idea of a war of attrition. The 15-year gap for which the amendment provides would mean that significant numbers of parents never have an opportunity to vote on whether the grammar schools in their area should change their admission arrangements.
I apologise for the length of my reply; however, these amendments all relate to different matters and have to be dealt with individually. Amendment No. 186A attempts to delay the implementation of any change by specifying in the Bill that the implementation of non-selective admissions policies may not be required by a date less than 30 months after the ballot. That is a very long time. The amendment is simply a delaying tactic. There is no necessity for it, and no necessity was argued by the noble Baroness.
If I have bored the House by responding to individual amendments, I apologise. However, I wanted to make it clear that the amendments do not do what noble Lords opposite want them to do—that is, maintain grammar schools at all cost. I hope I have not tempted them to try to do that at Third Reading. In the meantime, I hope that they will not insist on pressing these amendments.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am totally vindicated in my view that old Labour is in the driving seat, and the train is travelling very fast indeed. All the prejudices against selection, against grammar schools, have emerged today in fulsome tribute from the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, who has left the Chamber, referred to reorganisation and the possibility of disruption for children, and to the number of grammar schools that were closed under the administration of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. I, like my noble friend, do not believe that it was the most glorious period of Conservative history. However, it pales into insignificance given the number of previous 1152 policies that have been denounced by the Labour Party during this year. The Labour Party has produced U-turns almost in art form. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, regrets some of those.
The difference between then and now in regard to the reorganisation proposals is that, previously, each proposal brought forward to the department was presented on the basis of having already consulted, the plans having already been produced and fully costed. The proposals had been fully planned in terms of time as well as money, and in terms of where the children would go to school. Those were all aspects of the application to the Department of Education and Science. That is rather different from what is on the table today. The Labour Government's policy was wholly and soundly denounced by Andrew Adonis, the present adviser on education to the Prime Minister. He obviously belongs to the new wing of Labour. He denounced the introduction of compulsory comprehensive education. It was a Conservative government who ended the compulsory nature of comprehensive education, which enabled today's grammar schools to exist.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred to the interregnum. He said that he could not understand the points I was making nor what the fuss was about. It is possible, given the timescale on which the Government are insisting, having not agreed to my amendment, that when the first cohort of children go into a school next year, which is the earliest a ballot could take place—I have tabled a Written Question on this matter, but one waits interminably for answers—many grammar schools could close, depending on where the ballot takes place. Children among the first year secondary intake—I am using old terminology now, not seven, eight and nine year-olds—would be followed by a new first-year when they became the second-years of a comprehensive intake, and then a further comprehensive intake. That would provide for a partly selective, partly comprehensive school. Teachers would not be trained in dealing with the full range of abilities. All would be attending the school at the same time. That would happen only if a school remained in its own buildings.
Taking Kent as an example, 108 schools would be involved in a reorganisation to close 33 grammar schools. Those 108 would include three middle schools, 17 comprehensive schools and 33 grammar schools. The 17 comprehensive schools would include about 12 schools with a religious character. That would be a very dramatic upheaval. Children would be involved in split sites, mergers or full closures. We got into arguments on semantics with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in regard to schools not closing. Those schools will cease to exist as grammar schools. Almost all of them are too small in themselves to be all-through comprehensive schools. So they would have to change dramatically. There would be a difficult interregnum.
Under the Government's proposals, an unsuccessful ballot could be held when a pupil was in the first year. A second ballot could be held when that same pupil was still in the school, possibly in the first-year sixth, and that could go on ad infinitum. One child should at least be able to see his or her period of schooling through in 1153 a grammar school having had his or her life disrupted only once. Under the present arrangements it would happen more than once.
If the Government really believed in pursuing excellence, as Mr. Byers reminds us almost on a daily basis, they would not be proposing to engineer the demise of these schools. The Government say that they will allow changes to the Bill in line with the wishes of the best grant-maintained schools in the land. But they have resisted all recommendations and all amendments that we have proposed to that end. They have also spoken warmly of the future of grammar schools—only to set up class warfare in areas where grammar schools exist.
