HL Deb 07 July 1998 vol 591 cc1189-224

9.9 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 109.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 187A:

Leave out Clause 109.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a drastic thing to leave out a clause from such a long Bill. I am neither saving paper, nor trees.

This clause deals with home-school agreements. I agree with the Government that one of the most potent forces for improving a child's education is the close co-operation between school and parent. There may be problems between the school and the parents but, if they can achieve accord, much can be overcome. It is essential that the parents share the aims of the school. If the noble Lord is not interested in my comments, I can deal with this matter as a formality and I am happy to do that.

The point I was making which the noble Lord did not hear—I realise that when there are only around eight of us sitting here one can get involved in personal discussions; I understand that—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it was business, not personal.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. My point is that we all agree with home-school agreements. Their basis is that parents share the aims of the school and the school shares the concerns of the parents and tries to relate to the parents' wishes. Actually, in the past few years, home-school agreements have proved effective and have given force and substance to this important element, which is possibly the most important element in education; that is, that the parents and the school work together.

We on this side of the House therefore were delighted with Clause 108, which has, in effect, all schools adopting home-school agreements. But the reason I am standing here at this late stage and disturbing personal and political discussions is that these agreements have real value only if they are taken seriously; that is, if people do not talk to each other but listen when others are speaking. A mark of the seriousness of the home-school agreement is that it is not just a bit of hopeful aspiration but is seen as something that has to be kept to.

The previous history of these agreements—I have talked to a number of head teachers about them—has been that they have been treated seriously; treated as something that had to be kept and which was entered into seriously as an agreement; in fact, treated as a concord between the parent and the child. We on this side of the House are therefore surprised that, after all the encouragement that is given to the home-school agreement in Clause 108, it is then devalued in Clause 109. It is not allowed to be a condition of entry; it does not impose any obligation; there will be no consequences from failure to comply.

This is a down-grading of the seriousness of an agreement. I used the analogy once before; it is like going to the altar, making one's vows and then saying that there is no obligation, no consequences for the future, but on the whole we are hoping to do our best. I have to say even to some of my secular colleagues that this is a sinful world. All parents are not angels. In some areas of our community the placing of real obligations on parents has proved to be very difficult. But it has also proved to be the most effective way of giving a good education to their children.

We want to remove Clause 109 because it devalues Clause 108. Perhaps I may express an element of surprise. We are dealing with a Government who have stressed the need for parental responsibility. I remember what is most likely an apocryphal story that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to some people in his house, "We are calling in Jack Straw to tell the Prime Minister's children that they have to do their homework." As the House will know, the Home Secretary has stressed on various occasions that parents should take responsibility for their children's homework. The Minister's right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stressed the value of laying real responsibility on parents with regard to truancy and has even talked about legal sanctions. I am therefore surprised that, in view of his Government's stress on moral responsibility with sanctions attached, the noble Lord should introduce a clause which reduces all the very good ideas in Clause 108 to mere moral hopes in Clause 109. There is merely a list of hopes rather than of obligations. Even the most inadequate people can quite understand that when you sign an agreement you have to keep it. I just wonder why the Government do not want people to keep it. I shall be interested in their comments. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I should start by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for my momentary inattention. It is, of course, only an old head teacher who would have picked it up that sharply. Perhaps I should say "a former head teacher" rather than "an old head teacher". He is younger than me.

The noble Lord has misinterpreted Clause 109. Clause 109 is not a weakening of the provisions in Clause 108. It simply secures in a number of specific and important respects that a home-school agreement provides safeguards not just in the form of sanctions on parents but safeguards for the school, for parents and for pupils as well. The two clauses should be read together as ways of strengthening the partnership to raise standards in our schools. Noble Lords opposite have said on so many occasions that the School Standards and Framework Bill is too much about framework and not enough about standards that I am sorry they should seek to take out a significant and important part of the Bill which is clearly about standards.

Clause 109 requires governing bodies to have regard to any guidance on home-school agreements from the Secretary of State. Of course we shall consult widely on the draft guidance. The guidance will make clear, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, when speaking to Amendments Nos. 187 and 188, that we expect all agreements to include expectations.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Clause 109(4) states: Neither the governing body … shall … make it a condition of a child being admitted to the school that the parental declaration is signed in respect of the child; or … make any decision as to whether or not to admit a child to the school by reference to whether any such declaration is or is not likely to be signed in respect of the child". Clause 109(5) states: No person shall be excluded from such a school or suffer any other adverse consequences on account of any failure to comply". Clause 109(6) states: A home-school agreement shall not be capable of creating any obligation in respect of whose breach any liability arises in contract or in tort". That is quite a reduction. I can see what the noble Lord means, but I should be grateful if he could say why the Government have reduced home-school agreements so decisively when at the moment schools can enforce them in a stronger way.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I was proposing to go through Clause 109 subsection by subsection and respond to each of the elements. I can well see—I have sidelined it in my brief—the elements of subsection (4) which most exercise the noble Lord, although he was delicate enough not to emphasise it too strongly in his opening speech.

Perhaps I may finish the sentence that I had started when I was so politely interrupted. We expect agreements to include expectations about the standard of education, the ethos of the school, regular and punctual attendance, discipline, homework and the information schools and parents will give to one another. The guidance will also make clear that agreements must be fair and balanced if they are to foster a spirit of partnership. We want schools and parents to use home-school agreements to demonstrate to children the importance of education by declaring their commitment to work in partnership.

The clause empowers the Secretary of State to forbid the use of certain forms of words, or words which have a particular effect, from inclusion in home-school agreements or parental declarations. For example, it might be necessary to make clear that a school could not request or put pressure on parents to contribute regularly to the school PTA fund. Although it is a restriction, it is not a diminution of the effectiveness of the agreement; it simply ensures that the agreement does not include unreasonable elements.

As the noble Lord rightly said, the clause prevents the use of home-school agreements in the admission process. We do not believe that it is right to allow admission authorities to base their decisions on whether a parent has signed, or is willing to sign. We uphold the principle that an admission authority should not be able to attach conditions when making the offer of a place. It cannot be right to deny a child a place because his or her parents are unwilling to sign the home-school agreement. That refers to what I said at the beginning that in this agreement we are looking to protect the interests not only of the school and the parents, but of the pupils themselves. We strongly take the view that the attitude of parents to a home-school agreement should not be an element in the choice of pupils for a school—in other words, in the admission process.

However, once a child has been admitted to a school it is right to expect parents to sign a declaration that they acknowledge and accept both their responsibilities and the school's expectation of their child. I have to go on. The noble Lord is otherwise engaged at the moment. Perhaps I may reciprocate his criticism. I have to describe the whole clause. I know perfectly well that the noble Lord is really interested only in the London Oratory School. His amendment covers the whole of Clause 109. It also forbids a pupil's exclusion from school and the pupil or his parents suffering any adverse consequences if they do not sign the parental declaration. It cannot be right that a pupil should be punished if his parents did not sign the declaration. Failure to comply with the terms of a home-school agreement will not be treated as giving rise to any liability for which damages or other remedies could be obtained through the courts in action for breach of contract or in tort. The noble Lord cited that as being a diminution of the effectiveness of home-school agreements. I suggest to him that they would be very much more diminished if they were to be seen as legal documents for which legal remedies were appropriate.

In the light of this description of Clause 109 and the defence that I have given of its contents, I hope that the noble Lord will not seek to press this wide-ranging and damaging amendment.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I was not talking about the London Oratory School, I was thinking about another school. The issue as to whether the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Prime Minister prefers that school or not is nothing to do with me. I am concerned about people like my daughter, who teaches in Bethnal Green, and who face a very difficult community where parents are reluctant to enter into agreements with schools; teachers find it difficult to impose sanctions and where co-operation with parents is very difficult to achieve.

I accept that the noble Lord has been presented with briefing by his civil servants, but the fact is that it is difficult enough to require parents to sign on the dotted line and yet the Government have given them many escape clauses. This will not be a problem at the London Oratory, which deals with the more sophisticated children from Islington and other such areas. I am sorry to dwell on the Oratory, but the noble Lord raised it. I did not; I was thinking about schools in different areas of this city to which the noble Lord's right honourable and honourable friends do not send their children.

Teachers in such schools face considerable difficulties and they would be helped by tighter requirements. Once the Government include on the face of the Bill provisions that the home-school agreements may be broken or ignored, the teachers' job is made harder. However elegant may be the noble Lord's defence, the teacher at the front line in the difficult area will depend on such requirements.

Often in this House, noble Lords speak more about the civil rights of pupils than they do about the needs of the teachers who have to enforce discipline and standards in difficult areas. That is why I should like Clause 109 to be removed from the Bill. I have heard so often in this House emphasis being laid on the civil rights of pupils. I understand that and I value it, but I must think of the teachers in the difficult areas who need home-school agreements that will have a bit of bottle behind them so that the teachers can enforce them. On the advice of his civil servants, the noble Lord is removing much value from those home-school agreements and I am not convinced by his arguments.