I have discovered another example of an excellent grant-maintained secondary modern school, Waddesdon Church of England School. Together with Aylesbury High School and Ashton-on-Mersey grant-maintained secondary modern school, it is recognised as an outstanding centre of excellence. Only today those schools received their status as beacon schools. They are in areas where selective education is taking place. What we know, and can prove statistically, is that where there is selective education, the level of education in all schools rises. Northern Ireland offers one of the best examples. The Government are making a fallacious argument. As for the school cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, all I can say is that there are excellent comprehensive schools all over the country, just as there are excellent grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, church schools and bilateral schools. We are the party of diversity and choice. As noble Lords opposite have said, it is not choice that they support. It is choice that we support.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that we merely wish to see the ballots fail. That is not the import of these amendments. The ballots will have serious consequences. Just one ballot in Kent will cause the closure—it will cause the end—of 33 grammar schools. That is very serious. Because it is serious, we believe that there should be hurdles to bringing it about. Why is the formula good enough for recognition of trade unions in the workplace and yet it is not good enough for these ballots? The seriousness of the issues is very similar. The idea that these schools will not close is pure semantics on the part of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.
I was not sure what the noble Lord said about my amendment. He sounded warm about it, as indeed Labour Ministers sound warm about all kinds of things, but the practice will be important. If the noble Lord is saying that the names of the schools will appear on the petition and on the ballot paper, then we shall at least have gone some way. When parents sign the petition, they will know that the consequence is that they are signing away the existence of the grammar schools in their area.
As for confidentiality, I believe that it should be secured. It was secured with the grant-maintained school ballots, and there is no reason why the same system should not be used again. The Government are saying that parents will not have the information about reorganisation, about the costings and about the level of 1154 disruption; and, before the petition is signed, they will not see the list of eligible parents. The final touch, and even rougher justice, is that the decisions will be made by a school organisation committee and the adjudicator—unelected placemen—side-stepping the democratic process. I find that wholly unacceptable.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, referred to his own glorious past in closing down an excellent school. But he did say something very interesting: there was the agreement of the school in that case. We are not arguing about that. Where schools agree to go along with these proposals, wonderful, we accept that. We believe in freedom of choice. But this is not agreeing; it is imposition. My noble friend Lady Knight referred to the unbelievable, undemocratic proposition that parents of children in the very schools that will be subject to going out of existence will not be allowed to vote in the ballot. How can the Government, who profess to be democratic and open, defend that?
I have to say, on a note of real cynicism, that I cannot admit to being moved by those who themselves enjoyed a grammar school education spending most of their adult political life condemning and criticising grammar schools. Why is it that Harriet Harman went to such lengths to get her child into a grammar school? I hazard a guess that she did it because she believed that the school provided an education that suited the educational needs of her own child. Good for her. But what hypocrisy when people take advantage of the system and then close the door to that opportunity for all other children.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that my amendments undermined Mr. Byers's pursuit of excellence. Let us examine what this great man is doing and what his methods are. He first destroys excellence; he then levels down; he produces a few gimmicky schemes; and he talks up standards. Yet he introduces a Bill obsessed with structures and not with standards. It is open knowledge that there is a tension between New and Old Labour on education. In this Bill, Old Labour is winning. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 178A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 72; Not-Contents, 121.1156
|Division No. 2|
|Aldington, L.||Clark of Kempston, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Cox, B.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Cranborne, V.|
|Baker of Dorking, L.||Crickhowell, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Cross, V.|
|Blaker, L.||Denton of Wakefield, B.|
|Blatch, B.||Fookes, B.|
|Brentford, V.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Byford, B. [Teller.]||Harrowby, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Haslam, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Roberts of Conwy, L.|
|Knight of Collingtree, B.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Rowallan, L.|
|McConnell, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||Sandwich, E.|
|Mackintosh of Halifax, V.||Seccombe, B.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Selkirk of Douglas, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Sempill, L.|
|Mayhew of Twysden, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Monro of Langholm, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Monson, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Norrie, L.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Northesk, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|O'Cathain, B.||Teynham, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.||Thurlow, L.|
|Pilkington of Oxenford, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Rees, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Rennell, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Renton, L.||Young, B.|
|Acton, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Addington, L.||Hooson, L.|
|Amos, B.||Hoyle, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hughes of Woodside, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Islwyn, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Janner of Braunstone, L.|