Let us consider the purpose of home-school agreements. In the most difficult areas of our cities we need parents to commit themselves, on the dotted line, to ensuring that their children will not truant. After years of serving on the Parole Board, I know how often such children truant. By reducing the power of home-school agreements, the Government are reducing the power of the teacher.

I can understand the legal gyrations, but the fact is that Clause 109 defies the Government's rhetoric. Both Mr. Straw and the Prime Minister constantly stress the need for parental responsibility, but Clause 109 removes it. Irresponsible parents are not foolish; they are just as capable as anyone else of reading these provisions and they will know that Clause 109 does not mean anything. They will argue with the teachers.

I am not satisfied with the Government's attitude. I am putting this on the record: I shall come back to the Government again and again on this matter, especially when I see the rhetoric of the noble Lord's right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary defying what is stated on the face of the Bill. An analysis of debates in this House would show that many noble Lords have stressed again and again the importance of pupils' civil rights rather than the enormous difficulties faced by the school teachers in the deprived areas of our cities who find it difficult to get children to go to school and to enforce discipline when they are there. Some head teachers have found ways of doing that through home-school agreements, but the Government are reducing the power of such agreements under Clause 109.

I am not happy. I shall withdraw my amendment, but I want these words to be on the record. I assure the noble Lord that I shall return to him on this point but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 188 not moved.]

Clause 112 [Nutritional standards for school lunches]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 189:

Page 86, leave out line 12 and insert ("schools maintained by local education authorities.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 189, I should like to speak also to the subsequent amendments, Amendments Nos. 190 and 191, which deal with school lunches and nutritional standards in nursery schools. As it stands, Clause 112 gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce compulsory nutritional standards for school lunches, but that does not extend to lunches provided either in pupil referral units or in maintained nursery schools, except for maintained special nursery schools. The first two amendments will remove that anomaly. This is a straightforward technical correction.

As it stands, Clause 113 places a duty on local education authorities to offer lunches for sale to pupils who want them in all the schools that LEAs maintain unless it is unreasonable for them to do so. The effect of Amendment No. 191 is to place a duty on LEAs to provide paid lunches for those pupils under compulsory school age only where those pupils are full time. LEAs would continue to have the power to provide paid lunches to part-time pupils under compulsory school age and to provide paid lunches to all pupils of compulsory school age.

I believe that these are sensible arrangements. Most nursery schools or units offer only part-time provision—children attend in the morning or afternoon—and in practice many parents provide lunch. If there were a duty on LEAs to offer a paid meals service to these pupils, it would in effect extend the school day and require extra staff and additional supervision with attendant extra cost. However, LEAs will still be able to provide this service if they so wish. I can assure noble Lords that this does not affect the position of pupils under compulsory school age who are entitled to free school meals. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 190:

Page 86, line 14, leave out ("a maintained") and insert ("such a").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 113 [Extension of LEA functions concerning school lunches, etc.]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 191:

Page 86, line 37, at end insert (", or (b) where the pupil in question has not attained compulsory school age and is being provided with part-time education.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 116 [Duty of local education authority as respects availability of nursery education]:

[Amendment No. 192 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 192A:

After Clause 116, insert the following new clause—


(" . A local education authority shall—

  1. (a) ensure that no maintained school or voluntary aided school within its area requires children to enter school under compulsory school age as a condition, or implied condition, of admission to the said school at the age of five; and
  2. (b) ensure that, with respect to the admissions policy of any maintained school or voluntary aided school in its area, entry into the said school's reception class or classes in the term following a child's fourth birthday shall not confer any preference or advantage over other children in the same or neighbouring local authority area who may seek entry into that school at the age of five.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 192A, which is concerned with the admission to school of children aged four and five. This matter was debated in Committee. Perhaps the Minister hoped that I would not return to it. However, great concern has been expressed about the provision for under school age children of three to five years of age and the necessity to provide a varied tapestry of such provision. I refer to the reply given by the Minister: The guidance and evaluation criteria for this year's early years development plans made it clear that information provided to parents must be without bias to any one sector and should also make it clear that children are not legally required to attend primary school until they are of compulsory school age".—[Official Report; 10/6/98; col. 1135.] Later on, in response to my noble friend Lady Blatch, who moved the amendments in Committee, the Minister said (at col. 1136): The right approach is to have guidance on good practice. That is much more likely to be effective and we shall consider providing guidance on good practice in the admissions code of practice". I shall return to that in a moment.

One of the matters of great concern to those on these Benches was the implication that to get a child into the school of choice at five meant that there was greater pressure on children going to reception classes at the age of four because they would then have preference over other children. Out in the community, we still enjoy, and I hope will continue to enjoy, a tremendous range of private nursery school and playschool provision. That gives parents the right to choose the kinds of schools that they believe suit their children. Those of us who have children or grandchildren of that age know very well that the ability of three or four year-olds varies very much. We on these Benches believe that there must be a means of protecting such schools; otherwise, they will be continually squeezed and will cease to be providers of such facilities.

We would all agree that the Bill is all about raising standards. It includes diversity and choice. It goes from playgroups for small numbers of children, involving families, to the more formal reception classes which cater for larger numbers and are styled more along the lines of school classes. The ethos is surely to provide choice so that parents can find a school to suit their needs. Parents might choose a playgroup for their three year-old child and then discover—as the Bill suggests—that they need to move the child into a reception class at the age of four. The child is then being moved twice before reaching the age of five. In some cases it may be when the child is aged just four and is vulnerable.

We are concerned to retain wide choice so that parents can choose a smaller school—it may be a playgroup—rather than feel that they are forced to put their child into a reception class. We shall try to ensure that that is a possibility for them.

Private schools and the more informal playgroups have an important role to play. If their expertise is to be ensured and encouraged, we must make sure that parents do not feel that they are under any obligation to forgo a place at such a school in order to secure a place at their chosen primary school. It has a knock-on effect on other schools providing nursery care. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that we want a flexible approach to provision.

The amendment is designed to ensure that no maintained school or voluntary-aided school within an LEA's area shall require a child to enter the school under compulsory age as a condition. Paragraph (b) of the new clause provides that, a child's fourth birthday shall not confer any preference or advantage over other children in the same or neighbouring local authority area who may keep entry into that school at the age of five".

We debated this issue in Committee but there is still great concern in the community, which is why I have brought the matter back. I hope the Minister will reassure me about the guidance on good practice that will be put into effect.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, we have a certain amount of sympathy with the mover of the amendment because there is concern that parents might be "blackmailed" into putting their child early into school when a more appropriate placement for that child would be a nursery class. On the other hand, we have no particular wish to defend private nursery schools, or any wish to attack them for that matter. We are concerned that there should be appropriate placements for children under school age, in whose education we have a great interest. At no point should parents be obliged to put their children at an early age into a crowded class for under school age children to secure their position at that primary school.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I do not know whether I shall be able to be sufficiently reassuring, but I shall try, because I have some sympathy with what I think underlies the concerns behind the amendment. As I explained when we discussed this issue in Committee, no admission authority for a maintained school can require a parent to send his or her child to a school before the child has become of compulsory school age. Even where a school admits before compulsory school age, parents may apply for a place starting from when their child reaches compulsory school age. But it is true that where a school is popular and oversubscribed a place may no longer be available.

I can assure the noble Baroness that we take this issue most seriously. The fundamental aim of our policy on early years education is to ensure that parents have a diverse range of good quality early years provision from which to choose. Like the noble Baroness, we do not want to see parents pressurised into making a choice which they do not believe is right for their child. Nor do we want to see private and voluntary providers become unviable because parents feel compelled to move children out of those settings.

Early years development partnerships include representatives of both parents and private providers. We have made it clear that we shall expect future changes to admissions arrangements to be discussed with early years development partnerships. We shall also expect LEAs to listen to advice from early years development partnerships about how well existing policies are working and whether individual schools are following policy set by the LEA where it is the admission authority. A number of partnerships said in this year's plan that they would be reviewing current admissions arrangements. We expect partnerships to consult widely when preparing early years development plans, and in particular to consult parents.

The noble Baroness quoted from Hansard what I said in Committee on the guidance and evaluation criteria for this year's early years development plans. I can only say again that the criteria make it clear that information provided to parents must be without bias to any one sector and should also make it clear that children are not legally required to attend primary school until they are of compulsory school age. I wish to provide the reassurance that we are making that clear.

Admissions arrangements should not be used to stifle parental choice. The message will be strengthened in next year's guidance which will have statutory force. We shall look particularly closely at admissions issues such as these when evaluating next year's plans.

It is open to authorities to adopt a practice of agreeing parental requests to defer entry to a primary reception class until a child reaches compulsory school age later in the school year. A number of authorities already follow that practice. The Secretary of State has referred to it in the draft interim guidance on school admissions which he issued for consultation last month. Where this policy is adopted, parents apply for a place at the normal time of admission but in effect the place would be held for the child until he or she is older, up to compulsory school age.

We shall look carefully at how advice on this policy and the general issue of parental choice prior to compulsory school age can be addressed in the admissions code of practice.

When we debated the issue in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, expressed concern that parents felt they were being "blackmailed" into transferring their child earlier to a maintained school. It was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. She felt that they were being pushed to transfer their child earlier than they wished. She believed that they should be able to make a complaint and should have something to back them up when making that complaint. I can assure noble Lords that the early years development partnership arrangements and the strong messages we shall be giving in this year's guidance will achieve that.

I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness that we take these concerns seriously. We shall be working proactively to resolve them. But I do not believe that this amendment is the best way forward.

The admissions issues we have been discussing today are part of the whole package of partnership working and should not be addressed in isolation. We have already made crucial steps towards moving from the competitive ethos of the voucher scheme to a more partnership-based approach. We deferred approval of one authority's plan partly because of concerns about admissions. The partnership worked together extremely effectively to resolve those concerns and is now consulting on introducing a deferred entry policy along the lines that I have outlined. The plan has been approved. Therefore, those arrangements are already having some effect.

We must allow such decisions on admissions to be made at local level and with appropriate guidance at national level. I have said already that we shall encourage admissions authorities to consider deferred entry but we do not propose to require them to adopt such a practice. In some cases, if more than a certain number of children want to defer entry, the financial implications might lead to the loss of an additional member of staff to the detriment of all the children who remain in that class. It is right that the decision to adopt that policy should be made at local level where an assessment can be made of the financial implications.

It is clear that there may be benefits in severing the link between pre-compulsory education and compulsory education if parents want their children to attend different institutions, although if I were a parent with a young child, I should prefer continuity. Therefore, those different sets of needs need to be balanced. I do not believe that that is best achieved at national level and through a rather inflexible amendment of this kind. However, as I have said, I sympathise with the noble Baroness's aim, if not with the amendment as an attempt to achieve it. In the light of what I just said, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw her amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her response, which I shall read with great care tomorrow. There is one point on which I seek clarification from the noble Baroness. I understand that as from next year, some statutory force will be brought into being as opposed to guidance which we have this year. The noble Baroness nods her head. Under those circumstances, I am more relieved although we do not know the form of that statutory force.

However, I am grateful to the Minister for her comments. As I said, there has been great concern among the other providers out there in the community. I shall read again what the Minister said and at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 118 [Early years development plans]:

[Amendment No. 193 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 194 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 195 not moved.]

Clause 125 [Code of practice for securing effective relationships between LEAs and maintained schools]:

[Amendment No. 196 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 196A:

Page 95, line 40, at end insert—

("( ) The code shall require that local education authorities, in performing their functions under subsection (1)(a) and section 5, shall not have access to a school without the permission of its governing body if the school is performing within the top third of schools or is consistently improving its performance in national performance tables for National Curriculum tests or GCSE examination results.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in speaking to this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 197B.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the noble Baroness proceeds, and since she has said that she is going to speak to Amendment No. 197B, she will know that this amendment, as well as Amendment No. 186B, were debated in exactly the same terms in Committee and were rejected on a Division.

I very well understand that the noble Baroness is acting properly on advice from the Public Bill Office that it is proper for these amendments to be tabled and debated. I acknowledge also that in my very junior capacity representing the hierarchy of this House, I should have said what I am saying on Amendment No. 186B rather than now.

However, I, too, have taken advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments and he has drawn my attention to the paragraph in the Companion on page 89 under the heading of "Motions" which states: It is contrary to the practice of the House for a Question once decided to be put again in the same Session". The Clerk of the Parliaments has advised me that if he had been consulted on this matter he would have advised that this amendment should not have been tabled and should not be debated.

I have no power to instruct the noble Baroness as to what she should do. However, I ask her to exercise restraint in her actions on the amendment and I should advise the House that in view of the conflict of advice which has been received, it would be appropriate for this matter to be referred to the Procedure Committee.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I always act on advice, but I am speaking to Amendment No. 196A. The code of practice will require that local education authorities, in performing their functions under subsection 1(a) and Clause 5, shall not have access to a school without the permission of its governing body if the school is performing within the top third of schools or is consistently improving its performance in national performance tables for national curriculum tests or GCSE examination results.

Mr. Byers said this week that he is looking for ways to leave excellent schools to get on with the job they do well without undue intervention. He also said that excellent schools should be treated differently from other schools and that they should have more flexibility and freedom. My amendment will give the honourable gentleman in another place precisely that which he seeks and it is for that reason that I ask noble Lords to support it.

If a school is operating in the top third of schools, and if it is consistently improving its performance year on year, what can be the reason for anybody wishing to intervene in that school against the wishes of the governors? It is absurd and not conducive to good relationships with that community.

The Government will almost certainly argue that it is better to have partnership and agreement. That is not the point of my amendment. The amendment concerns an over-zealous inspectorate at local authority level or local authority officials themselves wishing to intervene where it is not necessary. If the governing body does not agree that there are good grounds for intervention then the amendment would allow intervention only in the best schools, those that are performing well and consistently improving their performance, when the school and governors agree that there should be intervention and co-operation on any matter concerning the operational running of the school. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, we on these Benches find this a very peculiar amendment because the code of practice governing the relationship between LEAs and schools covers a wide range of different topics, and when we speak about standards in schools we are not just talking about levels of achievement at O-level or A-level or at the key stages. Moreover, it is unnecessary. I have been a member of an education authority, and it is customary now for everybody who wants to go into a school to have to ask permission or at least to notify the head teacher that this is about to happen. In my experience schools and head teachers are extremely jealous of their space, for very good reason indeed, namely the security of pupils. If a teacher should observe LEA employees measuring up classrooms so that they can be improved, without having first informed the head teacher that they were about to do that, they would be given short shrift and asked who they were.

The amendment is illogical and unnecessary. It interferes in the relationship between governors and head teachers, since it is normally the head teacher who is in control of the day-to-day operation of the schooll, and this is very much a matter of day-to-day operation.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we also find this to be a very peculiar amendment. It appears to restrict the access of LEAs when they are performing their duty to ensure high standards, which seems a peculiar thing to have to explain to the parents, teachers, or anybody else. It probably reflects a very important difference of philosophy between the Conservative Party and ourselves on this matter.

Although we absolutely endorse the principle of school self-management, we also believe that schools should not pull up a drawbridge between themselves and the outside world, and especially not between themselves and LEAs. The local education authority has a responsibility for all schools; indeed, the new framework represents that. The amendment, at least in part, seems to be trying to pull out the best one-third of schools from the new structure. Under the Bill, we are giving LEAs new duties to promote high standards and to prepare education development plans in consultation with schools. However, those activities cannot be carried out if a school remains outside the process. The LEAs provide leadership and the dissemination of best practice.

It seems to me that the amendment assumes that a school's performance in national curriculum tests or in GCSEs tells us absolutely everything that we need to know about how successful it is. However, that is not always the sole criterion. The LEA should have the right to intervene in a school in a number of other areas. Because schools and their pupils appear to be doing well, we should not assume that they are not capable of doing even better.

I understand that the noble Baroness is anxious to protect schools from undue interference from LEAs; so are we. That is precisely why we have a code of practice to ensure that all those with responsibilities for the education and safekeeping of pupils carry out those responsibilities reasonably. The code is designed to prevent disagreements from arising and to ensure that LEAs do intervene, broadly speaking, in inverse proportion to success and do not use their powers unreasonably; in other words, we are looking for a light touch of management from LEAs and, in most cases, a lighter touch for the more successful schools.

As noble Lords will know, that draft code of practice has been out for consultation for over three months. We have received a large number of replies. We are looking for partnership between LEAs and schools in an endeavour to improve standards. The amendment gives the impression of conflict, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, is in most instances simply not there. If there is conflict, or if there is a legal basis for a school to close its doors to an LEA, then certainly there is a problem which needs to be addressed by the local education authority in concert with the school and not by building up barriers between them. We believe that this amendment is particularly misplaced. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, one really must be suspicious of the Government's motives on this issue. As I understand it from the Minister's reply, in the best schools in our land the Government are now condoning intervention by a local education authority against the wishes of the governing body. Perhaps I may take the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Where a head teacher believes that an LEA is being over-interventionist and over-zealous in its anxiety to come into a school, he would inevitably, if he wished to take the matter further, go to the governing body and seek some authority and endorsement from it that that intervention should be challenged. The governing body would then make representations to the LEA. In the interests of good relations, I cannot believe that there should not be at least some protection for such a situation.

The Minister referred to LEAs being there and to the fact that they offer leadership and support. Of course that is true; indeed, no one is arguing about that. My amendment would do nothing in that respect. However, from the actual language that the schools Minister has used in presenting the LEA draft code of practice, we know that the Government are very concerned. In fact, they become very threatening at times in that document in saying what they would do should an LEA intervene disproportionately rather than proportionately.