|Burlison, L.||Jay of Paddington, B.|
|Calverley, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Judd, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Kennedy of The Shaws, B.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Kennet, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Lester of Herne Hill, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|David, B.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|Davies of Coity, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Desai, L.||McNally, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Dixon, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Donoughue, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Dubs, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Monkswell, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Geraint, L.||Orme, L.|
|Gilbert, L.||Peston, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Goodhart, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Rea, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Hacking, L.||Renwick of Clifton, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Hardie, L.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Haskel, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Serota, B.|
|Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.||Sewel, L.|
|Shepherd, L.||Thomas of Macclesfield, L.|
|Shore of Stepney, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Simon, V.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Simon of Highbury, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Smith of Gilmorehill, B.||Tope, L.|
|Steel of Aikwood, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Stoddart of Swindon, L.||Watson of Invergowrie, L.|
|Stone of Blackheath, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Symons of Vernham Dean, B.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Taylor of Blackburn, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Thomas of Gresford, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 178B not moved.]
§ Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 179:
§ Page 78, line 40, leave out ("and vote in").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 179A to 179H not moved.]
§ Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 180:
§ Page 80, line 1, leave out subsections (9) and (10).
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I said at Committee stage that I would be bringing forward amendments to address the concerns that had been expressed about the provisions of Clause 104(9) and (10). Despite the fact that I tabled Amendments Nos. 181, 182 and 186, I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, nevertheless decided to replay the amendment to those clauses that she tabled for Committee. Perhaps I can start by explaining what our new clause seeks to do.
§ The relevant subsections placed a complete ban on activities by maintained school governing bodies or local authorities designed to influence ballots. We received representations from many concerned governors and head teachers who were unclear as to the scope of the ban which appeared to them perhaps to cover normal school marketing activities, let alone any responses they might want to give to other people's campaigns. Some correspondents suggested that we might be conflicting with the right to receive and impart information which is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
§ I said in Committee that our core concern was to prevent public money being spent on campaigning, so we have decided to reduce the restriction. The new clause reduces the restriction to prevent public money being spent on activities designed to influence the outcome of a ballot or to influence people to sign a petition. In addition, it spells out for the avoidance of doubt that we do not include in that ban the provision of three categories of material, and it allows for guidance to be available to interpret those categories. The last subsection of the clause simply defines school expenditure in terms of its budget share or, for a grant maintained school, its maintenance grants.1157
§ The first of the three categories of material is factual information presented fairly—for example, the school prospectus. Guidance will be given as to what constitutes fair presentation of factual information and the amendment provides that regard must be had to that guidance. The second category is a fair and reasonable assessment by the authority or body of the likely consequences of the result of a ballot being in favour of change. Again, guidance will spell out the principles to be adopted in deciding whether an assessment is fair and reasonable—for example, that it is based on factual evidence and information and limited to what may be likely rather than speculating about unlikely or impossible outcomes. The third category is an accurate statement by the authority or governing body of their intentions or proposals in the event of a ballot for change.
§ We are thus recognising the arguments of noble Lords that it should be permissible for governing bodies and local authorities to make statements about their assessment of the position and their intentions should there be a ballot for change. We will not require such assessments to be published. It is unreasonable to require LEAs or governors to publish proposals for completely hypothetical scenarios. They need to know the ballot result first. It is also misleading to assume that ending selection will always result in significant reorganisation of schools. The implications will be different in different areas. LEAs, governing bodies and—where church schools are involved—diocesan authorities will need to consider them very carefully in consultation with one another. There will be time enough for that after the ballot result is known. No grammar school will become comprehensive overnight. It will take many years for all-ability intakes to work their way through the school.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, said in Committee that it was a duty of the governing body to put the case for the school to the electorate, provided that a list of the electorate is available, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, sought to exclude school governing bodies completely from the original restrictions—an amendment which she repeated again for tonight's debate. We are now making it possible for a governing body to put out balanced and fair material using school budgets. If they wish to go further they will need to use private funds. They are no longer to be banned from trying to influence a ballot.