The Minister also said that the code of practice was designed to prevent disagreements. My amendment would deal with a situation where a disagreement has arisen. Rather than wait for the Government to find another legislative slot to do something about the matter, my amendment would allow fairly instant opportunity for a school to say that the intervention is just a touch too much. I cannot believe that there is no such protection to cover the relationship between an LEA and a school where the head teacher and/or the staff, together with the governing body, believe that the intervention is disproportionate.

My amendment addresses those occasions when there are disagreements. I am sorry that the Government do not agree with that. That shows a little more of their thinking. I am seriously suspicious of what is behind not only this part of the Bill but the Bill itself. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 197:

Page 96, line 28, at end insert ("and (m) Part IV of the Education Act 1996.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a simple amendment which stands in my name and that of a number of other noble Lords, of whom I think the only one present is the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I apologise because I had not noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, had entered the Chamber. The amendment simply states that the provisions of Part IV of the Education Act 1996—namely, the policies on SEN—should be included in the Bill. I have a note here from the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is unable to attend today.

Noble Lords

It is because of the semi-finals!

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, it is not because of the semi-finals. I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord has to attend a Mencap event. That suggestion about the semi-finals was quite malicious. The noble Lord is—as we all are—encouraged by the support of Members of your Lordships' House in seeking to raise the concerns of children with special educational needs. We received considerable encouragement from the Minister in her responses on the previous occasion we discussed this matter. The noble Lord and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept this amendment, or at any rate the spirit of it. As regards the code of practice for securing effective relationships between LEAs and maintained schools, the amendment would include the functions of an LEA with respect to children with special needs. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords—

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, wants to speak. I thought she might wish to speak before I did. This amendment is extremely important. As we have heard during discussion on this Bill, 20 per cent. of pupils have special educational needs. That represents six pupils out of a class of 30. It is just as important that their needs are properly catered for as it is for those who do not have special educational needs. I refer even to those without statutory assessment.

On the previous occasion we discussed this matter, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, suggested that this matter was covered by the SEN code of practice. As I understand it, that is a different matter altogether. It does not cover co-operation between schools and local education authorities, but the working of the special educational needs assessment. I could speak for a long time on this matter but I shall not do so because of the lateness of the hour. As I said, this amendment, which has been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is extremely important. If the Government will not accept it, I hope that they will bring forward their own amendment in exactly the same vein at a later stage.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I am sorry for the hiccup as regards the order of speaking, but I know that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, knows a great deal more about the measure than I do as he spoke to it on the previous occasion. I give my warm and extremely brief support to the amendment. It is important that schools should be clear from the start about how they will work with LEAs on SEN matters, rather than for that to be incorporated at a later stage.

On 16th June in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh acknowledged (col. 1456) the important part that SEN played in the role of LEAs and said he recognised the need to get the arrangements absolutely right. Furthermore, he said that the list in subsection (6) is not intended to be exhaustive. It is therefore already open to us to include SEN issues in the code of practice in whatever ways are considered most appropriate. I hope that on reflection the Minister may be persuaded, like the Special Education Consortium, that the most appropriate way is to list the special educational needs code of practice in subsection (6).

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the House will recall that when the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, tabled this amendment at Committee stage we made clear our intention that the code of practice should take account of the relationship between LEAs and special schools and the provision that mainstream schools make for children with special needs. That is still the case. However, we are still not convinced that the amendment is necessary or helpful.

The duty we are giving local education authorities to promote high standards applies to all children. We have made a number of changes, in response to concerns raised in this House, to make that explicit on the face of the Bill. In particular, we have amended Clause 6 to ensure that the requirements for educational development plans include an express reference to special educational needs. That means, in practice, that all LEAs will be required to have regard to SEN issues when planning action with a view to supporting the raising of standards in their schools.

I am advised that all the other provisions referred to in the list of relevant functions in Clause 125 implicitly cover special schools and pupils with special needs being educated in mainstream schools. Amendment No. 197 would not therefore add anything to the existing requirement for the Secretary of State to include appropriate guidance in the code on these issues.

There are also a number of difficulties with the proposed amendment, which could possibly result in the opposite of what the noble Lords are hoping to achieve. Much of Part IV of the 1996 Education Act relates to the responsibilities of LEAs in relation to pupils with special needs. These are either irrelevant—for example, some deal with the establishment of the SEN tribunal—or they deal with processes relating to individual pupils that are already covered by the SEN code of practice. We think that it is important to avoid confusion between the two codes. But there is a real risk of that happening if they cover the same ground.

I know that the noble Lords are seeking an assurance that special educational needs issues will not be overlooked. I repeat that assurance now. The code of practice will include appropriate references to SEN issues. Our present intention is to include some practical examples of SEN issues in the revised version of the code. But I should also emphasise that the main purpose of the code is to provide guidance on the relationship between LEAs and schools generally. Given the largely warm reception for the first draft of the code, we would want to avoid making any revisions which would change the overall balance or tone of the document.

We shall, however, be having further consultation with the relevant parties—including special educational needs organisations—on the detail to ensure that we get this important element of the code right. I should welcome any further input that noble Lords would like to make when we are revising the text of the code.

In the circumstances, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. We discussed this matter at some length at an earlier stage of the Bill. I should have been more reassured if the Minister had said that the code would do more than merely take account of the special educational needs policies of local education authorities and if it had gone further to include those policies. There is a special relationship which needs to be developed between LEAs and schools on this subject owing to the new balance of responsibilities that the Bill brings into the relationship between LEAs and schools and the difference that makes with the downloading of budgets in their entirety to local schools. However, I know that the noble Baroness and her fellow Ministers have to a large extent taken on board the things which I and many other people have said with regard to special educational needs. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 197A:

After Clause 125, insert the following new clause—


(" . The governing bodies of schools and local education authorities shall use their best endeavours to secure that—

  1. (a) due consideration is given to the views of pupils on any matter relating to the school or their education which 1206 affects them, having regard to the pupils' age and understanding, and
  2. (b) where reasonable, steps are taken to ascertain these views.").

The noble Baroness said: I come back to a theme I have tried to push on various occasions in the course of the Bill; it is that the views of pupils should be considered. The amendment places schools and LEAs under a duty to consider the views of pupils. The new clause seeks to bring the education system in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, with other European countries' education legislation, and with the other professional sectors dealing with children—social services, health and judicial.

The new clause does not require schools or LEAs to act on the child's wishes, even when a child has a fully mature understanding of the issue in hand. It does not require teachers to ask every pupil what his or her views are on every matter. It is not a dirigiste provision; quite the reverse. It is extremely mild and discretionary in its formulation. It is therefore extremely unlikely to be the subject of litigation, despite the Angst of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. The noble Lord is not in his place, but he had criticisms earlier. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, admitted in Committee, it represents current good practice. It already happens in good schools, but not, unfortunately, in poor schools.

When the Committee on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child considered the UK's progress in 1995, it regretted that the child's rights under Article 12 were not recognised within the education system. Article 12(1) provides: States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child".

During the passage of the 1993 Education Act, Allan Levy, QC, gave an Opinion which advised that UK education law was in breach of Article 12. The Committee's recommendation to the UK was that, procedures be introduced to ensure that children are provided with the opportunity to express their views on the running of the schools in matters of concern to them".

The Government are due to provide the Committee with their second report at the end of this year. The Bill therefore represents the last chance for the Government to remedy the failure of the previous government to implement Article 12 in the education system. I hope that, in replying, the Minister—I believe it will be my noble friend Lord McIntosh—will give me some thoughts about what the Government intend to do with regard to the UN convention.

Those who work in social services have since 1975 been obliged by law to ascertain, and give due consideration to, the views of children in their care. The 1989 Children Act places the civil courts under equivalent duties. Health practice and health law, such as the landmark Gillick case in 1984, ensure that health professionals take account of children's views. The education system is the only professional service for children which does not recognise that children, as well as parents, are the consumers.

Many European countries have mandatory pupil councils in schools. Some—for example, Spain—have legislation requiring teachers to take pupils' views into account. Some—for example, France—have pupil participation built into every stage of education administration, including the Ministry of Education in Paris. Some—for example, Poland—have education ombudsmen to protect pupils. The UK is lagging a long way behind but, on the other hand, has the reassurance that the sky does not fall if pupils are recognised as partners, not subjects, in the education system.

Those are powerful arguments. I hope that the Minister is impressed by them and will give a sympathetic response. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I support the words of the noble Baroness, Lady David. As she pointed out, we must recognise the importance of taking children's views into account.

We often complain when children and young people are obstructive in society. This is one of the ways of enabling them to understand what it is to take part in a community, the discipline of that community and the way in which the community lives and runs. It is ridiculous for people to be frightened of this, as the noble Baroness stated. My experience of involving young people is that it always brings out the best in them. That is true not only of young people, but of all people in society. As a nation, we are far too frightened of involving the public and young people in our decisions.