§ The effect of this amendment on schools and their staff is explicitly to allow expenditure out of school budgets on the three categories of permitted activities, and to allow influencing activity beyond those permitted types so long as school budgets are not being used. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, mentioned parent association funds at Committee stage. I can assure your Lordships that if a parent teacher 1158 association or other body chose to use its privately raised funds to back a campaign, they could now do so. I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux)
My Lords, I remind the House that if Amendment No. 180 is agreed to, I cannot call on Amendment No. 180A.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I do not agree with the Government on this proposal. As always, they look as though they are giving something away when in fact they are not.
First, they are not going to allow the parents in grant-maintained schools either to sign a petition or to have a vote about the future of their own school. I cannot understand how the Government can defend that. Secondly, they are going to tie their hands behind their back and not allow them to fight their corner.
How can the Minister stand there and advocate this policy? She is part of a Government who shout from the rooftops about open government, democracy and letting the people speak and then produce a policy like this. This amendment goes just slightly beyond factual information so that the schools can say something, so-called objectively, about what they believe the consequences are, but with the might of the local education authorities ranged, philosophically and politically, against the existence of grammar schools. They will be able to use their budgets and their might. And if they cannot use it officially, their councillors can use it unofficially outside the schools, with all the resources that can be raised through organisations such as TEN and CASE and many others, which are already beavering away in many of these areas to initiate the system that will collect signatures for a petition.
The Government talk the language of generosity. They are not generous. This again is a mean-spirited and pernicious attack on the ability of grammar schools to defend their corner.
§ Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
My Lords, perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 186. Far from being a pernicious attack on grammar schools, it seems to me to be a sensible measure to ensure that LEAs and the governing bodies of LEA-maintained schools can publish factual material relating to information and the assessment of the consequences of a ballot in a statement about the proposals and intention in the event of such a result being achieved. Without such facts, parents will be voting in a vacuum.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He said that they can talk about the proposals that would follow if the ballot were successful. They cannot do that. We have just debated a series of amendments which were all fended off by the Government, who will not even allow this information to be published by the local authority which would let the schools themselves know what their fate would be 1159 in reorganisational terms should a ballot be successful. The schools themselves will not even be in receipt of that information.
§ Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
Nevertheless, my Lords, it would still be open to the school or the LEA in the event of such a ballot to make statements relating to information given to the parents. It would be wrong if either the LEA or the governing body were able to propagandise or to try to influence the result. I welcome the new clause preventing any LEA or school governing body doing that. However, I think that two points need to be made.
There is a grey area between providing facts and publishing information designed to influence. One person's fact is another person's undue influence. The amendment requires that regard be had to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. I suggest that the guidance needs to be very clear-cut so that it is not capable of being misunderstood by the LEA or the governing body.
Secondly—and this is really the reason I rise to speak—I wish to respond to the noble Baroness's point about the so-called unfairness of this provision to grammar schools. If we take the Birmingham situation as an example, we have the foundation of the King Edward schools in total—the governing body—and the proprietors of the two fee-paying schools, which are also closely associated with the five King Edward grant-maintained grammar schools. The governing bodies of those individual schools will be covered by the legislation but the foundation itself, which is separate from that, has considerable resources, is an apologist for all the King Edward grammar schools within the city, engages in frequent public debate and no doubt will be using its considerable resource to propagandise and influence the outcome of the ballot. Those who argue the opposite case will have no such resources. Indeed, it could be a very one-sided process. Far from this being a pernicious act against the grammar schools, it shows the hurdles that are facing those who wish to argue against selection.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I am grateful for that last contribution. When listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I became more and more convinced that paranoia had got a grip on her. I listened to this language of destruction with these wicked LEAs being out again to destroy grammar schools. I then heard her accusing councillors in general of using public money—presumably LEA money—to support other campaigning and giving it CASE and so on. If councillors act in that way, all kinds of sanctions will come down heavily on them. That really was the language of paranoia.