I give the amendment my wholehearted support and, if the Government will not accept it, I hope that they will at least come forward with a recognition of the valid case the noble Baroness made to us tonight.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, perhaps I may briefly support the noble Baroness, Lady David, who gave a powerful and clear explanation of her amendment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. I hope that this Bill will be brought into line with other legislation; after all, it is very much to do with children and their future.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, let me say at once that I agree with the sentiments expressed by all those who have spoken on this amendment. The Government strongly agree that children ought to be involved and their views taken into account in planning for their education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, is right that if all people, not just children, are consulted, they feel a sense of worth and ownership and that encourages participation. The Government therefore agree that we should be taking as many reasonable steps as possible to encourage young children to feel a sense of ownership of their education and to reach their full potential.

We have no difficulty about the objectives of the amendment; but we need to discuss how to achieve them. We have a responsibility not to overburden our schools and the Government are looking particularly to reduce the level of bureaucracy in schools. My noble friend Lady David said at the beginning that this is a—she did not use the words "watered down"—neatly worded amendment. Indeed, that is true. But if it were a provision on the face of the Bill, it would still be legally prescriptive and intervene with the need of schools, in their own time, to set in place the structures that are necessary to foster a spirit of consultation.

I am not able to say therefore that we can accept the amendment on the face of the Bill. However, it may be helpful for me to say something about the good practice that has been brought to the attention of the department and how the views of pupils are being taken on board in the planning processes of schools.

Many schools have set up schools' councils, which work remarkably well. I do not know why I should present that as new; my own children took part in schools' councils 20 years ago. Nevertheless, it is a fact that schools' councils are increasing in number and in effectiveness. Where they are set up, they often act as a focus for pupils to improve the ethos of their school and act as a conduit for pupils to be heard. But that does not mean that we should place schools' councils or many other good things into the framework of a school Bill. However, we will certainly continue to encourage schools to set them up.

Education is as much about the personal and social development of pupils as academic achievement. That is often taken forward in a schools' programme of personal, social and health education. That is an area where we recently took positive action and set up a PSHE advisory group to examine the whole issue so that we can be better informed and better prepared to take forward the personal and social development of pupils. We can then feed its conclusions into the forthcoming debate on the review of the national curriculum. The group, which will be chaired by Estelle Moms and Tessa Jowell, will look to the aims and objectives of a PSHE and what can be done to help schools in this important area of education. I see no reason why I should not ask them to take into account how the views of pupils can be best taken forward in the group's deliberations on the personal and social development of pupils.

My noble friend quoted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and she referred to the opinion of Mr. Allan Levy QC, who referred to procedures to be introduced. We are in favour of procedures being introduced; we are in favour of all encouragement for pupil involvement; what we are not in favour of is placing an amendment of this kind on the face of the Bill.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Maddock and Lady Darcy de Knayth, for their support, which was very welcome, and I thank the Minister for a quite sympathetic and understanding response, although he would not go the whole way of accepting the amendment. I am disappointed about that, though not altogether surprised.

I do not think that this would overburden the schools. Schools should consult the pupils. I do not think it would overburden them. In fact they might be rather more successful in having a good disciplinary code and good procedures if they did consult the pupils than if they do not. I do not see that it would be legally prescriptive. In some ways, if we are to be in line with the UN convention, it ought to be provided in legislation that pupils' views should be considered. We shall be interested to see what the committee says at the end of the year when it will have to report on what the UK has done in relation to this.

I cannot do other than withdraw the amendment. However, I am disappointed, particularly as the Labour Party in Opposition—perhaps not the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who was not speaking from the Opposition Front Bench on education but certainly the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—would have supported the amendment.

Noble Lords


Baroness David

Was I interrupted? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, would not be in sympathy, because he does not seem to have any understanding about this. As I say, I am disappointed in my own Front Bench because they were in sympathy with this proposal when in Opposition. It is rather sad that when in Government they change their mind. However, I am glad of what I have heard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 197B not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 197C:

After Clause 127, insert the following new clause—


(".—(1) In section 3(2) of the Education (Schools) Act 1997 (regulations for purposes of transitional arrangements), after paragraph (f) there shall be added— (g) provide for the Secretary of State, in a case where he is satisfied that it is reasonable to do so in view of any particular circumstances relating to a pupil who holds (or has at any time held) an assisted place provided by a school under section 2(1), to authorise another school which is either—

  1. (i) a former participating school, or
  2. (ii) a new school authorised to provide assisted places by virtue of paragraph (f) above,
to provide for the pupil under section 2(1) the assisted Place which the first-mentioned school was authorised to provide."

(2) In section 75A(9A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (regulations in connection with assisted places)—

  1. (a) the word "and" immediately preceding paragraph (b) shall be omitted; and
  2. (b) after that paragraph there shall be inserted "; and
  3. (c) provide for the Secretary of State, in a case where he is satisfied that it is reasonable to do so in view of 1210 any particular circumstances relating to a pupil who holds (or has, at any time since the beginning of the first term of the 1997–98 school year, held) an assisted place at a school under a scheme operated by virtue of subsection (1) above, to authorise another school which is, or is treated as, a participating school to provide for the pupil under such a scheme the assisted place which the first-mentioned school was authorised to provide."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to government Amendments Nos. 207A, 208A, 209A to 209E, 228A and 228B, and to refer to Amendment No. 197D, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Although this is about the assisted places scheme, it is not intended at this time of night to raise the whole issue of the assisted places scheme but to speak about how we can more sensitively deal with children who are still in the system.

We have received representations, including from the noble Baroness herself at the Committee stage, about children who currently hold assisted places scheme places who, due to particular family or educational circumstances, need to move schools. It appears that last year's legislation is drawn too tightly to allow a pupil with an assisted place to transfer to another independent school participating in the scheme otherwise than in the most exceptional circumstances. We share some of those concerns.

We are aware of 10 or so cases where parents need to move their children between schools and want to retain the assisted places scheme place. Noble Lords may have seen press reports of one case where a child at a boarding school wished to move to a school closer to home to spend more time with his disabled father. Through this amendment, the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment, and for Wales and Scotland, will have the power to help in such cases.

Amendment No. 197C is the substantive provision which will provide for a new discretionary power under regulations to allow assisted pupils to move between participating schools and retain support under the scheme. Amendments Nos. 207A, 208D, 209C, 209D and 209E are technical amendments relating to commencement, extent and repeals. Amendments Nos. 209A and 209B, and 228B relate to the slightly different Scottish provisions but they will have the same effect. Amendment No. 228A is a consequential amendment.

As regards the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, I shall obviously respond to what she says at a later stage. At this stage I must mention that there appears to us to be a difficult technical issue concerning her proposal. The framework for the phasing out of the assisted places scheme is set out in Section 2(2) of the Education (Schools) Act 1997. The proposal of the noble Baroness involves providing, through regulations, a right for children of primary school age to continue to have support under the scheme throughout their secondary schooling. That is inconsistent with the provisions of the Act itself. I shall deal with any other points at a later stage, but I thought that I should deal with that technical problem.

The purpose of these amendments is to allow us to help families with genuine difficulties. We would use the discretionary power sensitively. It is our intention that that kind of sensitive response should allow a transfer to take place where there is a genuine need. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 197C, Amendment No. 197D:

Line 16, at end insert—

("(1A) After section 3(2) of that Act there shall be inserted—

"(2A) Regulations under this section shall in particular secure that a pupil receiving primary education and provided with an assisted place shall continue to hold that place to the end of the period during which he receives secondary education at the same school."."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the rather thin reason given for my amendment being technically flawed in fact applies to the government amendments. They were inconsistent with the Act as it was. That is why the amendment is tabled: in order to open the Act and to amend it. That is precisely what my amendment seeks to do.

The issue that precipitated this U-turn was a case where the DfEE, in its wisdom—it was wise to do so—dropped its opposition to a court case because it knew it was heading for defeat. The claim is that fresh evidence came to light. My understanding of the case is that all that was known about the young man was known by the department. It would be helpful to know precisely what the fresh evidence was and the criteria that the Secretary for State will now apply in respect of the amendments as set out in the Marshalled List, and which will eventually find their place into the assisted places Bill.

The boy was told that he could keep his assisted place and stay in the system. Depending on the Secretary of State's largesse, that would allow children to move from one school to another. My amendment is more modest than that; namely, that young people are given an understanding that they could receive an assisted place in one school and go right the way through that school. The meanness of the Government in applying their policy knows no depth. I also believe that they will find themselves in court again because there are some very interesting cases. It is interesting to go back through all the correspondence.

There is one letter on file which has to be placed on the record of this House because it encapsulates the bones of my case. The letter is from Mrs. Karen Cutler to Ms. Flashman. It contained within it a letter which Ms. Flashman was asked to convey to Mr. Blunkett. It reads as follows:

"I was extremely annoyed by a statement you made in the House of Commons during Education and Employment Questions (26th February) as it was untrue.

Graham Brady MP raised the issue of an article in 'The Times' that day concerning Junior level Assisted Places, bringing attention to a promise made to a Harriet Tillson from Mr. Blair. The letter of 1 Nov. 1996 was in response to a query concerning her daughters' assisted places. They were at the time aged 7 and 11. In the letter Mr Blair states 'We do not wish to disrupt the education of individual children and any children already on the scheme will continue to receive support until the end of their education.'