I share the concerns of the previous speaker about this. What is a fact to some is, at best, an inconvenient fact to others; and an inconvenient fact comes very close to being propaganda or a fact sought to influence opinion. I look forward with considerable interest to reading the guidance. I am extremely glad that I do not have to draft it, because I believe we are entering a 1160 minefield here. It worries me. Perhaps because I am on the other side of the argument, I worry considerably about the inhibitions that are placed on governing bodies and LEAs in attempting to explain what this is about and attempting to answer factually questions which will come from parents and others in this position. That will be extremely difficult.
Having said that, I welcome this amendment. Needless to say, it does not go as far as I would wish it to but it is a considerable improvement on what we had before. I am pleased that the Government have recognised the clear difficulties that were identified at the Committee stage and have been prepared to take a step forward. The Minister clarified a point which my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood made in a more heated debate than we are having now about parent associations being able to use their own money. I am grateful on her behalf for that clarification. My noble friend Lady Thomas is speaking during the Dinner Hour, which is why she is not present at the moment. But I will ensure that she gets the happy news as soon as possible.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I was amazed by the vehemence with which what the Government are doing was dismissed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I thought that this would be welcomed. I thought that we were trying to be helpful here. We had listened. We had indeed, and she is quite wrong to suggest that what we are doing is tying behind their backs the hands of those schools that might be affected and not allowing them to fight their corner. We have said that they can publish factual information with public funds, as can local education authorities. We have similarly said that if they wish to use private funds to go further, that is a matter for them.
Perhaps I may pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Hunt and by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It is important that guidance should be clear-cut and we shall use our best endeavours to make sure that it is, so that people know where they stand. It is open to LEAs to publish what they think is appropriate, particularly in the case of all-authority ballots. We think it is right for LEAs to decide what they ought to be publishing in the circumstances rather than enforcing something which at the moment can only be entirely hypothetical.
I repeat that I am very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, replayed her Amendment No. 180A. I hope that the House will agree that the government amendments not only reduce some of the uncertainties about what LEAs and school governing bodies can do but also significantly reduce the restrictions on governing bodies' attempts to influence petitions and ballots. I trust that the amendments will be accepted. I am sure that no one will be surprised if I urge the noble Baroness not to move her amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, and with the leave of the House, would she consider it reasonable and fair if the schools in Kent, for example, which has the largest concentration of grammar schools—all 33 of them—published a leaflet saying that the likely consequences— 1161 those are the words I use—of the result of the ballot would be massive disruption, very costly reorganisational proposals and serious disruption of the education of the children? Would that be a reasonable assessment for those schools to make? It might, in the event, be an accurate one.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, it would be a very unreasonable assessment to make, for the reasons that I spelt out in Committee.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 180A not moved.]
§ Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 181:
§ Page 80, line 34, leave out ("section 105") and insert ("sections 105 and (Restriction on publication of material etc. relating to ballots)").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 105 [Ballot regulations: eligibility of parents to request and vote in ballot]:
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 182 to 185:
§ Page 80, line 38, leave out ("and") and insert ("or").
§ Page 81, line 18, leave out ("and") and insert ("or").
§ Page 81, line 18, after ("are") insert ("registered").
§ Page 81, line 44, leave out ("(1)(a) or (b)") and insert ("(1)(b) or (c)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 178. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 186:
§ After Clause 105, insert the following new clause—
§ (".—(1) An authority or body to whom this section applies shall not incur any expenditure for the purpose of—
- (a) publishing any material which, in whole or in part, appears designed to influence—
- (i) eligible parents in deciding whether or not to request a ballot under section 104, or
- (ii) the outcome of such a ballot; or
- (b) assisting any person to publish any such material; or
- (c) influencing, or assisting any person to influence, by any other means—
- (i) eligible parents in deciding whether or not to request such a ballot, or
- (ii) the outcome of such a ballot.
§ (2) This section applies to—
- (a) any local education authority, and
- (b) the governing body of any school maintained by a local education authority.
§ (3) Nothing in subsection (1) shall be taken to prevent an authority or body to whom this section applies from incurring expenditure on publishing or otherwise providing to any person (whether or not in pursuance of any duty to do so)—
- (a) any factual information so far as it is presented fairly; or
- (b) a fair and reasonable assessment by the authority or body of the likely consequences of the result of a ballot under section 104 being in favour of the schools or school in
1162 question ceasing to have selective admission arrangements; or
- (c) an accurate statement by the authority or body of their intentions or proposals in the event of such a result.
§ (4) In determining for the purposes of subsection (3) whether—
- (a) any information is presented fairly, or
- (b) an assessment is fair and reasonable,
§ (5) In this section any reference to expenditure—
- (a) in relation to the governing body of a school which has a delegated budget within the meaning of Part II of this Act (or, in relation to any time before the appointed day, Part II of the Education Act 1996), is a reference to expenditure out of the school's budget share; or
- (b) in relation to the governing body of a grant-maintained or grant-maintained special school within the meaning of that Act (where this section applies to such a school by virtue of section 104(12)), is a reference to expenditure out of maintenance grants paid under Chapter VI of Part III of that Act.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 106 [Implementation of decision that school should cease to have selective admission arrangements]:
§ [Amendment No. 186A not moved.]
§ Clause 107 [Proposals by governing body of grammar school to end selective admission arrangements]:
§ Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 186B:
§ Page 82, line 23, at end insert—
§ ("( ) Any revision of the admission arrangements of a school under this section shall be subject to a ballot of parents.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government have inserted into the Bill—it was not in the Bill when it was first published—a measure which allows governing bodies of grammar schools, if they so wish, to propose that selective education should cease in those schools. The Government may argue that it is inconceivable that that would happen without parents knowing about it or approving it, but because it is such a formal activity, I think it only fair to make it beyond doubt that where the governing body of a grammar school proposes to cease selection and make a proposal, that proposal should be accompanied by a ballot of parents. In other words, a majority of parents of children in that particular school should endorse the school's proposals so that where such a proposal is put forward—to the Secretary of State or to the organisation committee—the parents have had their say. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, we return to this amendment on which the House divided during Committee stage. I am rather surprised that, since the Division was lost, an identical amendment has been tabled again. It will certainly be no surprise to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to learn that in the intervening period the Government have not changed their mind that the amendment should be rejected.
The amendment is born out of concern that a grammar school might publish proposals to go comprehensive which do not have the backing of parents at the grammar school. The noble Baroness would require grammar school parents to be balloted before the 1163 school could go ahead and publish proposals. She might reflect on the fact that the majority of grammar schools already have the power to publish such proposals without having to ballot parents.
The procedures for statutory proposals—the consultation arrangements, the facility for submitting objections—are widely understood. These provisions will carry forward under the new arrangements provided elsewhere in the Bill for deciding statutory proposals. Given these safeguards and the ability of parents to submit objections, I cannot see why grammar schools which want to become comprehensive schools should be faced with the added hurdle of undergoing a ballot before they can publish proposals. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, not only will parents with children at grammar schools be disenfranchised from voting on the future of their schools, but the parents of such children will not even be allowed to endorse formally the proposals of the governing body to cease selection at the school. I cannot think of a more mean-spirited proposition. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 109 [Supplementary provisions about home-school agreements]:
§ Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 187:
§ Page 84, line 20, after ("guidance") insert ("subject to section (Making and approval of general guidance on home-school agreements)").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this group of amendments is concerned with the scrutiny of statutory guidance. It is some time since we went through the first set of amendments. Perhaps I may give noble Lords a little of the flavour, indicate why we are trying to do that and see whether we can tease out one or two more answers from the Government as to how they see statutory guidance.