Your reply was as follows and I quote, 'Not only will I ensure that people understand the importance of being able to follow promises but that they can read as well so that they can actually get the promises right. The promise we made we are fulfilling and I should remind the Hon Gentleman that, of course, at the point he is referring to the previous Government's scheme to extend assisted places to primary education had not actually taken place.'

I found this statement almost unbelievable. Either you knew that this was not true and were avoiding giving a proper reply or you were genuinely unaware of the two different types of junior level places and that integral junior departments of senior schools were allocated places early in 1996 to be taken up in September 1996. This would show a level of incompetence which I personally would not expect from such a Senior Minister. I was also rather surprised that you were not corrected immediately on this point by any other Member of the House.

As I have already said, junior assisted places were allocated early in 1996 to integral junior departments of senior schools which offered assisted places at 11+ also. They were taken up in September 1996 and therefore not only were the places available but Mrs Tillson's daughters were already at the Maynard school at the point of Mr Blair replying to her.

Ben Bradshaw was quoted in The Times as saying that it would not have been known that the Maynard school ran through to 18. This is clearly nonsense since at that point (Nov. 1996) only schools which 'ran through' had junior places.

Free standing Preparatory Schools were only allocated places in 1997 to be taken up in September by virtue of an Amendment to the Education Act. This is extremely important as the Labour Party Office prior to the election were promising those in integral junior departments that their places would be honoured through to the age of 18, the basis on which they were offered in the first place, whilst those in the free standing preparatory schools would have their place honoured to the end of that school, either 11 or 13. They would not have been able to transfer the place to a separate senior school.

I telephoned Labour Party HQ on 27th February as I was due to take my 8 year old daughter for an examination the following day for entry to a 3–18 girls school. I was told that where a child held or had an offer of a place for September 1997 in an integral junior department of a senior school then that place would be honoured through to the age of 18 if a Labour Government was elected. I was told that this was a clear policy commitment. Laura was successful in gaining the assisted place at the school and I accepted it on the basis of the assurances received.

You will see that the promises made concerning the two types of places i.e. free standing prep schools and schools which essentially 'run through' were in some ways different although in both cases no child would have been forced cruelly to leave the school concerned until that school's natural ending.

Not only do I hope that you will be able to follow these promises but that you will fulfil them. I fully understand and appreciate your party's policy of raising standards in state schools and I hope that you will indeed in time provide each and every child in this country with a level of education now only achieved by the very best. However, I do not see that it is necessary to finance this and the much needed reduction in class sizes for infants at the expense of these, what must be few children who are now devastated at having to be forced out of schools which they, their parents and their schools believed they would be allowed to remain in until the end of their education, 18.

Stephen Byers said earlier in the House to a Conservative MP that he hoped that he would not allow prejudice to get in the way of fact. I hope, Mr Blunkett, that I can ask the same of you particularly as you have said previously that you would put children before political dogma.

I do hope that if the statement you made was a genuine mistake and that you were unaware of the promises made to these children and of the basis on which these places were offered then you will meet with Mr Blair and your junior Ministers and reconsider this matter and allow all children to remain in their current school until the age of 18.

That is a poignant letter. It sets out the understanding of these parents and also quotes Mr. Blair personally. Mr. Kilfoyle made a similar promise. Mr. Blair personally wrote in The Times on 12th February 1998 that no child currently at private school under the scheme, or who had already got a place, had lost out. They would be able to continue their education. It is not surprising that these parents feel let down and misled. I believe that based on those cases there will be further appeals in the courts. There are also letters from Mr. Blunkett, who refers to the provision of all-through schools and raises the expectation that young children who were promised in good faith that they could have a place at an integral prep department at an all-through school would receive education through to the age of 18.

In introducing his amendment, the noble Lord made an interesting U-turn as a result of one court case. How can we deal more sensitively with children already in the system? There is a good deal of insensitivity being shown to these children. The technicality of my amendment to which the noble Lord has referred applies equally to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord. They are both inconsistent with the Act as it is now. The reason why there is an amendment to revisit the assisted school places Act is precisely to allow the Secretary of State to be responsive to the needs of these children. It is necessary to amend the Act. All I seek to do is to honour the real expectation on the part of young people who were offered places in good faith that they would see their education through to the end of secondary education in an all-through school with an integral prep department. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we have heard a lot from the noble Baroness about a particular case. I deal first with the case on the basis of which she alleges that we have made a U-turn. This is not a U-turn. We have always had a discretionary power in this respect. The initial application in the case of Alistair Sanderson, in respect of which the noble Baroness seeks further information—

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, if the noble Lord says that the Government already had discretion why did they not use it?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I was about to explain that the initial application for the use of that discretion had not been determined at the point when Alistair's parents or solicitor informed us that they would apply for leave for judicial review. They informed us in February that they intended to submit further evidence in support of that application. That information was provided on the day before the hearing of the application for judicial review, so not only had the Government not made a decision on that case prior to imminent judicial review but the full information had not been provided to the Government. Having considered that further information, it was clear that there were four specific factors which taken together made out a case for extended support. That was a case where existing discretion under the Act operated and it was premature for people to bring an action on that basis. By these amendments we intend to extend that discretion to a case where apparently it does not work in relation to children and to make it clear that there is a possibility of transfer through the exercise of discretionary powers.

The amendment of the noble Baroness does not seek to extend or clarify the discretionary powers but to change the provisions of the Bill which at the moment do not guarantee—it is not the intention of the Government that they should—that there is a place for every pupil who is granted a place at junior level throughout the whole of secondary education. Almost every child in the land changes school at age 11. We do not believe that there should be a general rule to make provision for those children who benefited from the assisted places scheme for a short time when it was well known that we were about to introduce legislation to phase out the scheme. However, we have discretionary powers in that area as well, which we are prepared to exercise. The noble Baroness's amendment goes deliberately further to guarantee it to every such child. That was never the intention of the legislation. We have exercised discretion sensibly on all of those fronts. Out of the 170odd applications we have so far received, in 100 cases we have used our discretion positively in favour of providing what the parents and the school require. That indicates that we are prepared to use discretion. However, we are not prepared to change one of the bases of the Act.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Minister has responded to the amendment. I must come back to him. He said that is why the amendment is needed. I still do not understand why the amendment is needed. If the amendment is needed for Alistair, then what situation different from Alistair's requires these amendments? The Minister has not given a proper explanation of that.

The Minister went on to say that not every child who is at a school could have the guarantee. My amendment does not seek that. Where a primary school child receives an assisted place, where the assisted place ends at 11 or 13, depending upon the age range of the school, that is outwith my amendment. I do not include that. I include only those young people who received an assisted place to a school where education terminates at the age of 16, 18 or whatever age it may be, so that it goes all the way through.

The Minister said that the Government were prepared to exercise their discretion. Will he tell me the number of children who have been offered assisted places who are now allowed to go through to the end of secondary education?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Baroness is making another speech. I would remind her that the Companion to the Standing Orders states: On Report no Lord may speak more than once to an amendment, except the mover of the amendment in reply or the Lord who has obtained leave of the House, which may only be granted to a Lord to explain himself in some material point of his speech". I do not think that the noble Baroness can claim that she is doing that.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I think my guilt extends to the fact that I did not say, "with the leave of the House". I was asking for an explanation of what the Minister said. I asked him why the amendment was needed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Baroness's guilt, since she used the word, does not extend to not obtaining the leave of the House. The leave of the House may be granted only: to a Lord to explain himself in some material point of his speech". The noble Baroness was not doing that.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is precisely what I was doing. I was relating every point I made to the explanation the Minister gave to the amendment. I was seeking clarification from him.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, does the noble Baroness seek leave to withdraw her amendment to the amendment?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, yes.

Amendment No. 197D, as an amendment to Amendment No. 197C, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 197C agreed to.

Clause 129 [Dissolution of Funding Agency for Schools]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 198:

Page 99, line 32, after ("Agency") insert ("to which subsection (5) applies").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 131 [Publication of inspection reports]:

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 199:

Page 100, leave out lines 23 to 28.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment leaves out two subsections in Clause 131 which we believe it is important to remove. The two subsections give protection under privilege to any report published by the chief inspector. The amendment would remove such protection. There is some evidence that a number of Ofsted reports have been attacked by those who have received them as factually inaccurate or in some cases they may have been defamatory of those whom they described.

It is thought by some, especially head teachers, that it is unreasonable that professionals can, in a sense, be libelled in that way by Ofsted without a right to redress through the legal system. It is for that reason that we put forward the amendment. If the possibility of a legal challenge were open to the complainant perhaps people would take more care at least to ensure that the factual statements were accurate. There is evidence that people have been concerned about reports. I hope that the Government will look favourably on the amendment.

It can be difficult if people who have been through this experience have no redress when they think that they have been unreasonably represented, or some fact in the report is not correct.

I shall not labour the point at this hour of the night. Nor do I intend to press the amendment. I hope that the Government recognise that it is a problem. Even if they do not accept the amendment, I hope that they will give some indication as to how they can make the system a little fairer. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining what underlies the amendment. I hope that I can give her the reassurance that she seeks by explaining why the provision is necessary.

As the noble Baroness will know, the defence of qualified privilege exists to protect those who make statements in the discharge of duties imposed on them. Such a defence has existed at common law for at least 150 years without the need for statutory provisions, as the courts have recognised that those who owe a duty to the public to speak out should be able to do so frankly and fully, without fear of actions for defamation.

The rule applies only to such statements when they are made honestly and without malice. In this context, a person making a statement acts with malice when he is not using the occasion on which he made the statement honestly and for the purpose for which the law gives protection, but is actuated by some other motive. So a person who uses the opportunity afforded by a statutory duty to make a report for the purposes of launching a personal attack on another may well be held by the courts to have acted with malice and to have forfeited the defence of qualified privilege.

As Ofsted will be acting in pursuance of a statutory power when it publishes its reports, the defence of qualified privilege will attach to the great majority of those reports. However, there is one exception. The new Section 42A inserted into the School Inspections Act 1996 by Clause 131 expressly allows the publication of these reports "by electronic means"—in other words, on the Internet. It is right that such publication should be allowed in the interests of the widest availability of the reports. But, for technical legal reasons which I hope I need not go into now, such publication may not be covered at common law by the defence of qualified privilege. All that subsection (3) does is to ensure that this does not happen, and that Ofsted is in exactly the same position if it publishes on the Internet as it would be if it published in print: no more and no less than that.

I hope that, with that reassurance, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am not certain that some of the people concerned about these issues will feel totally reassured. Inaccurate information in reports has created difficult situations. It has been reported to us that some people believe that there has been financial loss in schools. I do not have specific examples.

Perhaps the Minister will look more closely at the issue. I understand why the matter is dealt with in this way. However, there have been problems. Although the Minister has described one way in which we can overcome them, there is a problem if there are factual inaccuracies in reports and people do not have the right of redress.

However, in the spirit of the answer, and considering the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 135 [Orders and regulations]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 200 and 201:

Page 102, line 7, after (" 11 (5),") insert (" 20(4A),").

Page 102, line 19, at end insert— ("( ) section 1(3A),").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 139 [General interpretation]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 202:

Page 105, line 30, after ("16(6)") insert ("or (8)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 140 [Index]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 203 to 206:

Page 106, line 28, column 1, leave out ("aggregated") and insert ("individual").

Page 106, line 32, column 1, at end insert ("(except in Part I of Schedule 32)").

Page 107, line 19, column 1, leave out ("general") and insert ("local").

Page 107, line 27, at end insert—

("land or other property held on trust, or by trustees, for the purposes of a school section 21(3)(c)")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 142 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 207 to 209E:

Page 110, line 43, leave out ("(other than subsections (9) and (10))").

Page 111, line 2, at end insert—

("section (Transfer of assisted places);").

Page 111, line 3, leave out ("139") and insert (" 138").

Page 111, line 5, after ("11;") insert—

("paragraph 201A of Schedule 30 (and section 137(1) so far as relating thereto);").

Page 111, line 7, leave out subsection (5).

Page 111, line 19, leave out ("subsection (8)") and insert ("subsections (7A) and (8)").

Page 111, line 19, at end insert—

("(7A) Section (Transfer of assisted places)(2) extends to Scotland only; and this section extends also to Scotland.").

Page 111, line 20, after ("or") insert ("(subject to subsection (9))").

Page 111, line 22, at end insert (", and section 137 extends accordingly.").

Page 111, line 22, at end insert—

("(9) The entry in Schedule 31 relating to the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 extends to Scotland only.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 30 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 210 to 219:

Page 240, line 22, at end insert—

("Further and Higher Education Act 1992 (c.13)

. The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 shall be amended as follows.

. In section 5(4) (administration of funds by councils), for "grant-maintained school" substitute "maintained school".

. In section 21 (initial instruments and articles)—

  1. (a) in subsection (1), omit—
    1. (i) paragraph (a), and
    2. (ii) "(b) in any other case,";
  2. (b) in subsection (2), omit—
    1. (i) "orders and",
    2. (ii) in paragraph (a), "grant-maintained school or other", and
    3. (iii) in paragraph (b), "grant-maintained schools or other"; and
  3. (c) in subsection (3), for the words from "a grant-maintained" to "earlier enactment)" substitute "a maintained school, the governing body incorporated under Chapter III of Part II of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998".

. For section 25 substitute—

"Transfer of property, etc from foundation bodies.

25.—(1) This section applies where a further education corporation is established to conduct an institution which, on the date the corporation is established, is a foundation or voluntary school belonging to the group of schools for which a foundation body acts under section 21 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

(2) Regulations may make such provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient in connection with the transfer, in any such case, of property, rights and liabilities from the foundation body to the further education corporation.

(3) Regulations under subsection (2) may, in relation to any such transfer of property, rights or liabilities—

  1. (a) modify any provision made by or under any of sections 23, 24, 36 and 38 of this Act and Schedule 5 to this Act;
  2. (b) apply any such provision with or without modifications;
  3. (c) make provision corresponding or similar to any such provision.

(4) In this section "foundation body" and "group of schools" have the same meaning as in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998."

. In section 26 (transfer of staff to further education corporation)—

  1. (a) in subsection (1), omit "or was a grant-maintained school"; and
  2. (b) in subsection (6)—
  1. (i) for "that authority" substitute "references to that authority, and", and
  2. (ii) for paragraphs (b) and substitute—
(b) in relation to a corporation established to conduct an institution which, on that date, was a foundation or voluntary aided school, references to the governing body of that school.

. In section 28(2)(a) (designation of institutions as eligible for funds) after "school" insert "(other than one belonging to a group of schools for which a foundation body acts under section 21 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998)".

. In section 32 (transfer of property, etc., to designated institutions), after subsection (2) insert—

"(2A) In the case of an institution which when designated was a voluntary aided school, on the designation date—

  1. (a) all land and other property which, immediately before that date, was property of the governing body of the school incorporated under Chapter III of Part II of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, and
  2. (b) all rights and liabilities of that body subsisting immediately before that date,
shall be transferred to and, by virtue of this Act, vest in the governing body of the designated institution; and the governing body of the school shall be dissolved on that date."

. In section 37 (attribution of surpluses and deficits)—

  1. (a) in subsection (1), for "section 103 of the Education Act 1996 (schemes for financing schools)" substitute "section 48 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (LEAs' financial schemes)"; and
  2. (b) in subsection (7), in the definition of "budget share", for "Part II of the Education Act 1996" substitute "Part II of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998".

. In section 44(1) (collective worship)—

(a) for the words from "was a" to the end substitute "was—

  1. (a) (within the meaning of the Education Act 1996) a voluntary school, or
  2. (b) (within the meaning of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998) a foundation or voluntary school having a foundation established otherwise than under that Act."

. In section 45(1) (religious education) for the words from "means" to the end substitute "has the same meaning as in section 44."

. In section 47(2) (transfer of higher education institutions to further education sector) for the words from "any provision" to the end substitute "provision as to the initial name of the corporation as a further education corporation."

. In section 48 (statutory conditions of employment)—

  1. (a) in subsection (1)(a) for "voluntary or grant-maintained" substitute "foundation or voluntary aided", and
  2. (b) in subsection (2)(a) for "voluntary or grant-maintained" substitute "foundation or voluntary aided".

. In section 58(3) (reorganisations of schools involving establishment of further education corporation), for paragraph (b) substitute— (b) a prescribed alteration within the meaning of section 27 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 has been made to the school,".

. In section 90 (interpretation)—

(a) after subsection (3) insert—

"(3A) In this Act references to a voluntary aided school are—

  1. (a) in relation to any time before the appointed day within the meaning of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, references to a voluntary aided school within the meaning of the Education Act 1996; or
  2. (b) in relation to any time on or after that day, references to a voluntary aided school within the meaning of the 1998 Act."; and.
  3. (b) in subsection (5), at end insert "and section 137(2) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 has effect for defining the expressions there mentioned." ").

Page 240, line 36, leave out from ("subsection") to ("subsection") in line 37 and insert ("(5A) (inserted by Schedule 3 to the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998) insert—

"(5B) In addition, in").

Page 240, line 39, leave out ("any school to which section 21(9)(a) or (b)") and insert ("any body to which section (Charitable status of maintained schools, etc.)(1)(a) or (b)").

Page 240, line 44, leave out (" 21(11)") and insert ("(Charitable status of maintained schools, etc.)(3)").

Page 240, line 46, leave out (" 21(11)") and insert ("(Charitable status of maintained schools, etc.)(3)").

Page 243, line 5, after ("for") insert (""maintained or").

Page 243, line 6, leave out (""community or foundation special") and insert (""maintained").