§ We have moved the amendments in relation to statutory guidance because there has been such an increase in such guidance in the Bill. Some of it is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and some is not. We are a little concerned as to what precisely the Government wish to achieve by making much of the guidance statutory.
§ The School Standards and Framework Bill introduces at least 10—there may be more—new powers for the Secretary of State to make guidance to which most education authorities, schools and other bodies must have regard. Of the amendments we are considering tonight, Amendments Nos. 187 and 188 deal with home-school agreements, Amendments Nos. 192, 193 and 194 are concerned with early years development plans and Amendments Nos. 220 and 221 refer to behaviour support plans. All the amendments relate to the status of guidance.
§ We on these Benches accept that the importance of these 10 areas of guidance varies. For example, there is some guidance on the sale of non-school premises, which is fairly minor. The importance of guidance in 1164 other areas is enormous, particularly as regards educational development plans and the exclusion of pupils.
§ Ministers have twice tried to explain how they see statutory guidance and what requires scrutiny and what does not. There are implications in making the guidance statutory. Until now Department for Education and Employment circulars have always contained the statement that the guidance does not contain authoritative legal interpretations of the provision of education Acts or other enactments or regulations. That is exclusively a matter for the courts.
§ Guidance is given by statute and that raises its status. Presumably, it can be used by the Secretary of State to direct an authority to take a particular course of action on grounds of unreasonableness when an authority or a school governing body has not taken the course of action that the Secretary of State might want in view of the guidance he is required to give by Parliament.
§ It seems to us on these Benches that there is some confusion as to how the Government see the status of statutory guidance. It changes some of the practices of the past although we have had explanations that the Government do not see it in quite the same way as we do. There is some concern, particularly in local education authorities. Each piece of new statutory guidance takes away from local government and the schools their ability to act independently in the joint task of raising standards. The local authority has to deal with any gaps. Because of the way these measures are being enacted, the local education authorities have to look at a large number of separate documents provided by central government. In many cases they are to enable them to understand what is the role of the local education authorities.
§ It is the view of some local education authorities that that contrasts strongly with the positive approach being developed by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on best value, which tends to take a more holistic view of local government. One of the problems is that once new arrangements are in force there may not be much local discretion left because so much will be controlled by secondary legislation or guidance. That is what very much concerns local education authorities. The implication for free-standing local education authorities and schools which have to work around this increasingly large number of codes of practice and guidance, all having statutory force, and to which regard has to be had, seems to us on these Benches and, I believe, to local education authorities, to be to reduce those bodies to mere cyphers. In many ways that will work against what the Government propose, which is creativity and innovation as part of the process of raising standards. In many areas, the Government seem keen to make guidance statutory, but we believe that there might be a better balance of power between the Government and the local education authorities if there were some parliamentary scrutiny.
§ I finish by repeating what my noble friend Lord Tope said when this was first discussed: we are seeking to find out from the Government what they are hoping to achieve by making so much guidance statutory. After 1165 the first answer from the Government, my noble friend felt that he was even less clear than when we started. We have had a second go and I hope that the Government can clarify the position a little further. We want an answer on the principle.
§ I am conscious that the Minister who is to reply is not really listening. I am trying to save noble Lords some time here, but the Minister is still not listening to me. I was hoping that whoever is to reply would listen to me because, although we do not need a detailed answer on this amendment, we are interested in the principle behind the provisions and in whether the Government appreciate that some people are concerned that too much statutory guidance will limit innovation in local authorities and schools. It would be helpful if the Government—the Minister—could expand on that point rather than give me a long, detailed answer, especially as we are now approaching the dinner hour. I beg to move.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am disappointed. Here is my long, detailed answer but the noble Baroness does not want it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for grouping these amendments. It seems that I have two tasks in responding to them. The first is to respond to the noble Baroness on the whole issue of statutory guidance although we have covered this subject on several earlier occasions on Report. My second task is to say something about home-school agreements, early years development plans and behaviour support plans.