Page 251, line 21, at end insert—

(" . Omit sections 500 to 505 (rationalisation of school places)."). Page 251, line 33, at end insert—

(" . In section 510 (provision of clothing)—

  1. (a) in subsection (1)(a) and (c), omit "or at a grant-maintained school" wherever occurring;
  2. (b) in subsection (3)(a), omit "or a grant-maintained school";
  3. (c) in subsection (4)(a), omit ", at a grant-maintained school"; and
  4. (d) in subsection (5)(a), omit "grant-maintained school or".").

Page 252, line 16, at end insert—

(" . In section 525 (offence of neglecting the cleanliness of a pupil), in subsection (3), omit "or a grant-maintained school".").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 220 and 221 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 222 to 228A:

Page 252, line 27, leave out ("and submitted").

Page 252, line 49, at end insert—

(" . Omit section 536 (medical inspection and treatment of pupils at grant-maintained schools).").

Page 257, line 21, leave out from ("(2),") to end of line 22 and insert ("omit the words from "and "alterations" onwards,").

Page 258, line 39, at end insert—

(" . Schedule 28 (government and conduct of grant-maintained special schools) shall be omitted.").

Page 262, line 19, at end insert—

(" In Schedule 6 (consequential amendments), omit paragraph 7.").

Page 263, line 20, at end insert—

(" . Omit section 50 (recoupment by local education authority of costs of teachers' premature retirement).").

Page 263, line 22, at end insert—

(" . In section 57 (minor and consequential amendments, repeals etc), omit subsections (2) and (3).").

Page 263, line 28, at end insert—

("Education (Schools) Act 1997 (c.59)

201A. In section 2 of the Education (Schools) Act 1997 (transitional arrangements for existing assisted pupils), after subsection (6) add—

"(7) Nothing in subsection (1) shall be taken as prejudicing the operation of any regulations under section 3 by virtue of which assisted places authorised to be provided under that subsection by a former participating school may instead be so provided by another such school or a new school created on the merger of such a school with another school.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 31 [Repeals]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 228B to 231:

Page 264, line 51, at end insert—

("1980 c. 44. Education (Scotland) In section 75A(9A), the
Act 1980. word "and" immediately preceding paragraph (b).")

Page 267, column 3, leave out lines 13 and 14.

Page 269, column 3, leave out line 48 and insert ("In section 573, in subsection (2) the words from "and "alterations'"' onwards, and subsections (4) to (6).").

Page 269, column 3, leave Out lines 50 to 53 and insert ("Section 576(2).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 32 [Transitional provisions and savings]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 232 to 234:

Page 272, line 23, after ("effect") insert ("on and").

Page 274, line 27, leave out ("appointed day (as defined by") and insert ("day appointed under").

Page 274, line 43, at end insert—

("Limits on class sizes

.—(1) The transitional provision which may be made for the purposes of section 1 by regulations under section 141(1) includes provision with respect to any relevant time—

  1. (a) for disapplying to any extent in relation to existing maintained schools (whether or not subject to compliance with any prescribed requirements) section 411(6), 416(1) or 426(1) of the Education Act 1996 (provisions about admission numbers);
  2. (b) for otherwise modifying any of the provisions (whether statutory provisions or articles of government) which are relevant to the determination or publication of the arrangements—
    1. (i) for the admission of pupils to such schools, or
    2. (ii) for appeals by parents against decisions taken in relation to the admission of pupils to such schools,
    or to the procedure relating to such appeals;
  3. (c) for requiring or authorising bodies responsible for determining such arrangements to determine and publish fresh arrangements, subject to such consultation as may be prescribed, where arrangements previously determined (or previously determined and published) by them are to any extent inconsistent with the provisions mentioned in paragraph (b) as they have effect in accordance with the regulations.

(2) Regulations made in pursuance of paragraph (b) of sub-paragraph (1) may, in particular, modify the provisions mentioned in that paragraph so that they apply in relation to existing maintained schools with the addition of provisions whose purposes correspond to those of any of paragraphs 6(5), 10(5) and 11 of Schedule 23 to this Act.

(3) In this paragraph—

"existing maintained school" means—

  1. (a) any county or voluntary school, or
  2. (b) any grant-maintained school,
within the meaning of the Education Act 1996; relevant time'", in relation to an existing maintained school, means any time after the coming into force of regulations under section 1 by virtue of which any limit on class size is to apply, or be varied, in relation to the school.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 234A:

Page 275, leave out line 4.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I seek to remove a line in the Bill which was, at one stage, the very last line in the Bill and something of an afterthought. There are now other passages in the Bill. It is on page 275 and refers to line 4.

This amendment seeks to remove the Secretary of State's powers to revoke or vary a grant-maintained school's right to disapply pay and conditions. This is an Oratory School amendment. That school fought quite hard for this facility to allow paragraphs 6(a) and (b) to be put into the Bill. At the very last minute appeared the words: and any such order may be varied or revoked accordingly".

Either those grant-maintained schools are to be allowed to continue with that facility or they are not. We are very worried that the Government may have some future intention to remove it. I believe that there has been a genuine oversight here. I hope it is an oversight. I hope that the Government will agree to my amendment. I suspect, from the way that they have resisted almost everything that we have suggested, they will not. However, I ask them to look that school in the eye and say why the Secretary of State is to retain a power to revoke or to vary a grant-maintained school's right to disapply pay and conditions. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am tempted to respond to the somewhat excessive paranoia on behalf of the London Oratory. However, in this case and many of the others that have been referred to, the concern is misplaced. There is no ulterior motive behind those words. They simply serve to make paragraph 6 of the schedule work. But it is rather a complicated matter to explain.

Clause 13 of the Bill amends Section 3 of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act. It does so by substituting a completely new section. Only two orders, including the one to which the noble Baroness referred, have been made under the existing Section 3 and those orders will still be in force when the entirely new Section 3 comes into force.

It is true that we have no wish to extend any such exemption to other schools but we have made it quite clear that we accept that the position relating to those schools should stand. Paragraph 6 of Schedule 32 is a saving provision. It serves to protect the existing orders from the effect of the repeal of the old Section 3. It provides that any such order which relates to a grant-maintained school which becomes a foundation or voluntary-aided school under the new framework shall continue to have effect.

The words in line 4 of page 275 provide that: any such order", that is, these orders, may be varied or revoked accordingly". That means that any such order can be varied or revoked under the powers previously contained in old Section 3 as though that section were still in force and notwithstanding its repeal. It therefore simply suggests the restoration of the pre-existing position.

Moreover, the orders are subject to Section 570(3) of the Education Act 1996 which provides that no order varying or revoking an order under old Section 3 could be made unless two preconditions apply. Those conditions are that the governing body initiates the process and that it must consult the school teachers concerned beforehand. Paragraph 6 operates to preserve that position. It does not grant to the Secretary of State any greater powers in respect of those two outstanding orders than he currently has. It certainly does not allow him of his own volition, as the noble Baroness suggested, to initiate a variation or revocation, nor does it alter the present position of the schools concerned. I therefore think the amendment is unnecessary and could be a restrictive provision should the schools themselves wish to vary the form of their exemption at a future date. I am sure that is not the intention of the noble Baroness, and I therefore ask her to reconsider and withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I find the answers more gobbledy-gookish as we go along. The provision states that, any such order may be varied or revoked accordingly". That gives a power to vary and a power to revoke. As these are schools that exist, as it states in paragraph 6: The amendment made by section 13 of this Act shall not affect the operation of section 3 of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991, as in force immediately before that amendment comes into force, in relation to any order made under section 3 of that Act which—

  1. (a) is then in force; and
  2. (b) relates to a grant-maintained school which becomes a foundation or voluntary aided school on the appointed day in accordance with Schedule 2 to this Act",
if the Government have no intention of varying or revoking such an order, then we would not wish him to have this power. If he has the power, then we remain suspicious as to why he should need it. Therefore I do not understand it.

I am pleased that it was the noble Lord who put on the record the paranoia of the Oratory. It happens to be a particularly good school.

Lord Whitty

Would the—

Baroness Blatch

I will not give way at this moment. Maybe the noble Lord will come back if the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will allow it under the rules.

The school has been singled out by very senior members of his own party as being a school of outstanding excellence. I agree with that.

If all schools were like the Oratory, we would not have any problems in this country. Some of the important freedoms the Oratory has today will be lost under the Bill, some of which we have mentioned tonight and one or two that the Government have already voted against. It is not paranoia; it is a passion for allowing schools like that to remain good, to remain in the system and to enjoy the flexibility and the autonomy that they have had under the Conservative government, which we understand Mr. Byers and Mr. Blair agreed with. We are simply asking the Government to amend the Bill in a way that would allow that to happen. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 235 and 236:

Page 275, line 4, at end insert—

("Orders for purposes of section 20(4A)

. The Secretary of State may only make an order under section 20(4A) where he considers it appropriate to do so on an application made for the purpose by—

  1. (a) the former maintaining authority (within the meaning of that provision), or
  2. (b) the local education authority in whose area the school in question will be situated immediately before the appointed day,
and received by him not later than 30th November 1998.").

Page 275, line 26, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 27.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

House adjourned at three minutes before eleven o'clock