The three critical amendments on statutory guidance are Amendments Nos. 188, 194 and 221. I should like to draw attention to three aspects of the amendments. The first is the requirement in all of them for consultation. I assure the noble Baroness that we shall consult as a matter of course—indeed, as a matter of principle—on all statutory guidance, including on the three statutory guidance procedures which are set out in this part of the Bill. Therefore, there is no need for a provision on consultation.
I refer secondly to the interpretation of the law. I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Baroness here. The amendments provide that the guidance can include interpretation of the law. It is, of course, important to establish a clear understanding of the intention behind legislation, particularly in new areas, to ensure that it is implemented in a way which achieves the Government's objectives. Setting out our intentions in a code of practice will help us to ensure that we achieve the right balance between effective support, challenge for schools, and protecting them from unnecessary interference. Naturally, the Secretary of State (often in circulars or by correspondence) gives his view of how the law should be interpreted, but it is only his view. A definitive view of the interpretation of the law can come only from the courts. The amendments would give the Secretary of State a power to include interpretation of the law. That would break new ground. We must resist the suggestion that there should be confusion between the role of the Secretary of State and the ultimate role of the courts.
1166 The third and most important element of the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness is the provision for parliamentary scrutiny by the negative procedure. The noble Baroness referred to having less statutory guidance and less interference from central government in schools and local education authorities. I sympathise with that, but the amendments would make the statutory guidance more rigid and more difficult to change. They would introduce a level of parliamentary scrutiny which the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation did not suggest would be appropriate.
In response to the general question about the appropriateness of statutory guidance, I must advise the noble Baroness that the Government think that statutory guidance is more flexible, more appropriate and more in accordance with precedent than the method which she proposes. Indeed, if the amendments were carried, it could hardly seriously be said that those provisions were guidance. They would have to be given the authority of regulations.
I turn now briefly, as the noble Baroness wishes, to the three subjects of these amendments. On home-school agreements, I have assured the noble Baroness that we would not issue guidance without consulting on it first. We propose to cover in guidance such topics as the requirements of the law; how schools can set about drawing up home-school agreements, including good practice tips on involving parents and pupils; what agreements should cover and what they should not contain; and the factors which will help to ensure that home-school agreements promote partnerships between home and school. We are consulting on that at the moment and we propose to issue final guidance to schools in October.
Amendment No. 188 is fundamentally defective in that it refers to a duty on local education authorities. The guidance is for schools, not for LEAs.
On early years development plans, the guidance was issued last October. It is not prescriptive. There is no suggestion that governments will tell partnerships what should be in their plans. The duty to secure early education places in Clause 116(1), combined with our Requirements of Grant document, set out the framework for the operation of early years development plans. That is all entirely flexible. Again, the amendments are hopelessly defective, in that they refer to the governing bodies carrying out functions under Clause 118; governing bodies do not have any functions under that clause.
The amendments on local authority support plans are, again, perfectly well meaning, but hopelessly defective. The noble Baroness must now see why I could not resist this bit! Amendment No. 221 refers to Clause 109(1), which is about home-school agreements, not about behaviour support plans. The amendment would therefore fail to achieve its objectives. Of course, we accept that the intention behind all the amendments is thoroughly admirable. It is just that we do not want to accept them.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full reply. I now understand why, when my noble 1167 friend Lord Tope and I were deciding who was to speak to each amendment, I landed up with this group of amendments! However, I remember that in moving our first amendment my noble friend said that we knew that some of our amendments were defective. I do not think that we would describe them as "hopelessly defective"; they are slightly wrong.
However, I thank the noble Lord for his answers. Time will tell on some of these points. It is a fact that an extraordinary amount of guidance and consultation is taking place as the Bill is passing through Parliament. Time will tell whether things turn out as the Government hope. That was the intention behind the amendment. Many people outside this House are a little concerned about how they will manage. Some of them, including myself, are not very happy to discover that a number of these matters will not be decided until quite late in the year. That is not terribly helpful to schools.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response, which I believe has teased out the intentions of the Bill and perhaps those areas on which we differ. In view of the comments of the Minister about the hopelessly defective nature of this amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In doing so, I suggest that the Report stage be resumed not before 8.40 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.